If you could learn one new skill to maximize your ministerial impact, what would it be? After being a student pastor for seven years, I have learned that being able to communicate in such a way that removes the barriers of distraction in your students’ lives is one of the most essential skills you can develop. Unfortunately, many students live in a perpetual state of being distracted. We should strive to remove these distractions so that students can hear the gospel and become disciples of Jesus.
Preaching in an Age of Distraction
Every time you preach to distracted students, you must remove the barriers of distraction. If you can remove the barriers, you have a unique opportunity to speak the gospel truth in the lives of your students. This is unique because most people are unable to bulldoze over the barriers that keep their students distracted.
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the average attention span has decreased from 12 seconds to 8 seconds from 2003 to 2013. I’m certain those numbers have not improved. That means when you sit down to teach your youth, you have exactly 8 seconds to deliver an insight, point, or theological truth before they begin to think about the boy two chairs away or about how hungry they are.
If our students have no ability to “be still,” then the chances of them receiving gospel truth are as likely as a successful student who never studies. Decreased attention is partially due to the increase in anxiety.
According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders affect 25.1% of children between 13 and 18 years old. This is a widespread issue. One out of every 4 students is dealing with anxiety. Our students are more anxious now than they’ve ever been.
Students are habitually overusing their smartphones, playing video games, watching their favorite streaming platforms, and scrolling on social media apps for hours on end. This overstimulation leads to socially dwarfed students who feel more awkward in public than they feel when comfortably locked in their rooms behind a screen.
This makes it easy to see the direct correlation between an increase in anxiety and a decrease in attention. Your students are likely overstimulated, anxious, and unable to focus.
While we cannot change the poor attention span, we can lengthen the attention span and speak to their struggles with anxiety. As youth ministers, we ought to proclaim the gospel in a way that makes it more attractive to our students than anything else in their lives.
How to Preach to Distracted Students
The apostle Paul makes it clear that we are attracted to the gospel because of the Lord’s work in our hearts (2 Corinthians 4:6). There is nothing that we can do apart from Christ that will cause our students to respond in faith to Christ.
Our responsibility is to pray and preach the truth to distracted students. Prayer is the means by which we ask the Spirit of God to effectively awaken our students’ unto salvation (1 Timothy 2:1–4). Preaching the Word of God is often the means by which the Spirit transforms a distracted unbelieving heart into a heart filled with faith and attraction to the gospel (Romans 10:13–17).
There is nothing that we can do apart from Christ that will cause our students to respond in faith to Christ.
Beyond these supernatural means of grace, our responsibility is to be faithful to present the gospel in a way that shows students how the Bible answers their deepest problems and the unique way the Lord cares for them.
Students Value Solutions for Nagging Problems
Students run to entertainment and social platforms because they are deceived by the false hope those things offer. Tech companies view problems as potential profit. However, as ministers of the gospel, we have the responsibility to show students how they can find hope in the gospel.
If you begin your preaching by addressing a nagging problem, you are sure to attract your students to the content you are presenting. Ask yourself, “What problem does the passage solve? How can I communicate the problem in a relevant way to my students?” If you communicate the problem and convince your students the passage has the solution, you will keep their attention for much longer than 8 seconds.
Students Value being Valued
Students flock to social media platforms because of the dopamine rush they receive when they scroll on the platform. Our students can’t get off of their phones because the platforms are designed to reward the students for spending time on the app. Scrolling promises the user an attractive photo or video.
Even more so, receiving likes is so addictive because each person desires to be valued and known. As youth ministers, we ought to recognize this as an effort to receive affirmation from others. Look for ways to celebrate, affirm, and exhort your students by reminding them of the hope of the gospel.