While connecting with teens can happen in many ways, I have leaned over the years that these three hold the key. Others that you might add to these are icing on the cake.*
1) Learn Their Name: I must admit that I am name challenged, so I had to work very hard at it over the years. I learned that there is amazing power in a name. Lets be honest we all like to be called by our name. Youth are no exception. You can often watch them relax when you simply speak their name.
If you really want to have a ministry of connection with youth, encourage others to learn their names as well. Have all the members of your board work on learning the names of youth so they can greet them as events by name. Doug Fields tells the powerful story of a senior citizen who volunteered in his youth ministry for years – his was a ministry of names. He welcomed youth and knew their names. For the record, learning and using their names often leads to learning much more about them.
2) Laugh With Them: Humor is one of the best tools I know for connecting with people. Notice the second word in this tip is not “at” but “with” them. So often I find youth workers laughing at their youth, instead of with their youth. This is not to say you can never joke around with youth, but be careful that putdowns do not become the mainstay of your humor. Be free enough to make fun of yourself. I for one love to tell “Hittite” jokes. Since their are no Hittites around these days you have no one to offend.
3) Speak The Truth: Several years ago a wise youth told me that as long as I continued to speak the truth to them it didn’t matter that I was not current with all their musical choices, or video games. There is something powerful in the truth. In a world where what we read and hear is so often suspect, we need a sanctuary of truth. This means sometimes telling them what they need to hear, and not what they want to hear.
Speaking the truth, however, does not allow you to bludgeon youth with the Law. We must learn to meet youth where they are, but love them enough to not leave them there. The truth always flows from love. If you do not have a love and passion for your students, you do not have the right to speak truth to them. Love on them and earn the right to be truth in their lives.
*Speaking of Cake – Food is also great for connecting with teens, but trust me when I say it is not in the top 3 ways!
<>< Craig McCourt