No wonder most people walk away from church with little to show for it.

Recent Barna research revealed that most people (61 percent) cannot recall gaining any spiritual insights the last time they attended church.

Part of the problem stems from uninspiring content—answering questions no one is asking. (I recently sat through a sermon about theological speculations on vegetarian dinosaurs.)

And part of the problem has to do with garden-variety poor teaching methodologies. Teachers fail to engage their people in learning.

The best teachers and preachers know that communication/learning is two-way. People need to actively engage in the process if they are to gain new insights.

To help facilitate this type of engagement, many teachers ask questions. But all too often their questions fail to evoke learning or engagement. Most of these well-intended but poorly crafted questions seek factual recall. They’re closed-ended questions—the type that beg a pat answer, usually pre-determined by the teacher.

Watch this actual scene from a children’s Sunday school class as the teacher asks a closed-ended question. (The answer she’s looking for is “manger.”)

Sadly, this scenario is painfully common. Why do teachers ask such questions?

Asking a closed-ended question to a room full of people, waiting for one smarty-pants to cough up the one correct answer, is a hopeless waste of time.

This poor teaching methodology is not limited to children’s ministry. Just this week an adult colleague of mine told me of a veteran church teacher who baited his class with a question that sought his pet, pat answer. He finally wrote his pre-determined answer on the board.

My friend said, “From there he lectured for 45 minutes. We weren’t really discussing or thinking—just regurgitating. Needless to say, I will not be going back.”

If you wish to engage your people—of any age—ask open-ended questions. Ask questions that evoke different thoughtful responses from each person.

For examples of good questions, go through the gospels and underline every question Jesus asked. You’ll find an abundance of open-ended questions that caused his people to think, grapple, and make personalized discoveries. Examples:

  • “Why did you doubt?”
  • “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”

If you want the kind of ministry that makes a difference in the lives of your people, dig into questions that matter. And ask questions that cause your people to plumb deeply and reflect on what God is stirring in their souls.