Before my daughter was born, I remember considering the implications of bringing her in to this world. I would be responsible for providing her basic needs. I would be accountable to raise her up with Christian principles in a home that reflects the love of Jesus. As her mom, I would do my best to nurture her heart and help her identify and develop her gifts. Although many of these roles would play out over the course of her life, one of the first decisions I considered for my daughter was her name.
What’s in a name? More than what scratches the surface. When someone calls you by name, a connection ignites.
Recently I shared the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus from Luke 19 with my students. Jesus was immersed in a crowd, but the scriptures tell us he walked straight to Zacchaeus, stood at the bottom of the tree he was perched in, and called Zacchaeus by his name. Jesus didn’t just stroll by the sycamore fig tree, shout out, “Hey you! Yeah, you! I’m coming over for lunch today.” If that’s how Luke 19 would have played out, I imagine Zacchaeus responding with hesitation, wondering, “Who does this Jesus guy think he is?” But that’s not how the story went.
Luke 19:6 says, “Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy.”
This excitement and joy was the result of something so simple: Jesus called Zacchaeus by his name, and a connection was ignited. Zacchaeus went from a nobody to a somebody.
How often do you call students in your youth ministry by name? When you use students’ names, it moves them from a face in the crowd to personal relationship. Think about the people in your life that you see maybe once a week at church. You might say hi to them every week on your way in the door. But a connection is ignited when you see another weekly face a few steps later that says, “Hi, Jenni! How was your week?”
Until someone calls you by name, a certain level in a relationship can’t be reached. Knowing a person’s name is the threshold to relational connectivity. We can no longer hide behind the standard mentality that “I’m just really bad with names.” I’ve heard it said that when students enter your church, they desire to know God and be known by others. In order for your students to be known by others, it starts with learning (and remembering!) their names.
If getting to know and remember students’ names is tough for you, here are some tips:
- Use name tags. I kept hearing from my adult leaders how difficult it was to remember students’ names on a week to week basis. About a year ago, we adopted a standard that every student had to check in and wear a name tag before they were permitted to enter the youth service. If you don’t have a way to print name tags, designate a name tag station and have students write their own. It takes a lot of pressure off everyone and matches a face with a name on a consistent basis.
- Drop their name in conversation. As soon as you first meet a student, use their name while talking with them. The likelihood of you remembering a person’s name increases significantly if it is repeated within the first few moments of meeting someone.
- Take notes. After youth service, write down a list of students you met along with a few of their notable characteristics. I did this for a season and could hardly believe how many names and tid-bits I remembered about each student. This was particularly helpful when I followed up with students about their activities and life situations the following week.
- Think of a word to associate with their name. When I taught in the public school system, on the first day of school I challenged my students to a name game. Each student had to come up with a word that started with the first letter of their first name, such as “jukebox Jenni.” We’d start at one end of the room, and each student had to say their word and name as well as the word/name combo of each student before them. I would always go last, and every class period every year I was able to memorize the word/name combinations of about 30 students in each class. That’s approximately 150 name memorizations in one day. Word association is pretty epic for our brains!
- Use social media as a resource. Double check your youth pastor’s social media policy, but this can be a great tool to help associate students’ faces with their names.
Just like Zacchaeus, the power of knowing your students’ names helps them feel known and valued. What’s most helpful to you as you strive to know and remember students’ names?
Jenni has been in youth ministry for 6 years and is the Middle School Youth Director at Celebrate Community Church in Sioux Falls, SD.
© 2016, Never The Same