This is part 3 of a 3-part series on helping the younger and older generations form relationships within the church. For why these relationships are needed and who they should be formed with, read Part 1 and Part 2 of the series.
Forming new relationships can be intimidating, especially for those of us who aren’t very outgoing (I, for one, am extremely introverted). There is always a risk of rejection (or just plain awkwardness) when you put yourself out there. But hopefully these tips for forming relationships between teens/young adults and those who are middle-aged or AARP members will be simple enough to avoid some of that awkwardness. For those of you who are outgoing and have no problem just walking up to someone and starting a relationship, feel free to jump right in and let us know how it goes.
1. Start Small
- Send a card for birthdays, graduations, and other important events. Include a personal message of encouragement or congratulations and maybe your favorite Bible verse. Everyone likes to get a personal greeting on those big events and milestones in life.
- Friend them on Facebook. If you are someone who has ventured into the world of social networking, Facebook can be a great way to build a connection with a young person. Write comments of encouragement and congratulations when they post statuses expressing the highs and lows of life. Let them know you are praying for them. Facebook provides an informal way to initiate a relationship.
- Talk to them at church. Think of something they contribute to the church (it could be a song during the service or helping with nursery or even just being a friendly face) and let them know that you notice and appreciate their contribution. Young people want to know that they are valuable to the church.
2. Grow Gradually
Although you may stay small with the majority of young people in church, there should be a small group that you start feeling comfortable enough with to start to grow your relationship. Some of these relationships may be with your own children and grandchildren as they start to grow into adulthood, but it should not be limited to them. As both parties start to be more familiar with each other, you may want to do some of the following:
- Take them out for coffee or lunch. Almost every teenager and college student I know likes coffee (or at least those mostly-cream-and-sugar-with-a-little-bit-of-coffee-added-for-flavoring drinks that they get at Starbucks). Coffee shops provide an informal setting with enough privacy to have a real conversation. Diners are good for this too, and what young person doesn’t like getting a free meal?
- Call them up and pray for them. Know they have a big exam, athletic event, or performance coming up? Do more than just say you’re praying for them. Call them up the day before and pray for them and with them. Let them know they are important enough for you to take the time and effort to make them a priority.
- Attend their extracurricular events. Who wouldn’t want their own personal cheering section? I did high jump for my high school track team. My brother and a few friends that came to youth group with us were on the team too. Track meets aren’t exactly thrilling to watch, and even though we were good, many parents didn’t show up to every single meet. The fact that our youth pastor would come to meets and video tape us so we could analyze our form afterwards was a huge deal for us.
- Use your skills to help enhance theirs. If you play an instrument and know that a young person is interested in music, invite them to help in your ministry or group and use that as a way to tutor their skill and shepherd their heart. If you love to read and write and know that a young person is an aspiring writer, offer to read their work and offer tips on how to get better (but be encouraging!). Use the skills and interests you already have to build relationships with young people who have similar ones.
3. Think Big
Look for ways to make a big impact in the life of a young person. Figure out what their interests are, and pray about how you can really get involved in those areas. Here are some of the ways older adults did this for me:
- Supporting my missions trips. I started taking trips to Russia when I was in high school, and the people who were the most supportive were the older people in church. Some of them just frequently reminded me they were praying for me and were genuinely interested in hearing about the trips when I came home. Others supported me financially, including one person who supplied almost half of my support for the year-long internship I did.
- Giving me books. One older couple in the church realized that as they aged, they should do more with their library than just have it sit and collect dust. So they decided to donate the books to various libraries and groups. But before they did, they separated out a bunch of books they thought I would use and enjoy and gave them to me. Not only did I appreciate the free books to augment my own collection, the fact that this couple knew enough about me and decided to bless me in this way meant a lot.
- Loving my wife and son. My wife doesn’t have any family. She was literally orphaned as a teenager. So when she came over from Russia, it was a great blessing to us that the older people in church adopted her and became surrogate grandparents to us. The same thing happened when our son was born. He always had people doting on him and playing with him. When you love the people I love, you earn a special place in my heart. Ask yourself who in church needs someone older to come along and serve as their surrogate parent or grandparent. That’s someone you need to be loving on.
These people are still near and dear to my heart. They attended my wedding. They are on my Christmas card list. They made a huge impact in my life. For whom can you do the same? What gifts, resources, talents, or abilities do you have that can be used to meet the needs of someone younger in the church? What needs do you have that a young person can meet for you? The answer to those questions will show you how you can start and build relationships.