You’ve been prepping all summer. Setting up schedules, booking parish facilities, and sending out invites. You’ve been praying for your students, their families, and those you haven’t met yet. Suddenly, it’s mid-September and you’re expecting a room full of teenagers who may or may not want to be at youth ministry. Yes, you have an activity planned, and a prayer, but what about that down time? You know, that time set aside to build trusting relationships with your group? For many, including myself, and probably many of your students, the actual planned activity of the night is the easy part.
But what about that relational ministry? Whether you were that shy kid (like me) or the outgoing loud one, you’re bound to have a shy or introverted student at your events. Whether you’re new to ministry or a veteran, engaging and welcoming new students is vital to our mission. Faith is experienced in community, and community is based in relationships. How can we welcome in a student who may be shy, uncomfortable, or just quiet?
Engage them in conversation
An intimate one on one conversation is probably your best bet for helping a shy student feel more at home. Ask him or her about school, family, and what they like to do. Listen intently, show them that you’re listening! Nobody likes to have a conversation where they don’t feel listened to. And of course, make this a conversation. Tell the student about what you like to do, especially if you have a common interest. Once a student knows that there is a friendly face that he or she can turn to, they’ll feel much more comfortable.
Introduce them to other students in the group
Once you’ve began to form a relationship with this student, bring him or her into an existing conversation with some of your regulars. Literally introduce them to each other and tell your regulars a little about your new friend in ministry. This will allow you to go back to answering questions from parents and welcoming other new students.
Help them to see their gifts
As a fellow introvert and former shy kid, one of the things I am most grateful for in ministry is that a youth minister or CORE member helped me to see my gifts and talents. At a middle school youth night way back when, a CORE member asked me if I had ever used my love of art as an act of service to others. I had never thought of it in that way. Seventh grade Mary thought that one needed to be giving an inspiring witness talk to serve God in an acceptable way. Having a mentor help me to see my gifts allowed me to see my worth. I learned how to live out the faith as God had intended for me.
Shy and introverted students may be hard to engage in your typical youth ministry. Be patient and allow the slow work of God to take place in his or her life. Taking the time to welcome each student, getting to know him or her, and helping them to grow as children of God is worth it. You never know the amazing plans that God has for them!