student ministry, youth ministry, discussion questions, small groups

6 Questions that Kill Discussion

By Guest Contributor May 23, 2014

By: Kyle Rohane

“Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (Matt. 16:13)

“Who do you say I am?”(Matt. 16:15)

“What did Moses command you?” (Mark 10:3)

“Do you love me?” (John 21:16)

One of the most important tools in Jesus’ rhetorical tool belt was asking good questions. The questions he asked generated discussion (Luke 24:17–24) and silenced critics (Matt. 22:41–46). In your youth group, you most likely utilize questions for the former purpose, to get students thinking and talking. But every youth worker knows what it’s like to ask a question and receive nothing but blank stares in return.

Jesus knew which questions would start conversations and which would end them. But do you? It’s easy to chalk up a group’s silence to bad cohesion or personality types. Before you give up, think about the way you word your questions. Could they be reworded to promote better discussion?

Here are six types of questions that will shut down group conversation:

1. Yes-or-no questions.

Avoid questions that evoke one-word responses, especially when debriefing a talk or activity. These questions don’t start conversations—they end them. Which question will make a student dig deepest: Should you find your identity in Christ? Or, In whom should you find your identity? Or, How has your identity changed since you started following Christ? The answer to the first question is “Yes.” The answer to the second is “Christ.” But to answer the third, students will have to take a hard look at the way Christ alters the way they see themselves.

2. Brain scrambler questions.

On the other hand, try not to ask compound questions. You know the ones I’m talking about. They pummel students by asking multiple things at once: “What do you think the woman at the well was like before she met Jesus, why do you think Jesus spoke with her, and how was she changed by their conversation?” By the time you’re done talking, students’ heads are spinning. You’re unlikely to get any response.

3. Trick questions.

Avoid “leading questions.” For example, Have you ever lied to your parents? is better than, You’ve lied to your parents, haven’t you? You should also stay away from questions with no right answer. In middle school, I remember filling out a questionnaire that included this question: “Have you told your parents that you’re doing drugs? Yes or no?” How would you answer that one? Probably the way I did—by skipping it.

4. Vague questions.

Make sure your question leads to a specific answer. “David was a natural leader. What do you think of that?” This kind of question will likely leave students perplexed. They’ll sit there thinking, What exactly am I supposed to say?

5. Rhetorical questions.

It’s okay to ask rhetorical questions. Jesus did. But by definition, they won’t get students talking without some follow-up questions. Instead, these questions should lead students to contemplate a greater truth. Here are a few rhetorical questions Jesus asked that still get people thinking today: “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Mark 8:36). “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matt. 7:3). “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matt. 6:27). Use them to hammer home a point. They’re a great way to end a discussion, but a terrible way to start one.

6. Prying questions.

I once had a small group leader who decided we weren’t going deep enough. So one night he sat us in a circle and asked, “What are your most besetting sins?” My stomach did a somersault. I didn’t know the other group members well enough to share what I’d had for breakfast! How could I divulge to them my darkest struggles? Not only did this question kill the conversation, it made me question the leader’s qualifications to direct the group. A leader should always recognize that direct questions put students on the spot. Some groups will be ready for deeper questions like that, but only after they’ve built an appropriate amount of trust.

And not all students are ready for the same level of questions. While some students enjoy the spotlight, others just want to blend in. Those students would still benefit from joining the discussion, but be aware of the pressure your question carries. Choose questions (and responders) with sensitivity and care.

Always write out questions before the group starts. You’ll be less likely to fall back on these conversation killers. With a little preparation, you’ll be crafting questions that get students talking in no time.


About the Author

Guest Contributor

The LeaderTreks Blog is proud to share the hard-earned wisdom of student ministry leaders from many different backgrounds and professions. From time to time, we will feature guest blog posts from writers other than our regular contributors. We include these posts to provide additional perspectives and insight that we’re sure will help develop you and your ministry…  Read More