Last fall I was in bed for a month and a half with a back injury that eventually led to surgery. While I was down for the count, an idea for a new family program came to me. It’s entirely possible that it was a painkiller-induced vision, but when we tried it the first time two weeks ago it went so well that even though it ran 45 minutes over time nearly every parent in the room came to thank me before they left. It requires no setup and no preparation. Maybe that’s not appealing to you, but it sure works for me.
As 2010 was wrapping up, I felt strongly compelled to swing the focus of our ministry onto families. I had become distinctly aware that, for good or bad, the parents in our ministries are the primary youthworkers in the lives of our kids. Yet one of the most common responses I hear when recruiting adults to help lead our group is, “I just don’t feel qualified to talk to kids about spiritual things.” They often feel alone and isolated. I’ve always worked to create a sense of community for youth, but now realize that our youth parents need that same feeling of community.
With that in mind, “3 Questions” was born—an event designed to get families talking to families. We emphasized a few weeks ahead of the event that on that evening we needed our youth families to attend as families, which seemed a difficult concept for them to grasp at first. We were careful to encourage them to come no matter what their family structure looked like and even made sure to make those who might not be able to convince the rest of the family to attend to come alone anyway—the last thing we wanted was to create an atmosphere of exclusion.
We opened with prayer and then divided the parents into one room and the youth into another. Two adults who were not parents of youth went with the youth into their room to guide conversation. Each room was provided 3 sheets of paper then had 30 minutes to generate 3 questions that they wanted the other room to answer honestly. Each group worked to create the first question then we split into moms and dads in the parent room and guys and girls in the youth room to come up with the next two questions (moms came up with the second, dads the third, same in the youth room). At the end of the half hour, the questions went across the hall.
We made the rule that neither group was to read all three questions right away. Moms and dads came back together at this point, as did the guys and girls in the youth room. They were instructed to read the first question and spend 15 minutes coming up with a cohesive answer, written on the paper below then question. At the end of 15 minutes each group moved to the second question, then repeated the process for the third. At the end of 45 minutes, everyone gathered in the big room and we read aloud the questions and answers.
We’re going to do a follow-up to this article to let you in on the answers from our group, but here are the questions we generated:
(From the parents to the youth) What are the things that make it hard for you to talk to us and how can we both make that better?
(Moms) What do you appreciate about us as moms and what can we do better?
(Dads) What temptations do you face in your daily life that you’re afraid to talk to us about?
(From the youth to the parents) What things do you hide from us and what are your reasons for hiding anything from us?
(Girls) Do your past dating relationships affect your view of my dating relationships and what can I do to make you trust me more?
(Guys) What would you do if I told you I was gay?
The discussion in the breakout groups had been terrific, and the conversation in the final gathering was genuinely moving. We’ve already committed to doing this once a quarter. Our plan is to do it twice a year in this format and mix up how we divide the other two times; one model calls for us for the initial split to put dads and sons in one room and moms and daughters in the other. We’re also going to dedicate a page of our website to posting the content generated on these evenings.
How would this program work in your context? What other breakout models do you think would be beneficial?
Kevin Alton is more than just a singer in a rock -n- roll band. He’s also the Youth Pastor at Ringgold UMC (elektron youth) in northern Georgia. You can connect with Kevin via Twitter at “elvisfreakshow” (ask him about what that name is all about).