This fall in my youth ministry, we did a series on the attributes of God based on words that teens use to describe God that may or may not actually be accurate.

The last week of this series we discussed how, if at all, God resembles a genie. Doing so gave us the perfect opportunity to discuss prayer, something we talk about surprisingly little in our youth ministry.

All too aware of this, during this particular lesson, in order to try give teens an overview of prayer, I chose breadth rather than depth. As a result, we explored at least a dozen different Scripture passages on prayer, doing brief fly-bys over each, designed simply to acquaint teens with what the Bible says about prayer.

Afterward, as my adult leaders and I processed the night, a few expressed their frustration over the lack of depth in our conversation. You see, by skimming the surface of lots of passages, we were unable to dig deeply into any of them.

Of course, I made that choice intentionally.

Nevertheless, it came with at least two costs. The first was, of course, depth. As one of my adult leaders said, if we’d dug deeply into each of the passages I’d chosen, we’d have had a 12-week series on prayer ready to go.

The second cost was engagement. In general,  we’ve found high school teens have an easier time focusing and participating in conversation when we zero in on one topic and really wrestle with it. Perhaps doing so gives them an opportunity to ask their questions about a particular topic.

So given it’s price, is it still worth teaching broadly rather than deeply?

I think so.

After all, as callous as this may sound, during a school year (which is what our programming year runs), as much as I might like to, I don’t have 12-weeks to spend on prayer in my high school youth ministry. There are simply too many other topics important to the faith formation of our teens that I also want to address. Breadth is perfect for instances like these – when I want to really expose teens to a vast array of Scripture or ideas in a short-amount of time.

To be clear, I don’t think we should favor breadth over depth every week. To me, such a tendency would result in superficial, rather than deep, faith.

Even so, I know my own tendency to favor depth over breadth sometimes means we ignore topics we don’t have time to dig deeply into. Even a broad overview has got to be better than that. What’s more, sometimes I think a broad overview is enough to get teens thinking and acting or in this case, praying.

If that’s the case, maybe not every single youth ministry gathering needs to be deep to be valuable.

What do you think? When is it better to teach broadly than deeply and vice versa?   

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