My youth ministry discussion tanked on Sunday. Every question I asked fell flat. Despite my efforts to pry responses out of my students, they remained universally unengaged.
As a veteran youth worker, I know these days happen. Even so, they’re still frustrating – especially when you walk into a discussion excited about it, fully expecting students to be as excited as you are.
Immediately following this dismal discussion, I led my student leadership team meeting. In an effort to constantly improve the effectiveness of our youth ministry, every week I ask student leaders:
1) What did we, as a student leadership team, do well last week?
2) What do we, as a student leadership team, need to do differently this week?
As part of this evaluation process, one of my student leaders brought up the morning’s awful discussion. After collectively lamenting over it, I asked them, “What can we do to make our Sunday morning discussions better?”
That’s when one of my student leaders suggested we start utilizing an everyone answers question each week.
As it’s name suggests, an everyone answers question is just that: A question you explicitly ask everyone to answer. To allow everyone to feel comfortable answering them, everyone answers questions are accessible to all, usually asking people to share their opinion or a personal experience. They have no right or wrong answers. Typically, they’re used near the beginning of a discussion to set the expectation that yours is a group where everyone’s voice matters, where there are no spectators.
Everyone answers questions are a thing of beauty. They’re something I’ve utilized for years. What’s more, when I equip students to facilitate discussions, I require them to use at least one everyone answers question as well.
Needless to say, the student leader who suggested utilizing an everyone answers question learned this technique from me. How ironic, then, that it was she, not I, who identified what was lacking in this awful discussion was, in fact, an everyone answers question. I wonder how often that’s the case; How often the seemingly inexperienced see something our own experience blinds us to? In other words, how often does our expertise actually limit our effectiveness?
More, I think than we care to admit, especially when our expertise makes us think we’re better than the techniques we encourage fledgling leaders to employ.
Of course, we’re not. We tell new leaders to use these techniques because they work. That’s why I’m grateful for the courage of my student leaders to point out what I sometimes forget. I’m thankful they remind me just how important the basics are. As a result of this reminder, next week, I’ll use an everyone answers question in my discussion.
I’m willing to bet that as a result, it won’t tank.
Jen Bradbury has been in youth ministry for 11 years. She’s the youth director at Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn, IL. Her writing has appeared in YouthWorker Journal, The Christian Century, and Immerse. She blogs at ymjen.com