According to new research, about 15 percent of 12-year-olds to 19-year-olds have some degree of hearing loss.
What this means is that there is a good chance that at least one person in your youth ministry has trouble hearing. This might be evident to you because of the presence of hearing aids or implants, but it may just as likely be someone that you up till now considered to be a trouble maker or someone who struggles focusing during lessons. As youth educators, we need to take this into consideration as we explore the best practices in our educational techniques, because if youth can’t hear the message, they are likely not learning from it. And if they can’t hear the rules to rubber chicken dodgeball, they’re more likely to get a rubber chicken to the face, and that’s no fun for anyone. So here are a few tips on crafting your educational process to accommodate youth with hearing loss.
Face the crowd.
Being able to see your face is going to go a long way to improve comprehension for youth with or without hearing loss. You also project where your face is pointed (because science), so pointing it toward the youth is most helpful. Giving a sermon this is pretty much the standard posture, but when we teach, it’s easy to get caught up in a lesson and turn your back to write on a board. Take a moment to write, then turn around and continue what you are saying. It might take longer, but it’s going to make a notable difference for teens who struggle hearing you.
Moving around is distracting to anyone in the room, but it’s especially difficult for those who struggle hearing. First, you create noise clomping around the plywood stage built in your youth room or clicking around the hardwood chancel of your chapel. Second, it creates visual noise that distracts from someone trying to watch your mouth to aid in understanding what is going on. Do your best to stay in one place and keep your face visible.
Nothing is going to beat speaking loudly and clearly. Practicing your lesson can help to slow and steady your pace and give you the chance to focus on how loudly and clearly you are speaking. If you use a sound system, make sure it’s working and clear. Don’t chew gum or a tooth pick, even if it makes you look cool. Focus on speaking in a way that reaches each person in the room clearly.
Check your gear.
If you do have a sound system, there are some great additions that help making sure everyone can hear clearly. Headsets are a great add-on that can cancel out a lot of the background noise and give youth a better chance to hear what you are saying. If finances are an issue, there may be denominational grants available to upgrade your system to accommodate.
Again, this is a good rule for every message to anyone but making sure your points are clear and your message is concise will reduce the number of things a youth with hearing loss will have to decipher and make the message easier to follow. The content and theme of the message can be the same, just be deliberate in how you phrase it. It will mean a bit more planning or thinking while teaching, but you’re smart, capable and darn it, people like you. You can do it.
If you have scriptures you are referencing, multiple points you are making and will be talking at length about, or anything else that would be a good way for someone to track your message, print it out and make it available. This provides anchor points where youth can follow along and regroup mentally if they missed something you said. It’s also a great practice for you as a sermon writer or teacher because it forces you to organize your thoughts in a flow beforehand.
By taking these few simple steps, you can make a tremendous difference in the way that youth struggling with hearing loss receive your message. As educators, this is what we do and how we teach. But more than that, by taking these few deliberate steps, you communicate to those youth that they are valued and accepted by you. As Christians, this is what we are called to do in the way we live. Your youth will appreciate it, and it can make the difference between a teen staying and learning to love Jesus more or getting frustrated and not coming back.
Pastor Kellen Roggenbuck has been working in youth ministry for over a decade, serving several churches in 3 denominations over 2 states. Kellen has worked with middle school youth, high school youth, college-aged adults, and even lead a seniors ukulele ministry. Pastor Kellen currently serves the congregation of Immanuel UMC in Jefferson, WI where he lives with his awesome family.