I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there is nothing that keeps folks more interested when listening, than a story, preferably a good one. Which is one of the reasons why you should consider using personal testimonies when you’re preaching for youth. So let’s run through the 5 W’s (and the how) of using personal testimonies.
What is a testimony
With personal testimonies I mean the personal account of any person about what he or she experienced with regards to their relationship with God. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the story of ‘how they got saved’, it can be about anything they learned, felt, experienced, etc. When you’re preaching for youth, it would be perfect if you can get teens or students to share their story. It will be much more powerful than any adult (though adult testimonies are of course great as well!) I’ve had students tell about how they discovered their gifts, how they found freedom in Christ, how they decided to get baptized, etc.
It’s important that the testimony fits the subject you’re preaching about. Good preparations are necessary here. When you now what you will be preaching about, try to find a student or an adult with a personal story that complements your main point (and you do have one, right?). If you can’t find a testimony that relates to your topic, than let it go because a testimony about something else entirely might diminish your message.
Why you should use testimonies
Like I said in the lead, personal stories captivate the audience more than anything else. But that’s not the only reason to use them when preaching for youth.
Another reason is that people can argue about ‘facts’ like whether or not Jesus is the Son of God or if He really did all those miracles, but they can’t argue with personal experiences. Instead of debating the facts, we can simply show them what we know to be true. Remember, Jesus called us to be His witnesses (and not His lawyers!). We are called to share our experiences with the Lord and He will use those stories to reach out to others who are in the same position, or who just needed to hear what God can do.
A third reason is because it shows that what you’re saying is not just theory, but that it works in real life. I’ve heard sermons where I came away thinking: that’s all very nice, but that’s never gonna work for real. By using personal testimonies that affirm the spiritual truths you’re preaching, you’re reinforcing your message.
Last but not least, audiences want to know of they can trust you, if you are real, before they take what you’re saying seriously. Now, it may not be your own personal testimony, but by integrating it into your sermon you associate yourself with it. A powerful testimony can go a long way in giving you the credits you need to get your message across!
Who is qualified to give a testimony
Anyone. Really, anyone. Yeah, sure, you don’t want to put someone in front of a microphone who has a mortal fear of public speaking. But be careful not to just pick popular kids, ‘perfect spiritual teens’, or really outgoing students. And don’t just choose success stories. Being a witness means sharing all our experiences with God, not just the great ones. Who can relate to spiritual success stories only? A testimony about a struggle with internet pornography can have a huge impact on any teens present, knowing that they’re not the only one and that there’s no easy fix.
When: the timing of a testimony
Determine what the best timing is for the testimony. I’ve had people share their stories before my message, during and after. There’s no ‘one good timing’, it all depends on your topic and the content of their testimony. Try to visualize the flow of your message in combination with the testimony. Is the story very emotional? Don’t start with it, it will bring your audience to too big an emotional investment too soon. It may work better near the end. Is it a practical application of what you’re saying? Close off with it. Is it a struggle-type of story? Use it as a start and build from the emotional connection.
Where should the testimony be given
You can use either personal testimonies by asking someone to come up on stage and share their story. But you can also consider making a video of it. This has the advantage of being able to cut out boring stuff and creating some editing effects to make it even more powerful. It’s a lot of work though, but it could work very well, especially for outreach events. We’ve done this for an Easter outreach on a local high school where several students explained what Easter meant to them and it had a huge impact.
How you should use testimonies
Here’s some last advice: have people write out their testimony fully, not just talking points because that’s a sure way to get off track. Make sure you read every testimony before it’s given and practice with whomever will be giving it. Share some tips on how to use the microphone, where to stand, body language, etc. Don’t just throw them into the deep! Agree on a firm time slot (usually 5-10 minutes does the job) and tell them you will be signaling when their time is up.
What are your experiences with using personal testimonies in preaching? What ‘results’ have you seen?