Boring Them to Death

“Long boring sermons just don’t work.”

It was the one common denominator on almost everyone’s paper. I just spent two weeks speaking to young people and training youth workers in Uganda… and their kids are just like ours.

The training workshops were particularly revealing. We started each session breaking up into groups, brainstorming ideas on a large piece of paper, listing ministry practices that were working… and also models that, sadly, weren’t working. Then we discussed each item in detail, speculating why, and learning from each others’ successes and failures.

Despite our many differences, I was amazed at the similarity between Uganda and American youth ministry. In both countries we’ve been boring people to death.

It’s funny, because the one thing I’ve heard from missionaries for the last 20 years is how in Africa people are so hungry they can listen for hours upon hours! “They don’t have the short attention span like in the US.” Yet, every single Ugandan youth worker in our training last week said, “We’re boring our kids by going on too long.” These 20-something aged African youth workers kept asking, “How can we keep young people’s attention?” So I presented them with the same training I’ll be giving at the National Youth Workers Convention this year: Using 10-Minute Talks

It’s fun hearing how clear, short talks can really stimulate today’s young people to think. Especially when followed by small group questions about the talk (which is why we provide small group questions in both of my 10-Minute Talks books).

This proposed methodology always seems to fluster certain people who think I’m asking you to water down your messages. Quite the contrary. I’m not asking us to engage kids for just 10 minutes. I’m asking us to only talk 10 minutes, then engage them in small groups for another 45. This minimizes monologue and maximizes dialogue.

A couple weeks ago Texas youth worker named Jeremy sent me an email telling me, “I just used one of your 10 minute talk stories at our back to school bash in front of about 80 jr. high and High School students and they loved it.  They were engaged the entire time.”

I asked him, “Which one?” He was kind enough to give me the whole scoop:

It was the 19th talk, titled, “Having it All,” talking about Temporary vs. Eternal.

I used this talk during our Back to School Bash service in front of about 80 Jr. High and High School students.  We were in the Gymnasium of our Church which is great for big youth events like this.

The kids really enjoyed the story.  They seemed engaged the entire time.  By using this story I was able to share the message that a relationship with Jesus Christ is the only thing that is eternal in a way that these students could relate to.  For an evangelism/outreach event like this it was perfect.  For outreach with students you never want to simply open the Bible and start preaching a deep expository sermon, because that will normally bore them to death.  This “10 Minute Talk” gave me the opportunity to share the Gospel of Christ which will ultimately open doors for deeper discussion and lessons later.

All of the feedback I got from both the students and parents was very positive. I know this mostly due to tweets and facebook statuses, but I even had kids come to me and say they really enjoyed it.  One mom told me that the story I told is all her son talked about when he got home that night.

I recommend “10 Minute Talks” to anyone who works with youth.

Thanks Jeremy. (I actually posted a link to a free download of one of those talks on this book page)

I just have to ask: Why try to keep kids attention for 30-45 minutes when we can just say it in 10 and then let them discuss it and digest it with us in small groups?

About Jonathan McKee

president of The Source for Youth Ministry, is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices, If I Had a Parenting Do Over, 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, TheSource4YM.com and TheSource4Parents.com. You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.
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6 Responses to Boring Them to Death

  1. Matthew says:

    Completely agree with keeping it short! I try to make a point of not going over 15 minutes with youth, unless the topic really calls for it (which are exceptions, not regularities). And then I provide leaders with a handful of discussion questions and ways to pray together that they can use in smaller groups.

    I don’t even think this is unique to youth ministry, at least not in my setting. On the occasions I get to speak on Sunday mornings to the whole church, I still rarely go much over 20 minutes, and I find people tell me that I gave them enough to think about, but not too much that they lost interest and stopped paying attention.

    Everybody’s different, but I think that having short attention spans is common in adults as well as students (I know I have a short attention span!).

  2. dan manns says:

    When it comes to preaching to teens: It doesn’t have to be eternal to be divine!

    Thanks for this article Jon, it’s got me thinking about tweaking our youth services or at least giving a trial run with shorter messages. Currently myself or whoever is speaking will talk for about 20 minutes. But if less is more then I want less! Reaching students is more important than doing things the way they’ve always been done. Definitely going to take it to prayer and talk to some of my key leaders about it. I will let you know how it goes.

    • Yes, Dan, less is often more. But just to be clear (because I’ve already been getting the typical emails and replies accusing me of trying to water down the gospel or forgo any opportunity for communicating truth), I’m NOT saying we “engage them” for only 10 minutes. I’m saying we can still engage them for 45 minutes to an hour, but just by TALKING only 10 minutes, then dividing to small groups for conversation for about 45 minutes. This helps us minimize monologue so we can engage them into more dialogue. Less lecturing, more listening. That’s why I include small group questions at the back of the book.

  3. Alvin Lau says:

    I’m not sure if length is always the issue. It’s engagement. A 10-min talk can be just as boring while an engaged talk (or better yet, an engaged presentation that allows for different learning styles) will help students own truth much more intently. A talk usually only utilizes one or two learning styles. Proportionally, just having a talk will only effectively engage a segment of the audience. However, but ensuring you’re engaging with different learning styles, the “talk” will be much more effectively even if it’s longer than 10 min.

    • True. And that’s why I like “story driven” talks. My 10-Minute Talk style is literally one engaging story, one scripture and one point. It’s a style I used to use with school assemblies (minus the scripture in public schools), but much longer. It didn’t matter how tough and rowdy the audience was, when I started telling a good story… they stopped to listen.

      • Alvin Lau says:

        Interesting how the majority of scripture is narrative. Maybe God actually knew what he was doing when compiling the Bible. (Too bad many preachers aren’t good story tellers.)