Youth group started and now its time for your life changing talk about . You start talking and less than two minutes go by when the signs of boredom start appearing: a head propped up by a hand, half open eyes, crossed arms, fingers texting behind cover, and maybe even a yawn.
The Gospel of Christ is life changing – but how can we get kids to listen or care?
Michael from the youtube channel VSauce is one of those rare breed of explainers who can hold your attention for up to 15 minutes while answering questions like “Why do we have two nostrils?” or “What if everyone jumped at once?” or “What color is a mirror?” At the time this post was written there are almost 5.5 MILLION subscribers to his youtube channel that launched in 2010. One website ranks him as the 33rd most subscribed-to youtube channel, beating channels like Bruno Mars, College Humor, and the NBA.
Michael’s videos aren’t fancy and there are very few gimmicks or special effects. In fact, most of the videos cover information you would find in physics or chemistry textbooks. But once you start watching, its hard to stop. How do videos with titles like “How much does the internet weigh?” earn his combined channels and videos more than 798,000,000 total views while talking about floating gate transistors and the weight of electrons?
Gap Theory of Curiosity
In 1994 Dr. George Lowenstein, behavioral economist at Carnegie Mellon University, published an article about the psychology of curiosity that provides one of the best explanations of Vsauce phenomenons. He called it the “Information Gap Theory of Curiosity”.
Simply put, when we sense an information gap between what we know and what we want to know, our curiosity kicks into overdrive and we HAVE to find out. But the gap has to be just the right size. Too small, and the gap becomes boring and easily figured out. Too large, and the gap seems too hard and we give up.
This is how Pokemon (What card am I missing?), some movies (“What happens in the end?”), and Vsauce (Why do we have two nostrils?) successfully hold our attention. But they don’t just hold our attention. When we feel a gap between what we know and what we want to know, its like an itch that needs to be scratched right now. Its hard to not find out. The important point is that we want to know, which means a desire to know must be created.
How do we create a gap and make someone want to know? Start with information that is familiar, and then open the gap.
Curiosity in Action
Let’s try an example.
A talk on the importance of the Eucharist or Marriage could start anywhere. You could show a funny video, or start in the Bible, or maybe ask questions to get teens to share what they already know about the Eucharist or Marriage.
But what about starting with this question:
What is the closest you can actually physically get with someone, or anything for that matter?
When you touch someone or something, are you really? When you touch anything your atom’s electrons repel the object’s electrons, but the nucleus of your atoms, which make up 99% of the stuff you are made of, can’t come in direct contact with the nucleus of other atoms.
Which is kind of sad. When you kiss your wife, or hug your mom, or punch your brother you never actually come in *direct* contact with them. So what is the closest we can come to really touching someone?
Watch the first two minutes from this interview with Michael.
The closest you can really get to *touching* someone is through chemical reaction – either eating them or sharing your genes with them through reproduction. Read that again. Either through EATING or REPRODUCTION. You don’t have to be a Benedict to realize the profound implications of that statement.
How did we get there and hold someone’s attention along the way? First we started with something everyone thinks they know: “The closest you can physically get is physical touch, right?” Then we open the gap – “No, actually we never really touch anything! So how close can we get?” And now they want to know the answer, and they are hanging on every word.
Start finding gaps and mysteries in the topics you talk to teens about when you are catechizing. You’ll never run out of mystery in the Mysteries of Faith and if you present the faith by first creating a desire to know it, you’ll never run out of curiosity from teens either.