Sometimes church youth groups are easier for loud, outgoing teenagers. Awkward situations don’t intimidate them. When they walk into a room, all they see is the potential for a great time.
However, youth groups can be overwhelming—or terrifying—for quieter students. If youth workers happen to be extroverts themselves, it can be more difficult for them to notice and engage the quieter ones.
Quiet kids don’t come into your group and announce that they’re uncomfortable. While you’re off connecting with other extroverts, they are fading into the background. Without some pastoral assistance, it is likely these students will stop coming.
What can you do to help these students get connected? Think about these five things.
1. Train your student leaders.
You and your student leaders need to be aware of the quieter students, and your leaders likely will need to be re-reminded of this on a pretty regular basis.
One of the things I tell my student leaders in my first meeting with them is that their lives at youth group are no longer about them. It’s first and foremost about the others. When they see a student sitting alone, they should stop whatever they’re doing to engage with that student either by asking questions, introduce them to others nearby and staying and sitting with them for the duration of the evening.
2. Train your adult leaders.
Many times, these quieter students are more mature than others and will connect better with an adult than a fellow teenager. Your adult leaders need to be reminded that some students are hungry for a connection with an older adult. They are not just there to be chaperones; they’re there to be shepherds.
When Kevin was a freshman, most of his good youth group friends were still in eighth grade, so he didn’t have many easy connections there. Each Sunday night, I loved watching him make a beeline for one of our leaders, who happens to be the father of another youth group student. They would talk for five minutes or so, and I’m convinced this connection is what kept him coming.
3. Create multiple entry points.
Alex had a hard time connecting with our evening youth group event and would be very honest with me about it.
“I would just rather sit at home playing video games on my couch than come to youth group,” he said. “Sorry.”
We see Alex a lot on Wednesday afternoons at our service event to play with kids at the homeless shelter. Do I wish he came to both? Absolutely. Still, I’m glad he’s found a connection somewhere.
4. Capitalize on your events.
I will never forget the moment I realized Maggie wasn’t actually a quiet kid. She had come to all the pre-mission trip meetings and barely said a word. “Huh, she’s pretty shy,” I figured and didn’t think much about it.
Getting out of the vans after a 12-hour van ride, Maggie was a different person. She was making jokes and acting as silly as I had ever seen a student act. “Who are you, and what have you done with Maggie?” I wondered.
She just needed some prolonged time in a safe setting to give her the freedom to be herself. The transformative power of getting students away on events such as this cannot be overstated.
5. Be pro-active about reaching out to them yourself.
Once you get past their initial shyness, you’ll find many of these students to be your deeper thinkers who probably need more help processing what’s going on in their heads. Still waters run deep, but it may take a little more patient persistence to get it out of them.
Also, my quieter students are less likely to apply for our student ministry team. So, if I am aware of a good candidate who is on the shy side, I try to reach out to him or her to encourage participation.
“We need you,” I’ll say, “to help us reach other students such as yourself.” What better way to reach a quiet student than with a quiet student leader?
We can be pretty sure the apostle Peter was an extrovert. He couldn’t keep his mouth shut on so many different occasions. We can’t be sure about the others, but my hunch is that some of them were probably on the quiet side. Jesus called them and used them to change the world. We can do the same.