If we are all honest, we each deal with our own set of insecurities. I think a major insecurity for people working in youth ministry is knowing what to say after the small talk of “Hey. How’s it going?” is over. Even the most outgoing person can struggle with this. I want to share something with you that can dramatically decrease the stress level of not knowing what to talk about when you are with someone.

Basically it is the art of asking open ended questions. Closed ended questions are questions that have one word answers like “yes” or “nope” or “nothing.” How many times have you asked your child (or your parent has asked you) “How was school today?” And the answer was “fine.” I always laugh when I think about my mom asking my younger sister about school. This was a typical conversation.

How was school?
How was your music lesson?
How was soccer practice?

Then she would walk to the refrigerator and stare at what was in there for a few minutes hoping something would grab her and then walk to her room. OR was that me? I don’t remember. Anyhow…not the deepest of conversations.

Better questions are Open ended questions. These are questions that require at least a sentence response. They can’t be answered in one word. They elicit thought to how they are answered. Here are a few open ended questions that you can use any time. Well, they are the start to an open needed question…you fill in the blank based on what the topic is.

What would happen if…
I wonder…
What do you think about…
In what way…
Tell me about…
What would you do…
How can we…
How did you…
What was your favorite part of…

I love open ended questions. I use them all the time. You may not always get the answer you want, but you are giving others the opportunity to reply in a way that gives you more insight into their thoughts.

Let’s go a little deeper with open ended questions.

Close your eyes for a moment. Seriously. Close them. No peeking. (OK, I guess this would only work if we were having a conversation audibly, but try it after you read it) Now imagine your favorite french fries. Picture them clearly in your mind. See the container or plate they are served in. Look at the color. Are they steak cut fries or thin, crispy fries? Are they really greasy? Is there a lot of salt on them or are there spices on them? Smell the fries. Take a deep whiff. Picture yourself taking a few of them and putting them in your mouth. How do they taste? Did you dip them in ketchup? Are you one of those weirdos who puts vinegar on them? Do you like them straight up plain? Mmmmmmm….

Fries is going to be what you think about to help you remember a specific set of open ended questions to ask students.
F.R.I.E.S. Each letter stands for something that will help you when you are not sure what to talk about.

Friends – ask about their friends. What do you like to do with you friends? Who is your best friend? What is the craziest story you have from being with your best friend. Do you have any friendships that have gone south you wish you could heal and start hanging out with again? (what happened? and what do you think you can do to start the healing process?)

Relatives – tell me about your immediate family? Who in your family are you closest with? Who do you struggle the most with? What is your favorite memory from your childhood? What is your favorite family vacation memory? Who is the oldest living member of your extended family? What is the coolest story they have told you from their own childhood? (they haven’t told you any? ask them to) Who is the “crazy uncle” in your family?

Interests – What do you like to do in your free time? What is your favorite movie? TV show? Band? Singer? Current song? If you had an entire weekend where you could do anything you wanted to and money was not object, what would you do? What do you spend the most amount of money on?

Extra-curricular – What kind of organized activities do you like to do after school? Are you on a sports team or in a band? Why do you play what you play? How did you decide you wanted to do that? What’s the best injury you have received from being part of that? Do you have a shareable scar?

Story – Tell me your story? What is your life like? If I were to trade places with you for a week, what would I experience? How does God fit into your story? (or does He?) What do you want to do when you get older? What dreams do you have that you feel like will never happen? Why?

Ask open ended questions. They will help you get to know your students so much better.

Be a better listener.

Make sure you walk away from a conversation with a student having listened to them talk more than they listened to you talk.

Ask good questions.