We've all been there: the sound of painful silence from a group of teenagers that we have just asked for input from. This may be one of the most frustrating things about student ministry because we spend so much time and energy trying to point them to Jesus and when it's time for them to respond, we often get nothing or the typical "Sunday school" answers.
Unfortunately there is no magic answer for how to solve this problem, but here are just a few tips to help with those awkward moments:
1. Silence is okay.
I know how hard it is to be okay with silence. My personality drives me to fill the silence with a comment or two in the hopes that it's not so awkward. But have you ever thought about the fact that silence is really okay? Maybe they actually are thinking about what you just asked them. Or maybe they really don't know how to respond. Let those moments happen and try your best not to be the one to break the silence.
Eventually, students will begin to step up and break the silence themselves and learn that this is actually supposed to be a discussion, not another sermon or lecture from you. Silence, and even awkwardness, is okay sometimes. Obviously we don't want half of your time to be take with nobody saying a word. So use discernment in those moments and balance the tension as best you can.
2. Ask more questions than you give answers.
This is another one that can sound counterintuitive. Aren't we the ones that are supposed to give the answers? Not really, we are actually called to point them to the One Who actually does have all the answers. Our goal should be to teach them how to think, not just what to think. Of course, there are times that you have to correct them and give them the answers, but try your best to lead them to discover the answers for themselves rather than just giving it to them.
This correlates with the whole silence thing as well. When they are silent because they don't know the answer, don't fill the silence with an answer right up front; ask another question that will help them think further and arrive at the answer themselves.
3. Have students read the questions and scripture references.
Again, if you're the only one talking, it's not much of a discussion. Also, if they are the one's asking the questions, they will begin to see how difficult it is when you ask a question and nobody answers. It gives them ownership of the group as well. They aren't spectators, they are meant to engage with the discussion.
4. Open up about your own life.
Tell them about the last time you failed in the area you're discussing. Talk about what you've learned from personal experience on the topic at hand. Keep it short, don't give your life story, but let them know that you are a real person with real struggles just like them. Lean into your own story and experiences to help these students connect with you better. This will also encourage them to open up about their own lives and that only helps your discussion time.
I could go on, but this seems to be enough for now. Make small group your own, try something new at times, be the youth pastor of your small group, and above all have fun with it. Small groups are not meant to be as rigid as we often make them.