9 Ways to Get Teens to Talk

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teen-talkI’m not sure what to do,” said Mike.  “It seems like no matter what I say, they don’t talk.  It would be great if there were a manual like at work giving some simple instructions.”  Actually, he had a great idea.  Instructions can introduce a new concept, can help our actions align with a goal, or even give us the confidence to put into practice the knowledge that is already in us.  With one eye toward generating conversation in small groups, these are the ABCs I came up with for Mike.

1.  Abandon questions that can be answered by a simple yes or no, or by an obvious 2 or 3 word statement.   Ask open-ended questions instead.  Instead of a question like “Who did God send to die for our sins?” try something like “Tell me more about God’s plan to restore sinners.”

2.  Ask questions that do not assume a specific answer.  For example, “How did Jesus heal the women with the blood issue?”  or “Why did Jesus say that to her?” are questions that take more risk to answer because they communicate that there is one right answer and you are pursuing it.  However, “How do you think this made her feel?” or “Why do you think he may have done that?” are a style of questions that are less threatening to answer.

3.  Allow the group to self-correct.  Many times when a person is way off base, the group will self-correct if several students have the chance to share.  Sometimes you do have to step in.  By waiting however you lessen the personal impact of any correction you will give by not having to respond directly and immediately to one person’s answer.

4.  Begin with low risk, high chance of success questions. Then move with intention to questions closer to the heart.  To use a Biblical illustration, what about starting with a question like “Who do the crowds say that I am?” and then moving toward a question like “What about you?  Who do you say that I am?”  (Luke 9: 18 – 20)

5.  Build ownership in the process. Don’t settle for the first answer to your question.  Be affirming so they don’t think you are fishing for some elusive correct answer, then say things like “Who would like to add to that?” or “Who else has an insight?” and wait. You can alway applaud the effort, if not the insight.

6.  Be okay with silence.  Students have learned that most teachers will answer their own questions if it is not quickly answered.  So most students let them.  Let your students know you are okay with silence, ask good questions and wait.

7.  Content is secondary.  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…in fact, content and relationship go hand in hand in Scripture.  BUT the most important thing for them to know in any given moment is not that you have the right answer, but that you (an adult who is passionately in love with Jesus) love them.  Do make sure they understand the reason for the passion.   It is the love of Jesus in you that makes a difference.

8.  Call them by name – not because you are reading it…but because you know it.   This is hard for some and takes great concentration for most but it pays great dividends.  We all want to be known.  Once you know your students names, you can use it immediately the next week…instead of having to wait until they sign in.

9.  Care enough to send a postcard or make a phone call to students during the week.  The personal touch of these two acts done regularly will very likely transform your times together.  They communicate to your student that you care about them as individuals, not just how often they attend or how well they participate.

Bonus:  Pray for them by name during the week.  John Wesley is quoted as saying “I doubt anyone has ever been saved unless someone has prayed.” I doubt this is a new idea to anyone.  BUT, if you are not yet doing it, you can begin today.  Research indicates that every teen needs at least 5 people who are not in their family who know them, care about them and are investing in them.  I would add “and praying for them by name.”

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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

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