We kicked off our fall programming this year by wrestling with the question, “Does God exist?”, a question prompted – at least in part – by the fact that some of our freshmen are adamant about their belief that God does not exist.

Part of the night involved small group discussions.

As every youth worker knows, small groups can be hit or miss.

This one was a hit that left all of my adult leaders fired up, largely because of students’ honesty and vulnerability. During this particular discussion, students willingly shared with one another, seemingly without fear of being looked down upon or judged.

Since I always want to build off things that are going well, I asked leaders what contributed to students’ willingness to be vulnerable.

One leader immediately responded, “Small groups got real because you assumed doubt. You didn’t ask, ‘Have you ever doubted God existed?’ You asked ‘Tell us about a time WHEN you doubted God existed.’”

That choice was intentional.

As a researcher, I know that the way you ask a question matters. So, when I write discussion questions, I try to think through not just WHAT I’m asking but HOW I’m asking it.

Since I know students in my youth ministry doubt God’s existence, my goal in asking this particular question was to invite them to share those doubts, without shame.

By writing the question open-ended, in a way that assumes doubt, students didn’t have to feel bad about admitting their vulnerability. Expressing doubt became the norm rather than the exception.

So, when you want students to share vulnerably, write your questions so as to assume whatever vulnerability you’re dealing with. Doing so reminds teens they are not alone and helps them courageously admit their vulnerabilities.

That, in turn, leads to powerful sharing and to the creation of authentic community, the kind of community wherein people regularly encounter the power of the risen Christ.