Seven Ways to Connect with Teenagers This Summer

By Jonathan McKee Posted on May 29 2012

Let’s face it, summer brings an entirely new menu of ministry venues: camps, trips, pool parties and late nights. Plenty of opportunities for ministry during these few months. Plenty of ways to connect with teenagers.

Youth ministry leaders are always looking for venues where their adult leaders can connect with young people—it’s a foundational summer priority in youth ministry. But what are some of the best arenas where teenagers actually open up and talk during the summer? And what are some tools we can give our adult leaders to seek out these times?

Here’s seven ways that we can connect with teenagers during these summer months, including a few ways that youth leaders can help make it easier for all their adult volunteers:

7. The Y-adapter: Summer is often full of trips: long bus rides to camp, long van rides to Disneyworld or a music festival. I like to give my adult leaders tools that help them initiate conversation with teenagers during these long rides. One of those tools is the Y-adapter. You know…the little iPod y-adapter that turns one headphone jack into a two headphone jack? (you can get them at any Radio Shack) It works like this. You sit next to a kid who is listening to their music, pull out your headphones and y-adapter and ask, “Can I plug in?”

The purpose of this is not to lecture kids about the LMFAO or Katy Perry songs in their playlist. This simple act of “listening in” provides a glimpse into their world. Most teenagers love music. When you enter the world of a teenager’s music, you have often found a place that’s dear to them, a place where they spend hours daily. Use these opportunities to get to know your teenagers.

But music also can bring up great conversation. If the topic of music content comes up, equip your leaders to simply ask questions:

  • What was this song about?
  • What does that mean?
  • What do you think most teenagers hear when they listen to this song?
  • How does this music influence teenagers?

Y Adapters are just a tool that helps our adult leaders initiate bus-ride conversations.

6. Sleeping Under the Stars: Backpack trips, camping trips, or just a small group of people sleeping in a wide open back yard…it doesn’t really matter as long as it’s quiet and under the stars. Schedule some times to sleep out in the open under the night sky this summer. Something about laying in a sleeping bag and looking up at God’s creation that seems to get kids thinking about life. Don’t force a prepped talk about “creation,” just be ready to listen about life.

5. Jamba Cards: I find that my adult volunteers sometimes needed a little push start to get them to initiate “one-on-ones” with teenagers. At the beginning of the summer hand each of your adult leaders a Jamba card with $25 on it. Tell them: “This is for you to take each of your small group kids out for a one-on-one. This should cover about the first three kids.”

Yes, this is a budget item. But I find that donors are pretty happy to donate $25, financing three “one-on-ones” between a teenager and a positive adult role model.

Summer I use Jamba cards—winter I use Starbucks (Or “Timmy’s” for y’all up North of the border).

4. Halo Night: If you want to be a positive influence in the life of a junior high boy, it starts with blowing away aliens on the newest X-box system. A couple adult volunteers, a few teenage boys, a cooler full of Mountain Dew and an X-box controller in each hand… what more do ya need?

Two years ago I had two guys in my junior high small group that really struggled opening up to the group. After a night of video games at my house…I couldn’t get them to shut up!

I’ve had a few parents complain about games like Halo over the years, but in all honesty, Halo is just “Space Invaders” with really good graphics! Get parent permission first, but video games can be a great tool to connect. (Just always check out a video game review page beforehand.)

3. Costco Food Court: Wanna connect with a kid over food but you don’t really have much of a budget? Try a “big-box store” like the Costco food court. Hot dog and a soda for $1.50? Sign me up!

Last week Jim Burns’ daughter Becca told my son and I, “My dad always used to ask me where I wanted to go for our Daddy/daughter dates. I always told him, ‘Target Food Court!’”

Young people really aren’t that picky. The conversation is what’s valued with these kinds of connections.

2. Exposing Yourself to Harmful UV Rays: In a world where every article in the paper is talking about how damaging the sun is, be politically incorrect this summer and expose yourself to the rays! Take a couple teenagers to the beach, the lake or a pool, slap on some sunscreen and just chill (yes, sunscreen actually works). Teenagers love chill time, and one-on-one or one-on-two time by the water can open the doors to hours of good conversation! (Best for adult males to hang with teenage guys, and adult females to hang with teenage girls in this situation. More on these kinds of boundaries in Chapter 13 of Jonathan’s book, Connect.)

1. YOU FILL IN THE BLANK… yeah… I left this blank on purpose because you all probably have the best ideas! Use the comments below to let us in on your #1 tip for connecting with young people this summer!


Jonathan McKeeIf you liked this article from Jonathan, you’ll love his books, Ministry By Teenagers, Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation, and his brand new 4 Session DVD curriculum coming out this May, Real Conversations: Sharing Your Faith Without Being Pushy



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From LiSA j. on May 29, 2012

~Thank You!  :)

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From Caitlin on May 29, 2012

I really like all of your suggestions, but I have a dilemma with most of them. My church has extremely strict policies regarding adult interaction with youth. There must be 2 adults always, and 2 males and 2 females if there are boys and girls present. One-on-Ones are STRICTLY forbidden. Going off campus is even more involved. There must be 2 adults in the car, we have to get written permission from the parents. I’m the staff person, so I’m available all summer, but getting a second adult for many of these activities would be problematic. Any thoughts?

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From Jonathan on June 03, 2012

Get the policy changed…

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From Callie on June 03, 2012

Caitlin -
We have a similar policy at our church. However, we do have provisions in place to allow for one-on-one meetings as necessary (i.e. counseling situations)...but they have to take place in a public place. So for instance, I could MEET kids at Starbucks or Sonic, but could not drive them there…and I would not meet them at their house (or mine). Can you do something similar? (I know that makes it difficult to meet up with younger students, but it may be a start).

The other thing that comes to mind: do youth come hang out in your youth area at church? If not, is there anything you could do to make it more inviting? When students just “show up,” I don’t turn them away; I let another staff member know that the students are there, and keep the doors open. For me, the distinction is between structured programming (when I ALWAYS have another adult present) and informal, in-between time (especially in the summer, when kids are free during the day…not always possible to plan for).

It’s easy to “blame the policies,” and I don’t know your specifics…but I try to see our policies as a helpful boundary to work within, rather than something that prevents me from doing ministry!

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From Doug on June 06, 2012

Remember that policies like these not only protect students but they protect YOU! It only takes a rumor, even a false one, to destroy a ministry!

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From Josh Evans on June 06, 2012


Hey bro! These are some great thoughts, and I really appreciate them. Thanks for suggesting these, and I am going to use them. I will echo your comment about students enjoying chill time. My students love just having a cook out at our house playing corn hole and chatting. It is very simple, but brings about healthy discussion and relationship building.

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From Steve on July 02, 2012

Thank you very much for taking the time to post these ideas.
I always reach out to the parents when I reach out to the youths and make plans to meet. If I can make myself available to meet with the young person while the parent is shopping at Costco or Target or else where, it helps all three of us achieve our goal for meeting.
I am also fortunate because I have a son & daughter in our youth group so driving other kids around is easier for me because I can just drag one of my kids with me so I am never alone with a young person.

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From John on July 03, 2012

I’m with Callie and Doug on this one. You can very easily be destroyed forever as a minister by even a false rumor, and it doesn’t even have to be started by the youth! Some relative-of-a-friend-of-a-relative-3-times-removed could say something that would forever create deep, nearly unsurvivable damage to you as a minister. That being said, while the policy is a bit strict to me, work within what you have. Meeting youth at a public place, as mentioned above, sounds like a great idea. I don’t know your context, but in my small town, even junior high kids can get themselves places. Most of them spend the summer riding their bikes all day (if they are not otherwise busy), so they LIKE to stop at dairy queen for a free water. Maybe invite them to meet you at a public place for some ice cream just to cool off. Any my high-schoolers spend plenty of time driving around, wasting their gas money, so I think they could handle a free meal, too. We don’t have costco in town, but we have gas stations that my teens love to eat at. They’ll get a burrito or a slice of pizza and sit and talk.

One of my biggest difficulties, honestly, is starting conversations. I don’t want to be the intimidating youth minister that they are scared to tell about real life, whether big or small. Maybe that is something someone can help with.

As for other ideas, one my youth plays on x-box live online all the time. I have spent some late nights playing online with him. It is not nearly as great as playing in the same room, but maybe that can open some doors to conversation. Yes, it does cost a little, but if you have the x-box already, there are generally ads on there for $1 a month for the first 6 months or so, with no contract or anything.

Maybe my biggest struggle is getting out of my office and DOING it!

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From Patti Fike on July 31, 2012

Would you please offer ideas that we in the Senior Adult Ministry could do to connect with the youth in our church?  How can we help you all in the Youth Ministry?  What forum could work for the two generations to get to know one another?  Most are retired and want to make a difference.

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