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GUEST POST: Don’t Buy the Short Attention Span Myth

Geoff Stewart —  February 13, 2013 — 3 Comments

I hear it all the time.

“Keep your message short” - “Teenagers only have a 15-minute attention span” - “Attention spans are shorter than they used to be”

Have you ever heard similar advice?

I’m going to go ahead and call bull. I’m not saying that getting the attention of an ADHD junior high kid isn’t difficult. But I have made a few observations over the years. Teenagers will sit easily for at least an hour to watch their favorite TV show. They will listen intently to a stand up comedian for an hour. They will sit for 2 or 3 hours to watch a new movie. They have even been known to play the same video game for 3 hours or more on end.

I don’t buy the short attention span myth.

Think about it. TV show are actually getting longer! Most prime-time shows are now an hour long. Big season premieres and finales may even run up to two hours.

Here is the point: We don’t have to preach shorter; we have to preach better. The bar has been raised. Their standards are high, because they are surrounded by high quality entertainment 24/7. They can spot boring quick. We have to be more engaging.

Tell stories (Jesus did). Use humor. Ask questions. Draw them in.Don’t sell out. Don’t think you have to just play a lot of games and sneak in a quick surface-level message before they notice.The short attention span myth is a cop-out for putting in the hard work to creating messages that resonate with students and create a lasting impression.

Now, don’t go overboard. They don’t need to hear you ramble for over an hour on the sacrificial system of the old covenant. But don’t sell yourself short. There is power in the preaching of God’s Word.

Engage your students. Get excited about the message. Make the Bible come alive for them. Keep working. Keep improving. Don’t give up!

Put in the work and you just might be surprised how long they will listen.

Brandon Hilgemann has been working in Youth Ministry for years in churches across the country from church plants to megachurches. He has been on a personal mission for the last 9 years to become the best speaker he can be. For more of his thoughts on preaching, check out his website right here.

-GS

Geoff Stewart

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3 responses to GUEST POST: Don’t Buy the Short Attention Span Myth

  1. Doesn’t T.V. and movies prove the point that people don’t have very long attention spans? If you think about it T.V. shows go for about 5-7 minutes and then break to commercial and then re-engage the viewer. Same thing movies. Scenes are generally never longer than 10 minutes and are probably closer to 5-7 minutes in length before moving on. For me, I agree that we shouldn’t sell our messages short. But my goal is to make sure that I am aiming to engage students every 7-10 minutes so i don’t lose them. I think we could use the principles of T.V. and movies to our advantage, they know how often they have to get people’s attention back in order for them to watch for a longer period of time.

  2. We always keep in mind the 7 minute engagement idea and insert a video, story, or some interactive element every 7 or 8 minutes in a sermon, but that is way different than attention span. Out student sermons are almost always over 30 minutes and probably average 35. Our students never zone out and are always engaged and attentive.

  3. Great article. Bang on. I speak at camp in the summers and everybody told me “if you can get 15 minutes in with these kids, that’s great”. I challenged that thinking and can hold a crowd of 150 5t & 6th grades for an hour. Same with junior high. If its good and engaging, active, and interesting; they will stay interested. And it does not need to be stupid or goofy! Preach and preach well!!!
    I’ve been saying that for years.
    Youth group that is an hour of game sand 10 minutes of bible study is backwards! Kids don’t keep coming for games. Kids keep coming because it is meaningful and valuable.
    Way to go. Keep writing this stuff.

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