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

Youth Ministry Topics Teaching Students

Personal Preparation to Speak: Part 1

Ken Davis

Before we ever open our mouths or put a pencil to a piece of paper, our communication potential will be affected by these aspects: our dedication to the importance of the message, our understanding and commitment to our audience, our confidence that we will be heard, and our own personal growth.

The Message: Why say anything at all?

Of all the communicators in the world, none have a more important message or more potential for a dynamic and powerful delivery, than those who are messengers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is both the message and the youthful audience to whom we have been called to deliver it that account for the unparalleled potential. The most effective communicators are always those with an important cause in which they believe intensely.

I remember selling home study courses shortly after I got out of college. Like many college graduates, I was starving and desperately in need of money There was a $150 commission on the sale of each course. At the time, $150 was a small fortune. Although the product was not very good and it did little to help the customer, the money was more than I could resist. It took seven days for me to perfect what I thought was the most dynamic sales presentation ever devised. The presentation was so good, I was tempted to buy a study course for myself. The day my presentation was perfected, I sold the first course. The next day I sold two. My prospects were so eager to buy. I couldn't believe it. After selling five courses and feeling flush with $750 stretching my pockets, I decided it was time to try to sell one outside the family. I had run out of relatives. After just two days of turndowns and slammed doors, I quit. Had I been selling a product I believed in and felt would really help my customers, I might have had the motivation to weather those rough times. But money was my only motive. At the first sign of resistance, I gave up.

Likewise, there will be many rough times in every youth worker's experience. Youth work is neither glamorous nor frivolous. It is hard work and has its discouraging moments. No speaking course, book or paycheck will take us through those tough times. Sharing the message of Christ's love with the young people of our world is a challenge unequaled in its importance and urgency. Only an unquenchable desire to share that message of love, will carry us through.

The Audience: Who's listening?

We can approach our ministry with such a sense of commitment because we have the opportunity to address the most challenging, unique and wonderful audience in the world. On the one hand, young people are hostile and skeptical, spoiled by a barrage of top-quality entertainment and turned off to much of traditional religion. On the other hand, they are moldable and tender, capable of great loyalty and commitment. Our audience is a self-conscious group of teenagers who spend much of their lives wondering what their friends will think and giving very little thought to their own goals. They grow up in a culture that teaches them to avoid sacrifice and pain. Many kids live for themselves and for immediate gratification. They want to believe they will live forever, yet they fear death and try to cram too much life into a small time frame. Many teenagers are lonely even in the midst of a crowd of their peers. They want to be noticed but are afraid to be different unless there is a group willing to be different with them. In many cases their role models present a message that is the antithesis of our teachings.

The above characteristics are constantly changing. The '50s spawned a postwar group of young people who were extremely aware that World War II had been ended by a weapon that also was capable of ending the world. This resulted in an "eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you may die" mindset.

The '60s delivered a generation that was actively involved in politics and moral issues. Many children of that period rejected their parents' materialism and dropped out of society. They were known as the antiestablishment generation. They were cause-oriented and were willing to commit themselves to those causes, even at great sacrifice. During that period many young men went to jail as a result of their opposition to a confusing and demoralizing war. On the nip side, thousands of young people gave their lives in that same war because of their dedication to a different cause.

The 70's saw much or that same generation demoralized and defeated. The great changes they had honed to achieve didn't materialize. Many of the revolutionary leaders of that day were absorbed into the very system they previously had fought. So, the late '70s and early '80s brought us full circle to a materialistic generation of young people for whom the
weekend party was about as far ahead as they wished to think. The rebellious and dangerous use of experimental drugs, such as LSD and heroin, diminished to a more predictable dependence on alcohol and pot for a high. Materialism was in once again. The old, beat-up psychedelic vans were replaced by smaller sporty cars; the hippies were replaced by the yuppies. 

Where are the teenagers of the new millennium  headed? Unless we are willing to become aware of where kids are right now, and unless we're committed to knowing where they are headed, we may as well get jobs selling encyclopedias (or home study courses).

Keeping up with the changes in our youth culture is not an easy task. We must be careful not to fall into the trap of believing that the methods that worked last year still will be effective in two years. One way to keep up is by reading.  It is imperative that commu-
nicators who wish to relate to the current youth culture keep current themselves. Trends in teenagers' attitudes and behaviors can be gleaned from news magazines, psychology magazines, magazines the teenagers themselves read, and studies on trends in the youth culture.

We can also keep current by listening. Music always has been a reflection of the views and attitudes of a culture. Although we may not agree with the attitudes, direction or style of music kids like, it would serve us well to listen. Listening to the music kids like helps us understand their attitudes and behaviors.

Keep current by finding out what television programs are favorites among the teenagers. Watch and ask, "What needs are being met by this programming?" Some of these popular programs are not what one would call quality television. Then what is it in the program that makes kids watch?

Most important in keeping up with the changes in any culture is to immerse ourselves in the people of that culture. We could read every study on youth ever published, watch every form of entertainment available to teenagers, listen to every album that ever hit the
charts and still be way off track in understanding our kids. When missionaries wish to understand a new and strange culture (the youth culture is always new and strange), they go live with the people of that culture. We will be abreast of our young people only if
we see them where they live-if we see their homes, attend their games , chaperone heir dances, attend their plays, listen to their humor, go to their concerts, etc. If we live where they live, we will not be left behind. The day we simply become a facilitator of programming, our attitudes and methods will begin to solidify. Our audience will change. If we don't change with them, our message will not be beard. We will become old-fashioned speakers, hired and enjoyed by old-fashioned people, but alienated from a new generation of teenagers. Our message will never change, but our methods must be updated constantly.

Our generation of teenagers has more material advantages than any generation in history. Through television, film and live performances, they have access to the best entertainment Hollywood can offer. Although we need to make every effort to ensure that our programs are entertaining and interesting, somewhere along the line we must come to the realization that we cannot compete with Hollywood. However, close observation reveals that television, movies, high-tech games and possessions are not giving our kids what they need most. In spite of all these "advantages," our children are taking their own lives at an alarming rate. A recent study shows that in the past 20 years, the suicide rate for 15- to 24-year-olds has risen 300 percent. Approximately 7,000 teenagers kill themselves every year, and about 400,000 teenagers attempt to kill themselves.

Our children have deeper needs. They are starved for a sense of self-worth and have a desperate need to be involved. They need to know that someone cares, and they need to be challenged to a deeper relationship with a God who loves them. What a challenge! We stand in the gap. Our teenagers are receiving conflicting messages from every quarter. Our voice is just one among many, screaming for their attention.

The Method: How will they hear my voice?

In the midst of tough competition from all quarters, how do we reach the kids? Jim Green, a colleague of mine and a veteran of youth ministry, encouraged me to try a group experience that illustrated how we can make our voice heard amidst the din. We conducted a three-phase experiment at Rockford College, and used over 100 college graduates who were preparing for youth ministry.

In the first phase, we took a young volunteer from the room and blindfolded him. We simply told him that when he returned, he could do anything he wished. He remained outside the room while we instructed each audience member to think of a simple task for the volunteer to do (a task the volunteer could complete inside the lecture hall). When the volunteer returned, they were to shout their individual instructions at him from where they sat. Prior to this, we privately instructed another person to shout a very specific task at the blindfolded volunteer as though it were a matter of life and death. This person was to attempt to persuade the blindfolded volunteer to climb the steps at the back of the auditorium and embrace an instructor who was standing at the door; he had to shout this vital message from where he sat in the audience. The volunteer was oblivious to all instructions and previous arrangements. The volunteer represented our young people, the audience represented the world of voices screaming for their attention, and the person with the vital message represented those of us who bring the message of the Gospel to youth.

The first phase was now set, and the blindfolded student was led back into the room. The lecture room exploded in a din of shouting. Each person tried to get the volunteer to follow his or her unique instructions. In the midst of the crowd, the voice of the person with the vital message was lost; no single message stood out. The blindfolded student stood paralyzed by confusion and indecision. He moved randomly and without purpose as he sought to discern a clear and unmistakable voice in the crowd. After a few minutes the first phase ended. We sent the volunteer from the room and compared the experience to our situation as youth communicators. Our vital message, eloquent as it might be, often is lost amidst the barrage of other voices constantly shouting conflicting and confusing messages to our young people.

After a brief discussion we explained the second phase of our experience. We told the audience about the person attempting to get the volunteer to accomplish the vital task. At this point we chose another person from the audience to add a new dimension. This person's goal was to, at all costs, keep the volunteer from doing the vital task. While the rest of the audience was to remain in their seats, these two people were allowed to stand next to the volunteer and shout their opposing messages. They could get as close as they wished; however, they were not allowed to touch the volunteer. As the blindfolded volunteer was led back into the room, the shouting began again. I couldn't hear myself think! This time, because the two messengers were standing so close, the volunteer could hear both messages; but because the messages were opposed to each other, he vacillated. He followed one for a bit, then was convinced by the other to go the opposite direction. After a few minutes of this seesaw behavior, we stopped the second phase and again led the volunteer from the room. As a group we discussed this uncanny parallel to our own situations. In order for young people to hear our message we must get close to them. Even then, there are others with opposing messages who also are close enough to make their messages clear. Sometimes they are peers, other times they are relatives, and sometimes they are those who simply vie for our teenagers' dollars and don't even care about them as people. Very often our young people respond just as the volunteer did. One day they are committed, the next day they give in to the pressures of other voices. The main lesson in the second phase was that only the close voices could be heard. Even though the volunteer took no decisive action, at least he heard the message.

The response to the third phase was startling. In this phase everything remained the same except the one with the vital message was allowed to touch the volunteer. He could not pull, push or in any way force the volunteer to do his bidding; but he could touch him, and in that way encourage him to follow. The blindfolded volunteer was led into the room. When he appeared, the silence erupted into an earsplitting roar. The two messengers stood close, shouting their opposing words. Then, the one with the vital message put his arm gently around the volunteer's shoulder and leaned very close to speak directly into his ear. Almost without hesitation, the volunteer began to yield to his instruction. Occasionally he paused to listen as the opposition frantically tried to convince him to turn around. But then, by the gentle guidance of touch, the one with the vital message led him on. A moment of frightening realism occurred spontaneously as the one with the vital message grew close to the goal. All those in the audience, who up to this point had been shouting their own individual instruction, suddenly joined in unison to keep the volunteer from taking those final steps.

Goose bumps appeared all over my body as students began to chant together, "Don't go!" "Don't go!" "Don't go!" So many times I've seen the forces that pull our youth in different directions join together to dissuade them from a serious commitment to Christ. The chant grew to a pulsing crescendo, "Don't go!" "Don't go!" But the guiding arm of the one with the vital message never left the volunteer's shoulder. At the top of the stairs in the back of the lecture hall, the one with the vital message leaned one last time to whisper in the ear of the volunteer. There was a moment of hesitation, then the volunteer threw his arms around the instructor and the auditorium erupted in cheers and applause. There were more than a few damp eyes in the room as many of us were touched with the truth of what we had just seen.

When the volunteer revealed how he felt as he went through each phase, it became apparent that if our message is to be heard, we cannot shout it from the cavernous confines of our church buildings. We must venture out and draw close to those with whom we wish to communicate. If we really seek a life-changing commitment from our young people, we also must reach out where they are and in love, gently touch them and lead them to that commitment. We asked the volunteer why he followed the one with the vital message, the one who touched him. After a few moments he said, "Because it felt like he was the only one who really cared."

To read part 2 of this message, either click HERE or go back to articles.


Ken Davis is one of the nation's top motivational and inspirational speakers. In his book, entitled How to Speak to Youth...and keep them awake at the same time, from which this article was taken, Ken share secrets learned from 15 years' experience speaking to over a million teenagers nationwide. Ken is a popular speaker at high schools, conferences and communication workshops. Check out his videos, audio tapes and books at www.kendavis.com/ . Although How to Speak to Youth is now out of print, get his Secrets of Dynamic Communication: Preparing & Delivering Powerful Speeches.


Copyright owned by Ken Davis and used with his permission.