One of the rewarding challenges of student ministry is the wide variety of students with which we get to work. It’s never a dull moment when you’ve got a group of wild and uninhibited middle school boys or a group of chatty high school girls. Of course, those are stereotypes, and we all know that each student has their own unique set of personality characteristics.
Regardless of the uniqueness of the student, each student is created in the image of God and deserves our best ministry efforts. I think that one of the tenants of our Wesleyan heritage, prevenient grace, can be extremely helpful as we think about all of our students, especially our students who are quiet.
Prevenient grace is the grace that goes before us, always wooing us into a relationship with the God who created us. It’s the grace that draws us toward God even before we are aware of it.
With our quiet students, a direct and full frontal approach will seldom open the doors that will allow us to truly engage in a relationship with them. If we take a different approach, one that woos them to God and to us, we may end up with better results.
There are a few things which will be helpful in wooing students into a greater engagement with us, other students, and with God:
Discover Why They Are Quiet
Just as there are all different types of students, students are quiet for different reasons. Some are truly shy or introverted. Others may desperately want to engage with you and the other students but lack the confidence, knowledge, or experience to do so. Some may have determined that being quiet is the cool thing to do.
Whatever the reason may be, it’s helpful to try and understand why students behave the way they do. We should be clear about one thing: being quiet isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Especially for our younger students who are neck deep in discovering who they are, being quiet is part of how they sort out their place in our giant world.
Identify the Quiet Leader
If you’re in a small group teaching setting and you’re having a particularly rough time getting anyone to talk, you just might have a quiet leader on your hands. The quiet leader’s silence is mimicked by those over whom he or she exercises social influence. This behavior may not be intentional, but identifying silent student leaders can be helpful in your attempts to engage and teach the rest of the group. Building a connection with that student may open the door to further engagement with the rest of the group.
Embrace the Silence
Being comfortable with silence is essential if you’re going to engage quiet students. It’s awkward, I know, but sitting with a student, even in silence, shows your commitment to them.
It may take a significant amount of silent engagement before it becomes apparent that you’re developing any relationship with the student. Remember, you’re in a marathon, not a sprint.
Learn to Read Body Language
For some students, their silence may be a sign of some deep hurt or trauma. Pay close attention to their facial expressions, the way the sit, and their subtle reactions to different themes and topics. The furrowed brow, slumped shoulders, or eyes that look lost and deep may be your cue to sit down one-on-one with the student to see what’s on his or her mind. Of course, with quiet kids, be prepared for an initial silent response. Give it time; eventually they’ll come around.
Intentional One-on-One Time
Some students may never talk in a group setting. While we hope that they might, it just won’t ever happen. For these types of students, intentional one-on-one time is best. It may not be you personally, but someone on your team needs to find a time to engage the student one-on-one. I’m not talking about in a quiet corner of a large group setting but in a place where the student can feel truly safe to talk. Obviously, follow all of your church’s safety guidelines when setting up one-on-one times. Always get expressed consent from a parent or guardian.
Discover Their Interests
Students who are quiet will easily open up if you can discover the thing or things about which they are passionate. Look for clues about the things they find important. Clothing, while not always, can be an important indicator. Social media can also provide clues to the things that have captured their interest. You can always ask outright, too. Once you’ve found out what they are interested in, do a little research so you can engage in thoughtful conversation about that topic.
Create the Right Environment – The Third Thing
Especially with guys, the right environment is key. There needs to be a third thing: you, the student, and an activity in which you both can participate. Video games, table tennis, disc golf, food of any kind are all good “third things.” This seems to be less important for girls who seem to be a little more comfortable sitting and talking one-on-one. Nevertheless, a third thing always helps.
These are just a few ways in which you might be able to engage students who are quiet.
Each student is unique, and their uniqueness should be valued and honored.
Seeking to softly woo them into deeper engagement with God and with your community of faith is the best way to minister to quiet students. In the same way that God has wooed you into a deep relationship with Him and His Church, you are now called to woo others in the same way. It’s a great privilege to get to minister to shy and quiet students in this grace-filled way.