While getting my teaching degree and ever since, I’ve heard that young people can’t concentrate. To reach teenagers with a message, people say, you must do it in segments of 5 minutes, 10 max. Nonsense. I don’t think that’s true, and I’ll tell you why. Yes, it’s important to know how to share the gospel in 5 minutes. But no, that’s not all the time you have with kids. Their attention spans are longer than that; you just need to know how to keep them engaged.
Kate John, a youth minister and presenter, once described the “standard” for presenting the gospel to young people. It involved showing scenes from the “Jesus” movie accompanied by sad music. Next came a 10-minute sermon on penal substitution. Obviously, that doesn’t work any more. John encourages youth pastor to experiment with evangelism and altar calls. Her ideas:
How to Share the Gospel in 5 Minutes
Use the big-story context.
I couldn’t agree more. Too often we see the Gospel as only a small part of the Bible’s whole story. Yet the Bible is the Gospel, all of it. It’s very important to give young people time and again the bigger picture. Explain how the Gospel, our salvation though Jesus Christ, fits into God’s whole redemptive story.
Use a broader theology.
Again, I completely agree. Too often I hear people explain the gospel in terms of just being saved from your sins and going to heaven when you die. Yet we have so many more theological issues to explore with young people. How about the Kingdom of God here on earth, right now?
Use teenagers’ imagination.
John 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. 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 “new style” altar calls, youth workers should know how to share the gospel in 5 minutes, using short, creative, interactive segments. Nonsense.
Yes, I agree the “old” way of presenting the Gospel and doing altar calls probably doesn’t work anymore. (Though maybe that’s due to other reasons; I’m more opposed to the manipulative aspects of using video and music this way.) And I agree it’s a good thing to get more creative in how we present the Gospel. We still have lots of room for improvement there. For example, youth pastors often don’t take young people’s learning styles into account.
I’m also a huge fan of adding in more theology and presenting a bigger picture. But you can’t really do that in five minutes. If we keep catering to what everyone tells us about teens’ short attention span, then we risk losing out. We’ll lose the depth of the gospel and our message in general.
A 5-minute limit? That’s just nonsense.
Believe me, young people can concentrate for more than five minutes and even for more than 20 minutes. You just need to keep their attention by using stories, emotions, testimonies, and visual means (charts, graphics, etc.). Engage their senses. Be intentional about keeping your audience’s attention, both in your preparation and while you’re talking. You can do so many things to make a message interesting and compelling without limiting yourself to five-minute slots.
So yes, please experiment with altar calls and presenting the Gospel in different ways. Please be creative and see what works for you and your young people. But don’t limit yourself to five-minute slots. Yes, it’s great to know how to share the gospel in 5 minutes. But kids definitely can focus for more than five minutes. You just need to give them a good reason.
Do you agree with the theory of small time slots? What tips do you have for how to share the gospel in 5 minutes? How do you keep young people’s attention?