My very first experiences of 'doing' youth ministry did not occur in a church or youth room. It happened at a high school football game.
After joining a student ministry outreach organization during my freshman year in college, my supervisor approached me and said, "Clear your calendar for this Friday night. You and I are headed to a high school football game!" While apart of me felt excited for the adventure, another part of me felt a bit confused as to why I would start my tenure in youth ministry at a high school football game. Could my time be better utilized preparing a talk, recruiting volunteers, or starting a small group with a few guys?
My supervisor gave me one objective during the game: meet as many new students as I could. Period. He got me started by introducing me to a Junior named Chase. Chase and I chatted for a few minutes, and then all of a sudden, he said, "Come meet my guys." I followed him over to the sideline fence, and there I stood for over an hour, talking with Chase's guys, sharing life, laughing hard about high school drama, listening intently to their dreams and concerns about life, and hearing about the good, bad, and ugly of family life at home. Who knew at the time that these early budding friendships would be the foundation for my very first small group.
Unknowingly, I had embarked upon a ministry endeavor called 'contact work,' and it forever altered how I understand and work out youth ministry.
At the time, going to a football game, meeting kids, and emphasizing relationships over teaching shattered all of my preconceived ideas about youth ministry. I thought youth ministry happened in a room located in some corner of a building, typically far away from adults! But in those three hours, I learned more about each one of those guys and the culture in which they reside than an entire semester's worth of program could have ever afforded me.
Contact work with those few allowed me to invest better and lengthier conversations that focused on intentional topics that surpassed a simple high-5 or a quick "How was your day?" On some program nights, some kids only receive a greeting from me... that's it. This breaks my heart, for I would love to give every kid 15 minutes, but I rely on my small group leaders for those kinds of intentional conversations during program night. During healthy, faithful contact work occurrences, however, kids get my full attention, I am fully present to engage them, and we can allow as much time as necessary to work through their issues, find solutions, and seek the counsel of God.
It dawned on me - after only one contact work event... my very first one! - that vibrant, faithful youth ministry is just as important outside of the program as during it. And that realization forever changed how I 'do' youth ministry.
As you work through how to engage and implement contact work within your ministry philosophy and context, keep in mind that contact work occurs in two different formats:
Direct - time invested in the physical company of teenagers, either in a group of one-on-one.
Indirect - time invested with students apart from physical interaction, such as text, call, email, letters, and other such means.
In my next post, stay tuned to read more about contact work and the three different levels that each one of these formats reside. Building a systematic contact work strategy allows both for you to engage every student in a unique way, while not letting your students slip through the cracks of program - no matter what size youth group you lead.
QUESTION: Do you engage in contact work? If so, then how?