9 Tips to Have Great Discussions with Teens

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It is far from easy for any adult to walk into a room of teens and interact with them, it can be even harder to facilitate a good discussion on a study from the Bible.  However, there are some simple, helpful best practices that will transform your discussions from awkward silence to engaging interactions!

  1. Learn and use student’s names. Learn them quickly and use them often. If this is hard for you, FOCUS and make it a priority. This is important!
  2. Be authentic. Students can spot a pretender a mile away. And the Kingdom of God is authentic.
  3. Be appropriately vulnerable. As you share what Christ has done in your life, your students will too. Don’t be afraid to go first!
  4. Silence is okay. Students have learned that most teachers will answer their own question if it is not quickly answered.   So most teens let them. Let your students know you are okay with silence, ask good questions and wait.
  5. If you have boys, they will need movement. Encourage it. Get something for their hands and your discussion will improve.
  6. Ask open-ended questions that do not assume one correct answer. If it can be answered in one word, it will be. For example, instead of “Who did God send to die for our sins?” try something like “Tell me about God’s plan to restore sinners.”
  7. Ask questions that do not assume an answer. (For example, “How did this happen?”…or “What did the speaker say this meant?” are questions that take more risk to answer because they communicate that there is one right answer and you are after it. However, “How do you think this made her feel?” or “Why do you think he might have done that?” are a style of questions that are less threatening.
  8. Be patient and don’t settle for the first answer. Follow-up (ie “Tell me more about that….”) Be gentle, but unafraid. Again, be affirming so they don’t think you are fishing for some elusive correct answer, and then say things like, “Who would like to add to that?” or “Who else can share their perspective?” and wait. (By the way, most of the time when someone is way off base, the group will self-correct if several students have the chance to share. And if not, you defuse any correction by not having to respond directly to one person’s answer.
  9. Finally, make sure your students know that you love them. If it is one of those days when nothing seems to work, don’t give up. The content IS important…BUT, the most important thing for them to know is that you (an adult who is passionately in love with Jesus) love them. But do make sure your passion for Jesus is clear…so that they can see His life in you. You loving them is only half the story!

Hal has been the Youth and College Team leader at First United Methodist in Tulsa since 2007. He has five children, ages 15 to 23. He is married and has been doing life and youth ministry with his wife Annamarie full-time since 1986. He earned a Doctor of Ministry in Youth, Family and Culture from Fuller Seminary. He is a deacon, a certified Sticky Faith trainer and coach, and an adjunct professor of youth ministry at Oklahoma Wesleyan University. He loves basketball, soccer, missions, worship, teenagers and young adults, chocolate cheesecake and the Rocky Mountains. He occasionally blogs at halhamilton.com