Practicing Presence in Youth Ministry

It became a mid-week norm for us. After youth group, we would load up the church van and drive whoever needed a ride home back to their house. We started with a few teenagers whose parents didn’t attend our church and within a few months wound up with half the youth group begging us to take them home last. Somehow, the church van became sacred space for conversations about life, faith, and those subjects that we struggle to wrap our minds around. It also became a place where we learned to be present.

We often think that the bigger, better, and more attractive our Youth Ministries are, the greater chance we have at connecting with this generation, but most teens are just looking for people who are willing to show up and be present. They want adults who are willing to listen, encourage, model, and cheer them on through life. So how do we do that?

Here are six simple places to start with the teens you are working with.

1. Create Safe Zones
Church vans, tables at Starbucks, and backyard fire pits can all be great places to practice presence…if we create a space that is safe. Reminding teens that it is a no-judgement zone, modeling what it means to listen, and allowing everyone to have a voice fosters a safe environment where significant conversations can take place.

2. Find Out What Is Important
If you want to show a teen that you are willing to invest and be a presence, take the time to find out what is important to them. Ask good questions, spend time observing social media, take them to Starbucks, meet their friends, and take the time to notice what they think is significant. Knowing what’s important creates an avenue for conversation and a statement that you care.

3. Celebrate The Small Stuff
Whether it’s getting your driver’s license, being recognized at school for an academic achievement, or getting your braces off, the small things in life matter. Finding creative ways to celebrate the small stuff not only encourages but reminds teenagers that you are aware of what is going on in their life.

4. Authentically Share Your Story
Stories are powerful and have the potential to create space for vulnerability. When we are willing to share both the bright spots and the difficult moments in our personal journey, we remind teens that we are not perfect and that struggles are real. It’s through our authenticity that teenagers realize we are committed to being a faithful part of their life.

5. Show Up When It Matters
The 7th-grade band concert may not be your first choice in how to spend your free time, but showing up can make a huge difference. Showing up at a middle school graduation, after a big loss in the playoffs, at a funeral of a loved one, after a big break-up, or after just having a really bad day signals, “I see you, I am for you, and I am with you.” Showing up can often be a game changer that reminds teens they matter and their life is valuable.

6. When In Doubt…Go Old School: While sending personal notes in the mail, picking up the phone, or sending a text to say you are praying for them may seem old school, they are great ways to remind teens that you are thinking about them throughout the week and tangible ways to encourage on a weekly basis and be a consistent presence.

Being present doesn’t have to be complicated. It just starts with a willingness to create space, show up and listen. What are some ways you are choosing to be present this week?

Andrea Sawtelle

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