Feeling out of touch?

We live in a world with ever-changing technologies, relentless media disruptions, and enough new acronyms to keep you running to Google to find out what your teens are texting (HMU is “hit me up”?). So how does an adult develop meaningful relationships with young people today?

Whether you feel out of touch with teenagers’ worlds or you pride yourself on being the most technologically savvy and culturally relevant leader, working at relationships must be a priority. Think back to your teen years. What adults influenced you? Probably not those who always had the answers, who were trendy, or who were superstars. Instead, the adults you remember all shared one characteristic—they cared about you. How do you communicate that sense of caring to your students?

Listen, remember, follow up. Ask a teen how he or she is doing and really listen to the answer. Put aside what you’re doing and give your full attention. (Yes, that means not checking your phone.) Consider putting a reminder in your calendar after your talk so that you can initiate a follow-up conversation (e.g., Nicole—S.A.T. Saturday).

Pray. Without being overbearing, let students know that you’re praying for them and things in their lives (e.g., “Hey, Steve, I’ve been praying about your friend John. How’s he doing?”).

Be available. Don’t rush out after your group time. Look for casual opportunities to interact with students. Give students your contact info and encourage them to text or call anytime.

Be yourself. You don’t need to copy teenage styles or language to show youth you like them and care about them. Teens expect and want adults to be adults, so relax!

Be positive. Look for qualities that you can admire—and comment on them (e.g., “Karen, you really made Kim feel welcome. I appreciate that.”). Help students feel good about who they are. What about the student who rubs you the wrong way? Ask the Holy Spirit to show you the good and help you minimize the negative. Smile and laugh.

Take time. Send a text or make a call. Go to a game, play, or concert your students are in. You’re busy? Take your family: you’ll communicate caring to both sets of people at once, and your teens will see how you interact with your family.

Invite your students over—Sunday lunch potluck (everyone contributes) or popcorn film night. Or meet a half an hour early one Sunday morning for a simple breakfast.

Building community and deepening relationships takes effort but is so worth it.

What advice do you have for other youth leaders?

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