- Start Simple
When meeting someone new, start by simply saying “Hi.” Introduce yourself. A conversation must start somewhere and a simple hello and introduction is a good place. Sometimes people stand awkwardly in a group hoping someone will simply give them a kind word or a friendly smile. Be that person. Once names are exchanged, take the next step and ask the person a question about themselves. Did you grow up in the area? How long have you been coming here? Have you seen any good movies lately? Such a simple strategy works whether interacting with kids or adults. People like attention and like knowing others find them interesting.
- Keep Relationships Going
In ministry you often see people on an on-going basis. Seize that opportunity to continue nurturing a blossoming relationship. Find the child who visited last week and ask them about the pet they told you about. Find the parent who nervously dropped their child off earlier and let him know how much fun their child ended up having. Remember the details others share with you, and let them know you’re still interested in them and their life.
- Take Relationships Deeper
Once you establish a basic, on-going relationship, intentionally take things a step deeper. This may involve inviting the person to an event planned outside the activity where you normally connect with them (e.g. having coffee with a parent). If you see leadership potential in the person (whether they are a child or adult), it may also involve intentionally inviting them into some sort of role where you further develop them. For example, invite a child to participate in a more intimate discipleship group or ask a parent to consider helping out with a special event. Use wisdom in your invitations. Make sure the person is mature enough to participate in what you offer. Also take caution and make sure relationship is the driving motivator rather than simply recruiting a volunteer or extra helper.
- Teach Others to Replicate Relationship Building
Rather than acting as a sole relationship builder, create a web of people who connect through various points. Once you establish a quality relationship with someone, teach them to develop similar relationships with others. Show them how to reach out to others, connect, and invite them into life together. You personally may not be able to easily build a relationship with certain parents, but perhaps another staff member or parent can. Think of yourself as a tree releasing seeds that grow other trees which, in turn, release more seeds and keep the cycle going. With time and intention, soon an orchard will grow around you.
- Utilize Resources to Free You to Focus on Relationship Building
As a leader, many extra tasks fall on your shoulders. In order to keep relationships a primary focus, consider utilizing resources, both people and technology, to free your time and energy so you can focus on connecting with others and guiding others to connect.
As mentioned previously, lead others to develop relationships beyond your reach and to take on tasks that may not be your forte; this will free you to focus on relationships you are able to more fully impact. Further develop trust and relationship by bringing others into leadership. For example, ask a tech-savvy volunteer to make sure your media are queued up before you give a talk can free you up to greet children arriving to an event.
Technology, such as electronic children’s check-in systems and use of electronic media, can also free up your time so you can focus on people. For example, an electronic check-in system simplifies the check-in process and reduces database and reporting tasks. Electronic media can help illustrate your points more effectively and quickly than other means. Thus, rather than spending time with paperwork and research, you can spend more time connecting with others.
Use your time effectively to create something that will last beyond you. There’s no point in reading an article about relationship building if you don’t practice it. So go out and create some new relationships! Or deepen an existing one.