After attending her first night of our high school ministry, a new adult leader recently told me, “I can’t believe how much the kids talked!”
It’s true. My high school kids talk a lot.
Now, maybe they’ve always been like that… But I think their talkativeness is no accident. It’s come as the result of a carefully curated environment that encourages conversation. With that in mind, here are 5 ways to get the teens in your ministry talking.
1. Reduce the down time. This may seem counterintuitive but it can be very difficult for teens (or even adults!) to walk into a new environment and immediately start talking to someone they don’t know. Reducing free time can actually make teens MORE likely to talk.
2. Give teens something to do right away. When you reduce the down time, you have to replace it with something. So, give teens something to do right away. In my context, youth group begins with a meal. Since it’s natural for teens to sit with people they know, it can be difficult for new students to find their place during this time. So, I’ve started mixing kids up at dinner and giving them an activity to do that levels the playing field and creates a shared memory for everyone at the table.
3. Choose games that encourage conversation. On our first week of the program year, we began with “speed dating” – an ice breaker in which you form two concentric circles facing one another. In this game, you ask each pair of students to introduce themselves to one another and then answer a fun question like, “What would you do with a million dollars?” One circle then rotates. You continue until the people in that circle have been paired with everyone from the other circle. Each time a rotation occurs, teens introduce themselves and receive a new question for discussion. By the time the game is over, teens have talked to multiple people one-on-one and found common ground with at least some of them.
4. Set ground rules before you begin your lesson or discussion. One of our ground rules is that everyone talks because everyone’s voice matters. Every week, I remind people of this. I also encourage talkers to make room for people who are more quiet to speak. I remind introverts that because their voice matters, if they don't occasionally speak of their own accord, I’ll call on them so that we can hear from them, too!
5. Occasionally force students to take a side of an issue. In my context, we often do this physically. I read a statement and then have students move to the other side of the room if they agree with it but stay put if they don’t. By incorporating movement you force students to speak, even if they don’t use their voices. Visually seeing where people are encourages people to then use their voice to defend their position – especially when you eliminate a middle ground.
By regularly doing these five things, teens learn that their voice matters. When teens understand that, you’ll quickly discover the problem isn’t getting them to talk. It’s getting them to stop!