Editor’s Note: The following article is a summary of material presented at the Center for Youth Ministry Training’s conference From Txt2Speech: Proclaiming scripture to youth in a digital age, held Nov. 30 – Dec. 2, 2012 in Nashville, Tenn.
Are youth engaged in your youth ministry talks or sermons?  Can we give them hearing aides to help them receive the Word better? No, not the in-ear hearing aids that some of your congregation’s older members use; instead, are there tools that we can use or ways we can present the Word so that youth can hear and process better?
What if they were good active listeners? We can use these tools to help youth (and adults) be active listeners and receivers of the Word. Some of the primary things that prevent people from hearing are distractions, mind wandering, environment, and disinterest. The tools and techniques to active listening help to overcome these issues are:

  • Remove distractions
  • Turn off mind chatter
  • Focus
  • Take notes
  • Ask questions
  • Summarize

We as teachers and preachers can improve our communication and our audience’s ability to listen if we build active listening techniques for our audiences into our sermons and presentations by doing the following:

  1. To remove distractions we need to acknowledge that environment matters. Sometimes I have to turn off or pause the football game so that I can listen to my wife. The same applies to our audiences of youth. Our environment can help people listen: if you want to talk to your youth group about death, think about taking them to a cemetery. Environment can also distract: recently, I witnessed someone try to give a talk in a sports bar. Creating a setting can enhance their listening experience by drawing them into the story.
  2. We have a whopping 20 seconds to get their attention. If their minds are somewhere else, we need to give them a compelling reason to be drawn into the moment.
  3. Every three minutes we need to draw their focus back to what we are trying to communicate. We must give them something to focus on. Props, art, music, and object lessons are great ways to draw their attention back to the Word.
  4. Active listening teachers are emphatic that doodling and note-taking help folks engage in and remember subject matter. So let’s create space for and encourage doodling! Encourage them to write down their thoughts and questions, or to draw pictures of what they hear.
  5. Asking questions is an important part of active listening, allowing the listeners to clarify what they are hearing. One of the mistakes we make in the church is to write discussion questions that lead youth where we want them to go. We need to let them ask questions so that they can engage the material.
  6. Active listeners also learn to summarize what they have heard. How can we create space for youth to reflect on what they have just heard? These reflections will help the Word to sink in.

Using active listening techniques as a part of your teaching methods will serve as hearing aides for your youth or congregation so that they can hear and respond to the Word.