Preaching for youth: What’s your key message?

This is part of the series on preaching for youth, be sure to check out the rest of the series! There are myriad ways to write a sermon. Some people prefer to write it out word for word. Others only write down keywords. There are people who are a big fan of using mind maps in one or more phases of their sermon preparation. All in all, it doesn’t really matter, you just have to find a style that suits you.

One thing is essential though, regardless of your method, and that is your key message. Every sermon has to have one, and it’s no different when your audience consists of teens or students. In each sermon, you should only discuss one key message, one central idea.

Now I know many of us have grown up in churches where they preached three-point sermons or even five-pointers, but honestly, who can remember five things? But people can remember one thing. Which is why your message should be about one central idea, one thing you want to get across to your audience.

In every sermon I prepare, I ask myself these three questions:

  1. What do I want them to know?
  2. What do I want them to feel?
  3. What do I want them to do?

It helps me to bring clarity and focus to my message, because I try to boil down whatever I’m trying to say in these three simple answers. That doesn’t mean I’ll make all three explicit in the message, I usually focus on one and make the other two more subtle. The one that I pick, I formulate into my ‘key message’.

Where to go?

Your sermon isn’t done until you can state its key message in a few words. And by a few words I mean one sentence, max. Not three or four. What do you want these students to remember from your sermon? What do you want them to know, feel or do?

Here are some examples so you know what I mean:

  • You can encourage other believers like Barnabas did
  • You can call Jesus your Friend
  • You can be honest with God, He can take it
  • God deserves your best

Each of these is a short statement that describes the central point of the sermon. If you can’t summarize your sermon like that, you’re not done yet.

Once you’ve ‘found’ the key message of your sermon, everything you say should reinforce this message. Integrate it into your sermon structure and repeat it a few times throughout your talk. You may think that doing this more than twice will get on everyone’s nerves, but it won’t. People need the repetition to be able to remember it and if you make these statements into a subtle part of your structure and rhetorical style, no one will consciously notice you doing it.

Keeping your message focused also means cutting out everything that doesn’t deal with the central message. You have to ‘kill your darlings’, no matter how beautiful and inspired they may be. If they’re not about your core message, they have to go.

This is often hard for preachers, because they love digging into God’s Word and finding rich nuggets there. Or with those wonderful illustrations or stories we know and would love to share. If they don’t support the central message, write them down, save them, but don’t put them in your sermon. It’ll just distract and ultimately water down what you really want to say.

How good are you at making a point, at having one key message? Or do you make several in one sermon? 


  1. Dapo Daniel says

    Lovley write up with depth. A new youth leader. This write up will change my approach to preparation. Thanks


  1. […] to find something? Think of your central message for the service, what do you want people to do? What should they remember, feel or know? Then come […]

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