Matt: It’s great when you can get through to a student and see the change that God brings to his or her life, but it’s not so great when that student stops communicating with you. Communication stops for a few different reasons, but I think sometimes the main reason is that we have struck a nerve with a student. We’ve opened a discussion that needs to be had but it might not be easy for a student to talk about. As a coping mechanism some students just shut down and don’t want to talk, or they might avoid you. Sometimes those are conversations that need some time to go by until a student is ready to continue the conversation. While you don’t want to force a conversation, sometimes you need to gently nudge a student to get it going again. I have guys in my small group that if I start a conversation with them about a situation they are in, I’ve found they want to talk about it and get it out in the open. I also have guys that need time to “process” what’s going on and they need to think about what’s going on before they are ready to talk. As a leader we have the difficult job of figuring out where students are with problems.
One of the important things to remember is to not just ignore a situation and hope it goes away because a student has shut down. Keep that student in prayer, keep waiting for the right time to continue a conversation or to start one if you haven’t addressed the situation yet. And while a student might not be happy with you now because you keep pressing them on a subject they might not want to talk about, they will thank you later once you are able to help them work out a problem.
Steven: A few times in my ministry I have lost communication with students. I especially ran into this last summer when a few of my guys didn’t make the leap between 7th grade and 8th grade. I lost them to summer. We had great communication through their 7th grade year, even into summer a bit, and then all of a sudden they shut down. No matter what I did to contact them, I could not connect with them.
If we’re not careful, this already bad situation can get worse in a heartbeat. The natural reaction to a situation like this is to keep trying to reach out. You might even want to do everything you can to make that connection again. The problem is, if we try to over-reach, we can actually end up pushing students further away.
Another point to remember is the type of communication necessary to make the connection again. If the student is big on texting, try that first. They’re most likely going to answer what they’re comfortable with. If their primary form of communication doesn’t work, it’s time to move on to something different.
If you still can’t make the connection, it’s time to pull out the big guns–the parents. Chances are, the parents in your ministry don’t know the extent to which you’re trying to reach their kids. If you have a way of contacting their parents, you can get them on your team and ask for help in getting reconnected to their student.
All of these things are important and in getting students to open themselves up to communicating after they’ve stopped (for whatever reason). The important thing to remember is this: never stop. God probably put that student in your life for a reason, so don’t let them get away.