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.