Post by Allison Williams


For our middle school winter retreat this year, we were on a bit of tight budget.  There is usually plenty of financial wiggle room to bring a speaker in and let them do the heavy lifting on the messages for the weekend.  But this year we would have needed to cut elements and steal money from other areas in the budget year to make that happen.

In the planning phase, I caught myself scrolling through my social media feeds to see if I thought I could co-op a retreat with a friend (you speak for me, I’ll speak for you — no one gets paid) which isn’t a terrible thought, but I just hate the idea of not blessing another person for their time away from family and responsibilities.

On the positive side, when I am in a financial crunch, I am willing to be more creative in my ministry.  Then, the lightbulb moment hit: let’s do TED Talks for our main sessions at the retreat.  I know these talks are a hot thought in our space right now.  Last month, I was at YMLx and every speaker was capped at 15 minutes.  This format is refreshing and forces everyone — rookie or veteran — to be precise and on their game when speaking.  We were planning on three main sessions, with three TED talks in each session.

I sent the following out to nine carefully-selected leaders:


Hello there! 

You are getting this message because you have volunteered (or were voluntold) to give a TED style talk at our middle school winter retreat. 

I DO NOT want this to be a thing of stress for you.  I feel like each one of you connects with students in a different way.  Middle schoolers are squirrely creatures with short attention spans.  Our thought is having several mini talks in the same line of thinking might help them process and learn in a different way

I want you to share a relevant piece of your story or something that God has been teaching you in regards to fear.  Start writing and see where that leads you. 

Some examples are (but please don’t feel limited by these):

  • A fear God helped you to overcome
  • Having your faith/evangelism paralyzed by fear
  • Compromising a choice because of peer pressure or you were scared you’d miss out

These are just a few ideas.  Of course, I want you to make sure to incorporate the Bible into what your are saying.  Was there a character in Scripture going through that same struggle?  Or maybe a prayer that resonated with where your heart was at that time? 

I’m going to group these mini talks in session groups once I know where your message is heading.  [Insert deadline information here.]  Let’s shoot for at least 6-7 minutes, but no more than 10 minutes.  Don’t hesitate to send me any questions or comments!!!!  You are appreciated and you & your talks are being prayed over.


People that speak regularly gave me their topics/direction/Scripture and I plugged them in where they fit in our line up.  Newer speakers (like some of our younger small group leaders) wanted me to read their manuscripts beforehand and help them out.  Knowing your own team, you could easily gauge where they would be in their preparation needs and support.

At the retreat, this method of teaching could not have gone better.  Leaders were appropriately vulnerable in front of their students.  Students connected with leaders when they heard pieces of personal faith journeys.  Everyone was more invested in the retreat because of this new style.

This event gently reminded me of a few things:

  • Don’t be afraid of trying something new! If my budget was in tact, I would have never even thought about this.  Creativity pays off!
  • Your leaders have hidden gems of faith that they are just waiting to be asked to share. Always be looking for ways to pass off the microphone and the spotlight.
  • Students don’t always need polished and professional speaking, rugged, real, and relational can sometimes be more impactful. This isn’t a license to not do our best, but instead permission to risk empowering leaders in a role they have never tackled before.