In youth ministry, I’ve realized that the real test of our ministry is when students graduate – Do they continue to attend church? Do they have a desire to pursue community? Are they starting or continuing to serve in the church at large? Answers to these questions can sometimes be sobering and serve as a reality check for our youth ministry.
As I’ve asked these questions and watched students graduate over the years there is something simple but significant that I’ve discovered. One of the contributing characteristics of seeing students continue in their Christian journey post-high school, is whether or not they have significant relationships with others their own age within the church. Therefore, in an age that is so tech dependent and with many students unaware of how to make friends, we must as youth workers help them learn to make friends.
HOW? – Below are some helpful and practical ways that you can help students make friends.
For All Who Work With Students
- Coach Students. One thing I’ve discovered is that students need coaching in how to interact with people face-to-face in an intentional way. Take some time to coach this simple outline to a group or encourage those who seem to be isolated yet wanting to connect.
- Ask them if there’s one person in the youth group that they think would be someone they might want to get to know.
- Help them Set a Goal to talk to that person by next week, by either introducing themselves or just chatting in hang out time.
- Prep them that it might be awkward but it is worth It!
- Be simplistic. Sometimes it takes teaching them how to introduce themselves and then practicing it! ‘Hey, I’ve seen you here the past number of weeks/months, but don’t know if I’ve ever met you. My name is ____________.
- Teach them how to make ‘small talk’ by asking NAKED questions:
- Kin / Family – How many siblings do you have, who do you live with? Etc.
- Education – What school do you go to, what grade are you in?
- Dreams – What are your plans after school? What are your hobbies? Etc.
- Follow Up. Follow up the next week to see if they did it and how it went.
- Encourage them to ask that person to go for coffee or lunch in the next month – Remind students that everyone is scared of being rejected and everyone wants to be noticed; therefore, asking someone to hang out might feel awkward but will be affirming to that individual.
Structure your weekly program around activities that help foster relationships such as:
- Games that get students interacting and breaking down walls (ex: ‘Speed Friending’ – like speed dating but with the purpose of helping students get to know each other)
- Small Group Time (Teach students how to share their stories and then give them opportunities to share)
- Create opportunities for students to go deeper (Ex: Prayer meetings)
- If you have students coming from multiple schools – break the larger group into school groups so that they know who’s at their school as well.
- Retreats – extended time away together always helps students break down barriers and helps them connect.
Volunteer Youth Leaders
Be an example of how to make friends, give students opportunities and encourage them to continue!
- When a new student comes to the group, grab a committed student to come with you and welcome them.
- When meeting with a student – invite two at a time to help them connect as well as you connecting with them.
- In Small Groups, encourage students to exchange numbers to stay in touch throughout the week!
Ultimately, Christ changes people’s hearts and promises to finish His work in our students, but we also know that we need community to grow strong in the faith. May each of us use the influence we have to help students make friends so they become a strong force to be reckoned with!
Amy Miller | Youth Pastor | Living Stones Church | Red Deer, AB