You know what it’s like. You’re about to start with your small group with teens and you are sincerely interested in how they are, how they have been these last week or two since you last saw them. But the standard question ‘how have you guys been?’ will result in only one or two kids answering and even their answers will be shallow (unless you’re blessed with one of those over-sharing types in your small group, in which case you may have a different challenge all together). So what question can you kick off your small group session with to really get them to share open and honestly? Here’s my advice: ask an awareness question.
What is an awareness question?
An awareness question is a question you ask, that makes your students aware of a specific emotion or experience in a certain time period, usually the last week or two. Each session you can focus on a different emotion or experience, and as the group gets more open, you can make them more personal.
It’s important that you let each member of the group share his or her experience and that you determine a time limit to prevent long winding stories (2 minutes per person usually works). If you have a group of young teens or if you have a few kids that have a tendency to respond negatively to people’s weaknesses, you might consider telling them not to react to each other’s story with questions or remarks. Just make them listen to each other at first.
Here are some examples of awareness questions you can ask to kick off your small group session:
- When were you really happy this last week?
- Have you been angry this last week? When was that and why?
- Have you felt lonely this week? What caused it?
- What was the absolute lowpoint this week?
- When did you feel loved this week?
You can easily come up with dozens of questions this way and you can even choose one that connects with whatever topic you’re discussing that night.
Results with awareness questions
I came across the idea of awareness questions once and gave it a try in my own small group (consisting of 15 people age 20-24), with immediate results. They were listening to each other, responding with empathy and warmth. They were sharing their struggles and their successes and after just a few weeks, I could see more openness and understanding in the group. Because they all shared their emotions week after week, they understood each other better over time and could see where the other person was coming from. Also, it made them feel understood, seen, and heard. And not to forget: they experienced that they were not alone in struggling with certain things.
Awareness questions about God
If your group is open with each other, consider getting deeper with the awareness questions by focusing them on God. Here are some examples:
- When did you really experience God’s presence this last week?
- When did you feel like God wasn’t there?
- Did you doubt God’s existence this week?
- What made you feel closer to God this week?
- At what point did you feel like you were disappointing God?
Again, the options are limitless. The beauty of it is that they examine their walk with God in a casual way, making them reflect. As a group leader you can carefully stress certain points, especially if there seems to be a common denominator in the answers. The last example I gave of disappointing God is a wonderful moment to stress the depths of God’s love for us and to assure your teens that God can never be disappointed in them.
I encourage you to give these awareness questions a try and share your results in the comments!