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Owning and grounding: how to engage young people in faith discussions


Ignite Children’s Ministry Conference & Expo speaker, Jonathan Sargeant, shares some effective techniques, so we can engage children and teenagers in meaningful conversations about faith

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Ever felt like you disagreed with someone, but didn’t bring up your point of view because you didn’t want to upset them? Or didn’t mention your faith because you thought you’d cause offence?

One thing is for sure, we’re not so good at conflict situations these days and we mostly try to avoid them wherever possible. Yet one look at the news tells us we’re practically swimming in conflict all the time, whether in the political world or even at times within the Church.

Some experts suggest that the reason most of us are a bit reticent to talk about our faith with friends who don’t go to church is that we’re scared of conflict. We reason that it’s more polite not to bring up faith stuff because we might offend other people.

But what if there was a way to talk about our beliefs without offending anyone and build better relationships at the same time? People at the forefront of appropriate public sharing of faith, our state school Religious Instruction experts, tell us this is possible. In that sphere, being upfront but not aggressive is the key. And it’s not necessarily what is said but how the message is shared that’s important.

These experts talk about two language techniques that enable gentle yet clear sharing of faith ideas with anyone. These are called ‘Owning’ and ‘Grounding’.

When we ‘own’ a belief statement, we claim it as something we believe. We might start that sentence with “I believe…” or “It seems to me…”. By doing this we’re not telling someone else that they must agree. Rather, using this language tends to open up dialogue between people. The other person is often prompted to share what they believe on the same topic. Possibly they’ll agree or possibly not. But, they will not be offended because there is no sense of judgment. Instead, this is a conversation, a dialogue where two people have shared their points of view and learned from each other.

‘Grounding’ involves the big picture version of the same thing. When we ‘ground’ a statement we attach it to the group or source who believes it. We might say “Many Christians believe…” or “For Anglicans…” or “1 Corinthians 13 says ‘Love is …”. In doing so, we make it clear just who holds a particular belief. So, once again we’re not suggesting the person we’re chatting with has to agree. They can respond from their own beliefs at that point. Being able to ‘ground’ well means we need to know a little bit about our faith, so we should always be a part of learning opportunities at church and beyond.

The experience of experts suggests that owning and grounding are great ways to help people feel more confident in talking about their faith. Not only that, but they encourage dialogue, better relationships and are more likely to lead to acceptance of the ideas shared.

Try out owning and grounding in your day-to-day conversation. These are techniques that work whenever we chat about things we believe in. It can take a little bit to get used to it, but positive results can be expected!

Interested in these ideas? Want to hear more? Jonathan Sargeant runs a 90 minute workshop on these ideas for parishes and agencies. At the Ignite Ministry Expo on Saturday 2 March, he will be leading a workshop on using owning and grounding, Heating up your D&Ms: Facilitating Discussion on Hot Topics. Find out more about The Ignite Children’s Ministry Conference & Expo.

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