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Keeping your audience’s attention: 5 things you can do while preaching

This post is part of the series on Preaching for youth. We’ve been thinking about ways to keep your audience’s attention when preaching for youth. In the previous post, we looked at several things you can do in advance. Today’ we’ll discuss things you can do while you’re preaching to keep student’s attention or get it back if needed.

A key aspect here is that you actually know when you’re losing your audience’s attention. Whenever possible, watch your audience while you’re talking. First of all, eye contact makes people feel seen and valued and will help to hold their attention. But even more important, you will be able to pick up signals that you are losing your audience, and will be able to do something about it. These are some indicators that you need to grab their attention again: whispering/talking to others, shuffling their feet, getting out their cell phones, looking down/away, focusing on something else than you/the stage/the screen, looking at their watches/the clock, grabbing bulletins/Bibles/anything else to read, etc. When you see your audience do this, you’ve lost their attention. Now get it back. (Here’s more about how to read your audience)

If your students starts texting during your sermon, you can be fairly sure you no longer hold your audience’s attention

1. Make your point and get out

I’ve said it before: your sermon should be as long as it needs to be and not a minute longer. As soon as you lose focus, your audience does too, and if you start repeating yourself, they’ll mentally check out. That means you should focus on the point you want to make while preparing your sermon, but it also means staying on track while preaching. Fight the temptation to include all kinds of examples, illustrations, Bible verses, statements, etc. Make your point and get out. If you catch yourself going off track, get back to where you were and get on with it.

2. Watch your language

A quick way to lose all interest from you audience is by using difficult language. And that, dear people, includes those overused church words we preachers seem to be so fond of throwing around, like redemption, salvation, righteousness, etc. Kids don’t understand these words if we don’t explain them and will lose interest. So be sure that you’re using the right kind of language when preaching for youth. Preventing difficult language is something you can do in your preparations, but it’s also something you need to keep checking while you’re talking. Especially when we’re nervous or stressed, we fall back into familiar patterns. So stay vigilant while you’re preaching that your language is understandable for your audience.

3. Ask questions

This takes some guts and I don’t recommend it if you’re just starting out in preaching, but interaction with your audience is a great way to keep them engaged or to get their attention back. You can do this simply by asking a question (and I mean questions of the non-rhetorical kind, questions you would actually like an answer to). The best kind of questions in this case are not knowledge-based (because then it can become fairly intimidating for people to answer, afraid of getting it wrong), but experience-based questions (example: Who here has ever has his bike stolen?). Like I said, this takes guts because you don’t know what they will answer and you may have to be quick on your feet to correct some wrong or inappropriate answers, but it is a great way to get kids involved. Obviously, you can plan questions ahead, but if you see you’re losing the student’s interests, you could spontaneously throw in some until they’re awake again.

4. Be funny

This is a tricky one, because boy, have I seen people crash and burn here. Humor is an evasive thing, hard to get right and easy to get wrong. Still, humor does work to get people’s attention, when it’s done right. Let’s start with the obvious: never use jokes for the sake of it, never insult anyone (and that includes any racial or cultural stereotypes that so easily come up in jokes!), stay far away from the dirty jokes and make sure you can actually deliver the joke. In my opinion the best way to be funny, is not to tell jokes, but to joke about yourself or your experiences. And yes, it’s perfectly okay to prepare jokes in advance, just make sure you can deliver them spontaneously. If you have any doubt whether you can pull it off, don’t try it.

5. Change something

One thing that will always get people to pay attention is change. So if your audience is falling asleep, change something. Take off your jacket (gentlemen), walk to the front of the stage instead of staying behind the pulpit, change the volume of your voice or the speed with which you’re talking, or just stay silent at all for a little bit. Turn off the screen, change the slides, or find something else to change. The key here is to change something, so your students will look at you again.

And of course you can also spontaneously decide to share something personal or to tell a story in your sermon, two things that will often result in getting your audience’s attention back as well.

Do you find it hard to keep watching your audience while you’re preaching? What are some strategies or techniques you use to get their attention back?

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0 thoughts on “Keeping your audience’s attention: 5 things you can do while preaching

  1. Great post…very helpful and timely for me, personally. I minister at my church’s weekly high school program, and in a few weeks, I will be giving my first message ever to the students. These will be great resources to keep in my back pocket in case the student’s attention begins to fade. Thanks, Rachel!

    1. Hey Matt, I’m glad you found my site then! It’s awesome that you will be preaching for the first time to your students, I pray that God will fill you with His wisdom. What will you be preaching about? Let me know how it went!

  2. […] not a hard rule. Ultimately, it’s not about how long a sermon is, but if the speaker manages to keep the attention of the audience. I’ve heard ten-minute messages that lost me after sixty seconds and I’ve sat through hour-long […]

  3. Hello, thanks for all the articles available. I think it’s awesome. I’m a youth in Uni, and want to try preaching to fellow colleagues but am not sure how yo go about it. I think I’m beginning to have an idea though. If you’ve got any suggestion on how to start the conversations with people, I would quite appreciate it.
    Thanks.

    1. You’re very welcome Emmanuel, I’m glad you found us and that it’s useful to you! Starting conversations with people about God often seems tricky, but in my experience it’s often about asking loads of questions. If you’re truly interested in someone else and keep asking questions to get to know them better, sooner or later they will say something that will give you an ‘in’ to bring God into the conversation. But even more important: spends lots of time in prayer first, so that the Spirit may lead you! God bless!

  4. This website is awesome! Thank you ! 🙂

  5. THIS WEBSITE IS VERY COOL! I’VE BEEN PREACHING AND GIVING BIBLE STUDIES FOR YOUTH FOR 3 YEARS.I’VE BEEN HAVING JUST A BIT OF TROUBLE ON TOPICS TO HAVE THEM ENGAGED. THEY ARE A SMALL GROUP OF SIX, FROM 12-18 OF AGE. AND IM REALLY AIMING TO ENCOURAGE TO START REACHING OTHERS. ANY ADIVE WOULD BE GREATLY APPRECIATED. GOD BLESS!

    1. Hey Joel, so glad to hear you’re liking the site! As for advice for your youth group, I would try and find topics that directly relate to their every day life, like friendship, making the right choices, experiencing God, sex, etc. The closer you can get to what they’re dealing with, the more relevant you’ll be and the more they’ll be paying attention. The Bible has something to say to teens today, we just need to expose them to what God has to say to them. So keep doing the good work to which God has called you and may God bless you!

  6. […] but they really can be if you keep using the same ones over an over again. One of the things that keeps your audience’s attention is anything that’s fresh, new, challenging. When you keep using the same passages, your audience […]

  7. […] young people and their somewhat shorter attention span, keeping their attention right till the very end is a challenge. But it can be done. Here’s my advice on how to end your […]

  8. […] matter how powerful and life-changing your message, if you can’t hold your audience’s attention it’s all in vain. Here are 5 common ways speakers can discredit […]

  9. […] like doing something, changing something, telling a story, etc. I’ve written a post about how to get your audience’s attention (back) while preaching, you could use any of these methods. It will focus the attention back on you and your talk, […]

  10. Please i need some memory verses and examples to explain about Relationship with God in this present world. I cant figure it out by myself i really needed a help.

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