7 Tips for Teaching Teenagers

By: Kyle Goings (Student Ministry Pastor of First MB Church in Wichita, KS)

If you are a youth worker in any capacity the time comes when you have to teach them.  Either leading a discussion, doing a devotional, or even giving a full message/sermon.  Giving a full message or sermon can be a difficult skill to learn. So here are some tips I have learned over the years that have dramatically improved my teaching ability.  No one will be able to implement all the tips in one single message but the more you improve your teaching the more impact your messages will make.

With a teen’s attention span today plus the dependence on technology and social media, and add in the bombardment of advertising they receive, the Gospel message tends to get overlooked.  The Message segment seems to have more competition than ever. As youth workers, when you grasp the divine responsibility to preach/teach the Word of God, you become more effective and your youth ministry becomes healthier.

So here are some tips:

1. Pray Through the Process

This sounds like a no-brainer but sometimes we get so involved in the research or writing of the message we forget to be led by the spirit throughout the process.  Prayer forces us to stop and realize that we should only be saying what God wants us to say. Praying also is a good filter to see what should be included and what should be left out.  


2. Know Your “Big Idea”

This may be the most valuable tip on this list.  This is the “bottom line” of your entire message. Summarizing it all down to one memorable statement. What is the one thing you want the audience to remember after your talk?  Also, all sub-points, illustrations, and everything else should reinforce your big idea. In today’s ADD culture this skill set is needed more and more. So if you can’t summarize your talk’s main point, how can you expect the audience to?  It should be simple, memorable, and the lowest level of spiritual maturity a person should understand it. Which means avoid “Christianese” and superficial phrases. Try to come up with your Big Idea early in the process, especially before your first draft (if you write your talks).  The ultimate goal is to build the rest of your message around your Big Idea so having your Big Idea first is crucial.


3. Use as Many Senses As Possible

Everyone has five senses (taste, smell, hearing, sight, touch), try to have the audience members use as many of these senses during your message as possible.  This is easier said than done. But you talking, no matter how good of a storyteller you are, is only using one sense. If you add a PowerPoint or slides you are now using two.  But it’s scientifically proven the more senses you use in learning something, the easier it is to remember it. Quick biology lesson – Different parts of your brain remember different sense impressions.  Such as images are stored in one area of your brain, while sounds in another, etc. So it’s not all stored in the same place. The more areas you have this single message stored in the more impact your message will have on your audience and for a greater period of time.

Here are some ways to use more senses:  

  • Use the “say dog, see dog” principle.  As in, if you are talking about an object they need to see it either in person or on the screen no matter how simple of an object it is.
  • If you are talking about planting seeds like the gospel, have everyone hold a seed in their hand when you talk about it.  
  • Have them write down your main points with a handout.
  • Bring an item in that smells (good or bad) when you talk about that item.  (food is really easy to do with this)
  • Make motions to your main scripture verse and force them to do them every time you bring it up.


4. Have a Strong Hook (intro.)

Jesus was known for his parables and storytelling, He hooked you right away before you even knew what he was talking about.  Your introduction should be short, interesting, and evokes curiosity. A good introduction builds trust with the audience and eases them into your main point.  If you go straight to the scripture passage with no context (which you can) and go “too deep too soon” you might lose them if they are not spiritually ready for such a thing.  Jesus told stories because everyone can relate to a story, even if they don’t agree with the main point. Jesus also asked WAY more questions than He ever answered. The ideal situation is you have a strong introduction that leads the audience directly to your Big Idea.

Some good introduction points:

  • Ask a question most people can relate to. “Why is it so hard to forgive a person?’
  • Share a funny story.  Avoid too serious of a story at the beginning that can come later.
  • Introduce the conclusion.  Sounds backward but start with what you are going to ask the audience to do and then give them the reasons why.
  • Set up the main scripture passage by giving its historical background BUT try to have the audience members place them into the setting that you are describing.


5. Application Always

Jesus taught for change.  Either to have us think differently, behave differently, or believe differently.  But Jesus always communicated for change. Application should never just be thrown in at the end of a message but it should be a crucial part of it.  Your Big Idea put into action is the application part. The audience should know what you are challenging them to do, why they should do it, and how they should do it.   Do not separate your Big Idea and the application. Every message should have the application part clearly communicated… always.


6. Practice, then Practice Again

This is easier for some people rather than others.  This requires experience above anything else. Whether you write out every word or just do an outline or “wing it” or  “are led by the spirit”–whatever your method, some kind of practice is needed. Too many times lack of preparation kills a message more than anything else.  This means you need to plan your messages before the afternoon of the same day you give them. A good rule of thumb is by the time you give your message it should be the third or fourth time you have given it, and one of those rehearsals should be at least the day before.  A good idea is to practice it once, sleep on it and see how much you retain the next day. The key isn’t to have it completely memorized (although the less you look at the notes the better) but as Pastor Carey Nieuwhof would say, “Don’t memorize your talk. Understand it.” That means that you know the subject, you know the structure of your talk (intro., teaching, application, conclusion, etc.)


7. Follow the Seven Minute Rule

There is a belief out there that is a complete myth which states “sermons need to be short because people have tiny attention spans.”  The underlying wrong belief is that shorter = more engaging–that is not true. You can be short and boring and you can be long and impactful.  There is no perfect length for messages. I have heard plenty of 45-50 minute messages that I just didn’t want the preacher to end. And I have sat through some terrible 10-minute messages that I thought would never end!  Remember the issue isn’t length, it’s engagement.

So this tip is not about your messages’ length but rather the time you spend on each point of your message.  The key is no point (whether you have 3 or 8 in a message) should be talked about longer than seven minutes without some kind of topic break.  What I mean is, once you have shared your first point, given reasons why, or even use scripture to support it, if you take more than seven minutes to explain your point, than you begin losing your audience.  The average human can only absorb so much information at any one time without some kind of break. So between points share a story, show a video, or the very least switch to a different point or subject! Simply talking about the same point over and over again doesn’t make an impact it actually hurts what you are trying to do.  

I hope these seven teaching tips help you and your ministry.  If you have any more tips, feel free to leave a comment below!   

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