Mar 20, 2017
How to Respond to an Unresponsive Student
Featured Writer Andy Cimbala gives some practical wisdom on what to do when a student doesn’t respond when you initiate a relationship or invite them to your ministry.
How many times have you texted a student… and don’t get a reply back? How many times have you invited a student to your large group meeting… and they keep blowing you off? I’ve reached out to some students literally for YEARS during their time at college, with intermittent fruit, hope, and discouragement. An unresponsive student is a common experience and struggle in college ministry. But what do you do? How do you respond to these students that seemingly aren’t interested? How do you wisely reach out to those who seem to not care?
I was connected with a student on my campus through a mutual friend a while ago, and invited him to grab lunch. No response. I probably prayed for him, but I forgot about it as I got busy with ministry. TWO YEARS later I randomly remembered him, and messaged again about lunch. Again no reply. The mutual friend thanked me for being faithful, and we both were reminded to pray. And then one day he just showed up at our large group meeting. I was shocked! And since that point he’s been faithful in attending and growing. Praise God!
I’m excited to share with you a few tips for how to respond to an unresponsive student:
Patience: Be patient with this student. In 1 Corinthians 13:4, the first characteristic to describe love is that it is patient. In responding to an unresponsive student, you have to LOVE them. Do you love this student? As they’re blowing you off? As they ignore your texts? As they make excuses? We’re tempted to be bitter, to start writing narratives in our minds, to start responding in anger. We’re tempted to just give up, and move on. But God calls us to LOVE this student. In Luke 15, Jesus tells the parable of the one lost sheep, and how the good shepherd searches and pursues that lost sheep until he finds it. Love will motivate you to keep going and be patient. If you’re having trouble loving, just take some time to remember how Jesus has loved you and has been patient with you through all your junk!
Prayer: Pray for this student. Only God can soften their heart, and give them an interest in Christ. Ask God! He gives this crazy promise in John 15:16, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” Let’s ask the Father to give us this student! Pray for God to give you wisdom and patience and love. Pray for God to open doors, like Paul prayed for in Colossians 4:3. Pray for God to wake them up and give them repentance.
Persistence: Be persistent with this student. But don’t burn out yourself or burn out the student by being annoying. Scale back but don’t give up. Maybe you first meet someone at a sign-up outreach table, and start out texting them every week. If they’re not responding, switch to contacting them once a month. Maybe even pull back to once or twice a semester…. But don’t give up! I usually text or Facebook message every student I know on campus at the beginning of each semester, checking to see if they’re still on campus and then invite them to our first large group meeting of the semester. Obviously we want to invest our limited time as college ministry leaders into the students that are the most faithful, available, and teachable. But there’s still room in our hearts and schedules to be persistent in loving these fringe students.
Personal: Make it personal with this student. Don’t settle for just a text or an email. The best way to connect is face to face, so if you’ve been texting them to attend a large group, try giving them a phone call to invite them to lunch with you, and you’re paying! Or just try something different: Try a different communication method, or stopping by their dorm, or try attending an event that they’re excited about. Enter into their world, that’s one of the best ways to love them. I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve seen students be unresponsive to event invites, but will be open to doing a one-on-one lunch with me. And that personal lunch might be the catalyst for their greater involvement. It’ll build trust, which means the next time I text them, they’ll be more likely to respond.
If God blesses your efforts and the student DOES respond, then rejoice! Praise God and thank Him for working. And LOVE that student! I remember one student who had been coming to our large group meeting but then started to flake and ignore my texts. I kept praying for him, kept inviting him, and then one day when he finally came back, what did I do? I ran to him, greeted him by name, and gave him a big hug, thanking him for coming. He was embarrassed about being so flaky and apologized. I forgave him, thanking him again for coming.
Let me finish out with one last encouragement: I had a student message me after she graduated, thanking me for being persistent in reaching out to her all through her 4 years at college. NOW, after graduation, God has done a good work in her life and she’s attending church regularly, and she wanted to just thank me for being consistent even though she wasn’t responsive. And she gave a financial gift to support our ministry. Students notice! Don’t give up! “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9. Remember, you are an ambassador for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20), you are THE representative for God, sent to campus to save souls and make disciples. Demonstrate Christ’s character by patience, prayers, persistence, and personal initiative. It’s worth it!