Summer. It's a different animal for so many youth ministries, isn't it?
There are a lot of you reading this that are looking forward to summer because it's a break! For us, summer pretty much means ramping up the programmed aspect of your youth ministry. Summer Camp here and a Mission Trip there; in addition to all the Beach days and crazy Wednesday nights, we’re looking at a few months of incredible youth group. (This evokes mixed emotions, for sure.) But the dynamics are different. With students and leaders traveling more often, and with a more laid back schedule, we'll watch students start to thrive in relationship.
Summer is the perfect time to grow relationships with individual students!!!! To some this will seem like an obvious statement. But to others, the first response might be to disagree. If your tendency is to see summer as a time to "check out," let me challenge you to see summer as fertile ground for strengthening relationships with students. For those of you who would say that building relationships in the summer is actually more challenging, I would agree in one regard: it takes a different kind of effort on our part. We have to be more intentional about seeking out students. But I believe it's worth it . . .
You see, I think of summer as the ideal relationship incubator. There are quite a few factors that make this true:
• Students' schedules are open. Many of the activities that fill students' schedules during the year are gone. And even though many will have camp and practice in the summer, it's so much easier to work around schedules compared to the school year.
• Parents too. A relaxed schedule for students frees up parents some, as well. It may be easier to get mom or dad to drop off their child for an activity if it's not the 20th time they've done so that week.
• The pace of summer seems to invite students to slow down and relax. I don't know about you, but I can often feel the stress of the school year on my students. Summer seems to create a vibe better suited for hanging out.
• Summer activities are just more fun. Beach days, swimming pools, dinners together, an afternoon movie, a baseball game . . . all things that are pretty much out of the picture in the school year.
So summer does indeed present a great opportunity for relationships. Here are a few thoughts and strategies we have for getting the most relationship building bang-for-your-buck with your students:
• We want you to know you don't have to go it alone. We have incredible adult volunteers that help in our ministry; we encourage them to join us in strengthening relationships with students in the summer. As much as we can, we create the expectation that they are to regularly look for opportunities to hang out with students. And as we have opportunities, we invite our volunteers to come with us.
• We have those students that seem to wilt in large groups of people. Heck, I feel that way sometimes as an adult! Summer is an awesome time to seek out our "fringe" students and build connections, one-on-one. Our default is to hang out with those students most like us, especially in the summer. However, we are intentional about seeking out those students who may be most in need of real relationship.
• I've been accused of trying to boil everything down to a process. Guilty as charged. So, hear me say that by "a plan" I'm not advocating creating a graph or a spreadsheet of our students with a color-coded grid denoting when I might try and meet with each of them. No, by "a plan" I mean setting goals. Here's the deal: if we don't set goals for ourselves (meeting with at least one student a week, for example) we will find ourselves mid-Summer having not met with the first student. We have a mental plan for making the summer count.
• Students who work summer jobs present a great opportunity to build relationships. We ask if it's OK to drop in on them when they're scheduled to take their lunch break. Engaging with students where they work is an incredible opportunity to build them up.
Building relationships in the summer does require a different kind of effort on our part. We know we will be exhausted at the end; however, if we are intentional and diligent to create relationship building opportunities, we know we will find our youth group stronger once the Fall starts. And we will also find our own lives deeply impacted by the growing relationships we have with our amazing students.
"If your tendency is to see summer as a time to "check out," let me challenge you to see summer as fertile ground for strengthening
relationships with students."
"We have incredible adult volunteers that help in our ministry; we encourage them to join us in strengthening relationships with students in the summer."
"Our default is to hang out with those students most like us, especially in the summer. However, we are intentional about seeking out those students who may be most in need of real relationship."