"For Those Who Are Passionate About Reaching The Younger Generation"

Youth Ministry Topics Teaching Students

Planning Effective Talks

Dr. Barry St. Clair

"It is a sin to bore kids with the Gospel," said Jim Rayburn, founder of Young Life. Certainly Jesus never bored people. When He spoke, He had such power and authority that His words changed people's lives. The apostles presented the message of Christ in such clear, natural, enthusiastic and bold expressions that their words pulsated with power and life. For them Jesus Christ was always the focal point. And our messages to kids through the Holy Spirit must have the same power and life that characterized the words of Jesus and the apostles.

To express the message of Christ powerfully to students, we must communicate through two channels-verbal and nonverbal.

Nonverbal Communication. I hear students say, "I don't remember what you talked about, but when you spoke that night it changed my life." They are saying that they "feel" the message of Christ more than they understand it intellectually. Adolescents are more "feelers" than 'thinkers." Therefore, nonverbal communication of actions, attitudes, in- tensity, enthusiasm, and the quality of my life in Christ will come across more strongly than any particular words.

Positive nonverbal communication springs from five places in your life and ministry.

  • Attitudes. Since attitude communicates more than anything else when we stand in front of kids, our attitudes are crucial. What attitudes do kids catch from you-love or harshness, kindness or cruel humor, patience or yelling at them, joy or anger, faith or cynicism? Our goal is defined by the Apostle Paul: "The attitude you should have is the one that Jesus Christ had" (Phil. 2:5). Make it your daily prayer that the Lord would conform your attitudes to His. Then when you communicate with kids the attitudes of Christ will come out.
  • Reflection. When you know God, your kids will want to know Him. When you love God, your kids will want to love Him. When you hunger for Him, so will your kids. To deepen your passion for Him, build a special time with God into your schedule every day. Begin with 30 minutes a day for 30 days to make it a habit. As you reflect on Him, you will reflect Him when you get with kids. In fact, as this habit deepens and expands, you will find that almost all of your messages to students will come from notes, thoughts, and answered prayers from this time. As you experience God, you will desire to pass that experience on to your kids.
  • Ministry. To speak to kids at the point of their need, we must live in their world. Spending time with them every week outside the context of the church will put you in touch with their needs. As you experience life on campus first hand, you will have a feel for what topics to speak on, what points will be relevant and what illustrations will inspire them. Then when you speak, they will listen. Why? Because you are interested in them personally, and you understand life on their level.
  • Prayer. Prayer releases power when you speak. Pray for the students to whom you will speak. Praying will develop a deep compassion for them. Set aside at least one hour each week before you speak to connect the students you will speak to with the message you will deliver.
  • Anointing. Ask God to pour out a special portion of His Spirit as you speak. He will only do that when your motives and goals are for His glory only. Ask the Lord to make your messages like the Apostle Paul's when he said, "My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive word, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power" (I Cor. 2:4-5). Begin to pray for that anointing every day. When you speak in His anointing, God's Spirit will flow through you in power to students.

Verbal Communication. Lies bombard students from every angle: media, music, peers, even teachers. To overcome these lies with the Truth is our task. When we speak we want them to "know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32).

Many youth leaders question their adequacy to stand before kids and proclaim the Truth. But one of your primary roles is to be a proclaimer of the Truth - to explain the Word of God to kids. Your gifts and talents may or may not lie in the area of proclaiming. YOU ARE STILL A TRUTH PROCLAIMER! Speaking is the verbal extension of living. Public speaking is a broader extension of private speaking. When you speak, Christ living in you will speak. For that reason, speaking is miraculous, supernatural. The Holy Spirit can communicate through you and call for a changed life.

Speaking is truth coming through your personality-your convictions, your walk with God, your mind, your spirit, your body. It takes hard work to learn to speak to kids effectively. I'm convinced, however, that if you can speak to kids effectively, you can speak to anybody!

To move toward powerful verbal communication, you will want to keep three simple principles in mind that will guide your speaking.

  • Simplicity. "Keep the cookies on the lower shelf where everyone can reach them" needs to be our approach. The man on the street understands only two percent of the words in the dictionary, and the educated man understands only three percent. In speaking to students remember the familiar KISS approach: "Keep it simple, stupid."
  • Authority. Your authority to speak to students comes from your walk with Christ, your understanding of the Scripture, your rapport with kids, and the release of the Holy Spirit in you. When you bring this to your speaking you will have credibility.
  • Focus. One man said, "Nothing is so dangerous as to preach about God and perfection and not to point the way which leads to perfection." Make Jesus Christ the heart and soul of every message.

This combination of verbal love and nonverbal truth will make a powerful impact on students when you speak.

Preparing the Message. When I stand before a group of students to present the good news of Jesus Christ, I feel an awesome responsibility. When you speak to them, I know you feel it too. The Apostle Paul sensed that responsibility as well when he said, "We speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts" (I Thess. 1:4). The following practical, technical steps will help you prepare to fulfill this awesome responsibility.

  • Plan ahead. In order to get the big picture on your messages, plan in advance. Put together a long-range plan. At the beginning of each year, sketch out your yearly speaking plan. Get by yourself and then with your outreach event team to pray through and fill out the "Message Plan." In working on your weekly plan, use the "Message Outline." You will find both of these in "The Outreach Event Planner" on pages 199 and 202.

Commit yourself to study. Do your homework. Just as teachers know if students do their homework, your students will know if you do yours. Spend no less than five hours preparing each message, using the standard of Colossians 3:23, "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men."

  • Choose the topic. Writing down the topics relevant to students can create a long list. In order to determine what topics you will speak on over the year, survey your group to discover its real and felt needs. Think through what you talk about when you have conversations and do counseling with your kids. Ask them to write down the 10 most important issues they face in their lives. Then, prayerfully, select your topics using the "Message Plan" on page 199.
  • Focus on one passage. A topical approach can make rather superficial use of the Bible unless you focus on one passage. Digging into one passage exposes your kids to the richness and depth of the Bible. As you study the passage in your quiet time, use the Bible Response Sheet in "The Outreach Event Planner" on page 204. To study the passage in preparation for your message, use the "Message Research" on page 201.

Brainstorm ideas, Put down every idea that comes to your mind as you read through the passage. View the passage from the perspective of the characters in the story or the writer. Let the ideas flow as you read the passage again and again.

Ask questions. Read the passage again asking the questions who, what, where, when, why and how. Try to understand every word, action and thought.

Check the cross references. Following these through the Scripture will give you a feel for what God is saying about these verses through the entire Bible.

Check objections Think about the questions your students will have about the topic and the passage, and answer those questions on paper.

Read the scholars This is your last step, not your first one. You will be tempted to take the easy way out and get the scholars' viewpoint first. This is like eating food that someone else has chewed! Your best insights will come from what the Lord shows you, not what He has shown someone else. And by the time you get to this point, you will have more material than you can possibly use. Check the commentaries to make sure your ideas are not off base. My two favorite commentaries are The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries and The Daily Study Bible by William Barclay, although a wide selection exists for you to choose from.

Knowing the passage thoroughly will give you confidence when you speak, and will establish credibility with the audience.

  • Select one point. To clearly state your point, write down a goal statement. Use this little tool to help you:

"Every ___________ can/should ______________________________."

For example, using the sample talk on parents in "The Outreach Event Planner' on page 205, the goal can be: "Every teenager can respond to his or her parents as Jesus did."

That one statement will determine what you include and exclude from your talk, and keep your talk on target as you prepare.

  • Use powerful illustrations. Students will remember your illustrations long after they have forgotten the points of your talk. Illustrations will make your message come alive. You can select your illustrations in this descending priority order.

Firsthand experience. The best illustrations come from personal ex- perience. For me, it was the time I got caught in the electronic door at the airport, or my basketball experience in college. What happens to you in everyday life will serve as your richest source of illustrations.

Secondhand experience,. Stories about other people you know, stories they tell you, provide your second-best source of illustrations. For example, I can tell about how my friend Tommy grew up with an alcoholic father, or how a girl in the youth group of a friend of mine was healed after a severe accident.

Book experiences. To make these work you have to pick the inspiring ones that are down on the students' level. For example, I love to tell the story from Chuck Colson's Loving God, of Telemachus, a monk who as one individual stood against the Roman Empire and through his death stopped the carnage of the gladiators forever. Told in descriptive terms, it serves as a powerful illustration about standing alone for Christ.

  • Write the message. To ensure clarity, and to facilitate the future use of this message, write it out first in outline form and then sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph. As you write, break it into three elements, using your goal statement to guide you.

Introduction. A good introduction gets you out of the blocks by arousing the interest of the students and getting the group involved from the start. Try one of these communication devices to effectively open your talk.

Ask a question. For example, "Do you think Jesus Christ ever had problems with His parents?"

Tell a personal experience. Share something funny or embarrassing that relates to your topic. For example, when I talk about peer pressure, I read the menu from "The Roadkill Grill" and then talk about how kids in the middle of the road are set up to be spiritual roadkill.

Involve kids in a demonstration. Bring kids up and get them to help you illustrate your point. For example, I love to bring up one guy who weighs 165 pounds and one who weighs about 85. The big one presses over his head the little one. Then I bring up someone over 200 pounds. The 165-pounder presses him (or tries too). My point: God is so great and mighty that you can't press Him, you can't control Him.

In the introduction make certain that you establish the point you want to focus on throughout the rest of the talk.

Body. Spend about three-fourths of your time developing the passage that illuminates your topic. These suggestions will help you make your message clear aand memorable.

Make one point clearly. Outline your message concisely. Explain the Scripture simply.

Use illustrations powerfully. Prepare thoroughly.

Often it helps students to follow if you either give a handout or prepare an overhead with your outline on it. You will find an example of that in "The Outreach Event Planner" on page 206.

Conclusion. Restate your main point and then apply it. Apply is the operative word. The kids need to walk away knowing exactly what to do as a result of what they have heard. When your conclusion is clear, then your message is pinpointed for the kids. They can walk away saying exactly what the message was about. In an outreach event I have found it very positive to end with a question, repeated several times. For example, if the message is on sex and I've talked about how far is too far, then I can pose the question: "How far is too far for you?" You can instruct your core kids to use the final question as a discussion starter with their friends to talk about Christ on the way home or during the week.

Use the Message Outline in "The Outreach Event Planner" to help you with these steps. See the Sample Message Outline in "The Outreach Event Planner" to get a feel for how to put the outline together so kids will remember your points.

  • Learn the message. Once you have the entire manuscript written, work back through it.

As you consider how the students will hear it, trim out the irrelevant material or rephrase it to relate to the way they will understand it best.

Get the outline and illustrations firmly planted in your mind. Memorize your outline.

Pray through each point, asking the Holy Spirit to anoint it and to use it powerfully.

  • Deliver the message correctly. A few basic reminders about public speaking will help you to communicate with the fewest distractions. Do these well and your speaking skills will improve dramatically.

Relax! Be yourself.

Establish eye contact. Look at individuals in the audience. Scan the room frequently, front to back, side to side.

Speak distinctly. Do a sound check beforehand to get the right am- plification level. Make sure you can be heard clearly by those in the back of the room.

Communicate enthusiasm. A high energy level and a fast pace capture and retain the audience's attention.

Speak simply. Use simple language that everyone in the audience can understand.

Commend your listeners. People don't change in an environment of criticism, only in an environment of encouragement.

Love the audience. As you let the love of Christ flow out through you, they will sense it and respond.

Take your time. Pause after certain important points to let your point sink in. Use silence, pauses, and proper timing to bear down on important points.

Listen to the members of your audience. Watch their reactions to your words. Be flexible to adjust your talk to their responses.

Follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. As you speak, the Spirit will guide you to leave out a point, to include a new idea, to slow down or speed up.

  • Evaluate the message. Critiquing your own message is not easy. Set aside a brief time the next day to reflect on the message. Be honest with yourself. Get a couple of people whose opinions you respect to advise you on how to improve. Tape the message and listen to it to discover how to make it better. Try to hone in on one thing you can improve on between now and the next time you speak. Use the Message Evaluation in "The Outreach Event Planner" on page 207 to help you.

When you have completed these steps, then you are ready to stand before students in a powerful, authoritative, convicting manner and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.


? Dynamic Communicator's Workshop, 6080 West 82nd Dr., Arvada, CO 80003. 303-425-1319. Offers excellent training that improves speaking skills.

? Hot Talks, edited by Duffy Robbins, Youth Specialties, 1224 Greenfield Dr., El Cajon, CA 92021. 1-800-776-8008. This is a youth speaker's sourcebook with talks and ideas from some of the best youth speakers.

? How to Speak to Youth, Ken Davis, Group Publishing, P.O. Box 481, Loveland, CO 80539. 303-669-3836.


Barry St. Clair is founder and director of Reach Out Youth Solutions in Atlanta, Georgia. He speaks to thousands of high school students each year and is the author of more than 20 books, including Penetrating the Campus and Taking Your Campus for Christ. Through his leadership, thousands of churches internationally have implemented strategies of evangelism and discipleship of young people.

Recommended Resources

Although the book, The Magnet Effect (from which this chapter was taken) is currently out of print, The Magnet Effect Video, by Barry St. Clair and Bo Boshers (executive director of Student Impact at Willow Creek Community Church) is currently available through our site. Click here to order or get more information.


Originally from The Magnet Effect, by Barry St. Clair, with Jim Burns, Paul Fleischmann, & Bo Boshers, Victor Books, Wheaton, Illinois, all rights reserved.