You want to visit students on their turf. You want to go where they are and all that right? Absolutely. Being present in the lives of students doesn’t count if it only happens on your time, in your environment, at your church. If you want to be incarnational…and be present in students lives you need to be on school campuses.
I get it. You are not able to be at all of your student’s schools…not every day, not every lunch break….So many schools. So many lunches. But YOU CAN pick one or two schools and choose to be as present as you are allowed to be[important…don’t go until it’s been cleared with the school administration] without being creepy.
Oh, so you are an insecure introvert? Or middle aged and drive a minivan? Not exactly the hip young, confident college age youth leader anymore perhaps? How do you spend time on campus without completely dreading it? Without being you know, awkward. Here are some tips for how to hang out at school lunches and seem good at it.
BE ACCOUNTABLE TO SOMEONE
Seriously, strange but true- years could go by without anyone ever asking me about how often I am present on school campuses. That’s why I [a full time paid youth pastor] have volunteered with both Young Life and Campus Life over the years. They require “contact work” and being present on school campuses [and hint they know how to get you on campus through established relationships with school administrators]. And they will ask you about it. “So how is your contact work going?”
YOU CAN DO ANYTHING FOR 15 MINUTES
Go. You can always go to at least one lunch once a week. You don’t have to go to two of them if a school has back to back lunches. Hanging out from 11 am til 1 pm for multiple lunch hours is not fun for anyone. Unless you are some super extrovert, who loves the smell of crappy cafeteria food and lives for that kind of thing. Tip: Arrive a little late. You can walk into a school cafeteria after lunch has started and hang out for 15 minutes. Anyone can do anything for 15 minutes[so says FLYLADY anyway]. After you’ve figured out how fun and quickly 15 minutes fly by, you can work your way up to longer visits. Once you get to know students and their stories, you will have so much more to chat about.
START WITH KIDS YOU ALREADY KNOW
I text a few students from my youth group ahead of time [same gender…I don’t seek out the opposite gender via text to stalk at their schools, too creepy!] so they know I am coming to lunch. They tell me where they are sitting, and they introduce me to their friends. When I walk into lunch, I know exactly where I am going and where I am sitting. That helps me feel so much less awkward. Sometimes I bring French Fries because they LOVE it when I do.
If you don’t know anyone, just look for a group of kids and ask, “Can I join you?” Chances are they will say yes. Introduce yourself so they don’t go home saying, “Mom some strange lady sat with me at lunch and gave me candy.” That isn’t weird or anything. A simple “I am a youth pastor at a church nearby and came to hang out today at lunch” is usually a good enough of an explanation.
TWO HELPFUL THINGS YOU CAN BRING WITH….
- Candy. Bring candy. Now keep in mind that I don’t walk around with a huge bag of it because principals don’t really like that. Especially if kids leave candy wrappers all over the place. I keep a small stash in my purse and pass it around to the kids I am sitting with. You don’t want to be mobbed by 200 middle schoolers begging for candy, so be smart about it. You also don’t need to bring stuff to be liked. It’s just an easy icebreaker.
- Games. WOULD YOU RATHER’S, UNO, SCRABBLE SLAM…games like these are awesome to have on hand. I tried downloading a few fun apps to my phone, but apparently I barely have any space left on my iPhone, so that didn’t work well. Having games in my purse really come in handy when I need help keeping conversations going.
Those are my tips, what are yours for visiting students at lunch without being awkward?
GINA ABBAS, the author of A WOMAN IN YOUTH MINISTRY, has been hanging out with middle schoolers since the year Mulan hit movie theaters. Gina recently joined the pastoral staff of the Meeting House in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. When she’s not leading small groups, she can be found shooting foam finger rockets at her children and roaming Gettysburg with her history-loving husband.
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.