Fuller Youth Institute


Photo by André Josselin

Last Friday was the first time our 14 year-old son didn’t want to talk to me about girls.

He was going to a school dance—his first as a ninth grader at a new school. I was headed with our two daughters to speak at a Mother/Daughter retreat. Since I didn’t have a chance to see him after school, I called him on our drive up the mountains.

I asked him what he was going to wear. He didn’t really know but named a few possible shirts (my daughters would have had their “outfits” picked out a week ahead).

I asked him if he was going to ask a girl to dance. He said he didn’t know.

Trying to help my son think ahead about different scenarios, I named a few girls from his middle school who were now at his high school.

He sighed and responded, “Mom, I don’t want to talk to my 48 year-old mom about who I’m going to dance with.”

I answered, “Well, first off, I’m 45 and not 48.” We both chuckled and I continued, “And I totally get that. Have a great time at the dance. I’ll be praying for you.” And we hung up a few minutes later.

Last week he talked to me about flirting. Two weeks ago he talked to me about how to handle a girl who likes him and keeps texting him. And next week he might feel comfortable talking to me about girls at school.

But not this week.

And that’s OK. It’s normal. And because of our Sticky Faith research, I’m not freaking out.

When he actually starts dating someone, I hope he wants to talk to me. But if he doesn’t want to talk to me or my husband, he’s got a team of amazing men to talk to. Because of Sticky Faith’s research showing how important it is that young people feel supported by five adults,  Dave and I have been extra intentional in connecting Nathan with five amazing men—who range in age from 39 to 72. Nathan knows he can talk to any of them about what he’s feeling, especially when those feelings aren’t something he wants to talk about with mom or dad.

If you’re a parent, what can you do this month to connect your child with at least one amazing adult so that when (not if, but when) they don’t want to talk to you about something important, they still have someone they can go to?

If you’re a youth leader, how can you help the families in your church develop those types of relationships?

Our kids might not talk to us about anything. And our kids’ friends don’t know any more than them. That’s why I’m so grateful for adults who serve as listening ears to our kids—just when they need them the most.


We’ve been delighted and humbled by the range of churches from multiple denominations and all sizes that have participated in the Sticky Faith Cohort over the past six years. We’re gearing up for our next cohort starting in January 2016. One of the questions we often get asked by leaders considering the cohort is:

“How do we know if it’s the right time?”

Here are 6 things to consider as you think about joining the Cohort:



Discuss the Cohort process and ask all your questions directly with Kara Powell, Brad Griffin and a Cohort alum on September 16th at 9:30am PST.

Dial: (712) 832-8320
Access Code: 559575

Reserve your spot on the free call by emailing Brian Nelson: bnelson@fuller.edu.



Start having conversations with other team members that push you to look at both what you’re doing in ministry and why you’re doing it. Often we find churches love the Cohort because it brings them together on a new, refreshed page as one team.



What is your vision for partnership with children’s ministry leadership at your church? Churches who see the most gains during the Cohort process tend to move towards synergy between youth and children’s ministry.



How do you want to utilize training opportunities next year? Consider focusing your team training efforts and budget toward the 2016 Cohort in order to create a clear collaborative mission and leverage our research-based resources. We’ll supply you with volunteer training tools and an interactive process for your team to engage for the year!



How involved is your senior pastor with your ministry’s mission? The cohort helps bring everyone on the same page to move toward a clear vision together. Consider garnering support from your senior pastor and other leadership for your church’s participation in a yearlong process.



If it would help to talk with a leader from another church within your denomination/tradition or your community who has been through the Cohort, let us know and we will do our best to connect you with someone.



Often the factors leaders think might be obstacles to participation don’t have to be. Issues like a senior pastor transition or having a small youth ministry team don’t necessarily mean the timing is bad. Sticky Faith won’t look the same in every church. We think that’s great news for leaders like you.

Sometimes God surprises leaders with the timing of the cohort. We’ve heard story after story about how God has used the cohort journey as a catalyst for their team, youth ministry, or congregation in ways they hadn’t predicted. Nothing excites us more!

If you have been considering the cohort, email or call Brian Nelson today at bnelson@fuller.edu or (818) 620-6996.

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Learn more about the Cohort

Photo by Martin Neuhof

As we launch into a new era of experimentation here at FYI, it’s been exciting to see where we are able to innovate.

It’s also been exciting to see where we tend to get stuck.

For example, we are in the midst of transforming our latest research project into a series of books. The writing process is going well, but we spent eight months trying to come up with a title for the series and we're still struggling.


We have mountains of fresh content and creative ideas. Why are we hitting a wall?

Creative roadblocks happens in our ministries and organizations when we don’t understand how innovation actually works. Most of the time we use words like innovation and creativity and imagination interchangeably, and they are taken to mean the same thing. They are not.

Imagination is the ability to envision the impossible. This is what churches often call “the vision,” an imaginary future version of our ministry and its role in the world. It’s what social researchers call “divergent thinking” because it paints a picture of reality very different from the one we live in. A “visionary” leader’s job is to communicate their imagined version of the world in a way that compels us to act, change, and support it.

Creativity is different. It’s not about the future, it’s about utilizing what we have right now.

Creativity is to create. It’s to do. Creating a youth group means we need young people, a leader, time, space, and the capability to pull it all together. Creating a log cabin means we need wood, tools, a grassy knoll, and a plan for how to bring it all together. The more efficient or novel the creation, the more creativity is required to pull it off.

I like creativity by it’s other name: problem-solving. It’s practical and tangible, not imaginary. It’s the act of making an idea real.

Innovation occurs when you combine imagination and creativity. Dreaming and doing.

My fiancée does this with space. She can fit three truckloads of film equipment onto one truck because she’s able to imagine a new way of organizing it, then problem-solve to actually make it happen. And her innovative way of approaching packing saves us boatloads of time and money.

Innovation occurs when we know both what to do and how to do it. Not only what we want to accomplish, but also how to move forward.

Churches and organizations often make the mistake of labeling their imaginative people as “creative,” and their problem-solvers as “administrative” or something else. But innovation only occurs when we fuse both skillsets together.

As you look forward to the coming ministry year and all the new things you hope to accomplish, make room for both dreaming and doing. Moving forward means not only knowing where you’re going, but also how to get there. 

Photo by Kayla Varley

To help you hit a home run with your parent training this year, the Fuller Youth Institute is debuting the DVD release of the new Sticky Faith Family Training five-session video curriculum. In fact, throughout the month of August we are offering resources, blog posts, and practical tips for parents to help develop lasting faith in their kids. Stay up to date by following us on Twitter and Facebook. Follow the conversation #stickyfaithfamily.

This summer my family made an epic move from a community we adored in Southern California to be close to our extended families in Northern Indiana. Truly epic. We have three little kids (ages 7, 5, 3), which only complicated and intensified our cross-country trek.

In the span of a few weeks, we sold a house, drove 2300 miles, moved into a new house, painted every wall, completed some house projects, and unpacked a billion boxes. Meanwhile, my husband started a demanding job, I took a couple of work trips, and our kids were struggling every day to adjust.

It was a lot.

I am a leader who loves change and transitions. At least I thought I did. This transition has kicked my butt. I’ve failed more than I’ve succeeded at “doing this well.” Most days I feel like it requires all my energy to keep my own head above water, much less walk my little ones through this hard season.

I have been made aware (again) that change can mean loss and change can meet a longing. It’s not an either/or. It’s both. Change and transition provide opportunities for growth, transformation, expanding muscles, and deepening self-awareness and compassion.

As your kids make transitions this year—big ones or small ones—here are a few practices that are helping my family through our transition:

Acknowledge the hard.  It has made a hard day a little less hard when I’ve vulnerably connected with a trusted person in my life. Verbalizing what is difficult, uncomfortable, and challenging in transition is important. It takes some of the power out of the “hard” and gives strength to face the next challenge.

Say “me, too.”  When my kids have expressed their loss, I have learned to respond with “me, too”. People process transitions differently. Transition exposes latent fears, insecurities, and grief. Giving kids the space to verbalize what’s hard for them and validating it with “me, too” goes a long way to help kids find their equilibrium again.

Look for little lights.  I was commiserating with a mentor and passionately blurted out, “everything is so hard!” Before I could utter another breath, with strength and grace in her voice she responded, “No, it’s not. Not everything is hard.” She encouraged me to take notice of where little lights were all over our new life: the way the sun set behind the giant tree in my backyard around 9pm, the new window treatments in my bedroom, the giggles of my kids playing on the slip ‘n slide, licking watermelon popsicles on a hot afternoon. There are little gifts that our good Father desperately wants us to receive daily, even in hard transitions. Finding those lights fans the flames of gratitude and gives hope that eventually we’ll find a new normal … together.

New mercies every moment.  Lamentations promises God will give new mercies every morning. Frankly, I need them more often than that. In transitions we need new mercies about every other second. As our kids transition from “what was” to “what’s now,” let’s be flag-bearers that God is with us. God is giving us what we need right now, and will give us what we need every moment after that.

What practices help you and the kids in your life make it through transitions? After all, we don’t want to waste these transitions by simply surviving. We want to become more of who we’ve been created to be.

May the God who doesn’t waste a single thing show himself to us more in this season of transition.

Photo by Rachael Hyde

If there’s a recent high school grad in your life who is heading to college this month, this season might feel like a blur. Not only are your weeks filled with “lasts,” but you’re also trying to help them prepare for what’s next. Research shows that families tend to focus entirely on the logistics of the transition to college. But from parents, mentors, and ministry leaders, these emerging adults also need help thinking through bigger questions and issues. Like time.

In our latest Sticky Faith research, we’ve found that the majority of first-year college students are overwhelmed by how to spend their time, and anxious about all they are balancing. Most feel completely unprepared to juggle everything well.

In one college setting, leaders found that directing students to focus on a few key questions helps them more reflectively navigate how they spend their time. Here’s one exercise (courtesy of Harvard’s Richard J. Light via the NY Times) you might find helpful as you grab a last coffee or lunch face-to-face with an entering college student:

1. Ask them to make a list of how they want to spend their time at college.

What matters to them most in this next season? What would an ideal week look like if they could estimate their time in rough percentages? What are they concerned about when it comes to time in college?

2. Follow up in a month or so by sending them the list.

(Bonus points if you tuck it into a care package!) Invite them to write down how they actually spent their time over the last week and then compare it to the list they made prior to college. Then via text, call, chat, or in person if possible, ask: How were the lists the same or different? How well does your actual use of time match your goals? What do you want to do about that?

The majority of students don’t find a lot of overlap between these lists. But that’s not the end of the story. Reflecting on how we use our time can be a catalyst for better aligning our commitments with our convictions. Simply having the conversation can stir reminders of latent hopes and drifting values.

One more thing. Both conversations—before and after—need to be laden in grace. Don’t let time and priorities become another way to heap shame and guilt on an emerging adult whose identity is being tested day by day. Frame failure as the opportunity for learning and growth. And remind them that God is faithful, even when we are not.

What other good conversations have you had with a new college student?

To help you hit a home run with your parent training this year, the Youth Institute is debuting the DVD release of the new Sticky Faith Family Training five-session video curriculum. In fact, throughout the month of August we are offering resources, blog posts, and practical tips for parents to help develop lasting faith in their kids. Stay up to date by following us on Twitter and Facebook. Follow the conversation #stickyfaithfamily. 

Photo by Amanda Tiption

To help you hit a home run with your parent training this year, the Fuller Youth Institute is debuting the DVD release of the new Sticky Faith Family Training five-session video curriculum. In fact, throughout the month of August we are offering resources, blog posts, and practical tips for parents to help develop lasting faith in their kids. Stay up to date by following us on Twitter and Facebook. Follow the conversation #stickyfaithfamily.

This back-to-school season you might be like me. Wondering what kinds of challenges and discoveries await my kids this year.

Wondering what will happen in their friendships.

Wondering how they will grow—physically, spiritually, and a host of other ways—over the next ten months.

But underneath these questions lies another question we wonder about. We wonder how our kids will perform. How they’ll measure up against their peers in class and in sports or other pursuits. How they’ll take more steps toward the successful adulthood we dream about for them.

These underlying questions loom beneath the surface like a sleeping giant. A giant of fear and anxiety. This giant occasionally bothers some parents, and continuously torments others. It’s the reason we push our kids to add that extracurricular activity, volunteer a few more hours to boost their resume, and take the “zero period” class at 7am each weekday to get a little bit ahead of the curve.

As we head back to school this year, it’s time to wake that giant and slay him.

Here are three strategies to help you win that battle:

1. Challenge “success” as the ultimate goal.

Is “success” really the goal for our kids, or is it something bigger? Societal definitions of success have driven us to push our kids to exhaustion. This “race to nowhere” has been well documented, but the system that drives teenagers to burnout and busyness still pervades most communities. And most of us parents are complicit.

The folks at Challenge Success, a Stanford-based group taking aim at the performance-driven culture that leaves high school students “overloaded and underprepared,” offers some helpful tools for parents you can review right now. Especially check out the page of brief free videos for parents on questions that might be bugging you about achievement, homework, scheduling, and play.

2. Help them find their own sparks (not yours).

While you might have a plan for “elite” sports, cello lessons, and chess club, your son or daughter may secretly wish they had more time to pursue what they really care about. Gather your courage and ask whether they really want to do all the things you’re signing them up for, or if other interests sound more life-giving.

Explore together what the Search Institute calls “Sparks”—interests that spur engagement and passion in kids. When young people discover and develop sparks, and have adults in their lives who support these sparks, the research shows that they tend to thrive in a lot of other areas—yes, including grades. The Thrive Foundation for Youth has a whole set of free parent resources on sparks.

If you’re getting anxious about questions of vocation for your older teenager, here’s a two-part series from our archive about helping your kids find their calling.

3. Ask different questions.

I don’t know about you, but my questions before the start of school often center around logistics—supplies, schedule, clothing, and carpool. As our kids get older, they need us to help them reach a more reflective space as they head back to the classrooms and hallways of their new daily routines. Take each of your kids for a one-on-one conversation over milkshakes (or whatever you like to do together) and ask a few questions like this:

  • How do you want to spend your time outside of school this year? How can we make sure to include some down time and some family time in your schedule?
  • What do you hope for this school year? What are a couple of things you’re excited about?
  • What is one fear you have as you head back to school?
  • How can I help? Is there any way I’m trying to help that just makes things worse?
  • How can I pray for you?

And finally, here’s a little perspective from expert Madeline Levine, cofounder of Challenge Success, about taking the “30-year” view of our kids’ development.

Now, take a deep breath. School’s almost in. Let’s slay some giants.

Photo by Ken Gilbert.

To help you hit a home run with your parent training this year, the Fuller Youth Institute is debuting the DVD release of the new Sticky Faith Family Training five-session video curriculum. In fact, throughout the month of August we are offering resources, blog posts, and practical tips for parents to help develop lasting faith in their kids. Stay up to date by following us on Twitter and Facebook. Follow the conversation #stickyfaithfamily.


“Mom, you’re not working out much anymore. You used to work out lots, but I haven’t seen you work out in a month."

If you had heard my nine year-old’s tone of voice, you’d realize it wasn’t really an accusation. More of an observation.

But actually, her observation wasn’t accurate. I was doing my workout DVDs (my favorite way to squeeze a workout into my mornings) just as much as always. But I had changed locations. Instead of doing them in our family room, I was gravitating to the back of the house as my workout space.

I was still working out, but my daughter never saw me do it.

Yesterday I spoke with a young woman in her twenties who has drifted from the faith. Once an active member of her high school youth group, she never found a church or college parachurch ministry that fit. One decision led to another and she is now pregnant. Her picture of motherhood had always involved a husband and a supportive community. The good news is she has the latter, but she’s about to give birth to a daughter and she’s missing the former.

I asked her how her parents and her congregation had responded well to her journey, as well as what she wished they had done differently. One description of her dad and step-mom haunted me. Natalie shared with me, “Our family always attended church, but I never saw my dad or step-mom pray or read the Bible on their own.”

One of the themes in our research for The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family book and Sticky Faith Family Training film curriculum is that our kids mirror who we are and what we do. More accurately, our kids mirror what they see us doing. 

As a parent, that’s both encouraging and terrifying.

Now let me try to throw a little more encouragement in your direction. As we interviewed parents who had intentionally developed long-term faith in their kids, they clearly made the cultivation of their faith a priority. But there were no universal steps these parents took to make that goal a reality. Each parent found his or her own unique way to stay connected with Jesus.

Some liked to sit and journal; others liked to walk and pray.

Some preferred to read Scripture in the morning; others who were anything but “morning people” carved out time before bed.

Some needed quiet; others preferred worship music or even the background music of family life at home.

As you dive into new back-to-school routines, how are you going to visibly demonstrate your commitment to Christ to your kids in a way that fits you?

Note 2 key words in the question above: “visibly demonstrate.”

Taking our research to heart, this summer I’ve rearranged my morning routine. I am a morning person (if you’ve received a 5:12 am time-stamped email from me, you have evidence of this). Before our research, I preferred to spend my time with the Lord first, workout second, and dive into email third. That way I could pray and journal before my kids woke up.

But that meant my kids never saw me.

Now some days I spend time with the Lord first thing (which is still my favorite time); other days I wait until my kids are up and I sit on the blue couch in our living room so they can see me when they pass by. My time is a bit less focused, but I’m choosing to visibly demonstrate my commitment to time with Jesus to my kids. Even if I do get interrupted and asked about the carpool schedule for the day.

My husband has an hour commute, so he often prays in the car. Thanks to our research, he’s talking more about what he’s praying about. That way, even if our kids don’t see him, they hear him talk about his prayer life.

For both Dave and me, these changes took us no extra time but increase the probability that our kids will have long-term faith.

Based on our research, I can’t help but wonder two questions:

  1. How are we as parents showing our kids our faith?
  2. What small tweaks could we make in our schedule, or our conversations with our kids, that would give them better glimpses into how Jesus has changed our life?

How else do you try to show your kids your faith?

Photo by Cuba Gallery

Today’s guest post is by Rose Lee-Norman, Associate Pastor of Family Ministry at Sanctuary Covenant Church in Minneapolis, MN. Rose is a Fuller grad and was part of the 2014 Sticky Faith Cohort with the team from Sanctuary.

A shared story is powerful.

It creates identity, connection, and meaning between people who wouldn’t otherwise be connected.

Creating this shared story, however, can be difficult. It’s even more challenging when a community is diverse and this story is meant to include all generations. Sanctuary Covenant Church, an urban, multiethnic, multigenerational church in Minneapolis, has been on the journey of creating a shared story through intergenerational worship.

Over the past four years, Sanctuary has worked to create Intergen Sundays.

Our two main goals for each Intergen Sunday are:

  1. To create meaningful connections across generations
  2. To model our faith to our children and youth through worship.

We have had some wins and some losses as we’ve strived to figure out how to accomplish these goals. Here are a few our wins in creating a powerful story across generations:

1) Define shared language: Telling the story

Last year a few staff members and I had the privilege of being a part of the Sticky Faith Cohort. This was a significant step in our process of creating a successful intergenerational story. Through the Cohort we were able to solidify language to help our community understand why intergenerational relationships are important and how they are instrumental in contributing to lasting faith in young people.

I recently polled a broad section of our church and, while they were not all 100 percent cheerleaders of Intergen Sundays, they were able to clearly articulate the purpose of Intergen Sundays. This was a big win for us.

2) Create warmth and connection: Kites flying high

During one recent Intergen Sunday, our church was exploring the role of the Holy Spirit, so we decided to do the obvious: make kites! During the service, people broke out into intergenerational groups. Each group decorated a kite using symbols for the Holy Spirit. After the service, we all went out onto the lawn and flew our kites together. It was inspiring to watch this beautiful picture of warm intergenerational relationships unfold.

From our staff processing, we have learned that for an Intergen Sunday to be successful, we have to include an activity or way in which all generations connect with one another.

3) Include all generations: Every voice, every story

One major thing we learned through this process is the importance of including all generations. Our Intergen Sundays could not be viewed as simply a youth or family Sunday—rather, the voices of our young adults and O50 (over 50 years old) needed to be represented clearly.

On a recent Intergen Sunday, we had our worship band play a well-known song and a talented choreographer and her children went down to the front and began to lead the congregation in a simple, upbeat dance. During this dance, each generation was represented and welcomed as we celebrated and worshipped together. It was such a diverse, intergenerational view of heaven that it brought me to tears!

At the same time, we have also learned that sometimes we need to offer children’s ministry for our youngest children during the abbreviated sermon and activity time on these shared Sundays, and that’s okay.

While we have had many ups and downs in our experiments with Intergen Sundays, my encouragement to other leaders is to create a shared story: define shared language for your community, create a space of warmth and connection, and include all voices in your story.


Read this article to learn more about the journey of Intergen worship and practical ideas for Intergen worship from Sanctuary Covenant Church.

Photo by Marines

Today's guest post is from Alan Mercer, Executive Pastor of the Leawood campus of Christ Community Church in Kansas City, KS. Alan was part of the 2011 Sticky Faith Cohort.

It’s been an emotional week in our home. Our oldest son is home for a short ten-day leave before he heads to Okinawa, Japan for three years with the United States Marine Corps. Throughout the past nine months since Ethan left for boot camp, we have prayed every day for him to find some sense of community wherever he lands. God has come alongside him and our family and answered our prayer in two remarkable ways.

The first has been our church’s military support group. The group is mainly older men, most of them veterans, who are almost like grandparents to Ethan. There’s Mike, a 75-year-old USMC gunnery sergeant who has taken Ethan and our family out to dinner to share stories and bits of encouragement. Today, Ethan helped Mike celebrate his 75th birthday. Why? Because Mike is an important part of his life.

Then there’s Emmett, who has been investing in Ethan and encouraging his love for all things military since he was in grade school. And men like Walt, who served in special operations and has pushed Ethan to be more physically fit. And there are are the other enlisted men who have tried to be there to support and encourage Ethan along the way. As we look back, Ethan has had men all along his path who let him know that he is not alone in this process.

This group is a lifeline for Ethan and our family. They meet regularly and pray for our active-duty military personnel, as well as their families. They support them through letters, packages, and prayer. They support the family by asking about our service members almost every week. The 5:1 community that has been built for Ethan through this band of support has been astounding. 

The second way God has answered our prayer for community involves a couple named Brad and Sue. Brad and Sue live 20 minutes from Camp Pendleton in California, and while Ethan has been stationed there these past few months, they have adopted him into their home for long weekends. They have treated him like their own son. Feeding him (no small task), taking him to see the sights of San Diego, letting him sleep in a warm bed and live in a “normal” environment. Most importantly, they have taken him to church. The weekends Ethan has spent with this family have been life-giving and sustaining for him. Brad and Sue adopted a soldier and kept his faith alive by giving it the shot of refreshment it needed throughout his training process.

When I stop and think about our military support group and Brad and Sue, I am humbled.

When I see our attempts to be an intergenerational church and provide 5:1 support for our teenagers, I see this as a great example of how well it can work. I see several people stepping out of their comfort zone and taking a risk to get to know a young person based on only loose connections and affinity. And I see that risk paying off in the life of a young person in ways we may never really know.

What can you do? Take a risk! Reach out to a student or a child in your church, or a college student or young adult, and get to know them.

Invest in them. Encourage them. Love on them.

The church is a family of families. We need more adoptive parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and siblings to take up the challenge.


Need specific ideas for supporting young people in the military? Here’s a helpful resource!

Photo by Tristan del Castillo

A lot of times, we as youth leaders feel like we have to say exactly the right thing to students. Have you ever gotten the “You have five seconds to impress me before I check out” vibe? I have. Even with seven years of youth ministry experience, that’s intimidating. We feel like we have a short window to cover all the necessary conversational topics that are important to a student.

How’s school? What’s up with basketball? You have a crush on anyone?

When I first started youth ministry, I would ask questions like these to my students. I remember taking Eric out to lunch for the first time, and I asked him every possible question that I could think of. While those questions may be well intended, to use a phrase from the “improv” comedy world, they are very “agenda-driven.”

I started taking improv classes last year. The biggest insight you learn through improv is the art of developing deep relationships. Improv comedy is funny because of relationships, nothing else. It’s not a funny tag line. It’s not doing something goofy on-stage. It’s simply, relationships. You know how you don’t develop a deep relationship with someone? Asking them a laundry-list of questions that you have already developed in your mind before you meet with them, get a quick response, and then move on to your next question. That’s not a conversation; that’s an agenda.

In improv, we learn about a simple concept. Listening. It’s not rocket science, but it proves to be difficult. Let me give you an example from what I have actually seen in improv:

How’d you do on your Math test son?

I failed.

That’s too bad, Billy. Hey, what movie do you want to see?

If you’re an audience member watching this scene, you’re probably bored out of your mind. I was bored just writing that. I’m glad that’s over. You’re watching a scene with a dad and son that’s not going anywhere. The dad is going back and forth asking questions and no relationship or depth is developing. He’s ignoring and disregarding the fact that his son failed a test. But the truth is, people do this in improv because they’re not listening. Instead, they have an agenda, which is to find something funny to say. How much different would the scene look if the father leaned in and asked his son about his test and why he failed. We can discover so much depth behind a shallow answer rather than moving on to asking about the movie. That’s the gold in improv. A deep, specific relationship. It’s not about the math test, it’s not about the movie, it’s about the dad and son.

The same applies to our students in ministry. There is more depth available in our conversations with students, but we have to listen and lean in. My improv teacher describes it as dropping your agenda and listening for that one thing that sounds a bit interesting, off, or weird, and then diving in.

Recently, I took out one of my students, Jon, to dinner and asked him one question:

What’s the hardest thing you’re facing right now?

That one question sparked a two-hour long conversation. Why? Because I stayed in it. I invested in his answer and dove in with him to see how I can best walk alongside him. I could have taken his answer and followed up with another question that I thought of ahead of time, but I decided to listen, drop my agenda, and lean in.

Students are waiting to share with someone they trust. But they will only trust someone who will listen to them. And that will build a relationship that lasts.