5 ways to NOT “dumb-down” a talk… but make it accessible

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The lesson was delivered. The students have cleared out. And all that is left are a few donut crumbs and a nagging question, “Did they get it?”

Been there? I know I have.

Sometimes from the front of the room, sometimes from across a coffee shop table – communicating Scripture to teenagers can be hard. And yet, the Gospel’s message doesn’t need to be hard. As complex as Christian theology can be, the love of Christ is really quite simple.

You’ve heard the phrase “dumbing down.” It’s what we sometimes do when we’re afraid students won’t get the deep message we’re presenting. But simplifying the message doesn’t mean you have to make the message “dumber.” Instead, let’s make the message accessible.

Maybe when you were a kid, there were great snacks concealed on the top of the fridge or in some secret cupboard. They were put up there to purposefully be inaccessible – out of reach and hidden. But occasionally, they would be brought out of the cupboard or down from the fridge and the full richness of their flavor was yours to savor.

The message of Jesus is deep, meaningful and full of flavor. We must not dumb down that message, but we absolutely must bring down the message from the high places it is sometimes stowed to make it fully accessible to students. This takes preparation, practice and work, but it is absolutely possible!

Here are a few tangible tips to make your talks and programming accessible:

  1. Choose your words wisely. Avoid large diction or “Christian-ese” that will only be accessible to some of your audience.

  2. Make your entire talk about communicating the big idea and don’t wander into other topics. You will leave your audience without a clear takeaway.

  3. Be clear and succinct. This takes practice. So practice!

  4. Use stories, activities, processing questions, analogies and case studies to move students toward the big idea.

  5. Show your audience you know who they are. Understand their needs and adapt to them.

Hopefully this short post has been accessible to you! It has included a quick description, an analogy about snacks and some quick practical applications. Let’s close with an example of the message of Jesus made accessible to children but done so in a way that maintains deep meaning even with adults. Consider how the messages you present will be deep, rich and accessible to teens.

“Quietly, Jesus got up from the table, took off his robe, picked up a basin of water, knelt down, and started to wash his friends’ feet… Jesus knew that what people needed most was to be clean on the inside. All the dirt on their feet was nothing compared to the sin inside their hearts. “Then wash me, Lord!” Peter said, tears filling his eyes. “All of me!” One by one, Jesus washed everyone’s feet. “I am doing this because I love you,” Jesus explained. “Do this for each other.”
–The Jesus Storybook Bible, by Sally Lloyd-Jones (p. 288)



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GUEST POST by Sam Townsend. Sam helps create training and programming material at YouthWorks, an organization devoted to leading life-changing Christ-centered mission trips for teenagers. The following is adapted from training YouthWorks’ gives Program Coordinator’s each year. For more on YouthWorks, visit www.youthworks.com.

  • http://www.robbiemackenzie.com/ Robbie Mackenzie

    Great post. I agree completely. I wrote a post today about writing curriculum and I think those points apply to curriculum as well. Especially numbers 2-3. Thank you for this.

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  • Eliz Townsend

    Yes! This is also so applicable when working with kids younger than teens, which I do! Thanks!

    • http://www.smarterym.com/ Aaron Helman

      And adults, really.