How to Have Significant Conversations with Teens

Having a significant conversation with a teenager - that is, engaging in dialogue beyond the ice-breaker questions and comments about the local sports squad - is the thing that drives those of us volunteering in a Youth Ministry, and certainly those working in Youth Ministry. We shape the program in such a way to encourage these moments and get people talking face-to-face. We know it's a priority and we know these talks can lead to significant life change.

Exceeeeept, having a conversation with a teenager is also the most terrifying thing about volunteering and yes, working in Youth Ministry. We don't know how to take the conversation towards something meaningful, and if we manage to steer that way we hope we're going to be able to answer questions and remember Bible verses, and challenge but not condemn, and listen but also talk, and for goodness sake we just hope we don't call them the wrong name!  (real-life account to follow...)

Alex - "Wow, this was great, I feel like you made some big decisions here, thanks for being honest with me and I'm encouraged by the steps we're going to take together. Can I pray for you, Chris?"   

Not Chris - "Sure, but my name is Lucas."

It's simple. Step into these situations prepared, and there is (almost) nothing to fear. 

The more I could prepare our leaders ahead of a program, or at the start of a season, the more confident and willing they were to step in and fully engage. 

Here is a 4 step process to help you have significant conversations with teenagers:

Follow the P.A.T.H.

You're going to need to see each conversation as a journey, how long or short the journey is, we'll soon see. If you're going on a journey together, you are there as the caring adult providing some direction to the life of the teen. And, if you're looking for the right direction, you're going to need a compass!

This is the discipleship compass - the way to take any conversation and turn it into a significant moment of life change. 

Pre-compass-moment, you have to begin a conversation. I know this can be the toughest part, but there are other great tools available to help you do that. Once you're talking, you have to listen, and when you hear them say anything that sounds interesting, lean in, and pause. 


Say, "Wait. What?  Did you hear what you just said? You believe in God but don't want to put in the effort. / You want to help people but don't know how. / You just wish you could fix your parents..."  

This step is all about getting you both to slow down. To stop and think. Put on the brakes. Retrace what just happened. Before you walk any further, pause. Then ask.


Say, "Why do you think that is? / What could you change to make that happen? / Who told you that? / How long have you thought this way? / Can you tell me more about that?"  

This is, as they say in the Coaching world, all about asking powerful questions. Ask questions that are open-ended, that force them to give more of an answer than 'yes' or 'no'. See what Michael Hyatt says about asking powerful questions here.


Say, "I understand what you're going through... / I have been through something like that as well... / I heard a story about a guy who has a similar story... / Have you ever thought of it this way...? / Let's play that scenario out a bit... / There's a really great story Jesus told..."

This is a chance to let them know you really heard them, you understand what they are saying because you are saying the same thing. This is a great chance to bring in a Jesus story, a personal story, or something you read or heard recently. This is not your opportunity to take over the conversation, but to let them know you understand.

At this point it will likely go back and forth, you can jump between Talk and Ask a few times, allowing them to go deeper. The really important piece to remember here is that you are trying to SPARK something in their life, not just SHARE something from yours. You are talking here to help them talk more. If you keep this in mind you will consciously be trying to throw the ball back in their court.


Say, "Well, after all that we've talked about, you need to know you're not alone from here on. I'm with you. / What we've talked about here is significant, and I actually feel like I need to bring in someone else to help you move forward. / I want to help you, and to do so, we have to take some steps to make sure you're safe tonight and moving forward. / I would love to pray with you to receive Christ, and you need to know, this is only the beginning, you're part of a much bigger Tribe and we're here to help."

This is the part that breaks barriers, that moves beyond this moment and requires commitment from both of you moving ahead. This is where you remind them that although there is a long road ahead you will be walking alongside them!  Man, I wonder what my high school journey would've been like if someone said that to me and followed through with it early on. Game-changer.

Take this structure into any opportunity in front of you for significant conversation and see how it changes things. You will find yourself listening closer, asking better questions, talking less, and moving ahead with practical steps to help them.

Don't risk getting lost.

Just use the compass.  

Here's a PDF of the PATH that you can print and use with your leaders to help them out.