The 3 Most Powerful Words in Youth Ministry

David Fraze
September 24th, 2020

“I like you!”

What if these truly are the 3 most powerful words in Youth Ministry?

Youth Ministers use the word love a lot (maybe too much).

  • “I would love to have lunch with you guys.”
  • “I would love if you joined us at our church.”
  • “I really love hanging out with students.”
  • “I really loved that conference.”
  • “I love this scripture, praise song, camp, mission site, preacher, blog…etc.”

Oh, and there are the given “love statements” students expect to hear from youth ministers.

  • “God loves you.”
  • “Christ loves you so much he died for you.”
  • “The Spirit loves and lives inside of you.”

Don’t misunderstand. These are all fine and appropriate things to say. But students also need to hear something else from you. They need to hear words that help them clearly understand and believe the love statements you are desperately trying to communicate.

What if a student’s inability to hear your love statements is because they wonder if you even like them?

  • Do you hang around with the same students, families?
  • Do you talk about the same type of activities (Sports, Music, Art) in your lesson illustrations?
  • Do you pass certain groups of students to talk with those you are more comfortable?
  • Do you have inside jokes with a limited number of students?

If you answered yes to these questions, you are communicating an “I don’t like you” message.

Teenagers experience moments in which they doubt anyone likes them or that they possess a talent or ability that is likeable. They go through stage(s) in which they feel invisible or at best common among peers. 

These moments certainly call for a flood of love statements from caring adults and youth workers. These moments call for an even greater flood of like statements to validate the worthiness they feel to receive words of love.

Let me give you an example.

Years ago I had a young lady in my youth group that was difficult to like. She had a disability that made her irritable, argumentative and pretty much unable to work with others (imagine how complicated work projects could be if you were on this person’s work crew). On top of all this, she came from a rough home situation and was often unkept in appearance. She heard many love statements from our youth ministry team which seemed to fall on deaf ears.

Why? She did not believe anyone liked or could like her. However, a group of students decided to “include” this young lady into their group (I know…a clear breach of teen world protocol). Caring adults began to point out unique things to like about this young lady. This changed everything. In short order, the like statements made it possible for the love statements to sink deep into her core.

We all have students in our ministry that need a flood of like statements. Here are a few suggestions for starting a flood of like in your youth ministry:

Spend time talking with the “unlikeable” in the presence of more “likeable” students.

There is great significance and like shown when passing the students that get all the attention for students that get little. Target the students that stand apart from the group or look for a place to hide in the crowd.

Go to all types of events to support your students. 

It is normal for a youth minister to feel more comfortable around certain groups of students (athletic, artistic, creative, alternative, etc). Fight the urge to support one group over another.

Yes, this is difficult, but a loud “I am likable” message is communicated when you show up at games, concerts, performances, competitions or events that are outside your comfort zone. Please don’t be that “I only relate to athletic (insert other comfortable) students” type of youth minister.

Communicate like messages to students. 

Old school works best here. Send an email, text, write a note and put it in the snail mail highlighting something you have seen that is unique, praiseworthy and likable about a given student (I recommend you stay away from social media platforms. These can backfire and become a self-esteem competition quickly).

Think about it. Right now, you probably have a note in your desk from your youth minister.

Share the praise from the stage. 

It is easy to call to the stage as an example and/or volunteer the likable. Why not share the stage with those who never or rarely share the spotlight? You will be communicating a strong like message.

(CAUTION:  Some students do not like the stage.  Do not embarrass a student. That message would change into an unlike message quickly).

David Fraze

David Fraze is an advisor and professor at Lubbock Christian University in Lubbock, TX. David also contributes as an editor at Youth Specialties, a coach at the National Youth Workers Association, and is a sought after speaker and advisor with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.