Sunday, February 21, 2010

Challenges of Teaching Today’s Teens

Our church has a large youth group. We have 180 teens enrolled in the program with an attendance of 55-75 each week at our main youth gathering. A team of caring adults volunteer to lead the program each week and we all take turns teaching this lesson. As the pastor of the church, I normally do the teaching two times a month. Last week I spent extra time preparing what I thought was going to be a really great lesson. It didn't go as well as I'd hoped and several of the teens talked through the whole thing and others spent the entire time texting on their phones. This experience was a great reminder to me that teaching Christian concepts to today's teens and young adults is a greater challenge than ever. We can spend time cursing the rudeness of teens who don't pay attention to the lesson, or we can ask God to help us discover ways to capture teen's attention and point them to Christ.

Our leadership team has learned that it is vitally important that interactive and experiential methods be utilized to effectively teach today's teens. In an era of short attention spans, teens do not want to sit and listen to someone else talk. They want to do something. This means that our lessons must be interactive. We ask a lot of questions during our lessons. They are not rhetorical questions, but questions that we actually want the students to answer. Questions that can be answered with a "yes" or "no" are least effective. Better questions are ones where two are three students might give different answers or perspectives. The leader can then use one or more of those answers to clarify whatever point is being made. When we engage students in more of a "discussion" or "group conversation" than just present a "lecture," the students tend to focus more and retain the concepts we are trying to convey.

Our leadership team has also learned the value of using music videos that engage students' eyes as well as their ears. We often use such videos at the beginning or the end of the lesson. We normally find videos on YouTube. We often post the videos on Facebook prior to the youth meeting and ask the students to watch the video ahead of time. Though we normally use videos of Christian music, we occasionally use a secular music video if it reinforces the point without compromising biblical principles.

Music videos are not the only technology that we employ. Most of today's teens grew up surrounded by technology. It is the only way many of them know how to learn. We use this to our advantage and utilize many different technological tools. One that we use almost every week is power point. We use it to project the scripture verses, application points and illustrative pictures on the wall. Students will remember more when they hear it, see it and read it. Power point helps us accomplish that. Technology can also be used to encourage discussion and Bible study before or after the lesson. Facebook or MySpace are great tools for posting review questions or to start follow up discussions from lessons. We have our own group on Facebook and post pictures, announcements and other relevant information on it. Review questions or follow up discussion starters can also be emailed to students or sent via a group text message.

Using experiential and interactive teaching methods requires a lot of work and can be a challenge. Even when they are used effectively, they don't guarantee that the students will always stay focused. But we must learn to overcome such challenges so we can reach out more effectively to the next generation. Research shows that only 4% of this age group has a relationship with Jesus Christ. While no teaching method can replace the power of prayer and reliance on the Holy Spirit, learning to use interactive and experiential methods, combined with technology, will help us to communicate Christian principles more effectively to today's teens. As we become more effective, we will see that statistic change and revival come to the next generation.

Learn more about reaching young people in Dr. Terry Dorsett's book, Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church.



  2. Very nice Terry!

  3. Good blog, Terry. I spoke with a former youth pastor when we were discussing lessons, activities, etc. for our group and he was amazed when I told him..."we are doing the same things the same way with the same activities I did with my youth group in the 1970's.

  4. Margaret Champion, South CarolinaFebruary 21, 2010 at 8:23 PM

    Thanks, great info.

  5. Logan Loveday, youth pastor in South CarolinaFebruary 22, 2010 at 7:13 AM

    I like this.

  6. Calef Allgood, teen from South CarolinaFebruary 22, 2010 at 7:15 AM

    Wow, couldn't agree more. It's gotten to where sometimes you have the leaders, and the kids who wanna be leaders, and the non-belivers who really are wanting to learn. Then you have the kids who are spoiled to death, who sit in the back and talk and text. It's annoying as anything when you are trying to listen and you got a conversation going on around you not pertaining to the lesson at all.

  7. Phil Steadman, North Bennington, VTFebruary 22, 2010 at 11:07 AM

    Interesting approach, sending the videos ahead via facebook. If you ever reach the point you feel you could send those out to interested pastors along with teaching outlines, it might be a powerful way of encouraging small youth groups and kids unfortunate enough to be flying solo at their churches, just a thought. It's not like you don't have enough on your plate already. :)

    We have a youth group of 8-12 most weeks and a seperate group that meets bi-weekly at Tocarra farm for horse training and devotions ala YFC.

    I would be interested in sharing your video stuff with my own kids and they could diseminate it to the others. I understand it would not function the same without the teaching element.

  8. Terry - I totally agree with you that experiential and interactive teaching methods are needed.

    I also think it's great that you keep experimenting and use different technology.

    I was a youth pastor for 14 years and still speak to K-8 graders on a regular basis at one private school regularly and another occassionally.

    I have found that by using some methods I've learned from unconventional sources that it has helped me to capture and keep student's attention.

    I have found that I can speak 20-30 minutes and still keep their attention.

    One method I learned was from reading a Rick Warren interview I once read. In it, he described working as a consultant on the animated film "The Prince Of Egypt". He saw a chart that charted the excitement and calm in the film - the moments where a scene would "grab the audience" and another where their would be "release". He saw that they had about one high and low per 10 minutes. I've found when speaking to students it's important to pace out between content/truth and engaging stories in my talks.

    I've also learned from observing how many TV shows structure an episode with parallel storylines that switch back and forth that this helps the short attention/ADD generation stay engaged. I've learned to do the same thing in my talks.

    These are just some things I've found really help keep students attention, but I'm NOT suggesting that "methods" make a good talk.

    The truth has to be from God's word, bathed in prayer, and the speaker needs the power of the Holy Spirit to help his/her talk have the ability to inspire our students to live it out.

    (Sorry. Didn't mean to comment so long!)