The Conversation Stack

Have you ever met someone for the first time and run out of conversation after the first 5 minutes? Welcome to the human race. As funny as it may sound, we are not all gifted in the art of small talk or how to carry a conversation beyond the small talk stage.

So what do you say to teen you are meeting for the first when you are in their environment? Especially when first starting out, contact work can be intimidating and even the most gifted person can get stuck for words.

Wiley Scott shares the power of getting to know a young person.

Each of the questions below is to help you with an initial conversation starter. Each question is designed to build upon the pervious question to help you begin to develop a friendship. The first few questions are one word response questions, but they help you build the conversation. Remember, people generally like to talk about themselves. Also, remember to introduce yourself and anyone else you may have with you.

Your job is to think of one or two other questions that you could use to help the conversation along.

1. What is your name?
2. Where do you live?
3. Who do you live with?
4. What do you do with your time?
5. Where do you go for holidays and what do you do?
6. What things are you interested in doing with your spare time/future?
7. What do you think about                                   ?

Download – The Conversation Stack

Overcoming Fears in Contact Work

Adapted from an article submitted by Pam Moore

Contact work is the foundation of effective Young Life ministry. We must be willing to initiate relationships and to permeate the turf of high school young people today. We must be willing to do this with all kinds of young people, many of whom are radically different from ourselves. Often the initial reaction of our leaders to this concept is one of fear. It is a scary thing, this whole notion of contact work. We are doing cross‑cultural ministry. We are crossing boundaries and breaking down walls and stereotypes. We are going into the battlefield and that is uncomfortable. We would be naive to think it would be otherwise.

But there are some tips that can help us move forward in spite of our fears in order to further the work of God’s Kingdom. We must ask ourselves, what exactly are our fears and what are the steps that can help us overcome them?

1. What are our Fears in Doing Contact Work?

Some of the most common ones mentioned by leaders are as follows:

  • Teens will reject us.
  • We as leaders won’t know how to relate or won’t know what to talk about.
  • Teens will think we are boring.
  • We won’t know how to move the conversation below the surface.
  • We won’t know how to be ourselves; we will feel self‑conscious or try to emulate someone else (another leader).
  • Teens won’t notice us if we are shy
  • We will make fools of ourselves or draw attention to ourselves, particularly if we are outgoing.
  • We will forget names of those we have met.
  • Teens will think we are weird. They will wonder why we are there. And they may even wonder why we do not hang around people our own age.

All these fears are real. And yet to raise our level of consciousness of these and any other fears we might have is the first step in being able to move forward.

2. How do we Overcome these Fears?

  • We need to remind ourselves every time we step onto a campus or spend time with a young person that the reality is – young people are dying for adult friends. They are looking for healthy role models that they can respect, admire and confide in. Don’t underestimate your role. Don’t be intimidated. Young people desperately want your friendship. It’s often with the young people you least expect that the Lord will work most dramatically.
  • Have confidence in the One who calls you to those young people. Remember Christ and the reality of His presence in you, with you and for you. He will give you confidence as you trust Him and take risks regularly.
  • Remember that with all of your faults and shortcomings, you are still His choice for those young people. He will show Himself through you: “We have this treasure in earthen vessels to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not us,” 2 Corinthians 4:7.
  • As for what to talk about, the key is to remember to make them the experts. Ask things that the teens can talk about freely (their sports, their families, their friends).
  • Remember to be a good listener. Learn to ask leading and open‑ended questions. Learn to ask about the feelings behind what they are saying. Learn to listen attentively and to show empathy and compassion.
  • Demonstrate an attitude of acceptance and delight in knowing them. Practice the art of making young people feel special and loving them into their potential. That takes the touch of God’s Spirit in our own lives.
  • Always let young people know you are at school primarily because of them, not because of Young Life. We are friends, not recruiters. Be willing and available to go deeper and to be one who challenges kids.
  • Demonstrate servanthood in practical ways by offering rides, helping with school. This communicates loudly.
  • We need to individualise friendships, which means we need to limit the number of close relationships. Constantly have an attitude of going deep and wide. We go deep with a handful of young people and wide with many on campus. There are always new young people to meet and to befriend.

Never forget the importance of these four aspects of contact work:

  • Regularity.
  • Visibility.
  • Availability.
  • Accountability.
Download – Overcoming Fears in Contact Work

General Suggestions and Principles for Contact Work

Practice the discipline of learning names. Use whatever system will help best.

Look for ways to serve young people – taking a group home (but only those of the same sex!), keeping charts for games. Caution must be used, however, to prevent giving the impression of buy­ing their friendship.

Do not attempt to be one of the kids. We are leaders aware of our age, yet loving and genuinely interested in them and in their affairs. They need to see adult models.

Through established friendships, seek to know others. Sometimes we can receive a lot of help from those we know. But be careful to love kids for who they are and not what they can do for you or the club.

Do not force your way into certain social situations where you would not be wel­come, such as parties or some group dis­cussions. Pray always for sensitivity here.

Avoid making fun of young people. This is the most dangerous kind of humour.

Be careful about talking too much of your accomplishments or your own high school prowess.

Be yourselfDo not try to impress with overdone or clever antics, or by imitating others.  You don’t have to be a comedian, athlete, personality‑plus, to love them.

Ask questions about school life when in conversation with high schoolers. Most people enjoy talking about these things.

Ask God for a sincere interest in young people. They can spot the feigned inter­est. We might not like all they do, but we can appreciate them as people.

Be casual. Don’t work too hard at being friendly, with a lot of hand shaking or rapid patter, unless this is natural to you.

Develop a sense of humourFind what fits you best.

Be adaptable. Expect to have to change pace from time to time. We cannot pre­dict the adolescent behaviour.

Keep close personal records of significant contact, including the adult community. Some sort of diary is of great value, especially in our prayer life.

Seek to gain friendships with all types of young people, both school leaders and fol­lowers. Many of them will have great potential for leading their friends or par­ticular activity group.

Cheerfulness and enthusiasm are conta­gious.

In many areas, adults are not welcome in the halls of a school. Study the situa­tion carefully.

Have a valid reason for being there. You may have to forego any contact work in the buildings.

Every school situation or neighbourhood is unique. Work out a plan or strategy that fits your local picture.

Pray for those you have met, or want to meet. Enlist prayer support from inter­ested adults or Christian young people.

Contact work is never finished. There are always new ones to get to know. It is this continued effort to be their friend that wins the right to be heard with our message of Jesus Christ. Once the right has been won, work on the right of continued hearing.

Realise contact work is identification with people in a real way in the sense that Christ “the Word, became flesh and dwelt among them.”

Pray for kids as your eyes touch them. Ask God to lead you to those He wants you to meet. Make it a trusting experi­ence. God’s timing is not always ours.

Pray that God will lead you into deeper, relationships with specific kids. Ephesians 3:18, “That you, firmly fixed in love yourselves, may be able to grasp how wide and deep and long and high is the love of Christ, and to know for your­selves that love so far beyond our com­prehension.”

Be a person of integrity as so beautifully cited in 2 Corinthians 6:3‑10.

Do not draw people to yourself and keep them for your security reasons. Give friends every possible opportunity to grow. You are building the kingdom of God, not kingdoms unto yourself.

Remember the whole person, the family they come from, closest friends.  Take opportunities to introduce yourself to the parents / carers of the young people you’re working with and their friends.

Steve Chesney shares a story as to why meeting young people where they’re at is important. 

Download – General Suggestions & Principles for Contact Work

Contact Ministry

Adapted from articles by Neil Atkinson, Dick Langford and various other Young Life veterans

Contact work is the foundational principle behind Young Life’s ability to communicate the Gospel to disinterested teens. It is the platform from which uncommitted adolescents can experience the Gospel. Contact work and Young Life go together like a hand in a glove.

Yet for both experienced and new staff alike, contact work can be a difficult, even frightening experience. It is a term that is used handily, but many are not quite sure what it means, or know conclusively that they are doing an effective job of it.

Contact work builds a bridge of unconditional friendship that often stretches from a concerned adult to an “I couldn’t care‑less” adolescent. It is the movement of an individual into another’s life for the purpose of bringing an awareness of God’s love.

Unfortunately, many avoid doing contact work, saying, “I don’t have the time,” “That’s not my gift,” “I don’t relate as well at the school as I do at club,” “Let’s just concentrate on making club great,” “We’ll have Campaigners do it ‑if each Campaigner would reach just one person.” These excuses ultimately lead in the wrong direction. Club attendance either declines or, worse, becomes a youth group filled with evangelised teens who are looking for something more attractive than their local church.

Contact work is the beautiful gift God gave to Jim Rayburn and passed on to the rest of us who have been called to be a part of Young Life. It is what has made Young Life unique and has served as a model for several other ministries. Developing relationships with adolescents in their world is a key element of Young Life.

What is Contact Ministry?

The name contact work does not seem to be a fitting title for the job we are going to discuss. Actually, it is Christian leadership, and every minute we spend in this work we spend as Christian leaders. Paul set the norm for our contact work in 1 Thessalonians 1:5b‑6 (The Message), “You paid careful attention to the way we lived among you, and determined to live that way yourselves. In imitating us, you imitated the Master.” We intend to lead young people to the place of following Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour.

What is the Aim of Contact Ministry?

The ultimate aim is to lead each young person to the Lord Jesus Christ. The intermediate steps in this plan are:

  • Winning the right to be heard.
  • Building a bridge of friendship and trust.
  • Identifying with people where they are.
  • Understanding and penetrating a culture. Demonstrating Christ’s love for people.
  • Active listening.
  • Being the instrument God can use in another life.

Ideally, we go to young people for the same reason that Christ came to humanity: to reveal God to them with no strings attached. To love them in order to get an opportunity to preach to them is a string. We should love them because they need love, because God loves them and wants to love them through us. This concept is one we may have to grow into, but it is included in the idea that with Christ in us the incarnation is still in process in the world‑ today.

Contact work reminds us of our dependence upon Jesus Christ. If it weren’t for Him, we would stay in some comfortable setting with friends our own age. But Christ says go and we go in His strength, with His blessing. “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you,” John 20:21.

“Jesus will not allow true religion to exist in comfortable little circles of its own. The new quality of life is love in action, and that may mean coping at firsthand with the difficult, the messy, and the unpleasant.” JB. Phillips

Personal Preparation

1. Our walk with the Lord is paramount. A close relationship with Christ and with His people is essential so that when we are with young people our actions, words and attitudes will be His.

2. A growing spiritual understanding of what it means to go to a person who is without, such as Jim Rayburn envisioned, as God taught him:

  • Walk in wisdom toward them that are without.
  • Have a good rapport.
  • Judge not.
  • Walk honestly.
  • Walk in love.

Acceptance by young people depends primarily upon our love for them and our ability to communicate this love non‑verbally and verbally. But physical appearance and health should be carefully observed. First impressions are often formed by physical appearance. Leaders do not have to conform to teenage styles, but rather should observe the styles of their own age group.

Download – The Signature of Young Life

Levels of Contact Work

Adapted from articles by Neil Atkinson, Dick Langford and various other Young Life veterans


The Three Levels of Contact Work

  1. Being seen at school affairs and wherever teens are. It is important for the leader seeking to build friendships to express his/her inter­est by attending events that are important to the teenager. This could be a school play, athletic event or practice session, or some other activity in which they are engaged. It could be a shopping centre, or street corner, or park. The leader might not say anything to anyone, but his or her presence there speaks of interest. It is good to remember the words of St. Francis of Assisi: “We preach Jesus Christ and, when necessary, we use words.”
  1. Conversing with a young person. Before long the leader must step up to this second level and actually talk with someone. If he goes on just hanging around, suspicions will grow about his purposes. Real friendships can be built only through communication, and this communication must be more than an occasional “Hi!” We must remember to look at things from a young person’s point of view and learn to speak about things which are of interest to him or her.
  1. Enjoying activities with young people. Of course, this is the finest way to get to know a young person. Fast friend­ships are built when we live one of life’s experiences with him or her. Suggestions follow:

Water and snow ski trips, fishing trips, college and professional athletic events, golf, having young people over for lunch or after a game, telephone vis­its, working on school projects or dec­orations, slumber parties, parade float building, touch football and pickup athletic events, weekend trips to the beach or mountains or cities, bicycling, handball, swimming, bowl­ing, weight lifting, chaperoning school events, athletic officiating, visiting a college or university, music (give gui­tar lessons or take lessons from teens, listen to their group practice), arts.

Leaders should use their imagina­tions and be constantly on the look­out for activities, which they may share with young people.

Established Clubs Need a Larger Picture.

Besides the three levels, we need to have in mind three categories of high school people. Think of it as a series of circles. The small circle consists of Campaigners. The Campaigners are the smallest segment of a high school popu­lation. A larger circle surrounding the Campaigners is the circle of club attendees. Club attendees make up the next largest seg­ment with which we have contact. The last group of young people, by far the largest, is the non‑club attendees. These are individuals, who for one reason or another, don’t come to Young Life.


As Young Life leaders, we need to inten­tionally make contact with teens in each of the three categories: Campaigners, club attendees and non‑club young people.  What fre­quently happens is that contact work is done with Campaigners and club attendees and is not done with non‑club kids on a regular basis. Seldom, if ever, do we get to level three contact work. Many Young Life leaders do nothing with non‑club attendees, not even converse. No wonder clubs don’t expand! We need to go back to rela­tionship development and get to non­-club kids at level three. We have to do something with them.

When Do We Do Contact?

In order to be effective, we must be regular in our approach to teens. It might mean going when we don’t feel like it. It is essential that a leader do contact weekly. Vary the time and type of your con­tacts. Do not give the young people the idea that you are there to build your own ministry or event. On the other hand, consistent attendance for a certain sport you are targeting can help provide the trust needed to develop relationships.

Download – The Signature of Young Life – Part II