When I first moved from Brazil to the United States, I did not know the culture, lifestyle, or customs. I did not even know the language. I found myself confused, frustrated by not knowing the language, and occasionally, overwhelmed. I was disconnected. It was like I was in a thick fog at times. I just did not have a clear picture of things. If I was going to connect and make sense of life here in the United States, I had a lot of learning to do.
When it comes to connecting with teenage girls in a ministry setting, it can be much like my experience of moving here to America. Teenage girls have a culture and lifestyle of their own. Sometimes, it even seems like they have their own language. So, if we have a desire to connect with them, we need to be willing to learn, experience their culture, and even put ourselves in their shoes, if we can.
Once we make a point to learn about them, their culture and their world, there are four practical and helpful practices that can be used to make connecting with teen girls easier. Throughout my 25+ years of working with teen girls, the practices of prayer, acceptance, time, and recognition have proven to be the most effective strategies for connecting with teenage girls in a small group setting.
1. Pray for (and with) your students
The #1 practice for anyone who wishes to connect with teenage girls in a small group setting is prayer. In John 17, we see Jesus praying for His disciples. Just like Jesus prayed for His disciples, we should pray for the girls in our small groups. We should pray for them and pray with them (yes, take the time to bow your head and pray with them.) Prayer has a major influence on our connection. When we pray for them, we grow in love with them. When we love them, we can’t help but connect with them.
Pray for different areas in their lives:
Relational – Pray for their relationship with God to grow deeper. Pray for their relationships with their parents or guardians. Pray for their relationships with their friends.
Personal – Pray for their trials. Thank God for their victories. Pray for their needs (whatever they might be) and their personal growth (academic, spiritual, physical). Pray for the decisions that they make to be wise.
Pray also for yourself as you minister to them. Ask God to give you wisdom and discernment. Ask God to help you to learn them and unite you with them. Pray!
2. Accept your students for who they are
The Bible tells us in the book of Genesis that we are all created in the image of God. That includes the teenage girls in your small group. We need to communicate that message to them by accepting and loving them for who they are.
If we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that all of us have a need to be accepted. When it comes to teen girls, things aren’t different. They want to be accepted. Teen girls want to be wanted and loved without any restrictions. They want to know that no matter what, they have a safe place to vent their disappointments, and to share their accomplishments. So, accept them, and show them the love of Jesus.
3. Invest time in your students
Jesus spent time with His disciples during His ministry here on Earth. He talked to them, prayed with them, and taught them, investing in their lives.
Just like Jesus, we need to take the time to get to know the girls in our small groups. We need to learn their likes and dislikes. We need to express interest in them and in their activities outside of the church setting. We need to be available and reach out to them in diverse ways, whether it be in their extracurricular activities, or just by making a point to send them a text during the week. They need to know that they matter to us, and we need to be intentional with our time to show them that. Don’t just spend time with them — invest time in them.
4. Recognize and encourage your students
We can see Jesus recognizing His disciples and His followers in several instances throughout the Gospels. The woman with the alabaster bottle and the woman with the issue of blood are a couple of times where we see Him recognizing and encouraging His followers publicly. So, let’s follow Jesus’ example and try to do the same with the girls in our small groups. Recognize them. Show them that they matter for who they are. Highlight their accomplishments, even the small ones. Acknowledge their growth (beyond just spiritual growth). Remind them of how far they’ve come and encourage them by showing them where they will be as they keep moving forward.
We need to remember that it is not about us — it is about them. Let’s learn about them and connect with them through prayer, acceptance, time, and encouragement.
Tatianne O’Bradovic (Tati) has been involved with children/youth ministries for more than 25 years. She has been married to her husband, Paul O’Bradovic, for 19 years, and the couple has two spunky girls whom she loves dearly. She is grateful for the privilege to homeschool her daughters and to be a helper to her husband as a youth ministry coach with Word of Life in the Northeast area. Tati also enjoys working at her local library as their Children’s Program coordinator.