Steven: I am not an extrovert. Don’t get me wrong–I can definitely be high-energy, crazy and dance around in a donkey costume (been there, done that), but it’s not my default personality. When I’m in that type of mood it’s because I’m feeding off the energy of other people.Because being an extrovert isn’t my default, one of the hardest things for me to learn in ministry was how to start a conversation with a student I don’t know. Actually, starting the conversation isn’t hard. The hard part is not being awkward in starting it.
This is something I have to do all the time. Especially this week, as we have brand new 7th graders coming to our jr. high service for the first time, knowing how to start a conversation with a new person is extremely important. I never want to be caught off guard or start a conversation and not know where to go with it. Here are a few things I do when starting a conversation with a student I haven’t met:
- Do whatever it takes to remember their name. A name is a student’s identity, and if you remember it the next time, you’ll make that student’s day.
- WANT to know the student. If you’re not genuinely interested in that student and his or her life, they’ll know it. Don’t be fake–be interested in their boring chess club stories and last year’s summer vacation.
- Be ready with an arsenal of questions. Never give them an opportunity to catch you without something to say. When in doubt, ask a question about them.
- Follow up when you see them again. The first conversation you have with a student is important, but the second one is even more crucial. Ask them a follow-up question from last time or ask them how their week has been.
Matt: Sometimes it can be hard to start a conversation with one of your small group students. There may be a time when you become aware of a situation that needs to be addressed and you know it’s going to be a difficult conversation. One of the things I always try to do is not make it an awkward conversation for the student. If it’s something they have done then I try to let them know that I don’t want them to be embarrassed or feel ashamed but that we need to address a problem. With my small group guys, I can tell when one of them is having a bad day. I let them be quiet for a while and then I find a time to pull them aside and talk. One rule to follow here: if a student is not ready to talk, don’t force the issue. Wait until they are ready to talk, but let them know that at some point you do need to have the conversation with them.
One thing you want to do is be prepared for a conversation. Know what you want to ask and have different follow up questions ready depending on the response that you get. Also, if you hit a time of awkward silence in the conversation, don’t hurry the conversation along. Sometimes that moment of awkward silence is your friend and it allows a student to think and respond rather than just saying “I don’t know” when you ask something.
This probably goes without saying, but remember when you are having these deep personal one-on-one conversations that students need to trust that what they tell you will stay with you. Don’t share it with your friends or with other students in the group.