by Stephen Ingram
I work in a community that has a great running park alongside the road I take to get to the church. I also work in a community where running in this park is something that EVERYONE does. So on my way to and from work I will often stare at the runners (I know creepy, right?) because inevitably—seriously, every day—I will see some of my students running the trails; I give them a friendly honk of the horn and wave. They smile and wave back. For some time, and even now occasionally, I felt like a stalker doing this. Then I realized that I need to get over myself and know that it is meaningful for my kids to know that I notice them.
Kids want to be noticed and they want to be known, period.
Need proof? Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Snapchat.
When we have students come to our ministries, they need to be noticed and known there as well. Many student ministries often leave this up to chance, which is a detriment to our students and our ministry. Here are a few ways to follow up with your students without seeming like a stalker:
Realizing That You Are Not a Stalker
You are a minister who cares about kids! One of the many problems of our overly compartmentalized society is that we often have a difficult time believing that we have the right to be involved in someone’s life without being explicitly invited.
Follow up on social media. Don’t go onto Facebook or Instagram and “like” 50 of their pictures but do occasionally send them a friendly message. This shows effort on your part and it is engaging them where they are most comfortable and often most active.
Yes, snail mail is still a viable means of communicating. I don’t do this often but when I do students almost always seem to let me know that they appreciate it. In such a digital, paperless, non-tangible age there is something special about getting something that you can physically touch and keep. And who doesn’t like getting fun mail?!
Be Where They Are
It is very important to find yourself physically where your students are. Whether this is a local mall or a football game on Friday night, be where they are. You will “randomly” run into tons of your youth at these hot spots. When we do this in our ministry we are always greeted with excitement and usually hugs and high fives. The parents like it, too!
Don’t Be Aggressive
If the only thing you talk about when you see a student is church, then you have failed. You have to be engaged with their lives even if they never set foot in your youth room again. This is the commitment you have to make going into this understanding of ministry. The goal is not for them to come back; the goal is relationship. If the goal is to boost your numbers or increase your retention rate, then they will smell it and chalk the relationship up as what it really is: utilitarian. Care about them, care about what they care about, support them and engage them for who they are, not what they can do for you and your ministry.
Stephen Ingram is a dad, husband, and foodie. He serves as the Director of Student Ministries at Canterbury United Methodist Church in Birmingham, Ala. He has a BA in Religion from Samford University and a Masters of Divinity from McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta. Stephen has worked as a student minister for more than 13 years and also serves as a consultant with Youth Ministry Architects. He lives in Birmingham with his wife Mary Liz and their three kids Mary Clare, Patrick, and Nora Grace.
Stephen’s book Hollow Faith: How Andy Griffith, Facebook and the American Dream Neutered the Gospel is now available from CYMT Press. He blogs at organicstudentministry.wordpress.com.