How to talk about tough topics at youth group

Do it. Talk about the tough topics at youth group – as you stuff your faces with pizza, as you’re driving on the road trip, in your small groups, in your devos…
Youth are hearing about these topics in other places. Lots of other places.
If we are silent those are the only voices they’ll be hearing.
Youth need to be hearing from us about them too.
Otherwise we look and act like people with our heads in the sand.

I’m thinking of tough topics like: sexuality, homosexuality, abortion, cutting, suicide, abuse, shootings, pornography, risks on-line, drug-use, atrocities, anorexia, depression etc.

Here’s some advice on tackling the tough topics in youth group:

  1. Be real – Be real about what is in the news, the controversy around the topic and what makes different groups upset about the topic. Share age appropriate details. Be appropriately real about your own struggles.
  1. Be honest about what the Bible says on the topic – Explain as best as you can what the Bible says on the topic. If the Bible is silent or unclear on the topic, be honest about that. Where the Bible is clear, share Scripture and invite people to wrestle with God’s truth. Help them grow in an understanding that God’s ways are best. Also be honest that the Bible makes clear, since the fall, we are all living in a broken and hurting world. We can all look around and see the evidence of living in a brokenness in the world, where each of us is being affect by others sin and our own sin too.
  1. Open the dialogue – Give permission to share. Permission to share feelings – good, bad or ugly. Give room for their stories of how they’ve been affected by such things – positively or negatively. LISTEN! Give room for questions and disagreement. Don’t be too scared if youth disagree with your view – your listening, inviting them to continue to wrestle with God and Scripture, and continuing to care for them, will go a long way. As youth see leaders talking, sharing and listening openly around these tough issues, youth are more likely to come to leaders and share their personal tough issues or questions.
  1. Give hope – Point to Christ – who is at work in the wonderful mess of our world. While the world is broken and fallen God is at work right now, setting all things right. God is righting wrongs, curing injustices, giving grace, extending forgiveness, bringing healing, offering fresh starts and renewing all things. We and youth can listen to God, and seek to join Him in righting the wrongs in our world. Christ is also One who understands suffering, rejection, heartache, pain, abandonment, loneliness, uncertainty, fear…  He has walked in the youth shoes and understands their feelings and frustrations at the world. We and youth can join God in walking alongside those who are suffering.

Oh, and one other tip…
Let parents know you’ll be talking about these things. Send a heads-up email, at the beginning of the year give an overview of some of the topics you’ll be covering, send a short note home, or ask parents to come for a short meeting and let them in on some of the topics you’ll be covering. You don’t need to give parents your whole talk or discussion, but a heads-up goes along way. It also give parents an opportunity to be talking to their youth about the same things.

Some of the most special times I’ve had at youth groups is when we started talking openly and honestly about the tough issues. God is there. I can see God inviting us to care for one another at these time, and wrestle with His grace and truth. God is at work in the mess of our lives and the mess of our neighbourhoods.

Here are a few ways to incorporate tough topics:

  • Have a tough question box where youth can submit their tough questions
  • Choose headlines from what’s in the news, especially if it affects local high schools
  • There are lots of different awareness months on the calendar. Use these as your tough topic for one night out of the month.
  • Ask the youth what tough topics they see in our world and that they’d like to talk about
  • Don’t avoid the tough issues when they come up in the Bible! They are there.
  • List the needs in your neighbourhood. What tough topics lie within them that you can talk about?
  • Take opportunities as they present themselves. Was there a car accident people witnessed this week – talk about it? Did someone bring up a tough topic they saw in a tweet?
    • Be sensitive here, things too close to home and raw are often better talked about one-on-one, unless it affected the entire group. This isn’t the time to single people out, let them choose if and when they are ready to share.

Thank you for being people willing to wade into the tough issue with the grace and truth of Jesus.

-Renée @r_embree



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  2. Dustin Day · March 10, 2015


    I just finished talking through some tough stuff with the youth in the past two months (January was ‘Religions/Beliefs’ and February was focused on Sex and Sin…

    One thing I wish I had done (especially in the sex talk with high schoolers) was to be okay with not covering everything. I did Middle School first and was able to talk with them and cover most of what I had prepared. The High Schoolers that didn’t happen because they wanted to ask questions around the topic and I wanted to discuss what I had prepared. I tried to balance it but I think with the High School students if I had just let them ask all the questions they wanted it would have been more beneficial for them.


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