Youth pastors and youth workers seem to constantly look for ways to increase both student ownership and involvement in their youth ministry. The youth ministry team at our church has found a great way to meet both of these needs. Two or three times a year, we'll do an "open question" night where the only agenda is for students to ask any question they want. Here's how it works . . . We have a projector in our youth room hooked up to a computer. At some point early in the evening, a cell phone number is put on the screen. Students are told to text their questions to this number. The number belongs to "the screener," basically whomever you have designated to run your questions, whether it is an intern, assistant, or a volunteer. (HINT: It needs to be someone you trust because in this scenario, he or she will ultimately be deciding the questions. In our open question night, our assistant youth pastor screens the questions.) The screener then types the questions into a blank slide of whatever presentation program you use (PowerPoint, Pro-Presenter, Keynote, etc.). And when worship is over and everyone is ready, the questions are displayed one at a time on the screen and someone answers the questions. (We also have a couple of mics in the crowd for walk up questions.) Pretty cool, huh?
Who answers the questions?
This is where I love how our youth ministry team opens the doors to involvement beyond just our paid staff. At every open question night, there is a "panel" of leaders on the stage. Usually the panel is made up of one or two of our youth ministry staffers plus a youth ministry volunteer. As a youth ministry volunteer in our church, I have been able to participate several times. It's a great part of the strategy.
How are questions answered?
The nice thing about having more than one person on stage is that you broaden your information and experience base, thus, in theory, providing a better chance at a solid answer. When a question goes up on the screen, one of our paid staff folks reads it aloud, then kind of pauses to see if someone else on the panel wants to take it. If not, he will take it himself. It's pretty organic and has worked really well for us.
What kind of questions do students ask?
The questions are amazing. I mentioned that we have a screener. The point of the screener is not to weed out hard questions, just to choose the most pertinent, relevant, and valuable ones. Our last open question night featured some of the most challenging questions to date, such as:
- Can homosexuals go to heaven? (First question of the night, by the way!)
- What is Abraham's Bosom? (Seriously)
- Why don't Christians take better care of the Earth?
- What do you do if your parent doesn't want you to be involved in church?
What if you can't answer a question?
Easy. You don't answer it. You tell a student you will get back to them. And whatever you do, you better get back to them! Some of our most memorable moments have been where the panelists kind of look at each other and say, "we'll get back to you." While it doesn't happen often, it's a nice moment to let students know that we're still on our own spiritual journey as well, and don't have all the answers. In my experience, the worst thing you can do is cobble together an answer you're unsure about in an attempt to look like you know it all.
So, how does this increase students' ownership and involvement?
- First of all students get their questions answered. Can't have more involvement than that.
- Second, it creates dialogue that continues outside of the event. I have relationships with a few students based on their participation in open question night. As a volunteer, there is a chance I would not have otherwise known them.
- Finally, I think an open question night adds an element of ownership for your students. They feel in control of the night, in a good way. And it is an awesome night to encourage students to invite their friends.
All in all, an open question night is a great addition to your youth ministry programming.
Share your thoughts with the youthministry360 community:
- Do you do something similar to an open question night in your youth ministry?