Each Fall I get the incredible opportunity of going around to different parishes to train Catechists and Youth Ministers. This year my focus is on the process of Evangelization with a special focus on Discipleship. In simple terms, I am asking parishes to begin setting up their programs to minister to youth in a small group setting (typically 1 adult for every 6-8 youth). This is great and many parishes are able to it, but the focus of my training is not in doing such a simple task, it is about what to do when you get there. Leading a small group, most of the time with limited resources and help, can be very stressful. Here are five tips that I learned in my experience of leading small group discussions.
Listen To Know
In a small group setting, youth are able to be more vulnerable. The questions you ask should be designed to reveal parts of the youth to you so that you can get to know them better and on a deeper level. This is what helps establish trust and vulnerability so that you can open them up to deeper and more serious discussions on the faith. So when you ask questions, aim the question at something that you are wondering about them and remember their answer.
Be Ready For Follow Up Questions
Jumping off of the previous tip, your questions should aim at something. You must be ready to control the conversation with quick follow-up questions. Here is a quick small group opener I led once. My aim was to find out their involvement/interest in the Church.
Me: Tell me about yourself
Youth: My name is John. I have two younger siblings, I work at Taco John’s, I love to wrestle, play football, and sing.
Me: What do you like to sing?
Youth: I sing just about anything
Me: Where do you sing?
Youth: I sing in the school choir and I like to sing in the car.
Me: Have you ever sung at Church for Mass?
Youth: I used to but I don’t anymore
Me: Why Not?
Youth: I guess I just sort of stopped, probably got too busy.
Me: I bet you Father would love to have you sing again for Mass.
Youth: I do serve just about every Sunday, maybe I will talk to him about singing again.
I then moved on to the next youth. In that short amount of time though, I found out a) He goes to Mass b) He used to sing at Mass and c) He is open and interested in being involved in the Church.
Allow For Self-Discovery
Think of how your questions could help youth figure themselves out a bit more and ask questions to help them get there. For example, you could ask “Who do you say that God is?” and they respond “I do not believe in God.” You could follow up with “Why don’t you believe in God?” and they might say “I don’t know, I guess I have never really thought about it.” My response would then be, “Have you never really thought about God or have you just never really thought about why you don’t believe in Him?” Either way, they have to answer to a minor contradiction in their answers that may shine light on their beliefs.
Non Judgmental Reactions
No matter how shocked you are by an answer, you must stay calm and continue to lovingly search for answers. Asking “Why do you feel that way?” or “Why would you do that?” with a loving and sincere heart speaks volumes to youth. Many times they could be testing the waters to see how judgmental you are or they may be just looking for a reaction. Either way, stay calm.
Listen To God
Be ok with silence and let God put the next question on your heart. As you begin to learn more about the youth and they begin to trust you more, this will become easier, but consistently invite the Holy Spirit into the conversation. In a sense, as they become more vulnerable with you and the rest of the small group, they are becoming more vulnerable to God and the Church.
I could go on with more basics (like asking open ended questions, NOT yes or no questions) but these are some keys things that I believe will help draw you into deeper relational ministry and will help you build and create an great atmosphere for discipleship in your program.
What is one of your favorite tactics for asking good questions in youth ministry? Please share in the comments sections below!