"Relational" is one of those words that is everywhere in youth ministry. Books, videos, and entire conferences have been devoted to the topic. As a result, "being relational" is now ingrained into the DNA of youth ministry.
But what does it mean to be relational?
It means you're available
A relational youth worker is an available youth worker. This doesn't mean that you're bequeathing your entire life to the kids in youth group. But it does imply that you're going to show up at their events, their games--the regular moments of their day-to-day lives. Walking alongside a member of your church isn't that different from other ministry roles. However, a relational youth worker knows that an otherwise rote task (getting your car washed, going grocery shopping) is an opportunity for ministry. Bring students along. Talk to them. See what's happening in their life.
(A quick caveat: remember to follow any child safety policies! They're in place to keep your students safe, and nothing is more important than that, including being relational.)
It means you care
It's easy to think the glitz and glamour of youth ministry are what's important. Big events. Shiny trips. That amazing room-sized trampoline you had installed in the spare classroom. And yes, students will enjoy those things (especially the trampoline room.) But more than anything else you do in youth ministry, students will remember the time you spend with them. So by all means, plan your trips and events. Craft those lesson plans perfectly. But always remember that students will likely not remember our (admittedly amazing) thoughts on the Book of Romans with them as much as they will the time we brought pizza to school for lunch.
It means you won't make everything an object lesson
Being relational means being a human being. Youth workers can sometimes find that challenging. Hey, it's not your fault! It's easy to fall into the trap of turning everything into a lesson or making every student interaction a part of a grand to-do list. When you're hanging out with a student, don't search for a way to connect it to the week's lectionary reading. Don't worry about having a time of prayer (unless it's needed!) Just be another adult in their life, in that exact moment, reminding them how much they are loved.
Ultimately relational youth ministry is about taking the joys and concerns of students seriously. It's constantly reminding them of their value and worth. If you start your ministry in that place, the trips, events, and lessons will take care of themselves.