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How to Encourage Teens to Tell Their Story

The following post is shared in partnership with DeVos Urban Leadership Institute, a unique 15-month training program for urban youth workers. Learn more at dvuli.org.


Before the blessed convenience of digital navigation, people used to print directions and hope that a detour or road change had not occurred. I used to consider myself a master navigator. I could find nearly any place with those directions and just a few landmarks. The upside was that I could generally get anywhere. The bad side was when I was wrong, I was really wrong. I would drive until the fear that I wouldn’t make it home became so unbearable that I had to seek directions. Unfortunately, many of our teens live their lives the exact same way. They often launch out without certain destination and will rarely seek assistance until they are afraid they cannot come home. Isn’t it great that our Heavenly Father always leaves the light on for us to make it home?

I believe that life is built with millions of minor and momentous moments.

Every experience is an opportunity for our youth to grow and learn. We must impress upon our youth, just as the nails left an impression in the body of Jesus, that there is a lesson in everything and every unfortunate experience doesn’t have to be their story. (John 20:20)

Revelation 12:11 says, “And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.”

A teen that tells their survival story will save more souls by speaking up than staying silent. Click To Tweet

How do we get them to talk?

  1. Create a comfortable environment for conversation.

Before every mid-week bible study I have each teen say their name and answer a given question.  The question is an icebreaker to introduce the lesson, inject energy into the room, and strategically get the new kids to feel invited. You should start with your more comfortable kids then randomly pick students from there. We do this weekly – regardless of whether every kid there knows each other. (Sidebar: it also helps the Youth Pastor remember/learn names).

Questions include:

  • Grits. Sugar or Salt? – Topic: Decisions
  • What is an unforgettable fact? – Topic: Facts versus the Truth
  • What is your greatest motivator? – Topic: Self esteem
  1. Show them your scars! Story-time/Holla Time

There is an old adage that admits that misery loves company. Nevertheless, positive people enjoy company as well. Our youth groups, mentor teams, and teen worship services are filled with hurting people who need help.  Healing will happen in a fun environment. During youth services, the youth are doubtful that the person next to them is hurting because undoubtedly all of them are hiding behind a false sense of contentment.  The scars from the past may appear ugly but they tell a story of healing and survival. They need your transparency. When we reveal the scars we reveal the proof that wounds will close and life will go on (John 20:27).

Story time/Holla Time is an open forum or panel discussion where we allow the teens to tell about their day or a selected topic. I usually go first to get the ball going. But you can also utilize a question box. Leave the box out for a few weeks. On the day you choose to do the panel, pull questions from the box. Be sure to review the questions first. Story time has to be structured chaos. Allow them to tell about the crazy stuff as well as the serious stuff but you must be the mediator. Know when to gently cut them off and when to dig for more details. As kids tell their daily dilemmas, unpack the details and use those moments to get them to see how their story can save others.

  1. Be purposeful in training.

Dedicate a bible-study or Sunday worship series to discipleship. Each week, begin your service with one of your volunteers telling their story (What happened on the day they gave their life to Christ? Tell about a time that Jesus did a miracle for them.) Next, pick a bible character that told their story and how it changed the lives of others.

  • Paul and Silas’ prison guard told his story to his family – (Acts 16:34)
  • The man who sat at the pool of Bethesda for 38 years told his story – (John 5:15)
  • The woman at the well told her story – (John 4:28-29)

Then, have the youth break into partners so that they can share how the day’s message relates to them. At the end of each service, have a preselected teen tell their story.

Make time to be purposeful with a select group of your youth. Pour into them; be intentional in training them on ministry, discipleship, and purpose. This group will be the kindling to the fire of conversation and ministry growth that you want.

And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” (Mark 5:19 ESV)

Finally, can you imagine how excited I was when I learned about the navigation app that foresees bad traffic, bad roads, and police hot spots? It sees the issue then gives verbal and visual instructions for better decisions before I get too close. The Bible teaches that God shows us the exit sign for temptation and pending trouble. Our youth need to learn God’s voice and see how others have listened. The testimony of your youth will save lives and it is up to you to motivate them to tell what is ahead. Youth can only take the detours that they know exist.

Tell the story. 


williamWilliam Cumby is the Minister of Youth for The Fountain of Praise, in southwest Houston, Texas and has served in youth ministry for over 12 years. He is a proud husband and dad to three children, graduate of the DEVOS Urban Leadership Initiative, and a Summa Cum Laude graduate of Oral Roberts University.

Willc1day.blogspot.com  |  Facebook: William.Cumby  |  Instagram: @Willc27


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS. 

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