“Hey welcome to the ministry! What’s your name?”
“Cool. Nice to meet you, Bob. So what grade are you in? What school?”
“Woodbridge. 9th grade.”
“Awesome. Glad you’re here.”
(mutually awkward nods and smiles)
“Aight! Well, let me introduce you to Jim. He’s super cool.” (and much better at conversing than me!)
If you’ve have ever served or will serve in youth ministry, these awkward silences when meeting new students might be something you can understand.
Some people are super natural at striking up a conversation. They seem to be able whip up a conversation topic out of thin air. I give them mad props.
I’m definitely not one of those people. In general, in a group where there are a lot of people talking, I tend to talk less. Or I prefer being invited to talk in a conversation rather than initiating. So what do you do when you’re in a ministry setting and meeting new students left and right, and working to build a sense of rapport with students you are trying to get to know better?
For those of you who are more like me, here are four questions you can use to help navigate through awkward encounters. While settings like small groups and Bible studies can be the place to have deeper, more intimate conversations – these simple, lighthearted questions have helped me break the ice, build some common ground, and help students feel more connected.
Just remember – there are so many different types of students out there. Some are outgoing and just need a little prompting to talk and share. Some feel more comfortable if you share more and they just get a chance to listen and warm up to you. Try to be in-tune to the student and their personality and adapt accordingly.
TIP: For each of these questions – you can transition into them by sharing your answers to the questions first.
1. What video/cellphone games are you playing? This is a great question that has saved me especially with the guys, but it can also work with the girls. Don’t forget that there are many different consoles (Xbox, Ps4, Wii, Apple products, phone and computer games).
2. What did you do this past weekend? This can be tremendously helpful question to get a lot of information regarding the student’s interests, family and how they spend their free time. Students may not have done anything during the weekend so you can ask follow up questions about any vacations they have been on in the past year or so.
3. “Have you” questions…? (e.g.Have you tried this new restaurant or watched this movie or new tv show?) This is where you can talk about some of your favorite places or shows and see if there is any common ground. I’ve found so many good commonalities with students about the latest dessert places in town!
4. “Would you rather” question. (e.g. would you rather be hairy all over your body or completely bald?) This is a great way to be goofy and have a little fun. It may seem really strange to ask this question to a new student but laughter is sometimes the best way to break the tension and create a comfortable atmosphere. It may go something like this: “I know this sounds random but I’m really curious what you would choose…would you rather…?”
At the end of the day, if you are genuinely caring about the students and your desire is to make them feel welcomed and loved – they will sense that. And that is what’s most important. So be true to who you are and don’t put pressure on yourself (or the student) to be someone different. And most importantly, have fun!