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By Amy Green.
I’ve often made the somewhat-bold claim that the most important thing for youth leaders to do, besides showing up and loving God, is to learn students’ names.
That may seem like an overstatement at first. But some of the verses about God that are most comforting are the ones that talk about how he knows individual details of our lives, like how many hairs are on our heads, every day that we will live, and, most importantly, our names (Matt. 10:30, Ps. 139:16, John 10:3). God loves the world, sure, but God also loves Amy, and when I realized that in jr. high, that made more of an impact on my life than any generic gospel presentation.
So, if God knows each of our students’ names, we probably should too.
One time, I was watching a leader telling an unruly twelve-year-old to be quiet during lesson time. “Why should I listen to you?” the kid demanded. “You don’t even know who I am, do you?” And the leader couldn’t say anything, because he didn’t.
Once you treat the students as individuals and show that you care about them, you earn the right to correct them, to hear their secrets, to be trusted and respected and greeted with a high five that will make your hand throb for fifteen minutes afterward. It’s a simple but powerful way of letting them know that you care.
Obviously, learning names can be hard, especially in a large group of students (and especially if everyone in the congregation decided to name their kids after major Biblical figures). Here are some tips for learning names:
- If you’ve gotten “out” during dodgeball or are waiting in line for kickball, point out a few people you don’t know and ask another leader or some of the kids what their names are. Then cheer them on when they score or do something impressive in the game. It’ll cement the name in your mind.
- Play name game icebreakers every now and then. Yes, they’re a little corny, and not quite as fun as having a water balloon war or playing human foosball. But they actually do help. And maybe you can find a way to combine water balloons with a game that helps you (and the students) learn names.
- This is one of my favorite lines: “Hey, what’s your name? I need to know in case a large heavy object falls from the sky and I have to yell your name before it crushes you.” This is especially popular with jr. high boys, who otherwise get super uncomfortable when talking to female leaders for the first time.
- Ask for a way to remember the person’s name. It doesn’t even have to make sense. When I asked Caleb, one of my jr. highers, to give me an association with his name, he said, “I like bacon, and there’s a spy in the Bible named Caleb.” Now, what bacon had to do with the Bible is beyond me (it’s not even a kosher food). But I still remember his name, so it must have worked.
- If someone tells you their name, immediately use it in conversation with them several times. “So, Kaitlyn, how many more weeks until spring break?” “Are you going on vacation, Kaitlyn, or just staying at home?” It may seem forced to you, but as long as you drop it in naturally, no one else will notice. This will help other leaders learn the name too.
- When in doubt, just say the name, even if you’re not sure it’s right. The other person will correct you. It’s not a big deal, and it’s better than just awkwardly ignoring them for a full year.
Once you know names, say them all the time. Attach them to every greeting. Use them when you’re calling for volunteers. Chant them obnoxiously during game time. Let them know that you know who they are and that they matter.
Amy Green is an amazing “all-in” volunteer, just graduated from Taylor University and has worked with one group of Junior-high students her whole career in college. You can check out Amy’s blog here: http://justthefiction.blogspot.com/