You probably don’t need to be reminded that Valentine’s Day is right around the corner.
Retail stores have been selling love-themed cards and candy since January 2 (but not conversation hearts!?); radio and podcasts have been inundated with ads for flowers and fancy underwear with “adventurous prints;” and schools often have special fundraisers, dances, or other social events connected to the day commemorating St. Valentine. Love is in the air!
Like many of you, I often plan youth programs which piggy-back on this season of love.
I’ve done book studies about dating, book studies about the four types of love, rom-com movie nights, Bible studies about love (hello, 1 Corinthians 13!), and even led a few “God, Sex, and Marriage” retreats with confirmation students.
I often assume that if I jump on the love bandwagon, two things will happen:
- Young people will come ready to talk about all of their greatest fears, questions, doubts, and insecurities about relationships
- I’ll be able to help kids see that love is deeper and more complicated than what’s portrayed in popular culture.
More often than not, these programs have fallen short of my expectations for mind-blowing conversations.
I think it’s because I’m leading with what I want kids to know and not creating enough space for kids to express what they want to know.
The few times that I’ve been low-key with programming around Valentine’s Day have been some of the most memorable for kids. After all, people of all ages feel a certain amount of anxiety around this holiday, and often my attempts for a big event and meaningful conversation triggered the insecurities of the young people.
Here are three things you might consider trying this year to when talking about love in youth group – and engaging young people to have the conversation you’re hoping to have:
Plan lots, promote little
It’s good to know what Bible story, video, song, blog post, or meme you want to use in your teaching time, but don’t over-hype it. You want kids to come relaxed and ready to go with the flow.
Let them control the agenda
There’s a good chance most of your young people are thinking about sex and dating, even more than usual.
Give them an opportunity to discuss topics that are important to them.
If your group is shy, let them write anonymous questions on slips of paper. You may not even get to the activity you planned, and that’s okay – it’s more important to address what is currently on top of their mind.
Ask interested questions, allow for awkward silence
You can learn a lot from young people by asking thoughtful questions and allowing sufficient time for them to respond (some people swear by the seven-second rule).
Don’t answer your own question and let the kids off the hook. It might feel awkward at first, but young people will learn to trust you and will offer insightful answers to your difficult questions.
Love isn’t an easy topic to discuss, but it’s critically important. If you can enter those conversations at youth group with honesty, integrity, and empathy, you will provide a sturdy foundation of trust which will last a long time – at least until the conversation candy hearts come back next year.
And if you aren’t quite on board with conversation candy hearts, Sparkhouse has a FREE download to help your youth share love this February. Download it here.