I remember when I first started in youth ministry, I worked super hard on preparing my youth talk for the following week. I would study, prep, illustrate and flavor a 30-minute talk every day, all week long. Over time, I got more comfortable with the audience size (25 students) and took less time preparing. At some point, I would even let myself slide with a “Saturday Night” special before teaching youth group the next night. And if I’m honest, I may have winged it entirely at some point!

There is a direct correlation between the amount of message preparation and the size of your expected audience. This isn’t a bad thing – makes sense even when you step back from it a little bit. If you are speaking to 30 students, you’ll prepare an hour or two probably. If you’re speaking to a 100 people, I’d guess you would prepare for several hours. Speaking to a 1,000 and it would take you all week. Speaking to a stadium filled with people and you’ll work harder than ever and invest a ton of time to make sure you deliver in front of them.

So … what if you prepped this week like you were speaking to 1,000 people? What would your messages be like if you were preparing to like you were about to speak to hundreds instead of a handful? Your students are worth it. God’s Word would be more presented more clearly than ever. Your talk would be tighter, funnier, clearer and richer.

No more Saturday night specials!


In reading Nancy Duarte’s HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations, Duarte refers to messages having STAR moments. The acronym STAR referring to “Something They Always Remember.”

When preparing and delivering talks to young adult and teenage audiences, this piece of advice is even more crucial. Whether the STAR quality is an unforgettable visual, a story, or even a token they take home, it is vitally important for the “stickiness” of your message.

Recently, we did a message called “What’s in Your Box?” where we focused on all of the various “stuff” that each of us carries around inside our little “box” and try to keep hidden from others. The message closed with James 5:16 (confess your sins and pray for each other) and the students were encouraged to come to the front, grab a small box, and find someone to open their box to and share what is hidden inside (sin, failure, mistakes, suffering, etc). Afterward, the students took their boxes home and were encouraged to put them in a prominent place in their room where they would be reminded to continue to live their lives “open” with one another.

Whereas many students (and most adults for that matter) walk away from a message and forget what they have heard fifteen minutes later, you want to leave them with something they will never forget. Not only will it reinforce the principle or scripture that you are trying to teach, but will be a STAR that they (or the Holy Spirit) can draw upon months, years, or even decades later.

Matt Maiberger is the High School Pastor at Southeast Christian Church. This is his first guest post of hopefully many more to come.

How To Write a Youth Talk

Josh Griffin —  December 20, 2011 — 2 Comments

Every youth worker is going to be a little different when it comes to preparing a talk — but hopefully this week we can challenge you to try some methods that really work for us as we do our best to teach God’s Word each week in our youth ministry. So please know this certainly isn’t THE way to write a talk, but it is one way. When I (Kurt) was in college my homiletics professor forced us to master the art of writing the classic three point sermon. He said that when we were through with the class we could write sermons however we wanted, but his job was to make sure we knew at least ONE way. The key isn’t to do it our way, but to find a process that helps you best prepare to communicate God’s Word to students.

Know where the lesson or series is heading
What are we trying to say in this lesson or series of lessons? Where are we trying to move students with this talk? Before you start driving, know which road you are traveling down.

Whiteboard everything you can capture in a brainstorm meeting.
Almost all of our talks begin on the whiteboard using lots and lots of collaboration. Students are there, volunteers are there. There is no such thing as a bad idea (although we’ve been doing this long enough to know that isn’t entirely true). Take a picture to make sure it is captured and not accidentally erased by the church janitor before morning.

Pray over and crank out the 1st draft
What started on the whiteboard now makes it into a Word document and becomes digital. Points, passages and illustrations start to take shape. Maybe you’ll write the talk out word for word, more of a speaking transcript like I (Josh) like to do. Maybe bullet points like I (Kurt) prefer. Just make sure you’re making progress on the message God wants you to share with your students.

Another day, another draft
This collection of thoughts and ideas needs to be honed into a discernible message — so you refine it into the 2nd draft. This is really the beginning of the shaping process. Ideally you’re fairly happy with the talk by this point — some weeks you’ll be ahead of the game, other weeks you maybe won’t have even started it yet. Either way, press on.

Stop, collaborate and listen
At this point, send your message out to a few close friends to review – don’t create your messages in a vacuum. Let a few creative/discerning friends talk through it with you for clarity, perspective and editing.

Use the feedback and you’re ready to go
Done. Deliver the talk and ask a few friends for specific feedback on the delivery and clarity of the message. Over time, you’ll become great at both the preparation and delivery of messages in your youth ministry!

Share how you prepare a talk in the comments!

This post was written by Josh Griffin and Kurt Johnston and originally appeared as part of Simply Youth Ministry Today free newsletter. Subscribe to SYM Today right here.

I’ve blogged before about how I create my entry-level sermons each week for our high school ministry – how I start with literally a blank Word document on Tuesday morning and follow My 6 Steps to Writing a Youth Talk. Then, after the 2,000+ word manuscript is complete and I take the stage, occasionally making notes and adjustments to the talk for the remaining 3 times to deliver it on the weekend. Many of these notes are inspired by ad libs, tweaks from my team or inspiration/ideas in the lull between the 1st and 2nd service.

A few other things you might be interested to note:

  • I call out all media/slides/object lessons in yellow highlight. Timing is critical on these elements, so I try to make it clear for the students and volunteers involved.
  • Sometimes, I make a significant edit to the document, cutting out a whole section, deleting a line, replacing a joke or drawing arrows to fix the pacing.
  • I’ve never once delivered a message without some notes/adjustments on it – seems I’ll tweak to the last minute and then some.
  • I prefer the manuscript form for teaching to this crowd/audience, but use other styles as well.
  • I practice the sermon 2-3 times alone in a room before I give it. Let’s me hear it out loud and make sure it flows well.
  • This is for our entry-level program, a discipleship talk would look very different.
  • This particular week I didn’t have fill-ins, just the verses and some space for them to write down the different attributes of the foundation of sand or rock. I also had them write a couple key thoughts/questions off to the side in their program as well.

So here’s an example of what it looks like after a weekend … this talk was our new year kickoff message about Doubting Thomas (you can read the full weekend in review here).

One last thought … posting my message notes is a very vulnerable moment for me … play nice please. Thoughts and questions? Would love to hear how you craft a talk, too!