Five Simple Essentials in Leading Discussions with… | UMC YoungPeople
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September 2017

Five Simple Essentials in Leading Discussions with Youth

By Neal Bowes

What do you do when your discussion group doesn’t seem to want to answer questions for you? Some groups are chatty while others need more encouragement. Some leaders are adept while others get panicky.

I’ve seen leaders ask a question, wait five seconds, get no response, answer the question themselves, and move on to question #2. Three minutes later, they’re out of questions and the whole experience has been a wasted opportunity (and not one that’s apt to draw the kids back next week). Sound familiar? Here are the keys to making sure that doesn’t happen (again).

1. Relax
Learn to embrace the “awkward silence.” It doesn’t mean you’re bombing. Resist the urge to fill the silence. Ok, that’s a nice way of saying “shut up.” If you are doing more than 20% of the talking in your small group, you are talking way too much. If you are uncomfortable talking to them, they will never be comfortable talking to you.

2. Repeat
You have had all day to contemplate the answer to this question, but this is the first time they are hearing it. Give them a chance to think about their answer. It reaffirms that you are actually expecting them to answer the question. It sends a signal that this is going to be an interactive discussion, not a rhetorical-question-based lecture
by you.

3. Rephrase
Make sure you know what the point of your question is and ask it a different way.Discussion questions should be well written, age appropriate, and designed to elicit more than a “yes” or “no” answer. Still, not every question resonates with every group.
It might be handy to rephrase the question. Asking it a different way could be beneficial. (See what I did there?)

4. Redirect
You may need to give the group some other things to think about to help them formulate an answer. What is the main concept behind the question? What real life experience do you have that relates to the concept? What familiar Bible story might lend itself to shedding more light on the discussion? Is there some current event that can be related in a way that will prime the pump for the conversation? Don’t give them hints to the answer. Give them tools to help them think about the answer.

5. Revisit
Now that conversation is flowing, go back and revisit the original question.

Bonus Tip: Begin your discussion session with an ice-breaker question that’s easy for your participants to answer without giving it much thought. Make it a question about them that isn’t too personal: “Where do you go to relax?” “What candy can you not resist?” “What talent do you wish you had?”

Neal has had the privilege of being in ministry with the youth at Jesse Lee for the last 15 years. He also works through the New York Annual Conference to train and support volunteer youth workers in local churches. He loves speaking at youth gatherings--group retreats or conference-wide events.