Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Mingle Time

The beginning of my transition into high school ministry has been a season of questioning, discerning, and fostering a vision for what high school ministry could/should be in our context. One of my ministry values is "how to think over what to think," equipping students with tools and skills over spoon-fed answers and pre-packaged conclusions. I believe this means having deep discussion, getting students to verbally process in community, and fostering an environment for doubts and honest questions. Yet when I evaluated the outline of our mid-week program, I found that there was very little time given to these sorts of discussions. In fact, they most often happened before and after the actual program.

I had to ask myself, "does my structure accurate reflect my values?" If I say that I want to give students a place to process and discern and question and doubt, yet I spend most of the time preaching at them with very little interaction, is that actually teaching them how to think?

I was sharing some of these thoughts with my ministry friend Brian Berry, and he introduced a concept he called "the mingle." (You can read Brian's insightful ideas on inviting students into discussion here.) I've chosen to call it "mingle time" for our group. Right in the middle of our ministry program, I put an open question on the screen, then invite students to talk about it for 15-20 minutes.

That's it. And it's fantastic.

For twenty minutes, students and leaders will actually discuss real issues, sharing stories and insights that might not come up in a regular conversation. The question is just a catalyst for further spiritual discussion. I don't split them into groups or assign an adult leader to them. There are some larger discussion groups that have organically sprouted (e.g. all the freshman boys run out of the room into the church lobby and discuss with their small group leaders) and some smaller ones (the senior girls seem to split into smaller one-on-one conversations), but they all tend to engage with the question. We also give about 15 minutes before and after our program

Some example questions we've used this fall season:

  • Who or where do you look for advice when you have a problem? Why?
  • What makes someone or something "cool"? (Follow up question: is there anything that everyone can agree is cool?")
  • What are types of people you find difficulty relating to? What types are easy to relate to?
  • What are three characteristics of a healthy family with teenagers? (This was asked on a parent night, with parents participating in the mingle conversations).
  • What is power? How do you know if you have it (or don't)?
  • How can you tell if you really know someone (or someone knows you)?
  • What comes to mind when you hear the words "missions" or "missionaries"? Why?
  • Tell someone a story about when felt God brought you through something difficult.
  • Why is it so difficult to be honest with God and other people about our pain, doubts, and struggles? Share some reasons.
Mingle time has been one of the better youth ministry experiments I've tried. If you've done this or something like it, share your experience in the comments!

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