In a recent project for Arbor Research Group, a Bible teacher at a Christian school talked about the moment “when the lightbulb goes on” for the kids in his classes. In the weeks since, this phrase has echoed around my head.

As youth workers who want to see the faith of our students grow and flourish, we long to create moments “when the lightbulb goes on” spiritually for our teens. But what does it look like “when the lightbulb goes on”?

Here are 6 signs that the lightbulb’s gone on for students in your ministry.

  1. Increased engagement. When a previously disengaged student suddenly engages in your talk, conversation, or activity, it’s a sign that the lightbulb’s gone on. Increased engagement often reflects heightened interest in what you’re discussing. Heightened interest, in turn, shows that something has clicked for students and begun to make sense in a way that it previously hasn’t. 
  2. Questions. As we talked about a few weeks ago, inviting students to ask questions at every gathering is an important way to cultivate spiritual curiosity. New, deeper, or pointed questions can also be a sign that a student is wrestling through a concept or idea in a new way, intentionally trying to make sense of it.
  3. Silence. Silence often freaks leaders out, as it can make us doubt whether or not anyone is actually paying attention. However, silence can also indicate deep thinking. During silence, teens are often trying to figure out how to put what they’re thinking about into words that someone else will actually understand. Silence gives teens an opportunity to formulate their thoughts and questions.
  4. Resumption of a conversation days or weeks later. For a variety of reasons, it can be necessary to push “pause” on a conversation with a student. You might run out of time. As good as it might be, the conversation might be tangential to the topic at hand. The conversation might also run it’s course. Sometimes, conversations simply die. But other times, students will reengage in those conversations days or weeks later. When that happens, it’s often because they’ve been thinking about your conversation in the interim and now need someone to test out a new theory or idea with.
  5. The ability to articulate an idea in their own words. Over the course of my career in youth ministry, I’ve occasionally had parents tell me they wish I would issue a “spiritual report card” for their teen so they could better understand how (or if) their child is growing spiritually. Since that’s not something I’d ever do, I instead try to give parents things to look for to help assess their teen’s spiritual formation. One of those markers is the ability to articulate an idea in their own words. When students graduate from our ministries, I don’t just want them to use “Christianese” words like grace, atonement, or justification to describe their faith. Instead, I hope teens will be able to articulate these ideas in their own words – words that make sense to them. When teens can talk about why their faith matters to them or why Jesus died using their own words rather than repeating things they’ve heard at church, it indicates they’ve made their faith their own and that the lightbulb has gone on.
  6. Life change. A consequential faith is a lived faith, one in which various facets of a student’s life is somehow impacted by their faith. When teens make changes to their lives – not out of guilt or because you’ve engaged in some manner of behavioral modification – it indicates that their faith is becoming significant to them, that the concepts you’re talking about matter enough to impact other areas of their lives. That, perhaps more than anything else, shows they get it.

What other signs do you look for to know whether or not the lightbulb has gone on for students in your ministry?