Training Your Own Volunteers

Posted on: 06/3/14 5:30 AM | by Jonathan McKee

pictureIf you’re a ministry leader, what do you do to keep you leaders sharp?

It didn’t take long for me to discover that all my volunteers enjoyed two things: food and socializing. So I decided to provide both, by gathering all my volunteers together once a month for dinner, with a little dash of training and equipping. My budget was small so we just did a potluck dinner at a different house each month. We would spend the first hour just eating and enjoying each other’s company. Once we finished eating, I spent a little time teaching them about youth culture or sharpening their ministry skills.

So what kind of training can we offer our volunteers without having to bring in a professional? Continue reading “Training Your Own Volunteers”

5 Days of Get Your Teenager Talking- DAY 5

Posted on: 04/4/14 3:30 AM | by Jonathan McKee

talking-with-teensEach day in my blog this week I have given you a little somethin’ you can use to provoke meaningful conversations with young people. (Click here for Monday’s, Tuesday’s, Wednesday’s, or Thursday’s.) My brand new book, Get Your Teenager Talking has 180 conversation springboards that “get teenagers talking”… I thought I’d share some with you. Here’s one more:

Conversation Springboard No. 5:

Which kids are happier: those who eat whatever they want, drink alcohol, and smoke, or those who eat healthy foods and live a healthier lifestyle?

A recent study suggests an unhealthy lifestyle is linked to unhappiness. In fact, in their analysis of five thousand young people between the ages of ten and fifteen, researchers discovered Continue reading “5 Days of Get Your Teenager Talking- DAY 5”

Please Don’t Say “Gay”

Posted on: 06/28/11 4:51 PM | by Jonathan McKee

My daughter’s friend Paige attends a public school and recently had a teacher who came out of the closet. A few weeks after announcing he was gay, the teacher asked a noble request of his students. He worded it like this:

“Can I ask you a favor? A lot of you use the word ‘gay’ a lot in the context of being ‘stupid’ or ‘dumb.’ You say, ‘That’s gay’ when something is stupid. I think that’s really offensive. I would hope that you would please stop using ‘gay’ as a synonym for these negative terms.”

Paige, a Christian, walked up to her teacher after class when he was alone and asked him:

“Can I ask you a similar favor? You use the term ‘Jesus Christ’ and ‘Oh my God’ all the time, especially when you’re mad at something or expressing dissatisfaction about an issue. That’s really offensive to me because I have a relationship with Jesus, my God, and I have utter respect for his name.”

Paige’s teacher thought about it for a moment. He finally responded, “I’ll try my best to not say Jesus Christ. But I’m not going to stop saying ‘Oh my God.'”

It’s getting more and more difficult to be a teenage Christian today. And heaven forbid if we disagree with the homosexual lifestyle. Those young people that do are in the minority.

I appreciate Paige’s boldness for a couple reasons:

1. Her approach was bold, but humble. Paige didn’t confront her teacher in front of the whole class. She didn’t do it for attention. Paige approached him because she really felt that he was being unfair to her and other believers. Paige has no problem with people who engage in homosexual acts, any more than those who gossip or engage in premarital sex. But she doesn’t think it’s fair for her teacher to ask for a consideration that he’s not willing to provide to believers.

Paige’s humble approach could have been costly. This is the man who is going to give her a grade that will be on her transcript forever. Sometime standing up for truth has a cost. A local Presbyterian church just spend 1.2 Million to remove themselves from a denomination that is going to allow gay clergy. I know the leaders in this church and some of the other pastors quoted in this article. These are godly, compassionate people who are standing firm on their beliefs… and the cost is great.

2. Paige just wants an even playing field. I don’t know if she would call it that, but Paige is experiencing something that most Christians are beginning to face today. We are being teased for our beliefs.

Yes, as Christians we need to understand a little history here. For as long as I remember, people have been unfair to homosexuals. Think about it. The homosexuals are a group who, I believe, struggle with a sexual sin. For years people have laughed, teased and made fun of homosexuals. Why haven’t we done the same with gossips? Why haven’t we teased those who have premarital sex? Why haven’t we teased those who cheat on their taxes?

Homosexuals have been mocked, ridiculed and bullied. It’s one of the great blemishes in our history.

But in the last few years the tables have turned. Over half of America now thinks that homosexuality is fine. More and more states are beginning to legalize gay marriage. And now… Christians are the ones being mocked.

Let me ask you a question: when you see a Christian portrayed on TV today… how are they portrayed? What about when you see a homosexual portrayed on TV (on every show)?

If someone makes fun of a Christian in the media, everyone laughs. If someone makes the slightest jest about gays, apologies have to be issued, and people are fired.

June is gay pride month. When is it okay to be proud about loving Jesus?

Now, even if Christians, in their freedom of speech, practice their first amendment rights to voice their disagreement with the homosexual lifestyle, they have to be EXTREMELY careful voicing their beliefs. I’m not talking about condemning homosexuals- that’s not cool. I’m talking about if a Christian just says, “I think homosexual acts are wrong.” If we simply state that belief, we’re deemed “hateful.”

I respect Paige for standing up for her belief.

What would you do in that situation?

How can we follow a Biblical model, showing compassion and love, while not compromising truth?

Do Games Still Work?

Posted on: 06/24/11 4:25 PM | by Jonathan McKee

It’s summer and a lot of youth workers are on our site searching for fun games and activities. Add to that our fun little game rating and commenting contest we’re having right now where I’m giving away 10 prizes, both DVDs and books (peek here for details).

This brings up a big question. Do games still work?

Some people seem to be casting stones at ministries who still use games. Are games a tool of the past? Do they no longer open doors?

That’s the question I asked this week in my guest post on Tim Schmoyer’s Life in Student Ministry blog… an article I titled, To Play Games or Not to Play Games. Here’s a couple snippets:

The location wasn’t anything special—a multi-purpose room of a small little church. But about 70 students, gangbangers and high school dropouts from the community were gathered, laughing, playing games and having fun.

Games? Yes, gangbangers playing games.

30 minutes later the leader told a story and began a discussion about real life issues. This week the topic was death. A student laid down in the front of the room as if in an open casket at a funeral, and friends of the teenager began coming up and giving eulogies.

The leader wrapped up by sharing the Gospel. A handful of kids checked a box on a card saying, “I’d like to talk about this more.” Three one-on-one meetings happened that week between a caring adult and students. One of the students gave his life to Christ.

Across the country I visited and entirely different venue:

Every Thursday night teenagers would gather together here. A little music, a video, then a student would come up and share their story—or testimony as some like to call it. Then the leader would open the word and share for about 25 minutes. Week after week teenagers gave their lives to Christ, grew in their faith, fellowshipped with other believers and worshipped their creator.

When I talked with the leader of the group, the subject of games somehow surfaced. “We don’t play games here!” The leader snapped. “High school kids don’t want to play games,” he continued. “They want something relevant to their lives.”

Really? Games don’t work?

Who’s right?

That’s what I seek to answer in that blog. Read it, jump in and comment.

Sexy Little Girls

Posted on: 06/22/11 3:57 PM | by Jonathan McKee

I’m a father of two girls. I go shopping with them often. Let me say it simply: It’s becoming increasingly more difficult to find modest clothes and bathing suits for my daughters.

The fashion world is putting the pressure on, nudging young girls to get too sexy too soon. But most kids are on board. They’re simply following the fashion of their role models.

The question many parents and youth workers have is: where do we draw the line? We could be like the one mom we all know at church that always dresses her daughter in Amish-like apparel. I know her daughter well (I’ve met hundreds of them). When she turns 18 she’s going to rebel completely. She’s already started. Or I guess we can do the opposite and be like the overly-permissive parents of many of the girls we see on public high school campuses– girls who hardly wear anything at all.

Parents have a choice to make. Are they supposed to sway to either of these extremes? Is there a modest balance?

Youth workers have an equally difficult choice to make. In the U.S., it’s more difficult the next couple of months. The weather is hot, and that means bikinis, shirts with spaghetti straps, and other revealing attire. (As I sit here, my girls are at church camp- a camp that doesn’t allow two piece bathing suits. Some of the girls from our church literally didn’t have one-piece bathing suits. This can be a tough rule to enforce)

A FEW THOUGHTS:  (first I’ll link a couple great articles on the subject, then we’ll talk about what parents can do, then I’ll touch on how youth workers can set guidelines)

David wrote a really powerful article on this subject this week, Short Skirts, Short Shorts and Short Shirts. Here’s just a snippet:

According to their article published in the research journal Sex Roles, of the 5,666 pieces of clothing studied, 31% of them had “sexualized characteristics.” The sexualization of the clothing was usually in the form of “frequently emphasizing the look of breasts” or bringing “attention to the buttocks.”

We know that watching sexy TV shows has a direct correlation to early sexual activity, as does listening to sex-laden songs. But is there also an effect on girls who wear clothing that’s sexual? The researchers claimed that “Dressing girls in this way could contribute to socializing them into the narrow role of the sexually objectified woman.” (CLICK HERE FOR THE ENTIRE ARTICLE)

Some great discussion has transpired in the comment section of this article. I encourage you to check it out and/or join in.

I think parents inside and outside of the church are growing frustrated with some of the companies that are “selling out” to this kind of “oversexualized” clothing for young girls. A while back I blogged about an ABC news report titled, Too Sexy Too Soon, with a great video on the subject. Some parents are getting fed up with this “corporate pedophilia.”

So how can parents set guidelines?
First… I don’t think we need to over-react to either extreme mentioned above. Personally, I don’t see the need to wrap up our girls head to toe. I’ve had a conversation with my girls about the way they dress because of the simple truth that it affects the guys around them. I’ve talked about how “visual” guys are and how much bikinis and revealing tops can affect them. These have been good conversations.

Does that mean that we never have disagreements about apparel in my house? Ha! We have to remind my girls quite often. (I actually talk about this and some guidelines we use in greater detail in my book, Candid Confessions of an Imperfect Parent)

But Lori and I don’t just give up. We’ve set realistic guidelines and we’ve explained why they exist. My girls (13 and 15) are pretty cool with that.

What about youth workers?
How is a youth worker to respond when it’s summer camp and a girl shows up in a revealing two piece? (not that all one-peices AREN’T revealing!)

I actually addressed this on our ASK THE SOURCE page when a youth worker wrote and asked about a situation where they were trying to figure out a dress code for church activities, and how to approach kids that didn’t follow the code.

Here’s a snippet of my response:

I also think you can handle a lot of this one-on-one. If you see someone wearing something risqué, you can have a female staff talk with her. I would use discretion and be sensitive to “unchurched girls.” You don’t want to scare a kid away from the church over a bathing suit. And let me assure you- the world has no problem with small swim suits.

I spoke for a church last year at a one week water-ski camp and they had a similar rule about bathing suits. Sure enough, a few girls wore risqué suits. I saw two female staff approach girls about this. It was interesting to see the difference in the two approaches. When someone first voiced the concern, the two staff girls spoke up. The first announced, “I have no problem telling her to change. Where is she? Watch this!” I think this staff girl was a little more excited about the chance to enforce her power than she was caring about the individual. The girl’s reaction was not good. Not surprising.

However, the second staff lady handled her situation quite well. She was one of the mothers on the trip and when the situation arose, she simply said, “I’ll talk with her.” You should have seen her gentle approach. She just walked up to her, put her arm around her and said something to her about “a pretty girl like you doesn’t need any more help getting guys to look at you.” Then she joked with her. “Why don’t you wear this t-shirt this week over that suit and have mercy on some of our guys.”

I remember that incident well. It’s amazing how most situations can be defused when you and your team of leaders pour on “love.”

So what do you think? How are youth workers and parents to set these guidelines? Where do you draw the line?

Communicating with Clarity—USE SMALL GROUP TIME

Posted on: 06/10/11 1:32 PM | by Jonathan McKee

It’s been fun writing about speaking in this blog for the last couple of weeks. The subject has definitely invited some interesting discussion, most of the “heat” surrounding the topic of  the “length” of our talks.
For those of you who have missed the last few weeks, we’re talking about how to communicate to teenagers in a way that’s memorable and clear. So far, after introducing the subject, I’ve written spedifically about:
One question that has surfaced in the blog comments numerous times reveals the need to address today’s subject. People keep asking me, “What do we do if we aren’t good communicators?” I’ve addressed the answer to this question a little bit in my blog about “USING THE STORY,” because stories (one story, one scripture and one point) are powerful tools that most people can use with success. I also addressed the answer in my blog about USING GIFTED COMMUNICATORS, talking about how to identify and develop gifted communicators in your ministry. And TALKING SHORTER never hurt anyone.
But today I want to bring up another subject that I think is probably one of the most effective tools for any youth worker who has a message to communicate, and that is the use of small group time.
The average youth group in America has just over a dozen young people and is led by a volunteer. Some of these volunteers aren’t gifted communicators…. and that’s okay. Small groups don’t require leaders who can deliver dynamic expository sermons. They actually require a skill that most people find even more difficult to do: the ability to listen!
Small group leading should probably be called “small group facilitating.” Because the key to small group time is to get kids talking and leaders listening.
I speak at a dozen or more camps each year. Many of these camps have a small group time after I am finished speaking. The leader of the camp will always ask me to provide some discussion questions for the “cabin leaders” or “counselors.” It’s fun to walk around after my talk and peek in on these small group times.
Guess what I observe over 90% of the time?
Leaders talking, and kids listening.
Actually… let me rephrase my observation: Leaders blabbing on and on… and kids tuning out, wishing they were somewhere else.
What a wasted opportunity.
True small group time should always include the following:
1.       Good questions that stimulate conversation and help kids discover truth.
2.       A leader that knows how to ask questions… and shut up! (Sorry for using the “s-word.”)
Let me go back to that question that has been asked multiple times in the last couple weeks. “Jonathan, what do we do if we’re not a good communicator?”
My answer: Introduce a subject with some sort of discussion provoker, then divide to small groups with trained leaders.
Let me give you some help with this.
It doesn’t matter if your gift isn’t communication (Maybe you’re the only leader who actually shows up!), just kick off the discussion with something that gets their attention, and divide to small groups.
Let’s take a peek at what this looks like.
Our web site has a ton of these that are readymade for youth leaders. Jump on and access that dropdown menu on the top left hand side of the page where it says FREE RESOURCES & IDEAS. From that dropdown menu you’ll see a ton of great free resources that not only provide you with good discussion provokers, they also provide you with really good small group questions, scripture, and wrap ups. Take a peek.
From that dropdown menu you’ll see MUSIC DISCUSSIONS and MOVIE CLIP DISCUSSIONS. Both these pages use either music or movie clips to get kids attention. Then, they provide the transition statement you can use as you divide your kids into small groups (and everything you’ll need once you get them there). We also have a page from that same dropdown menu titled CURRICULUM & JUMPSTARTERS. That page has numerous subpages, most of which provide discussion provokers and/or small group questions. All these free resources are great for provoking discussion and dividing to small groups.
Life is full of moments that might be good discussion starters. I remember watching a lady digging through the garbage of a fast food restaurant for her keys, only to later find them in her back pocket. I thought to myself, “That’s a discussion starter if I’ve ever seen one!” Think about it.
          Are you ever looking for the right thing in all the wrong places?
          What kind of garbage are you digging through on your quest for answers?
So if you’re not a naturally gifted communicator, just use a discussion provoker and divide to small groups. But then, make sure you…
Our web site can help you in this area as well with our free training tools. Jump on and access that next dropdown menu at the top of the page—the one that says ARTICLE & FREE TRAINING. From that dropdown menu, access the FREE TRAINING TOOLS page and then click on HELP MY LEADERS. On that page you’ll see a handful of free ppt presentations we provide for free to help you teach your leaders about some of the essentials of youth ministry. Select the training titled, The DNA of Healthy Small Groups. This ppt training will help your leaders learn the essentials of leading a small group.
Use a tool like this to teach your leaders to LISTEN way more than they talk.
Small groups can be a great tool for anyone, dynamic communicator or not.
Why do you think I provided ready-made small group questions at the end of every one of the talks in my book 10-Minute Talks?

Communicating with Clarity- TALK SHORTER

Posted on: 06/6/11 1:40 PM | by Jonathan McKee

For the last week I’ve been talking about how to communicate to teenagers with clarity. On Day One I asked the question, “How many minutes will kids actually listen?” …quickly touching on the fact that we might need to make our talks a little shorter (check out the comments that day… some interesting reactions and discussion about that). Day Two I talked about “Communicating with Clarity-Using Stories.” Day Three I talked about “Communicating with Clarity- Only Use Gifted Communicators.”

Today I’m going to specifically address the subject that seemed to get a rise out of some… Keeping it Short. This time let’s really dissect the length of our talks.

Last week some people grew concerned when I mentioned the concept of using 10 minute messages. The comments said it clear:

“We shouldn’t cater to our culture’s short attention span.”

“We need to be teaching the youth that God is deserving of more attention than anything else in their lives.”

It seems that many us are worried that shorter messages mean “watered down” messages.

Is this true? If we shorten our talks, are we sacrificing depth? Or, as I asked in Day Two of this series, “How can we be memorable and clear, yet not so short that we lose clarity and depth?”

Let’s look at the length of some of the most famous and memorable speeches in history. For example, how many minutes was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech?

16 minutes.

How many minutes was Winston Churchhill’s famous “Never Give In” speech at Harrow School on October 29, 1941?

4 minutes, 12 seconds.

How about Abe Lincoln’s Gettysburg address on November 2, 1863? Surely this was a longer talk.

2 minutes.

For such powerful, memorable, life changing speeches… those seem pretty short.

Some might argue that these aren’t Biblical examples. Maybe sharing Biblical truth takes longer. The other day a person commented to Day One of this blog series, “The Bible isn’t made for 5 to 10 minute consumption.”


I admit, I wasn’t there when Jesus gave most of his talks, so all I have of his teaching is what I read in the Gospels. For example, in Luke 8 a large crowd gathered and he told them the parable of the sower. If you read that parable out loud, it will take less than a minute.

Like I said, I wasn’t there. Maybe that was only part of a much larger talk to that crowd. Or maybe he just told that story. Either way, the only thing that Luke wrote down was that short little story. The memorable part of that talk was one story, telling one powerful point.

In Luke 10 a man asked Jesus what he has to do to inherit eternal life. Wow. That’s a big question, right? We wouldn’t want to water it down with a short answer.

Jesus answered with a question. “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”

The man answers with the greatest commandment. Jesus basically responds, “Correctamundo!”

But the man wants a little more details, so he asks, “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus answered the question with another story. “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers…” Again, this story takes about a minute to tell. If you read all of Luke 10, this whole interaction takes about a minute or two. Then, off to another village.

Has anyone ever accused Jesus’ one or two minute response of being “watered down?”

Far from it.

In a simple one-minute-story Jesus hits his audience hard with a point that would never be forgotten. Not only was his story memorable and powerful… he made the most despicable sinner imaginable the hero of the story (imagine telling that story in church today and making Lady Gaga the hero).

Deep? Yes.

Short? About one minute.

The fact is this: the Gospel writers frequently record Jesus talking to people in short, memorable stories. Maybe Jesus was on to something.

My point is simply this: Why say something in 25 minutes when you could say it in one minute?

Any questions?

Communicating with Clarity- USE GIFTED COMMUNICATORS

Posted on: 06/3/11 1:23 PM | by Jonathan McKee

The last few days I’ve been blogging about communicating to teenagers with clarity. If you haven’t read those blogs, I encourage you to jump on my blog page and read both of them (How Many Minutes Will Kids Actually Listen, and Communicating with Clarity-USING THE STORY), as well as the discussion that followed in the comments. Great conversation.

In those blogs, I promised to chime in and cover a handful of speaking principles that have helped me communicate to today’s teenagers. Here’re the principles I’m covering:
-USING STORIES (I covered this Wednesday)

So today I’m going to talk about a principle that should be obvious, but is probably one of the most ignored principles of the bunch…

Only Use Gifted Communicators:
We all have gifts. Paul talks about these gifts in I Corinthians 12. He gives the analogy of body parts. This is a great analogy. Would you try to walk two miles on your eyeballs? Would you try to listen with your bellybutton? Would you try to talk with your elbows? (Okay, so I used a few body parts that Paul didn’t mention. Don’t do this with a jr. high audience… it will surely digress even worse.)

So why do we constantly try to force people into molds that they don’t fit?

Sadly, some people don’t realize that they are not a “mouth.” They see a mouth and they think, “I’d love to be able to do that.” Problem is… they’re a foot. And the more a “foot” tries to be a “mouth,” the more it looks like the blooper real on American Idol tryouts. Everyone in the room sees it… except the “foot!”

My wife Lori is amazing. Anyone who meets her readily admits, “Jonathan, you got yourself a winner there.” Or the people that know me and finally meet her say, “Okay, now I know where the strength in this marriage lies.” (Nice!) She’s truly remarkable.

Lori is a behind-the-scenes person. She’s great at organizing and handling minute details. She’s administered 1,000-person events without a glitch. She’s a huge asset to whatever team she’s a part of.

Guess what? She hates speaking in front of a crowd. She gets quiet, turns as red as a turnip and she second guesses everything she says. Communication isn’t her strong suit.

Does that make her a lousy team member?

Heck no. I need a “Lori” on my team. (Actually, I need about 10 “Loris.”)

It would be silly to try to make Lori into a speaker. This doesn’t mean that Lori shouldn’t ever have to learn to communicate her faith to others. Lori’s done that. In fact, she’s fantastic one-on-one. She’s discipled plenty of girls and even led a Bible Study (80% facilitation, 20% talking and leading). But I’ve never tried to force Lori into speaking.

The church needs to become better at helping people find and use their gifts. Sometimes that means having some uncomfortable conversations—like telling Chuck that you’re not going to be using him to speak to the high school kids anymore. This doesn’t mean you need to be mean.

“Chuck, you suck!”

Far from it. But someone with the gift of discernment needs to take Chuck aside an help him find his gifting.

“Chuck, I really appreciate you being willing to communicate to the high school kids every week. But let me tell you something that I’ve observed. I’ve noticed that you are amazing at hanging out with the fringe kids in our group. You have a radar for “outcasts.” The other night I saw you watching the crowd and you noticed that new kid Brian wearing all black and sitting in the back. It was awesome watching how you sat next to him and started a conversation with him. You have so much compassion for those kids. I think that’s your gift Chuck. Speaking isn’t.”

It takes a certain person to be able to initiate these conversations. (Yes, that ability is also a gift)

The church needs to become better at helping people find and use their gifts.

How do you find and develop speakers in your ministry?
1. Try out different leaders sharing their “story” for 5 minutes in front of the group. You’ll notice who feels natural up front and who doesn’t. If they are a natural communicator, affirm them in that ability.

2. Ask those “natural communicators” if they’d share a 10-minute talk a few weeks later. Give them the content for that talk (maybe a book called, 10-Minute Talks) and see how they do. Not all natural communicators are good at developing content. That is a learned skill.

3. If they do well with the 10-minute talk, then take the next step and talk with them about developing content. Give them a book that talks about how to develop Biblical talks. One of the best books ever written on the subject is Dr. Haddon Robinson’s Biblical Preaching. Ken Davis’ book, The Secrets of Dynamic Communication is another great one. Help them develop some simple, short talks and give them an opportunity to deliver these talks in a safe environment.

Before long, you might find a handful of communicators in your midst… and Chuck will experience great results using his gifts where needed.

Communicating with Clarity- USING THE STORY

Posted on: 06/1/11 1:36 PM | by Jonathan McKee

I asked the question in yesterday’s blog and heard some great feedback from a bunch of you. “How many minutes will kids actually listen?”

Many of you indicated that you keep talks short.  Others incorporate small group time so that young people can process and discuss what they’ve learned. Some of you try to change it up to kill any monotony. Still, some seem to be resisting short teaching time, in fear of “watering down” the message.

I guess that’s really the big dilemma: I want to keep it short enough to be memorable and clear, yet not so short that we lose clarity and depth.

It seems that most of us would agree with seeking “clarity” in our communication. No one would complain if kids walked out with a clear understanding of scriptural truth. The question is, What methodology best accomplishes that goal?

Or let’s think about it in terms that many youth workers can relate to. 23 kids are gathered in the small junior high room in the church basement on a Wednesday evening. Several wiry 6th grade boys roll on the floor wrestling, while a handful of older boys run the foosball table. Across the room a gathering of 8th grade girls whisper and giggle with each other. Adult volunteers are interacting with many of the kids. A few sit alone. Soon, a youth worker announces, “Come on everyone, let’s bring it together.”And after some shuffling and herding, the students are gathered into a small audience facing the front of the room. Announcements, maybe games… but sooner or later, regardless of format, we share a message of truth.
We’ve got a message to communicate, we’ve got a captive audience… how can we communicate that message to young people most effectively?

Is there one answer?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. (Yes, these thoughts are nothing new. This is the reason I wrote the book, 10-Minute Talks. I’ve noticed this glaring need for “clarity” in communication for a while now.) As promised, this week I’m going to blog some of my thoughts about principles that might help ministries communicate better to a generation with a short attention span. Here’re some of the principles I’m going to cover in the next few days:


I want to start by talking about the power of the story.

I’ve always loved stories. As a kid I loved bedtime stories. Around the campfire my brother and I loved it when my dad told scary stories. Whenever he would finish, we’d yell, “Another one! Another one!”

When’s the last time someone yelled that when you finished your talk?

Stories are powerful.

I learned the power of a story a little over 15 years ago when I started speaking in the public school. By God’s grace, a campus ministry I was a part of started bringing out a couple hundred kids weekly. These weren’t church kids by any means, and the last thing on their mind was sitting down and listening to a sermon. Most of them were there for basketball, friends and food. But every week I was determined to share some truth with them. So I began ‘cutting my teeth’ at the skill of speaking. (If you ever wanna learn how to communicate to young people, try speaking to 200+ kids that don’t want to be preached to, sitting in school bleachers.) I quickly learned what works and what doesn’t.

Some of the biggest lessons I learned:
1. You’ve got about 30 seconds to grab their attention, then the rest of the time to keep it.
2. Stories work.
3. Humor is a plus.

Fast forward to a few months ago when I stood in front of a few thousand kids in a school auditorium. Guess what three principles I still use? (yep, same three)

I’ve seen a lot of speakers with a lot of gimmicks. I’ve seen speakers that required all kinds of technology, PowerPoint and props. Some of these tools can be very effective. But when I speak, I want one thing: a microphone that works (usually one with a cord- the chances of it working increase greatly). Why? A simple fact: I’ve got stories, and kids love hearing stories.

Using stories is nothing new. Do I even need to bring up Jesus’ use of stories? From what we read in the Gospels, Jesus was a master communicator. Secular philosophers even attest to his effective teaching style. His use of parables not only used stories, but they punched the audience in the gut with convicting truths that they needed to hear. Stories can help us communicate truth with clarity.

To this day, I still use talks that are simply stories with a wrap up.

If you peek at the left hand column of this blog, you’ll see the book I mentioned earlier titled, 10-Minute Talks (you can actually click on the book and read one of the talks in its entirety including the small group questions I provide). This book is a collection of a bunch of talks that I’ve used over the years with great results. Why? They are all stories with one point and one scripture passage. If you read those talks, I think you’ll find that they are simple, clear… and far from watered down.

Don’t underestimate the power of a story.

A few years ago a Youth for Christ group flew me out to speak to a bunch of middle school students at an all night event. When I was introduced, I was staring at an unruly crowd of 1400 middle school students who made two things clear. 1. They were ready for a night of fun. 2. They didn’t want to be sitting in an auditorium listening to me. When they handed me the microphone, a kid in the front row literally said, “Who the Hell are you?” No one else in the room heard, because they were all involved in their own conversations.

I reminded God that I needed him (okay, yes, I reminded me), and then I began telling a story.

“When I was 18-years old, I gave my friend $12,000 dollars. Actually, it didn’t start that way. I had to almost kill him first… but more on that in a minute. It started with me and four of my friends showing up to his house at 6 o’clock in the morning to celebrate his birthday. His mom let us upstairs into his room, and…”

Within 30 seconds, they were hooked.

About 25 minutes later I gave an invitation and over 100 kids came forward and received Christ.

I didn’t have a podium on stage. No PowerPoint. No notes. Here was my outline:
– Greg story
– House on the rock- Matthew 7
– What is your foundation?
– Invitation

Yes, you better believe I worked hard on nailing those transitions between each of those points. But the fact remains, that talk was simply one story, one scripture, communicating one simple point.

Don’t underestimate the power of a story.

Let’s hear from you! Comment: How have stories helped you communicate? Have you ever tried using just one story, one scripture, communicating one clear point? How do stories help communicate with clarity, without sacrificing depth?

How Many Minutes Will Kids Actually Listen?

Posted on: 05/31/11 10:10 AM | by Jonathan McKee

Why talk for 25 minutes when you can say it in 5?

Seriously. Think about it for a moment. Picture a typical youth gathering where an adult has the opportunity to share the truth with kids. Now imagine this. A woman in her young 20’s walks to the front of the room and opens with these words. “Last year I realized that the friends I surrounded myself with were dragging me down, so I made one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever made in my life…”

For the next four minutes she shares a story of how surrounding herself with the wrong crowd led to disaster. Then she shares a scripture out of Hebrews 10 stating that we need to surround ourselves with people of encouragement—people who will help us with our faith walk, not hinder it. She closes with these words. “Think of the handful of people you spend the most time with? Are they drawing you closer to Christ… or dragging you away?”

She sits down.

Total talk time, 6 minutes and 22 seconds.

Let me ask you a question. Would that talk be more powerful if she blabbed for another 30 minutes? (I really want to know your thoughts? Please use the comment feature on this blog to chime in.)

This subject is dear to my heart. This fall I’m actually teaching a workshop on “Speaking to Teenagers with Short Attention Spans” again at the National Youth Workers Convention. In that seminar I always say, “Wouldn’t it be nice if all of us could communicate the scriptures like Francis Chan or speak with the clarity of Andy Stanley? Francis goes about 45 minutes… Andy averages about 40 minutes… I should do the same, right? Newsflash: You aren’t Chan! You aren’t Stanley. They are one in a million. So stop trying to talk as long as them!”

Every month I get the opportunity to hear youth workers speak to kids. The typical youth worker will talk to kids for about 25 to 45 minutes…. yes… sermons that feel longer than the last Lord of the Rings film. Sadly, regardless of the length and style, most of the speakers I hear today lose their audience within the first 3 to 7 minutes.

Why do we insist on torturing our kids with bad communication?

I wish this was just limited to a few isolated cases. Unfortunately, bad communication is abundant. I receive DVDs every month from people that want to be national speakers. Most these DVDs are from guys who insist that they have the gift of communication and want to speak for a living. Sometimes, watching these DVDs feels like watching the American Idol gag real. (You know, when the person applying is the only one that doesn’t realize they shouldn’t quit their day job!)

Maybe it sounds like I’m being harsh. After all, many youth ministries are run by volunteers that might not have the gift of communication. Does effective ministry require dynamic communicators?

Speaking candidly, wouldn’t most ministries prove to be much more effective if they simply knew the gifting of their leaders. In other words, Chuck isn’t a great communicator, so please stop giving him 40 minutes to talk to our kids every Wednesday night.

So what should we do?

I’m going to be blogging about this topic this week. So let me hear your comments. What are your thoughts on this subject? What should we do about this glaring struggle?