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8 Hacks For Managing a Roomful of Teenagers

Pop quiz for all you student pastors out there!

  • Have you ever stood in front of a roomful of teenagers and felt like you had absolutely no control over what was happening in the room?
  • Have you ever attempted to teach a lesson and walked off stage wondering if the students even heard and processed anything you said?
  • Have you ever tried to engage your student audience in your lesson, but lost complete control of the room in the process?
  • Have you ever just wanted to give up (or at least shout a few curse words on your way home)?

If your answer is, “Yes,” to any or all of these questions, you’re in the right place.

Because I’ve felt that way, too. We all have!

And if we’ve all been there, that means this conversation matters for every single one of us. Corralling teenagers can be exhausting, frustrating, and even a little bit exhilarating at times. Honestly, managing a roomful of teenagers is an art. But when you learn to do it well, you’re opening the door to communicating the truth of Scripture clearer and louder than before, cultivating an environment where teenagers want to listen. So to help you master the art of wrangling your students, here are eight hacks I’ve learned along the way:

1. Work the room. Rather than standing in one place, moving around while you teach can actually work in your favor, especially when you’re speaking to a room that has those two (or eight, or ten, or twenty) distracting students in the audience. Moving toward a certain direction of the stage or room, or walking directly at the student who is talking, while continuing to teach can be an easy and effective way to minimize talking from people in the audience and re-engage those distracted students. This can also help eliminate the need to say things like, “Please stop talking,” “Listen up,” or “Would you please SHUT UP?!” (Hint: I don’t recommend using that last one from stage.)

2. Change it up. Change the pace at which you’re talking, adjust your tone, or vary your volume. When you change the way you speak, students take notice. And if that doesn’t work, just start screaming! That’s sure to catch some attention, right?

3. Encourage talking. Plan opportunities throughout your lesson for students to interact both with each other and with you as the communicator. For example, say something like, “Turn to the person next to you and tell them . . . ” or, “Raise your hand if you’ve ever . . . ” or, “On the count of three I want you to scream . . . ” If there are planned times that allow them to talk and interact, students will be less likely to do so while you’re talking.

4. Be creative. Incorporate an interactive component, demonstration, or activity into your talk. Have students volunteer to be part of it and invite them on stage to participate. When teenagers see their peers participating in what’s happening up front or on stage, they naturally shift their attention in that direction.

5.Use your leaders. Have your adult leaders sit with their students in the audience. Most often, volunteer leaders choose to sit in the back of the room, but it’s more beneficial to you as the communicator to have them dispersed throughout the room to address any behavioral issues they see. That saves you the trouble of trying to do so from stage.

6. Keep rules and consequences minimal. Remember, more rules and more severe consequences do not equate to better behavior. In fact, it does the opposite! An environment that’s rule-heavy creates an atmosphere of rebellion. Teenagers want freedom. Try to give them a little more freedom than you’re comfortable with. When you do, they might just give you more attention than they’re comfortable with.

7. Rehearse transitions. Most disruptions occur between segments of a program, transitions in a lesson, or right as you’re wrapping up. Try to avoid creating extra space for distraction by rehearsing those moments prior to your student gathering.

8. Consistent cues. A cue is a thing said or done that signals to teenagers that something’s about to begin or a transition is about to happen. A countdown video means you’re going to start programming. A familiar greeting students participate in signals that the hosts are going to start the game. A bumper video can cue that you’re starting your lesson. Walk out music will indicate that it’s time for students to head to small group.

There you go! It’s not a complete list, but these eight hacks have really made a difference for me.

It’s important to keep in mind that what works for someone else may not work for your personality and communication style or for your physical space and student group.

But in order to figure that out, you will need to experiment.

And fail.

A lot.

Eventually you’ll stumble upon something that works for your context.

You will master it.

And then you’ll be able to dance with the distractions in the room flawlessly.

So wherever you are this week, start by picking one of these eight hacks to focus on and improve. Just one. Then, let me know how it worked for you!

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