20 Little Things That Make a Big Difference with Students

20 Little Things That Make a Big Difference with Students

You want your ministry to grow.

I know you do.

In my experience in youth ministry, ministries grow when they get better in 5 areas:
1. Place
2. Programs
3. Preaching
4. People
5. Promotion

It’s not complicated. If you get better in those 5 areas, you’ll attract new students.

But you also want to help every student in your ministry feel special, don’t you?

You don’t want them to feel like just a number.

You want them to know that you care about them.

If you don’t do that, then every time you see new students coming into your church, you’ll also see other students leaving your church.

They won’t announce that they’re leaving. They’ll just slowly walk away. They’ll stop showing up. They’ll wonder if anyone notices. After a while, they just stop coming altogether.

So, in your haste to grow your group, it’s helpful to slow down and remember that ministry is all about people. The point of getting better in those 5 areas is to reach and keep more people.

You don’t just want to reach new students; you also want to keep your current students. In order to do that, they have to know you care.

It’s like Doug Fields says:
“Youth ministry is about adults loving students, building relationships with them, and pointing them to Jesus” (Your First Two in Youth Ministry, 84).

How can you show your students that you care?

Here are 20 little things that make a big difference with students:

1. Remember their names

Saying, “Hey man” isn’t good enough. Make an effort to learn students’ names and use their names when you’re talking to them.

2. Pray for them by name

Don’t just pray generalized prayers for your group. Pick a few students and pray for them by name each day.

3. Follow up after prayer requests

When a student asks you to pray for something, ask them about it later. Don’t just leave it in the past. Bring it up the next time you see them, and they’ll know you really care.

4. Take them to breakfast

Set your alarm clock, get up early, and take a student to breakfast. You’ll be amazed how much they’ll share about what’s really happening in their lives when it’s just the two of you eating a biscuit together.

5. Take lunch to them

This might be hard because of your school district, but if you can take lunch to them at school, you’ll score some big points. If you can’t take it to their school, then surprise them with a pizza at their house on a Saturday!

6. Ask for their sports schedules

Students have a life outside of church. You want them to care about what you’re doing, so show an interest in what they’re doing.

7. Go see their games and events

It’s not enough just to ask for a schedule. Put some dates on your calendar and make it a point to get there and cheer them on.

8. Brag on them to their parents

Parents never get tired of hearing how well their kids are doing. Tell them about the ways you’ve seen their kids grow over the past year. Talk about the character qualities they’re developing. Tell them that they’re doing a good job.

9. Brag on their parents to them

Adolescence brings changes to the parent/child relationship. Students create distance from their parents and try to assert themselves as individuals. That’s fine; it’s normal. Remind your students that their parents love them and want the best for them.

10. Build them up in front of their friends

Students are extremely self-conscious. They will do almost anything to try to fit in. When you see them talking with their friends, don’t do anything that might humiliate them. Instead, go out of your way to compliment them and help them feel like a big deal.

11. Send them a birthday card

There are only a few days in a student’s life when he is the center of attention. His birthday is usually one of those days. Don’t miss out on the chance to make a student feel special on his birthday.

12. Ask them to babysit your kids

A student knows that you trust her when you ask her to babysit for your kids. You are giving her a sense of responsibility, plus a little money! Not only that, but you are inviting that student into your house to see how you really live. That gives you added credibility.

13. Send them a picture from an event

When you go somewhere or do something, I’m sure you take pictures. You probably post them on your group’s Instagram page or Facebook page. But you’ll make a bigger difference if you choose a good picture of a student, get it printed at Walmart or Walgreens, and mail it to them in a card.

14. Listen when they talk

If you want students to open up to you, then you have to give them your attention when they’re talking to you. Don’t let yourself get distracted. Don’t check your phone. Don’t check your watch. Don’t interrupt. Just listen.

15. Notice when they’re not there

When a student doesn’t show up, give them a call or send them a text just to check in with them. Let them know you missed them, and they’re more likely to be there next time.

16. Be real

Students can spot a fake from a mile away. Perfection isn’t a high priority for today’s teenagers, but authenticity is. They want straight talk and real answers to issues that are happening all around them. They value integrity and sincerity. They don’t get that in most places or from most people. If they get it from you and your ministry, your stock will go up.

17. Encourage them to serve in your church

Students who serve are students who stay. At the Orange Conference in 2015, Reggie Joiner said, “Students might outgrow your programs, but they’ll never outgrow a personal ministry.” When students serve, they feel a sense of responsibility and ownership that makes it harder to walk away.

18. Give them responsibilities in your ministry

Because you’re the youth pastor, the temptation is to plan everything and do everything yourself. Don’t give in to that temptation. Include your students in the planning and execution. Let them run slides. Let them play in the band. Let them help with a game. You can even help a few of your students craft a message to share. When students have responsibilities in your ministry, they’ll also have buy-in to your ministry.

18. Challenge them to be leaders

Many students get bored with their faith. They don’t sense a challenge. They feel like they’ve arrived. Tell them to stop sitting back and allowing other things and other people to determine what they do. You need to challenge these students to step up, step out, and lead the way for others.

19. Visit them at their part-time jobs

As students get older, they’ll venture out and get part-time jobs. You will absolutely make their day when you show up and see them in action. They will beam with pride when you walk through the door.

20. Give them a vision for their lives

Most students live in the moment. They have a small vision for what is possible in their lives. That’s why they give into temptation so easily. They don’t think very much is at stake. When you talk with a student, take a second and cast a big vision for what you think is possible. Expand their thinking. Give them big goals. Raise their level of expectation.

Your Move

I was volunteering at a church that built a new building for students. They were really excited about it. The price tag on the building was close to a million dollars. It had everything you could want.

Six months after the building opened, the leaders of the church were surprised to see that the number of students who attended had actually gone down.

What happened?

They started to rely on the building to do the work of a person. But it doesn’t work that way.

You can get better with all 5 P’s (place, programs, preaching, people, and promotion) and still miss out on the most important thing: relationships.

These 20 things are little, but they make a big difference.

Which 2 will you do this week?

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Trevor Hamaker (DMin, McAfee School of Theology) is an author, adjunct professor, and youth ministry coach. He helps youth pastors see their potential, develop their skills, and reach their goals.

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