You asked for it: tackling the BIG questions

Asking youth to vote

Recently, on a random youth we asked our young people to vote on a selection of topics that they were interested to hear more about at youth.

We set out big sheets of paper across the room, gave them three wooden game tower blocks (you know the ones!) to use to cast their votes. We gave them ten minutes to browse the topics that we thought up (in the space of about five minutes before the session!) and choose their top three topics. It was a random week and so a random snapshot which may have gleaned different results from one week to the next. In some ways, this was still quite a good way of finding out roughly where the group’s interest lies…and where it doesn’t.

Topics which didn’t get any votes included money, social justice / poverty and ‘who is Jesus?’.

Word cloud of topics youth voted for

Topics that youth are interested in, youthsmarts
A snapshot of youth interests

Big questions

At the same time as the vote, we also asked the young people to write down ‘big questions’ that they had about anything and wanted answers on. The idea was that the topics that we set out on the floor might trigger some ideas / questions instead of putting the youth completely on the spot. We encouraged them to think big. We encouraged them to challenge us, and even encouraged them to embarrass us – as we were going to have to look them in the eye and answer the questions they were going to be writing down. And it seemed to work! We had a whole host of questions, and, for the most part, they were tough!

Question sorting

After gathering the votes and questions, we then went through them and sorted them into broad topics. This then gave us a sense of what themes they were broadly interested in and also some of the specific questions they had in mind on some of those topics. Some clear themed sessions came through, and we immediately got on to scheduling them.

Engaging parents

For this new series we were planning, we wanted to have the biggest impact both with the youth by engaging their big questions, but also with their families. If we were tackling the big questions, we wanted to make sure that parents were aware of what theme was going to be tackled on which week. We didn’t want to blindside them. We wanted to make sure that parents had the time and opportunity to engage with their kids on the topics, and, in rare cases, the chance to withdraw their kids from any sessions that might potentially be triggering for them. We communicated what was going on via our youth and parents’ messaging group so everyone knew what was going to happen. We knew that the series would be much more powerful and impacting if parents were able to discuss the issues with their kids both before the sessions and after, to follow-up on anything that was potentially unsettling or if they had any further questions.

The series format: You asked for it!

We called the series ‘You asked for it!’ and took the format of setting up a panel for answering questions; all youth leaders sitting in a line opposite the youth. Before the sessions, we chose a host for the night who was in charge of running the evening. Youth leaders also came together to pray and discuss some key themes that we wanted to ‘hit’ in answering their questions. What were the main messages we wanted the youth to go away with at the end of the night. It was important for this to be super clear to everyone. We started each session by asking a light-hearted question to each young person, going round the room. Once the room was more ‘relaxed’, we then kicked off with answering one of the questions that had been written down previously. Once we had got into the swing of answering the first question and the youth were more relaxed, we then bounced off of them and asked for other related questions. When the questions dried up, we went onto the next question that came in from them previously. We were intentional about trying to keep the energy level high in the room and so, to a certain extent, let the youth guide the flow of the night – even inviting their input into the answers where we could.

What we learned

Not to give too much away, but we found over these weeks that:

  1. Attendance increased
  2. The youth were more informed about what was going on week-to-week
  3. Answering their questions was more engaging than delivering talks on the topics
  4. The youth got to know the quieter youth leaders more as they shared their personal perspectives along with the Bible-based answers
  5. Youth leaders had a greater level of input and purpose

What next?

Sean McDowell and J Warner. Wallace talk about including a ‘You Ask it’ bag as a standard at all youth sessions in their book So the Next Generation Will Know. The idea is to make Q&A a routine part of what a youth group does. Any questions that come in can be answered as part of each youth session, before any planned activities take place. We like this suggestion, and plan to introduce this as part of youth sessions from now on.

For a more ‘scientific’ study of topics that interest young people carried out by Youthscape, check out our post on topics that matter to young people.

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