Articles | Speaking

Kurt Johnston has been a youth pastor since 1988 and currently leads the student ministries team at Saddleback Church in Southern California. Widely regarded as one of the most trusted voices in youth ministry, Kurt loves to encourage other youth workers and has written and created over 50 books and resources with that goal in mind. In his free time, Kurt enjoys surfing and riding dirt bikes in the desert with his wife and two children.

To wrap up this little series on teaching, I thought I’d share a few random and mostly unconnected tips and tricks that can help just about any teaching environment you find yourself in go a bit more smoothly.

  •  The First Minute Is The Most Important Minute!

You only get once chance to make a first impression….in life, and in lessons! Most teenagers will decide within the first 60-90 seconds whether or not they want to engage on the journey you are about to take them on.  Look for a way to “hook” them out of the gate!

  • Teenagers Love a Good Story!

There’s rarely a bad time in a lesson to insert a good story. However, the emphasis is on GOOD story! Find stories that actually reinforce where your lesson is headed. Don’t insert a funny story just for the sake of a laugh. When possible use real stories from your own life instead of stories found from an illustration book. Look for ways to tell failure stories because teenagers can relate to your failures much more easily than the fact that you were homecoming queen or threw the touchdown pass in the championship game….or that you were the homecoming queen who through the touchdown pass in the homecoming game!

  • The Payoff Must Equal The Setup

This little principle actually applies to virtually everything in youth ministry, not just teaching! But when preparing your lessons, you would be wise to adhere to it. A long story better have a BIG payoff. A long set up to a joke better have a BIG payoff. If you start by saying, “Today we are going to learn the single most important truth God wants you to understand”…It better be a really awesome, life changing truth; the payoff needs to equal the setup.

Invite teenagers into an epic adventure with Jesus. Check out Pierced: The New Testament today!
  • Clear, Clean and Concise Is Always Better Than Creative and Clever                                                                                                                                    

Creative and clever is great…if you can pull it off! But clear, clean and concise learning experiences that students can actually digest and put into motion are a much higher value.

  • The Last Minute Is The Most Important Minute

But isn’t the first minute the most important minute? Yes, and so is the last. I know the math doesn’t add up, but I’m terrible at math so it works for me! The key to a great lesson is to leave them wanting more and for them to leave wanting to be doers of the word. Wrap things up in a way that accomplishes both.

Creating enjoyable, effective learning experiences in youth ministry isn’t always easy, but if you remember that it isn’t about you and create S.T.I.C.K.Y. lessons that T.E.A.C.H. and apply a few tips and tricks along the way, you may surprise yourself…and your youth group!

– Kurt

How service-minded are your teenagers? Take this short quiz to find out!


  • Clifton Davis says:

    Thank you so much for this article. The Holy Spirit had pressed upon me, to start looking at articles, to really help with my teaching and this is some awesome information. Looking forward to reading more. Do you all send out information through mail?

    • Hey Clifton,

      THanks for your comment. You can subscribe to get the daily email summaries from Youth Ministry.com and see the articles that are posted everyday! Look for the sign up spot on the right hand side on the home page. You are awesome. Thanks for loving students!

      – Amber and the SYM Team

  • Leave a Comment

    Please keep in mind that comments are moderated and rel="nofollow" is in use. So, please do not use a spammy keyword or a domain as your name, or it will be deleted. Let us have a personal and meaningful conversation instead.