Youth Pastor’s Guide to Connecting with Teens

In a digital age, connecting with students is becoming more complicated than ever. Constant interruptions, shorter attention spans, and the fear of missing out on something have people tethered to their phones. As many youth pastors seek ways to connect with their teens, we reached out to the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, Diocesan Youth Missioner Kate Riley for a bit of guidance.

Habits of a connected youth pastor

“The strongest connections I see between teens and their youth pastor are with the pastors who dig deep for the connection. They are intentional. When their schedules allow, they go to games, play, concerts – where their students are. They want to know their students beyond Sunday morning, and that pays off when you get on pilgrimage.”

The commute as a strategy

Kate said there are also little things leaders can do to fortify that connection. Roy Wallace, a youth minister in the diocese, taught her a trick with a playlist.

“When we were in Iceland, every time we climbed into the van, there was music playing. The same playlist every time. Midway through the trip, we are all singing along. The songs were strategically chosen to start a discussion over their meanings and how they related to our trip. Roy had it planned the whole time.”

“The commute time with teens is a great opportunity to connect. The audience is captive. Talk about the scenery, the communal experience you just had, or what you are about to get into together.”

Cell phone policy

As far as cell phone policy goes, Kate said that on weekend retreats, they have a strict no cell phone rule. On pilgrimages, however, she has a three-strike rule.

“If the phone is being a distraction to you or someone else, put it away. You get three warnings, then I’ll take it away for a bit. We have a very sophisticated, ‘Phone Jail’ that is a Ziplock bag in a leader’s luggage.”

And this rule applies from the moment the team meets until they are back at the airport. For example, on her most recent mission trip to Puerto Rico, the team stopped for breakfast on the way to the airport, and everyone was staring at their screens. She collected the phones and reminded them to connect with the people in front of them.

Tricks of the trade: Be real. Be consistent.

Kate said that when she was first starting in youth ministry, she was concerned about what everyone’s opinions and thoughts about her were as a minister. She has since learned that everyone has an opinion. Everyone has their own take and method. The best thing she has found in her ten plus years of ministry is to just be real with the teens. Be consistent.

“Don’t be afraid to share your story. Be authentic. And don’t be afraid to talk about Jesus. Teens have a high BS meter. They want to know the real you. And if you want to know the real them, you have to be real first.”

Jamie has been involved with Wonder Voyage for over 15 years. Her passion is connecting givers with worthwhile project as our Legacy Director.

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