3 Major Questions Youth Ministries Answer

There’s a reason youth ministry conjures up memories from the 90s of all-night lock-ins, alternative worship music, and the chubby bunny game – youth leaders hold a reputation of being willing to exhaust and embarrass themselves if it means they can connect with their students. And while youth ministry doesn’t trend quite so hard in the direction of crazy games and ideas anymore, the sentiment among youth ministers remains largely the same – it’s hard to be a teenager, and it’s the task of youth leaders to figure out how to reach students in the midst of those awkward and confusing years.

The 6th – 12th grade stage of life contains huge leaps in terms of emotional and spiritual growth, and it can feel like an endless pursuit just to find out how to connect with your students who are living so many different experiences and developing at such different rates.

But there’s something all students (and adults) have in common – a desire to know who they are, what they can control, and where they fit in the world.

At Mission Hills, we think of these commonalities as three questions that are the biggest major elements of a student’s inner life, whether they realize it or not.

Today we’re talking about what these questions mean and how we can serve students well with them in mind.

The 3 Questions are…

Identity: Who am I?
Autonomy: What control do I have over my life?
Belonging: Where do I fit?

While everyone encounters and works through these concepts in a myriad of ways throughout the course of life, these questions are especially pronounced for teenagers. They are vying for control and understanding at every turn to make sense of the world around them and what their place is in it. They sometimes feel like adults, sometimes like kids, and they’re interacting with more and more of the world each day.

These questions matter so much for student ministry because for the first time in their lives, students are searching for answers outside of their homes, churches, and other familiar spheres of influence. They can make a certain level of decisions for themselves, and many of these decisions are motivated by the desire to find answers to those 3 questions.

Students won’t search endlessly for these answers – they will latch onto answers that are satisfying, whether they’re fully true or not.

These questions about identity and belonging can be uncomfortable to broach at first, but we focus on them because someone or something will answer those questions for them sooner than later.

We’re not interested in keeping them from discovering answers alternative to the Gospel because we’re fearful – but because we want to set them up for success by planting truth in their hearts before lies can take deeper root.

So how do we enter into these 3 questions in a way that’s meaningful and lasting?


1. Take the opportunities they give you

Maybe it just feels impossible to imagine even having a deep conversation about identity or belonging with a youth student, when they’re mostly interested in basketball or video games. But in reality, we’re showing students the truth about identity and belonging in every situation we enter into with them. We get to lead by example in every area of life. Not every lesson or piece of Gospel wisdom has to come through a heart-to-heart conversation. Meet your students where they are and find ways to speak truth into their lives in the midst of it.

2. Don’t stray from hard conversations

You may serve some students who want to ask tough questions, but aren’t quite sure how. Don’t wait for them to ask “who am I and where do I belong?” outright – because it’ll probably never happen. Instead, look for small hints that they’re asking questions that are knocking on something bigger. Don’t overwhelm them with an intense conversation, but slowly introduce them to the possibility that they can ask deep and hard questions.

3. Involve their families

We always want amilies to be as informed about what’s happening at youth groups and in their student’s lives as possible. We don’t only want families to be informed, but we want to give them the tools to continue with those conversations and themes at home. Think about how you might introduce these concepts of identity, autonomy, and belonging to parents through intentional conversations – getting everyone on the same page in your student’s life will help them experience continuity and stability when they’re wondering about their place in the world.


There is no quick or simple way to broach subjects of identity and belonging with students – but the hard and sometimes awkward work of sharing the Gospel with students makes it so worth it. If you have more ideas about how to engage with these essential concepts in youth ministry, we’d love to hear them!

Interested in learning more about Mission Hills Association and gaining access to our members-only resources? Contact us today!

Related Resources

Nurturing Seeds of Faith: Teaching the Bible to the Next Generation
Stewardship + Integrity: Understanding the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA)
Pros + Cons: Combining Middle + High School Student Programs