Ask Rooted: How do You Prepare Your Message for Youth Group?

We asked several experienced student ministers how they go about preparing their message for youth group each week. We hope their wisdom sparks insight and ideas in your own ministry.

Liz Edrington (Coordinator of Girls’ Discipleship & Young Adults at North Shore Fellowship, Chattanooga, TN) said:

Before I do anything, I pray. Praying in and through my process is crucial, as sometimes the Lord will reveal connections to other books I’m reading, stories I’m hearing, or resources I’ve used in the past. I like to read over the Scripture I’m going to use several times in the week leading up to a teaching to let it simmer, and then I hit a couple of commentaries to fill out the context, as well as observe multiple perspectives. I spend some time imagining what it would be like to be in the Scripture (whether as an observer, or as Zaccheus himself, or the Samaritan woman, etc.). After nailing down the main take away (the “If you remember nothing else, I hope you’ll take this away with you), sometimes I do a free association brainstorming session where I write all the things that come to mind when I think of the Scripture, the gospel, and redemptive historical categories (creation, fall, redemption, restoration). Finally, I do my best to write out what I want to say, and then make an outline from there. I’m a fan of organizing my message in the following categories: concept, restate, illustrate, apply.

Seth Stewart (Pastor of Student Ministries at Bridgeway Church, Oklahoma City) said:

I work on my sermon little by little throughout the week, that way the text is never far from my mind. I keep something close by to write down spontaneous thoughts. On Monday, I read the text a few times, re-write it in my own words, and communicate to my worship team the general direction and application of the sermon. On Tuesday, I continue to meditate on the text and read through at least one commentary. Wednesday morning, I spend an hour praying over the text and for my students. I write the sermon before end of day Thursday, and practice it out loud at least twice before I preach.

Davis Lacey (Student and Early Career Pastor at Grace Fellowship Church, Kinston, NC) said:

I seek to deliver messages that are expository, doctrinal, and gospel-centered. They are expository in that the text sets the agenda for what I am going to teach, doctrinal in that the message teaches the students something true about God, and gospel-centered in that the message’s application is rooted in Christ and His saving work.

To craft these messages, I first note the historical and grammatical contexts associated with the text, and then make observations. I synthesize these realities to determine the meaning of the text (to its original hearers), and then seek to appropriately apply that meaning to the lives of the students I’ll be teaching. When I deliver the message, I try to walk the students through the same process I used in my preparation; my hope is that they’ll not only see and savor the gospel for themselves, but also that they’ll develop Bible studying skills through my teaching.

Clark Fobes (Youth Pastor at Sunset Church, San Francisco) said:

My sermon process is nuanced since we follow a topical teaching schedule (which I plan with my intern the summer prior to the start of the school year). This year, we identified four core elements of Christianity and discipleship that we wanted our students to take away after being in our church youth group. 1) the whole Bible Gospel narrative; 2) The Church and Community of God; 3) Spiritual Growth and living in the Spirit; 4) The Mission of God.

On a given Sunday, I preach a more traditional, 45-minute sermon. To prepare, I start with the given topic we’ve planned for that evening, and I ask myself a series of questions around what our students are thinking about that topic. What message does the world believe about that topic? On the other hand, what does Scripture and the Gospel say to address that topic? Then, I look for answers to those questions by surveying Scripture, reading books, and reading Systematic Theologies. (For instance, we recently did a sermon on Race, and some questions I identified that we needed to address were: should Christians care about other races? What if we never interact with other races besides our own? What does the Gospel say about race inside and outside the Church? How does the Gospel address our own identity when it comes to race?).

Finally, I craft an outline around those general questions, usually something along the lines of: “What does the world believe about ____? Where do we sin and fall short in regards to ______? How does the Gospel address ______?” All in all, my sermons take a lot of preparation, as I end up drawing from 2-3 books per topic, and then go through responsible exegesis for multiple passages.

My essential goal throughout my sermon prep is this: address the sin and problems my students are experiencing in the world, and show them how the Gospel really is central to all of life, regardless of the topic.

Kris Fernhout (Director of Kansas City Fellows at Christ Community Church, Kansas City) said:

  1. I pray.
  2. I have a series of message themes planned out a few months in advance…so I know where I’m going.
  3. I begin by summarizing that week’s message in a single sentence. This is my “thesis,” or the one big idea that I want all the kids to remember at the end of my lesson.
  4. I start with my conclusion. This is the last thing they’ll hear. It’s my summary and needs to synthesize my whole talk. Having this done well and cleanly will ensure my talk doesn’t end with rambling and a lack of cohesion (as mine have the tendency to do otherwise).
  5. Then I create my introduction. This is where I grab the kids’ interest and don’t let go.
  6. After that I spend time working on the body of my message, where I dissect what scripture says. I put a lot of effort into making smooth transitions – from my introduction, to the main body of my talk, to the conclusion.

Last thoughts: if you’re speaking to middle schoolers, make sure you don’t talk in abstractions. Cognitively, middle schoolers understand concrete ideas and are easily confused by abstract ideas. If they have glazed, bored looks on their face, you might be boring…but you also might be talking about abstract ideas they just don’t understand.

Kellen Roggenbuck (Youth Director at Community United Methodist Church, Elm Grove, WI) said:

Write what needs to be said, no more or less.  It’s easy to think about filling time or worrying about covering too much, and in doing so, going overboard or skimping.  When you focus on the message and what God wants you to say, all of a sudden how long or short a message is seems like a trivial concern.  Write to bring the message to others as your goal.


What’s your process for preparing your message to the youth? We’d love to hear about it in the comments section below!

Got a youth ministry question for Rooted? Send an email to with the subject, “Ask Rooted.”


Advancing Grace-Driven Youth Ministry

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