How to get better at talking with young people
Last year, we asked our email subscribers, “What questions are on your mind when it comes to young people?” In this first article of a series for 2019, James Fawcett tackles one of these questions.
The question: “How can I up-skill church members to be better at talking with young people?”
The question seems to suggest you already have church members willing to talk to young people, so I’m going to assume that this is the case. That is actually the first hurdle (it’s a massive one) and by far the hardest thing to do; finding willing people can be tough. It’s great if you are in a place to do that, to give them space to have willing members of the congregation that want to talk to young people. In terms of getting better at talking with young people, I have 5 thoughts that might help:
Celebrate those who engage
My first thought, would be celebrate this. I have found that encouragement and celebration get me a lot further than anything which can be seen as a big stick of ‘you could do better’ or ‘here is some training’. Get your little (or big) group together, form a little team, give them praise and appreciation, it’s going to get you far! If you don’t have any interested church members, find one, just one! This is the place to start, you can build from there.
Listen to those who engage
Secondly, listen: have a conversation with the church members. This may sound simple, but don’t assume; ask. This is a good place to start.
What are their current skills? What do they bring to the relationship? What are are they fearful of? Do they remember what it was like being a teenager? What do they think the young people need? All of these questions (with some from you) will begin to allay any fears that they might have around talking to young people.
We made an exercise that can help you do this – find out more here.
Break the mould
Thirdly break the mould: get out of the box. We don’t need more youth workers; we need more Christians interested in young people!
If you have an accountant in your church, they could help with maths homework. If you have a fireman, they could show young people around the fire-station, if you have a full-time parent, they might have time in the day to respond to some prayer requests, or send encouraging scriptures. Most of my conversations with volunteers have been about shattering the illusion of the youth worker and helping them get away from thinking they need to be anything other than who they are.
Fourthly, be Genuine: Relationships work when people genuinely bring who they are. Young people see through a facade; they hate ‘fake’ and are good at detecting ‘fake news’. They’re well aware of the trolls on the internet and are therefore hypersensitive to people trying too hard.
Encourage volunteers to be themselves, to work with boundaries, but talk to be bold about sharing hard times and doubts. The phrase, “show me your scars, don’t show me your wounds” is a good one for helping people assess what to share or not share. Is this an ongoing painful situation or something in the past and dealt with, however big or small?
Fifth and final; think practically. Give them some stuff to talk about. Buy some playing cards from Youthscape, or a book that gives you 100 conversation starters. Introduce young people to adults and give them something to talk about, something like this, for example; “Here is Trey, he is in year 6 and about to go to secondary school. You are just changing jobs, what’s it like for you?” Or, perhaps give adults a mini-survey to ask as many young people as possible (don’t leave the question blank otherwise people just freeze).
These things require listening to your volunteers (knowing they are changing jobs) breaking the mould (interested in what they do) and being genuine (giving space to talk about the real things in life).