Preaching to Youth

I received an email from Peter who was asking about preaching to youth.  Now I don’t know the setting of that message, the age of the youth, their culture, etc.  So my response has to be non-specific, and honestly, more focused on my cultures (US/UK).  Nevertheless, here are some thoughts, perhaps you could add others:

1. Be engaging,  don’t be silly.  Some people think youth can’t concentrate or don’t want meat, so they just act silly and try to entertain.  Youth are very capable of concentrating and value good quality content.  But if it is boring (as with adults), they will disengage.  So engage rather than entertain (although if you are humorous then don’t be afraid to use it).

2. This generation values meat.  When I think of who the popular  speakers are today among the younger generation, the names that come to mind are not entertainers.  Notice how younger folks flock to hear people like Tim Keller, John Piper, Mark Driscoll, DA Carson . . . which proves that the younger generation are not lightweight.

3. Recognize that you are speaking cross-culturally. You may be only 15 years older than them, and from the same place, but you are effectively preaching to a different culture.  It is good to think about their worldview, their values, their language, etc.  Don’t try to be one of them (too many try to act like a youth and have no credibility as a result), but do try to know who you are speaking to.

4. Don’t be longer than necessary, but know that concentration spans are as short as ever. That is to say, don’t think 15 or 20 or 30 minutes is the key.  The key is 3-5 minutes.  You can preach for an hour in some settings, but actually that has to be a series of 3-5 minute sections that grab and retain attention.

5. The younger generation value authenticity more than previous generations. Don’t make yourself out to be a total idiot, but do be real with your own struggles and life.  They don’t value polished rhetoric and a pulpit persona, they do value genuine and authentic communication from the heart and the head, to the heart and the head.

3 thoughts on “Preaching to Youth

  1. This is very helpful, and timely. I have a speaking invitation in a few weeks to a youth group, and was tempted to lighten things up a bit. It sounds like that approach might not be necessary so long as I stylistically take into account the suggestions you’ve listed here. Thank you!

  2. great post. just a few other sugestions to add to the list

    1.stick to the Bible. This generation of youth don’t take what preachers say on the preachers authority. But – if you explain what the Bible has to say, the authority doesn’t rest on you, it rests in scripture. I have found that this is a much more effective way to speak to youth.

    2. – and this is the most important thing about speaking to youth – don’t preach morality. Stay away from the list of do’s and don’ts. it’s very easy to hear that and think that a list of rules is the way to God. You must always start from grace and work your way forward. For instance – sex before marriage. Don’t just tell them not to do it. Because in the battle between you making them feel guilty and their hormones, you will lose almost every time. But explain to that God loves us and that he actually invented sex, but that sex was created for marriage. And since we love God, he will give us the strength to save sex for marriage and since we trust that he loves us, we can trust in his plan for marriage.

    that kind of preaching is far more effective then morality. The main focus should not be to change behavior (which seems to be the focus of so many youth preachers) but to change hearts. Once the hearts change, the behavior will follow. But without changed hearts, changed behavior isn’t really going to happen.

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