I’ve heard it when I was studying for my teacher’s degree (which was 15 years ago) and I’ve been hearing it ever since and in ever increasing intensity: young people can’t concentrate and if you want to reach them with your message, you have to do it in segments of five minutes, ten at the max.
Kate John, one of the speakers at the Youth Work Summit in 2012, stated it as well. She said that the ‘standard’ for presenting the gospel to young people was by showing scenes from the Jesus movie accompanied by sad music, followed by a ten minute sermon on penal substitution. Obviously, that doesn’t work any more. Or so Kate John stated.
She encouraged us to experiment again with evangelism and with doing altar calls. Her ideas were:
Use the big story context
I couldn’t agree more. Too often the gospel is only seen as a small part of the whole story of the Bible, whereas the Bible is the gospel, all of it. It’s very important to present young people time and again with the bigger picture and of how the gospel (as in our salvation though Jesus Christ) fits into the whole redemptive story of God and mankind.
Use a broader theology
Again, completely in agreement. Too often I hear the gospel being explained in just terms of being saved from your sins and going to heaven when you die, when there are so many more theological issues to explore with young people. How about the Kingdom of God here on earth right now?
Use their imagination
Kate also encourages youth workers to let young people use their imagination when doing altar calls. Help them dream dreams, imagine what things could be like. Personally, I didn’t quite see how this related to doing altar calls and presenting the gospel, but having young people use their imagination will certainly keep their attention so I’m not opposed to it.
But then came the conclusion: to present the gospel effectively, to do a ‘new style’ altar calls, youth workers should do small units (five minute slots), interactive segments with creative efforts.
Yes, I agree that the ‘old’ way of presenting the Gospel and of doing altar calls probably doesn’t work anymore (though maybe for other reasons than Kate John implied – I’m more opposed to the manipulative aspects of using video and music this way). And I agree that it’s a good thing to get more creative in how we present the Gospel, there’s still lots of room for improvement there. We often don’t take the learning styles of our young people into account for example.
I’m also a huge fan of throwing more theology in there and presenting a bigger picture, but you can’t really do that in five minutes. If we keep catering to what everyone is telling us about the short attention span of teens, then we do risk losing out on the depth of the gospel and of our message in general.
It’s just nonsense.
Believe me, young people can concentrate for more than five minutes and even for more than twenty minutes. You just have got to keep their attention by using stories, emotions, testimonies, visual means (and I’m not necessarily talking about films or video here, but charts, graphics, stuff like that), by engaging their senses, by simply being an attractive speaker, etc. You just have to be intentional about keeping your audience’s attention, both in your preparation and while you’re giving a talk. There are so many things you can do to make your message interesting and compelling without limiting yourself to five minutes slots.
So yes, please do experiment with altar calls and presenting the Gospel in different ways. Please do try more creative ways and see what works for you and for your young people. But don’t limit yourself beforehand to five minute slots just because everyone keeps saying young people can’t focus for more than five minutes. They can, you just need to give them a good reason to.
Do you agree with the theory of the five minute time slots? What are your experiences with keeping young people’s attention?