Communication Skills for Youth Leaders

Many of the same skills needed by parents for good communication with teens can also be used by youth leaders. There are some special skills needed, however, for those who speak to groups of youth. The following are some suggestions for effective communication with a youth audience.

Know the Audience

An understanding of the audience will help speakers know how to pace their talk and hold the attention of the group. Younger youth have a short attention span. Older youth try hard to look uninterested especially if they believe this impresses the boy or girl sitting near them.

Illustrations and applications are easier if the speaker knows the group. Ideally, the speaker should know personal interests and needs of individuals. This is not always possible, but general illustrations appropriate for the age group can still be used.

Make the Content Relational

Most sermons do not include illustrations related to youth. When illustrations about youth are used, they are most often negative illustrations (teenage pregnancy, drug abuse, peer pressure, rebellion, and so forth). Seek ways to personalize messages by using illustrations drawn from the lives of teenagers today.

Jesus used stories and illustrations familiar to His audiences. When listeners hear a point communicated through a story that could have happened that day at school, they pay attention.

Develop Good Speaking Skills

Put forth the effort in planning and sharpening your message. Good speaking rarely comes without good preparation. Plan for the message to move smoothly toward the conclusion. Keep is simple and straightforward. Youth are not impressed by academic language and complex logic. A well-planned, lively message will make a better impression on adolescents. The conclusion should restate the main point. It should summarize the applications and point toward any decisions that might need to be made. An illustration, hymn text, or poen can often be effective in driving home the main point.

Observe good speakers and the things to which youth are responsive. Discern the patterns, mannerisms, and styles of speakers who are effective communicators. Adapt these to your own style and personality. Do not attempt to use the slang or dress of the teenagers in order to gain their attention. Nothing looks more ridiculous than an overgrown adolescent trying to communicate in words that went out of date last week! Warmth and love for teenagers will come through if you are sincere.

Keep a Healthy Sense of Humor

Some of the best advice I ever heard was from my teacher, Dr. Phil Briggs, "Take your message very seriously, but don't take yourself too seriously." Adults who feel comfortable enough to use humor can build bridges between themselves and the listeners. A stilted, formal style builds walls that keep many teenagers from hearing the message.

Humor can be a powerful tool is used correctly. We do not want to be seen as stand-up comedians but as speakers of the truth. Make sure the humor is appropriate, understandable to the age group, and not destructive or degrading. Never use sarcasm or ridicule. The price of riddled self-esteem is not worth the few moments of laughter from the audience.

Speak Through the Power of the Holy Spirit

Many of these suggestions apply to speakers in any group, secular or Christian. The primary difference for Christian speakers is the role of the Holy Spirit. If we are to be authentic servants of God, communicating the message of hope to a lost world, we must draw our strength and direction through the working of the Holy Spirit. Our message must grow out of a life centered on and submissive to God's will. Our relationship with Christ must be in order and pleasing to God.

Prayer is an essential element in communicating with youth. It is through communication with God that we know His heart and desire. Through prayer we can be filled with the power and insight to speak the truth. When we are sensitive to the Holy Spirit, our cups will be filled with the living water of salvation and hope.

We may not all be powerful speakers, able to sway a crowd with elegance and persuasion. But we can make an impact through a message that is authentic and energized with the Spirit of God. In our own strength, we might do a little to change the course of history. But, as Paul says, "My message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God" (1 Cor. 2:45).


Adapted from an excerpt from An Introduction to Youth Ministry

Dr. Wesley Black is professor of student ministry and associate dean for Ph.D. studies in the School of Educational Ministries at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas. He and his wife Sandi lead the parent ministry in the student ministry of Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas.

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