A little while back a friend of mine asked for tips on ‘meeting and greeting’ students. I’ve always been more inclined to accept ministry tips than to give them, so here’s a few simple pointers that I’ve picked up from others along the way.
-Hold every human life in high regard. The more we see people from the perspective of Jesus, the more likely we are to treat every life as worthy of investment.
-Every person is interesting. Sometimes it takes a little investigating to figure out the details, but when we start with ‘this person is interesting’ in mind it’s a lot easier to make a connection.
-Every person has something to offer. Building on the last point, people generally want to share what makes them unique or gifted. Finding what a person has to offer and giving them a chance to use their gift is a great way to build a relationship.
-Every person needs something. Can anyone meet everyone’s needs? No. But that’s not a reason to avoid this key to building a relationship. I typically divide my lack of desire to address people’s needs into two categories; either I can’t fulfill their needs so I don’t even ask, or I am more concerned with having my needs met. Either way, simply identifying and understanding the needs of others can be a huge benefit to a relationship.
-Ask questions. At some level, everyone wants to talk about themselves. Asking the right questions can break down the barriers of even the most extreme introvert. I have a few ‘go-to’ questions that I use when I first meet a student:
-What are you into? Sports, theater, music?
-What position/instrument do you play? What shows have you been in?
The key here is to keep digging. It might mean a lengthy conversation about a weird topic, but that’s half the fun of building a relationship with someone.
-Everything is cool. I’m not into video games, but several of my students are, therefore: video games are awesome. I’m not saying fake an interest in something you don’t like, but to allow the other person to express theirs. This has only backfired on me once when a kid talked about video games every time he saw me for 6 months because I feigned interest in that first conversation.
-Embarrass yourself. I’m not talking about slipping on a banana peel or anything that extreme, but a little self deprecating humor can go a long way. It shows your confidence and lets others know they don’t’ have to be perfect either.
-Leverage your position. The responsibility to make the first move to initiate conversation, or create relationship should go to the person with home-field advantage. If you’re a member of a church, or at the very least have been there for a while, then you should be much more comfortable than someone walking in for the first time.
-Practice. Talk to as many people as you can. For example, food service employees are great training ground for relational ministry. They interact with hundreds of people a day and live in constant fear of ‘can I talk to your manager’ if they’re not at the very least polite to every customer.
-Initiate physical contact. Whether it’s a firm handshake, a two-minute ‘secret’ shake, an awkward side hug or a simple pat on the back, get to physical contact as soon as possible. All kinds of barriers come down when physical contact comes into play. Just be sure to know the appropriate contact, pretty sure the little old ladies at church are tired of me throwing a fist up there for a bump.
One love, one heart.