A few weeks ago, I wrote about how to brainstorm with teens. People hesitant about utilizing teens in this process often ask some variation of this question: 

  • What if the things teens WANT to talk about isn’t what they need to talk about in order to grow in their faith? What do you do then?

That’s a fair question but not a good reason to exclude teens from brainstorming teaching ideas.

Utilizing your youth groups’ ideas when you teach gives them ownership of your youth ministry. It also ensures you’re addressing things they actually care about. That, in turn, makes getting teens to attend your events less of a battle. It also means you’re addressing real needs. (You’ll often notice that teens’ ideas reflect things that are going on in their schools that you may not otherwise know about.) For that reason, using teaching topics from teens helps them connect their faith to their everyday lives.

Despite the fact that these are all good reasons for including your youth group in brainstorming, the truth is there will likely be a tension between what teens WANT to talk about and what you think they ought to talk about in order to grow in their faith. In fact, you might even get frustrated the first few times you utilize this process and see that every post-it has something to do with sex or world religions – two things teens ALWAYS want to talk about.

But even if that’s ALL teens initially want to talk about, as their youth pastor, you can still frame those issues in a way that will enable them to deepen their faith.

You see, your job in this process is to connect what teens want to talk about with Jesus and Scripture – something that’s entirely possible if all truth is God’s truth and if we believe that faith actually has something to say about our everyday, ordinary lives.

For example, my teens were obsessed with the movie, Les Miserables, after it came out. Not surprisingly, that year, they wanted to have a Les Mis night. So I chose clips from the movie that had Christian themes (and there are plenty) and led a series on that.

This year, my teens had lots of questions about the character of God. Is he like a genie? A dictator? Why do we always refer to him as him? What if God’s a woman? So I dug into Scripture and created an attributes of God series based specifically on these seemingly random ideas. My teens and I would both say it’s one of the best series we’ve ever done.

Additionally, here are a few other things you can do to help make their ideas yours:

  • Encourage your youth group to keep track of things they’d like your youth ministry to talk about. If they know you’re going to involve them in brainstorming, they’ll begin to do this. That, in turn, will help to diversify ideas and bring depth to them.

  • Brainstorm with teens. Including your own ideas in the brainstorming process will also help bring depth and diversity to your teaching topics.

  • Explicitly tell teens that if you talked about it last year, you’re not going to talk about it this year. That will help eliminate repeat topics.

  • Feel free to limit your brainstorming to one area of ministry. For example: My youth ministry meets twice a week. Wednesday evenings is the program that’s better attended. Not coincidentally, it’s also the one that teens brainstorm topics for. On Sundays, I’ll sometimes teach on things teens didn’t suggest simply because they’re important to faith formation. Interestingly, this was far more necessary early on in this process. For the last two years (our 5th and 6th years of utilizing this brainstorming process), teens’ topics have been deep and varied enough that I’ve been able to utilize them for both programs.

Without a doubt, transforming the random ideas teens have about what you should discuss into legitimate teaching series is hard but worth it. What’s more, when done well, utilizing teens’ ideas in your teaching calendar can and will play a powerful part in discipling them.