Ever since I got started in youth ministry, I've been told that you can lead the best Bible studies in the world, but what students will remember the most is the relationship you built with them. As I have grown in my experience, I believe this to be some of the most solid advice I've received.
It's incredibly important that we make time for our students outside of weekly programming, and give them as much one-on-one time as possible.
Now, this isn't always easy, and it takes an extra level of commitment. But I believe it's vital to the discipling relationship we have with our students. Here are some ways in which I've found effective for giving more personal attention towards my students.
Attend Important Events
It means a lot to students when you take the time to attend their sporting events, chorus/band concerts, graduations, etc. Some of them may not have anyone there to cheer them on. It can really make their day to have you there. Or, if they do have parents who attend their events regularly, it's a great way to also build a relationship with them. Keep your eyes peeled for parents at these events and sit with them. I've had some of the best conversations with parents while waiting for an event to start. It always means a lot to parents that you're there in support of their child.
Embrace Snail Mail
Sending cards for various occasions can go a long way. In a world where most people send emails or Facebook messages, it shows a lot of sincerity to send something in the mail. Send out Christmas cards, or sympathy cards when a family member or friend has passed, or congratulations for an event, or for no reason other than just saying hello! I usually buy cards in bulk or whenever I see them on sale so that I have one on hand when an occasion comes up.
Stay In Touch
Try to make it a goal to check-in with your students in between meetings. Phone calls can be awkward when conversation doesn't come easy, but you never know when they may have had the worst day and just need someone to talk to. Or maybe something great happened and they're happy you called so they can tell you about it. You can also check in through Facebook or texts, but a phone call is still just so much more personal.
Listen to what your students say at meetings. If they are having a bad week or dropping hints that something is going on in their lives, touch base with them in private within a day or two later and offer a listening ear. One time I overheard one of my youth saying that he never gets phone calls so I waited a few days and called him. I got his voicemail but I left him a message saying that I heard him say no one called him so now he does have someone calling him. He later told me he had a good laugh and thought it was cool. Take note of what they say and do something about it. This shows them how much you care about their feelings and what's going on in their lives.
Create One-On-One Time
Taking your students out for lunch or coffee is a great way to get to know them better, especially if they are newer to the group. Sometimes kids won't open up as much around their peers, but if you get them away from a crowd and the church walls, they may feel less intimidated. Plus, who doesn't like a good cup of coffee or a sandwich?
Again, making the time to meet students outside your regular programming isn't easy. But it's worth the effort.