One of the things we’ve enjoyed most in our nearly 25 years in youth ministry is the conversations we have with students. (And the free T-shirts—we love the free T-shirts.) Although these conversations sometimes happen spontaneously, we can make the most of every encounter by asking better questions.
Great questions create a magnetic environment for transformational moments. The best questions surface when we’re in tune with Jesus and sense where he wants to take a discussion. Instead of telling students what God wants them to hear, youth leaders can ask insightful questions and make space for the Holy Spirit to lead students to the truth. After all, transformational moments show up most often when we discover truth through conversation, not in the context of a lecture. We didn’t come up with that dynamic—Jesus did.
Follow these uber-practical tips for asking better questions:
- Avoid “yes” or “no” questions. You’d be surprised how easy it is to fall back on this habit. Instead, try the “tell me about it” strategy. Rather than “Did you have a good week?” ask, “How was your week?”
- Ask at least two follow-up questions. Don’t be satisfied with someone’s initial answer. Pay outrageous attention to what teenagers say, and ask two or more follow-up questions to help them process their responses more deeply. Some of our favorites include:
- What do you think Jesus is trying to reveal about himself in this situation?
- Why might Jesus respond this way?
- What does Jesus want you to know about yourself through this?
- Avoid the obvious. Instead of asking, “Did Jesus turn the water into wine or Dr. Pepper?” ask, “If you were at the wedding in Cana, what three things would come to your mind when you realized Jesus turned water into wine?”
- Steer clear of “safe” questions. In the gospels, Jesus fast-forwards through small talk and creates powerful tension by asking provocative questions. Question-asking guru Rick Lawrence points out that Jesus asks questions that are surprising, personal, and specific. Let that filter roll through your mind as you interact with students.
- Ask without asking. As a therapist, Tasha rarely asks questions. Her assumption is that clients want to share, so she avoids making a session feel like an interrogation. Instead, she mixes in requests with questions. For example:
- (A classic) Tell me how that makes you feel.
- Share your thoughts about that.
- Talk about how you experienced Jesus in that moment.
- Embrace silence. Silence makes many people uncomfortable, so use the discomfort to your advantage. Someone will break the silence; don’t let it be you. If you get antsy, count to 142…or recite the lyrics to “Ice Ice Baby” in your head.
Most teenagers will talk to adults who’ve proven themselves to be trustworthy and genuinely curious about their life. When the way you engage conversationally—both verbally and nonverbally—says, “I value you, I want to know you, and I want to know what you think,” students will talk.
Authentic curiosity not only enables us to ask better questions; it also creates a welcoming environment. Curiosity comes naturally when we recognize that in Jesus’ economy, the Holy Spirit teaches us as much about God’s kingdom through students as we’ll ever teach them.
What do you think?