Teen talk is one of the biggest challenges for many youth leaders, and one of your biggest responsibilities. I would love to write up a formula of the “perfect” talk for student ministry. Unfortunately, there’s not one right way to give a talk to teens. There are, however, some best and worst practices. In this blog, I’ll go through just a few tricks that I work into my own personal message prep. So, if you’re wanting to develop yourself as a communicator to teens, read these tips and hopefully they’ll at least give you a few tools to work with:
#1: Build Suspense
Have you ever watched a suspense thriller? The films that build suspense the best don’t show you the monster/enemy, at least not until after they’ve built a lot of mystery and fear around the idea of it. Why? Because it’s not what you see that’s scary. It’s what you don’t see. Take a cue from that principle. When you teach, spend some time talking about what you’re going to talk about, but don’t actually let them know where you’re going quite yet. A simple way to do this is to say something like, “In a minute, I’m going to ask you a question. It’s an important question, too…” and then spend some time talking about why it’s important before actually asking the question. Suspense will get students to lean in and listen like you never thought they were capable.
#2: Use stories.
Start your talk by introducing yourself through a personal story from your own life that illustrates your main point for the talk. Stories speak to the human spirit and connect message points to real life. Make it personal and make it real. Your story can get laughs or pull at heartstrings, but what matters most is that it brings out your point in an imaginative and visual manner.
#3: One Point, One Passage.
It sounds counterintuitive because we want to teach our teens as much as we possibly can, but most of the time youth talks lack substance precisely because they overreach. Instead of teaching five points mediocre, teach one point and one passage with precision and poignant relevance. By keeping it simple, you are able to repeat your point until it’s burned into the minds of your students and you’re able to teach your biblical passage with greater depth and insight.
#4: Keep your teen talk short.
Your average teenager watches a string of half hour TV shows throughout the week and when you take into account the commercials along the way, you’re basically talking about a 22 minute attention span. So unless you’re a renowned communicator, a 50-minute message might not be your best bet. I encourage people to keep their talks around the 25-minute mark. It seems to be a great sweet spot for teens, unless you’re specifically teaching junior high students, in which case I would go even shorter.
#5: Use visuals.
Object lessons can be some of the greatest illustrations for biblical points. Especially for younger teens, abstract concepts are difficult to understand and can seem distant and incomprehensible. There is no limit to this, so bring swords when you’re telling the story of David and Goliath or have a mirror on stage when you’re talking about the image of God. It’s obviously important to articulate the gospel story in a way that the student understands, and visuals can show an abstract concept in concrete terms.
#6: Make Jesus the Hero.
Every message should call students to the gospel story. Opening students’ eyes to their brokenness paves the way for something bigger and better: the fact that Jesus heals our brokenness. Don’t spend so much time giving life tips and practical how to’s that you fail to point students to the ultimate solution that makes all of your advice look feeble. When your talk points to Jesus–instead of your knowledge–as the solution, you give power that goes beyond yourself.
None of these tricks are always necessary, but they can all be used at some point and have become staples within my own teen talk repertoire. Whether you’re a veteran youth leader or a young and aspiring communicator, my hope is that each of these tricks can help make you the absolute best communicator to teens you can be. And most of all, my hope is that lives are changed as a result.