Every pastor that works with youth wants to find ways to connect with kids while teaching. It isn’t easy being in youth ministry and we all need tools and practical suggestions to find new ways to hold attention and make connection. Here are a few practical ways that you can step into the world of your youth and meet them where they are.
1. Preparation- Not flying by the seat of your pants.
Unprepared teachers are simply trying to manage the lesson, and set up the activities of the class rather than meet the kids themselves. As a result, a teacher may do a decent job of conveying content in a a class but never really settles in to be able to see and know the kids who are a part of it. Kids feel disconnected from adults already and are used to a teacher that talks but doesn’t listen. Good preparation frees you to interact with the kids beyond just giving them a bible lesson.
2. Incarnation- Entering their world
If you were a missionary dropped in the jungles of the Congo to take the gospel to indigenous people there, how would you do that? At some point you have to learn their culture, understand how they think, see their issues, and then apply the gospel the the ways they are experiencing brokenness. Ministering to kids is the same process, it just a slightly more “hyper” jungle! In order for kids to see their need for the gospel they need someone to make sense of the ways they are experiencing brokenness. As youth ministers, we need to understand their world and meet them there. It’s what Jesus did for us.
3. Adaptation- Telling an old story in new context
One of the most engaging communication tools I have used with young people is to get them to see the story in a modern setting. Telling a story from the bible using the names of kids from my class in a setting they’re familiar with, helps them to feel the emotion of a text. It takes the stories of the bible and places them in current times to show the relevance. You serve them better when they see themselves as a part of the story.
4. Animation- Your body is a tool use it.
A guy named Dr. Albert Mehrabian, who is the author of a book titled “Silent Messages”, conducted several studies on nonverbal communication. His research showed that only 7% of any message is conveyed through words. In fact, he states that 38% of the content comes through certain vocal elements, and 55% through nonverbal elements (facial expressions, gestures, posture, etc). When you are animated (through acting out a story, or using your hands to communicate reaching out, or being afraid and recoiling) you help young people to understand better, what the words mean.
5. Combination- Mixing in different learning styles.
People learn in different ways. Some are auditory learners while others are visual or tactile in their learning style. Think through ways that you can teach a lesson that will hit each learning style and grab the attention of your crowd, regardless of how they best receive information.
6. Commendation- Affirming the worth and value of individual youth verbally.
During the “rapprochement” phase, babies begin the process of seeing themselves as individuals and these lessons are confirmed in later development as well. When an authority figure in the life a child affirms the good in them, the effects are astounding. Encourage a kid’s strengths and you will win their heart. You teach them through example what God’s grace is like, by showing them that they are praiseworthy despite any glaring flaws they may feel.
7. Inspiration- Give them something to shoot for.
Sometimes sharing the battles that others have faced and made it through, gives us a hope that God will see us through our struggles. If you are challenging young people to persevere through the temptations they are facing, give them hope that they aren’t alone and can pass the test. Let them see it in a life rather than a moral imperative.
8. Saturation- Knowing when to break up a talk or do something different.
The mind can only take in so much info without some sort of relief. Some pastors like to point out that Eutychus fell out of a window (Acts 20) after Paul preached all night, like it is a badge of honor to have so much to share. My thought is, maybe Paul should have stopped at around 9:00 or so… Know when to let your kids off the hook with a joke, a story, an activity, or a break. They will retain more if you keep them from tuning out.
9. Relocation- Changing the room so that the environment is different.
Someone once told me that a rut is just a grave with the ends kicked out! Avoid the trap of everything being the same all the time. Treat your room and the elements of what you do like legos. What you build with it one week can be disassembled and reassembled differently every once in a while. The change makes us engage our minds and wonder why things are different. Don’t be afraid to change it up.
10. Celebration- Enjoy the day.
Kids will love what you love. Demonstrate that it is a joy to serve Jesus, love Jesus, worship Jesus, and talk about Jesus. If your joy is genuine, they will know it. We all need to be reminded to just relax and enjoy things every once in a while. There is plenty of drama in life, let yourself have fun in what you do and the kids around you will too!
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Jeremy Nehf is the Youth Pastor at Heritage Christian Fellowship in southern Oregon. Jeremy and his wife Kristal have three children, Acacia, Elijah, and Eva. After planting a church in the town of Cave Junction, Oregon and pastoring there for 12 years, he joined the staff at Heritage and oversees the needs of Jr High and High School youth ministry teams.