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Why Preaching Too Long Turns Young People Away

Why Preaching Too Long Turns Young People Away
Dec 11 Tags: preaching | 6 Responses Print Save as PDF

Are you a preacher or teacher of the Word of God? If you are, I have an observation that I would like to share with you.

I love to hear the Word of God preached and I am sure you do too. I also love to see young people saved. But lately I have noticed something about preaching and young people.

While you and I who are older do not mind when preachers take five or ten extra minutes to finish their message, young people do not like it when speakers go over time.

How shall we remedy this situation?

The Wrong Approach

Number one, I do not think the answer is “tough luck,” young people. “Just learn to sit through it!” I think the young people are the very ones we are trying to reach, so we should pay extra careful attention to their perspective.

For whatever reason, a young person’s attention span is short. Whether it is due to their own immaturity or to cultural influences, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that this is where they are at right now, and we are supposed to be reaching people where they are at.

The Apostle Paul preached to the people at Mars Hill with a message that would appeal to them (Acts 17:16-31). He did not bog them down with Old Testament references and Jewish theology. He tried to reach people where they were at.

The Apostle Paul’s Philosophy

“To the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews” was Paul’s philosophy for outreach, “and to those who are without law, as without law…that I might win those who are without law” (1 Cor.9:20).

I think we can apply this same principle to the current culture of our young people: “to the teenager, I became a teenager, in order to win some for Christ!” If missionaries to other cultures curtail their preaching styles, why can’t we do it within our own culture?

The effective method for this generation seems to be this: less is more. I repeat, less is more. You might have prepared a whole boatload to preach.

You may have many more PowerPoint slides to get through. The older people may even be cheering you on, to preach five, ten or even fifteen minutes more.

But remember this: every minute you preach over time, a teenager is watching the clock. And if they are watching the clock, they are no longer listening to you.  

The Solution

Here’s what I have observed. If you are a preacher who habitually preaches five or ten minutes over time, the young people “cringe” when they see your name on the bulletin. They dub you as a long winded speaker and tend to tune you out half-way through your message.

Remember I am not talking about the whole congregation. The majority probably like it when preachers go over time. I am talking about a very small segment of the congregation but a very vulnerable and crucial part of the congregation, who we very desperately want to reach. I am talking about the future members of our assemblies.

So if you want to reach young people, here is my suggestion: finish on time. If our goal is to reach young people, then frustrating them and shutting off their ears off by preaching past 12:00 o’clock is counter productive. A much better strategy would be to learn to say more in less time. Paradoxical but true for this generation: less is more!

Shane Johnson

Shane Johnson has been commended from Bethel-Park Bible Chapel since 1999.  He resides in Brantford, Ontario with his wife Shelly and his five children.  He has his Bachelor of Arts degree in English and a minor in History.  His passions are teaching children, inspiring young people, writing, music and playing soccer.

6 Responses to Why Preaching Too Long Turns Young People Away

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    Mark Stanger

    Are these the same young people who can sit for hours on end chatting on line or gaming for 8hrs straight? Yes, habitual long sermons can drag, especially if the brother is not prepared and under control of the Spirit. Prepared sermons and lesssons are essential. But I am reminded of assemblies in other countries where they walk for miles to get to church services, and sit on the floor for hours because of the hunger for the Word. A five minute too long sermon will not hurt a young disciple, yearning for biblical instruction. A cold heart wasn’t listening past the first couple of minutes.

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    The church meeting is primarily for edification of the believers, not for evangelical outreach – it is a time of fellowship and discipleship. (Eph. 4:11-16) Both the references in this article deal specifically with evangelism outside the church meeting. However, one of the clearest passages describing a meeting of the local church is found in Acts 20:7-12, where Paul preaches from suppertime until daybreak. I reference this passage because there was at least one younger man present. Yes, he dozes off and falls out a window. Maybe Shane could have written, “The one time Paul went well over, it actually killed one of the teens.” =) But this kid stayed there in the lamp-lit, crowded room until midnight before he finally conked out. And certainly the believers in fellowship weren’t asking Paul to shorten his message, because Paul gives the kid a hug and goes right back to preaching for another 6 hours. I don’t think every meeting was this long (Paul knew he was about to leave) but my point is that young people who want to be in fellowship and want to be discipled will stay for good teaching, and unsaved or carnal teens will tune out in short order whether the message is thirty minutes or sixty. I agree that, during outreach, gospel presentations should be to the point. But for those who want to be fed, don’t skip the dessert just to finish 5 minutes sooner.

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    I teach scholars in the University who have never heard about Jesus, and until now did not believe in the existence of God

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    I work with Scholars at the University who are raised as Atheists and have never heard about God or Jesus. We have a class for 2 hours. it used to be 1 and 1/2 hours but they asked for more time. The key to our time together is that the class is interactive. They are asked questions on the passage and because of their lack of knowledge they cannot answer in the beginning, so I make the questions just the details of the passage. We talk about every detail in the order that it is mentioned in the passage. … This allows details such topics as the trinity, faith, repentance, sin, judgment etc to come up again and again, and the repetition allows them to answer according to what they learned or remembered. It allows, a review in a natural way and allows others who join the group later on to respond and can reveal misunderstandings. However, all must answer according to the passage .. and not rote memorized answers. … This way they are challenged learn to first look at the historical meaning of the passage before they think of prophetic or personal application, and before other passages are mentioned that can explain or expand on the meaning. … I believe women should be allowed to participate in interactive discussion. … The learning process is greater when questions or comments are allowed. .. To not allow comments or questions by women to never know their spiritual needs and they cannot learn to express their faith. In the process I try to teach them to learn rules of interpretation and not just listen to a preacher for a long time. … Maybe some preachers need to change their approach and allow interaction to specific questions as the reading progresses in an orderly way (and not jump ahead before the details of the passage is discussed by all) Sometimes the preachers need to be challenged (in a RESPECTFUL ORDERLY way taking terns) We need to accept that we can learn from one another. That can only happen if there is opportunity to listen to one another, to see if they have something constructive to add to the discussion, or to see if they have incorrect understanding of doctrinal issues which would require that more time be taken to search the Scriptures together. We grow as a body, and there may be many in the meeting that have the gifts to respond with the authority of the Scriptures. The knowledge of the Word of God is very important, and the key is not to cut the time we are in the Word, but to find ways where it can be a more meaningful learning experience.

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    I know of a gentleman in the assemblies who told me about a youth group he used to be a leader of and the youth actually encouraged each other in the Lord and when they gave gifts to each other, it was Vine’s and Strong’s among other well rounded Bible preaching authors. Perhaps the problem isn’t attention span, as I hear plenty from the youth about the 3 hour basketball game from the other night on TV. The problem is perhaps appetite. Yes, there are still some…overextended, preachers out there, but honestly? Maybe we need to search deeper below the surface and not just assess time, as I’m sure there’s plenty of other factors. Just my thoughts.

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