If there is one leadership skill that makes leaders stand out, it’s their ability to “work a room” or simply to step outside themselves and acknowledge most if not all people wherever they are.
Recently while visiting a parish I asked a teen how he got involved in Life Teen? He simply looked at me and said, “Tony, one of the Core team members came up to me at our school during a basketball game and just started talking to me. At the end of our short talk he invited me to come to Life Teen. It took me a few weeks, but when I showed up he remembered me.”
One of my favorite Pope Francis quotes so far is “Always step outside yourself.” It is so simple in theory, but more difficult in practice. The past few months I have been giving a talk at our Life Teen training conferences called “The Art of Forming Disciples.” With the Protestant and Non-Denominational Mega churches now using the word “Disciple” as the new thing in youth ministry, I felt like we as Catholics needed to claim this term back as many of us in Catholic youth ministry have been forming disciple relationships with teens for many years now.
My talk highlights 6 steps to forming disciples. I have had amazing response to this talk as it is so simple, yet it is striking a chord with conference attendees. I want to focus on step one as without this step you won’t even have teens attending that you can form into disciples.
Step One: Making Contact
We can engage every teen at this level, regardless of who they are or how you know them. At this level, we let the teens know that we are interested in them and see them as a person of worth and importance. We need to reach out during this step to all teens. That doesn’t mean we will connect with every teen, it just means that when we are around teens we need to go up and meet them and acknowledge them. Some hints for making contact with teens:
- Introduce yourself. Don’t wait for them to initiate the conversation.
- Smile and make eye contact.
- Actively listen to them. When they talk, give them your undivided attention. Listen to what is being said beyond the words.
- Ask open-ended questions that draw the conversation to a more real level.
- Earn the right to be heard. Your good advice and preaching will not be accepted if you have not gained their trust and respect.
- Ask for their prayer requests and let them know that you are specifically praying for them.
- If possible, meet their parents.
Does your current contact with teens consist of an announcement at Mass, mailing a calendar or flyer, posting something on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter or hoping that teens will read the parish bulletin instead of talking to them directly? In my experience talking to them directly is still the most effective method of reaching teens!