Preaching to teenagers can be extremely challenging but extremely rewarding.
After spending years working as a youth pastor, I have learned a few things about preaching to teenagers.
These lessons were hard-learned through trial and error. Mostly error.
This isn’t an exhaustive list of everything you need to know. But hopefully these tips will help some of you not have to learn the hard way like I did.
1. Be Authentic
Be yourself. Don’t try to be cool. Don’t try to act just like a teenager or use all the same slang they use. Students have a built-in poser detector. They can spot a fake a mile away.
We have all met the 40-year-old youth pastor who is trying way too hard to be hip. Don’t be that guy.
We have also met the 20-year-old youth pastor who tries way too hard to be a hipster. Again, don’t be that guy.
Teenagers want to know: Do you really care about them? Do you really have an authentic relationship with Jesus? Do you really practice what you preach?
Authenticity is one of the most important things you can have as a speaker. It doesn’t matter how polished your sermon is, if you aren’t authentic teens won’t listen.
2. Be Interactive
How are you involving the audience?
Take a poll by raising hands. Ask them to shout answers to a question. Call a few people up to the stage for a visual illustration. Ask the audience to stand, sit, jump, close their eyes, look at something, make a noise, act something out, play a game, dance . . .
Whatever you do, teenagers love interacting with a message. It is always better to have some level of involvement from the audience than just making them sit still, shut up, and listen the whole time.
3. Tell Stories
Jesus is the best preacher ever. He told a lot of stories. You should, too.
We live in a world obsessed with stories. Every TV show, book, movie, and video game that a teenager spends hours of their day with proves that stories are powerful and important to them.
Good stories grab their attention. Stories help them discover a truth for themselves before you directly say it. Just be careful not to tell a story just for the sake of telling stories. Have a point.
4. Be Funny
Are they laughing? Not at you. With you.
You don’t have to be a comedian. You don’t even have to have the best jokes. Just have fun. Teenagers want to laugh. Give them a reason to.
Laughter breaks down the walls of the hard-to-reach students, and brings students back for more. Laughter also eases the tension in the room after a few hard words.
The best communicators know how to get the audience rolling with laughter one minute, and then listening intensely the next.
5. Get to the Point
How long do you talk? I don’t buy the idea that messages for teenagers can only be 15 minutes. Teenager can sit through a 30-40 minute message. But it has to be engaging and keep moving.
If you tell a story that takes too long to get to the point, you will lose them. If you speak really . . . slow . . . the . . . entire . . . time, you are will lose them.
Nothing is worse than listening to a youth pastor ramble for 15-20 minutes without ever getting to the point. This is usually a result of poor preparation.
After you write the message, relentlessly cut out details that aren’t necessary. Eliminate anything that is too repetitive. Avoid tangents that distract from the main point.
6. Stay Focused
What’s the big idea?
The messages that impact teenagers the most are not the ones where you preach a 52-point sermon on everything they need to know about life. The best messages are laser-focused on one specific point.
Hammer one point until it is ingrained on their foreheads.
If you cannot summarize the entire message in a single sentence, you aren’t yet ready to preach it.
7. Use Examples
Give practical examples throughout the message.
Many teenagers, especially in their early teens, have trouble with abstract thoughts. Teenagers need concrete examples to help them understand what you want them to do. They need specific action items to help them apply the message to their everyday life.
If you are talking about serving, talk about how someone faithfully serves. If you are talking about loving enemies, give an example of how they could show love to their annoying little brother or the school bully.
Think about their world and give them some simple, practical ideas for how they could apply what they learn.
Preaching to Teenagers Checklist:
In review, here is a quick checklist. Ask these questions to evaluate your next message.
- Does anything feel inauthentic?
- Where will they interact?
- What stories am I telling?
- Is anything funny?
- Is anything too long, repetitive, or unnecessary?
- What is the single point of this message?
- How am I challenging them to apply this?
Photo Credit: Robby McKee cc