Written by Todd Jones for Youth Specialties:
If you are a youth worker, and especially if you are the main youth worker, one of your biggest duties is to write and deliver the weekly lesson. Writing messages can be difficult, especially when trying to make a confusing and extremely deep book easy to understand and accessible to middle schoolers and high schoolers.
If you have been in youth ministry for any amount of time you have probably given a message that only returned blank stares, no one listened to or was just flat out boring. You thought it was clear and engaging but apparently, it wasn’t.
Don’t feel bad, I have literally given every single one of those. Especially when I was younger and just learning how to write and deliver a message. It isn’t easy and I really never had anyone sit down and teach me.
You may be in the same boat or maybe you have been taught but the proof is in the pudding and those pudding-like students are giving you the response, or lack of response that tells you things need to change.
Over my years of speaking to my own youth group, at camps, chapels, retreats, and churches I have learned many things about speaking and many tips on developing an engaging message. Here are some ways you can write an engaging message for youth.
ENGAGE THROUGH THE STRUCTURE OF THE MESSAGE
Your message needs to have structure. If you do not structure it and simply just have a pile of research then you will most likely be all over the place. You may not feel that way, but I bet some of your students do. Your message needs to not only have structure, but it also needs to have the right structure in order to engage. Here is a short and simple structure, that I did not come up with. It has been around and you may have heard it before but it will help in focusing your message and engaging the audience.
HOOK, HEAD, HEART, HANDS
It is very simple, and they all start with H. Boom, bonus points! But really, you have to have a HOOK to get students interested. You cannot expect them to engage simply because they are present. Begin with a problem, some tension, something to get them on the edge of their seat to hook them in.
Then once they are hooked engage their HEAD. This would be the academic portion where you get to teach and explain what the Bible says. Expand their knowledge, engage their head. Next, move to engaging their HEART. Explain how the verse applies to their life. Students couldn’t care less about some random people who lived thousands of years ago. You need to show them how it relates to the condition of their hearts and how they can change because of what they just learned. Lastly, engage their HANDS. Give them something to do! There needs to be action or the message dies.
ENGAGE THROUGH PERSONAL STORIES
One of the BEST WAYS to engage students (or adults) is to tell personal stories. Right away there is a connection that forms and they are engaged with not only what you are saying but with you personally which in turn makes them listen to what you are saying. Get rid of canned stories and give them personal stories.
Life is a sermon illustration, use it.
ENGAGE BY REMEMBERING YOUR AUDIENCE
You may have just gotten out of college or seminary and are used to listening to hours of lectures but your students are not and they don’t want to. Remember who you are talking to, middle schoolers and high schoolers do not have the attention span of adults and they do not want to sit and listen for an hour. Remember your audience and remember, shorter is always better. If you have to ask if it is too long it probably is, and I promise no one has ever gotten mad at a preacher for not preaching long enough.
ENGAGE BY GIVING THEM SOMETHING TO DO
We talked about this in the structure by engaging their hands but it is so important. There NEEDS to be application in your messages. Not just to students but every time you speak there needs to be application.
Application can be the hardest part, it is easy to teach content but a lot more difficult to teach application. We NEED to teach people how to engage Scripture in a real way and apply it to their lives.