It’s the start of a new year so I am guessing your church is experiencing lots of new visitors and first time guests to sign up for your small groups or weekly activities. If you are a new girls minister or girls ministry volunteer, you may be overwhelmed with those first time impressions. I get it! It’s crazy scary for most people to initiate a conversation with a complete stranger, let alone a complete stranger that’s a teenager. My first weeks on the job, there was a hallway that I nicknamed the gauntlet because groups of girls lined the hallway leading to the main teaching room I needed to get to. It was petrifying because none of those girls naturally talked to the new girl. If I could just get through it…I survived! I learned some interesting conversational skills that I want to pass along.
1. Remember this truth: Everyone wants to be known.
I know that is true for myself, and true for you. It’s also true for that middle school girl that is hovering in the corner shooting the death glare at you. She has up every line of defense possible and it may make you think she hates your guts, but most likely she is protecting her thin fragile shell of confidence with the outer shell that is oozing: “just try to start a conversation with me”. So how do you approach her? How do you approach anyone? It will look different for each student. Begin to recognize that you have a bunch of SAFES that have shown up in your ministry. You don’t know what the combination lock is, but each safe is full of treasure and mystery. Your job is not to make that “safe” know you. Your job is to help that “safe” know they are safe. They are loved. and they belong. So let’s keep going with this “safe” illustration. There is a movie called The Italian Job that features people who have to steal something from a safe. In order to pick the lock, they need to listen for certain clicks to know how to unlock the safe. They don’t force the lock. They don’t try the combination that works with them. Each safe is different. So as you go into a conversation with a student…LISTEN. Don’t try to be thinking how you can share YOUR story to keep the conversation going. Just listen to them. Don’t ask the same questions. They are ready for those. Initial questions like: What is your name? What school do you go to? are fine. But try to get to deeper questions if the environment lends itself. Even some silly questions are ok. Some “safes” open up immediately. Other “safes” take time. It’s okay. Just keep listening.
2. Don’t overshare. Don’t forget that you are still an adult.
This is important to remember that you are the adult in the conversation. Sometimes we may want to exchange that role to get on the same level in order to gain some cool points. This is a bad decision. Once you try to be a peer, you are not able to flip the switch to leader. So don’t make comments like…we’re not that much different in age. You are not a student. Remember that. You can still have fun with them and be goofy. I’ve been known to be crazy with students, but not to the point where I exchanged my role as adult or leader in the situation.
3. Listen more than you talk. Be a connector.
I know when I start rambling that it’s because I’m scared of the silence. I will share more about myself and unintentionally shift the focus to me. It’s a insecurity tactic and unfortunately it then puts the student in the role of listener. You can share some about yourself to make them feel more comfortable, but it’s not a counseling session for you. Ask yourself:
Why am I sharing this? Is it because I want to be liked by this student or am I sharing this in order connect this student?
How can I share this in order for this to connect through to a deeper conversation?
Is there anyone else I can bring into the conversation to help connect them?
Remember, you are not trying to be the most popular leader in the student ministry. Not everyone will like you. Your job is to get students connected to Christ and to one another as well as having an adult other than their parent who can walk alongside them and echo the biblical truths they should be hearing at their home. So think of yourself as a “pipeline” instead of a “straw”. A straw goes from the container to the person on the other end. A pipeline, connects pipes to other places and other pipes.