How to ask better discussion questions at youth group
Leading a youth group comes with its own set of challenges, including how to come up with youth group discussion topics and questions that will inspire and engage young people. We know how painful it can be when our discussion time at youth group falls flat. Have you experienced any of the following as a leader?
- Some students don’t want to engage.
- Some students want to dominate the conversation.
- And sometimes no one seems to care about the topic at all — or at least, not as much as you thought they would.
Being prepared to handle the unexpected and shift the conversation is part of the job as a youth group leader, but knowing what types of topics and questions to try and what questions to avoid can help.
Youth Group Discussion Topics to Avoid
Choosing the right youth group discussion topics is the first step, but sometimes the problem is in the small group questions themselves. Think through some of your past discussions. We may make mistakes like . . .
- Asking yes or no questions — this is not a great way to spark a conversation, but a great way to end one.
- Asking questions with one word answers — again, this is too easily answered and does not spark conversation.
- Asking questions that create conflict — debates and disagreements have a place, but they have to be controlled and be given clear boundaries in advance.
- Asking questions that create drama — there are a lot of well-intentioned questions that could accidentally turn into students gossiping about each other.
- Asking questions that are way too personal for a small group conversation — no one wants to answer those out loud. Or if they do, they don’t answer them honestly.
- Asking questions that aren’t personal enough — if every question is hypothetical, or about other people, or about the Bible, students aren’t ever challenged to apply Scripture to their lives, which is a pretty one-note kind of conversation.
- Asking Bible trivia questions — it might test Bible knowledge or listening comprehension, but it doesn’t really advance the conversation into application or personal experience.
Knowing what kinds of youth group questions to avoid is a start, but what are the tricks to asking good discussion questions? The kind that actually generate conversation? Regardless of what your church youth group discussion topics are or what your teaching strategy is, the next few tips are going to help as you decide which questions to try.
Youth Group Discussion Topics to Try
If you use a curriculum, use these tips as a way to evaluate how well your curriculum sets students up for a successful small group conversation. (It’s the formula we use in Grow Students Curriculum!)
If you’re creating your own curriculum or just leading a one-time conversation about a hot topic, current event, or specific subject, use these tips to help you lead teenagers in a meaningful conversation.
As you think through the types of small group questions you want to develop, try following our “recipe” below. When leading a discussion, there are 5 kinds of youth group questions you’ll want to ask — and yes, the order is important.
ASK AN ICEBREAKER (1 question)
- Always start off with something fun and lighthearted.
- If you can connect the question to what you’re talking about, do it, but don’t make it cheesy. If you’re talking about friendship, ask who their closest friends are right now and why, or what they and their friends do for fun, or if they could be friends with any fictional character who they would choose.
- It’s great to have a few generic icebreakers in your pocket to use anytime, like:
- What were the best and worst parts of your week?
- Describe your day so far in one word.
- What’s one thing you did this weekend?
- What’s one fact about you we don’t know yet?
- Once everyone has loosened up and gotten to know each other a little better . . .
ASK ABOUT THEM (2-3 questions)
- Continue asking youth group questions that get students talking about themselves, but in a way that’s more focused on the topic at hand.
- With these questions, you’re looking to learn more about the students in your group. As it relates to the topic you’re discussing (like friendship, conflict, family, doubt, or whatever you’re studying), you want to hear more about:
- Their experiences.
- Their opinions.
- Their perspective.
- Their stories.
- These questions should be personal — but not too personal. Remember, you’re still at the beginning of the conversation. Don’t try to go too deep too quickly. You need to lead students on a journey toward honesty and authenticity.
- The goal of these questions should be to get students talking about what they really think — both so you can understand them better and so they can understand themselves better. You’ll need to be on the same page in order for the rest of the conversation to be helpful.
ASK ABOUT SCRIPTURE (2-3 questions)
- After you have some foundational information about the students in your group, how they think, and how they might understand or view the subject so far, it’s time to start looking more directly at Scripture.
- If you’re leading a conversation after a time of teaching, you might need to remind students (or ask a student in the group to remind everyone) about what you just heard taught from the Bible. Otherwise, you’ll want to ask these kinds of questions as you read through it together for the first time.
- Questions about Scripture can take a lot of forms, but here are a few to try:
- Ask what stood out to them from the passage and why.
- Ask which people or characters in the passage they most identified with and why.
- Ask what confused them.
- Ask what they disagreed with.
- Ask them to explain a concept or story in their own words.
- And now we get to the best part of the discussion time — the part where you develop questions to ask youth about faith, questions that will help students not just read or comprehend Scripture, but actually apply it to their own lives.
ASK WHAT THEY THINK (2-3 questions)
- To close your discussion time, ask several youth group questions that challenge students to reflect on the Scripture they heard and then apply what they heard to their own lives.
- What should we do about the things this passage teaches?
- What’s the most difficult thing about doing it?
- What’s keeping you from doing it?
- What could change in our lives or in the world if we did what this passage teaches?
- How could we apply it at home? At school? In our friendships? As we get older?
- Encourage them to think through their answers out loud and to participate even if they are not confident in their answers. Be sure that all students are respectful of answers that may differ from their own.
ASK WHAT THEY’LL DO NEXT (1 question)
- As the final part of your youth group discussion, you’ll want to refocus the group back to the Big Idea you talked about that day. You can do that by asking a question that draws their attention back to the main idea and key takeaway.
- Ask one simple question: What’s next? You can ask it in a variety of ways.
- What’s one way you can put this into practice this week?
- What are you going to do about what we talked about today?
- What’s your next step and how can we help?
- What’s one way we can pray for you about this?
- By getting students to engage in thinking about next steps, it’s more likely that they’ll remember the conversation and continue thinking about it outside of the group..
Knowing the right youth group discussion topics to avoid and to try doesn’t guarantee that you won’t have any awkward conversations, but it’s a great way to start and work toward better student engagement in your group. And of course, Grow Students Curriculum can help you with more resources.
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