Imagine Kaylee, a 7th grader who is new in town, comes to your youth group this week. Her mom made her.
You want to make sure she feels welcome, so you greet her at the door with, "Ich bin sehr froh dass du hier bist.”
She gives you the blank stare.
“Bona sera principessa,” says someone passing by.
Kaylee is not impressed, so you guide her to a group of middle schoolers. One of them looks up and says, “Hey! I’m really glad you came.”
Now, Kaylee smiles and relaxes a little. Someone is speaking her language.
Of course, we’re not greeting kids at the door in German or Italian, but are we saying “Welcome” in a way they immediately understand?
Gary Chapman has written a wide array of books, based on his original, “The Five Love Languages.” There are Love Language books “of teenagers,” “of children,” “of singles,” and more. The core premise of Chapman’s books is that people “hear” love in different ways, and if we want to communicate love clearly, it helps to speak each individual’s language.
One of our goals as youth pastors is to communicate God’s deep and abundant love to every youth we see. Imagine how much better we’d do, if we learned each student’s specific love language. See if you can recognize your own love language, and, conversely, the languages you rarely use to communicate with your youth.
Quality time - A quick “how ya doin?” doesn’t cut it with these kids. They need to spend some time with an adult who cares. Letting them know that you’re listening, inviting them to visit you after school, and showing up for games can go a long way.
Gifts – A little goody bag for visitors will speak volumes to these youth. Lessons that include a take-home reminder – even a paper clip or a paper bookmark – will stay in their desk drawers and memories for years.
Physical touch –This is a tricky one in today’s youth ministry world, but we have to find creative, safe ways to speak love in these students’ primary language. Whether it’s high-fives, fist bumps, appropriate hugs or pats on the back, we need to find a dialect that works for us.
Words of Affirmation – “Love your shoes.” “You have a great laugh.” “Nice pass.” They all say “I love you” to people who speak this language. The flip side is that these kids are particularly sensitive to the “just kidding” put-downs that some of us youth pastors are famous for.
Acts of Service – Don’t just say it – do it. Rides to and from youth group, taking their empty plate to the trash, offering homework help – that’s what tells these youth that you really mean it when you say that you care about them.
For youth workers, the “Five Love Languages of Teenagers” is probably the best place to start. But if you read any of Chapman’s books, you walk away with the desire and the tools to speak all five languages or at least to have all five represented on your team of youth leaders. A hugger is communicating with some of her kids, but not all. An affirmer is filling up the “love tank” of some of his youth, but others just aren’t hearing it.
Maybe a good exercise would be to examine the ways we welcome newcomers. We should be saying “we care about you” in a variety of ways, to make sure we are speaking each student’s primary language – instead of insisting that they learn ours.
This blog originally appeared as a column in Group Magazine. Visit them at www.YouthMinistry.com