The Secret to Building Relationships with Students

By Doug Franklin August 2, 2016


Every fall youth workers want to train their new volunteers to be impactful with students. It generally starts with volunteers building relationships with students. We understand that if our volunteers are able to build these strong relationships, then students will turn to them to learn truth about Jesus Christ. So we must train our volunteers to do this, but how? If this relationship building is so important what resource and tools are you giving your volunteers to insure that these key relationships are being built?

Let me share a simple tool we use at LeaderTreks. First of all, if you want to build relationships with students, then know this secret: their favorite subject is themselves. Students love two things: themselves and being discovered. Ever hang out with students and just listen? Their conversations are only about themselves. They never ask a question of each other; they just try and one-up everyone else. You can use this to your advantage. First, be honestly interested in who they are; and second, play a game of discovery that we call 100 Questions.

We teach every one of our staff and interns this “game” and it’s extremely effective when talking with students. When we play 100 Questions, we start off by asking a basic question. For example, “Jim, what is something you like to do?” Then after listening to him, we take his response and ask a deeper question from it.

Jim: “I like to listen to music.”
You: “What type of music do you like to listen to?”

Jim: “Radiohead, The Strokes, Arcade Fire, The Shins… You know the good stuff.
(Note: take one piece of information and ask about it.)
         You: “Oh yeah, what do you like about Radiohead?”

Jim: “Thom Yorke is amazing.”
You: “What is so amazing about Thom Yorke?”

Jim: His lyrics are incredible.
You: What makes them so great?

Jim: He’s really passionate about what his writing.
You: What are you passionate about?

This game starts with questions about what the student is wearing or what their favorite music is, but it ends with questions that are deeper, eventually getting to where they are with Christ. Each time you ask a question you should take it deeper and deeper until you reach the most important questions about where they are with Christ.

The great thing about this game is that you can truly invest in a relationship and not know a thing about Thom Yorke or Radiohead. You are showing interest in their life and really caring…one of the key steps to maximizing relationships.

When training your volunteers in this game, don’t just tell them about it; have them practice it. We have our staff break-up in to groups of two, and one person starts asking questions. I give them five minutes to ask as many questions as possible using this formula. Then I yell switch and the other person starts asking questions. I am always amazed at what people can learn when they are intentional about discovering someone else.

Warning: When playing this game, most people will want to break into someone’s answer and start telling a story. This game is best played when the adult volunteer asks, and the student answers. The volunteers should only be asking questions, never talking about themselves (This can be tough).

Give this a try at your next staff meeting. It just takes a few minutes but it could give your volunteers a tool that will help them build a strong relationship with a student.

About the Author

Doug Franklin

Doug Franklin is the president of LeaderTreks, an innovative leadership development organization focusing on students and youth workers. Doug and his wife, Angie, live in West Chicago, Illinois. They don’t have any kids, but they have 2 dogs that think they are children. Diesel and Penelope are Weimaraners  who never leave their side. Doug grew up in…  Read More