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Managing Your Ministry: Why Names Matter

By Syler Thomas | High-School Pastor, Christ Church, Lake Forest, Chicago, Illiniois; co-author of Game Plan: Practical Widsom for the College Experience. | March 25 2009

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” This line from Juliet’s famous speech on the balcony to her tragic lover Romeo is one of the most famous from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

“Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” also has to do with his name; Juliet is not looking for Romeo, but rather is asking why. She’s saying: Why must you be called Romeo? He is a Montague and she a Capulet, so their love is forbidden. Juliet knows the power of a name, and as youth ministers, so must we.

In regard to youth ministry, I ask you, as well: What’s in a name, and how much importance do we put on learning and using students’ names as quickly as possible?

The Power of a Name

Do not underestimate the power of knowing a student’s first and last name. Knowing their names is the first step toward telling students they are known and belong.

There is no substitute for walking up to a student and saying, “Hey, Cameron—how has your week been?” This is especially true as it relates to new students. When you meet a student one week and the following week, you are able to walk up and greet her by name, you are saying to her: I know who you are and you are important to me, to this church and to God.

Set Aside Your Excuses

“But I’m terrible with names,” you might say. There are people who genuinely have a difficult time with names, but that also can be an easy excuse—albeit an unacceptable excuse for youth ministers. Learning names takes time, but is worth the effort.

You won’t always remember every name, every time. You might make a fool out of yourself trying to remember, but students will understand as long as you are trying. The minute you give up, the minute you start calling a student “chief,” “big guy” or “friend,” they’ll know. They can see through the façade.

Find a Way To Remember

Where is a good place to start? At the beginning of every school year, start with nametags. The first two youth groups of the fall, I have every student (and leader) wear a nametag so everyone can be on equal footing, and we have mixer games that force students to meet new people.

Another method is to take all the newcomer cards each Sunday night and remember who they are. Don’t be shy about going up to someone you met recently and say: “Your name escapes me, but let me see if I can remember.”

An alternative is to learn a student’s first and last names together. “Sarah Brown” is more memorable than just “Sarah.” Use a mnemonic device, such as visualizing a bird when you meet Robin, or find a clever nickname when you meet Mike Smith (one that doesn’t annoy the student) to help you remember each person.

Students need to know they belong. Just knowing their names isn’t enough, but it’s an important place to start.

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