Ready or not, here they come!
For many churches across North America, in-person services are firing up after the covid-shutdown, but due to safety concerns, the children's ministries are not. Instead, kids are sitting with their parents in the sanctuary. With that in mind, I want to give a word of encouragement to all of my pastor friends...
This is going to be fun...
or possibly a disaster...
but probably fun!
In fact, I believe that the experience of preaching with kids in the sanctuary will make you a better preacher. Not just a better preacher to kids—a better preacher to adults as well.
Let's start with this—kids are the most honest audience you will ever have. Most grown-ups have developed enough social grace to sit quietly and nod politely even if you've lost them. (Emphasis on most.)
But not kids!
If you're bombing, they will let you know. Their bodies will begin to move uncontrollably. Papers will be shuffled. Hymnals will be dropped with a thud. They'll ask their parents (not quietly) "Can we go home now?"
Let me be clear...this is a gift!
Consultants would charge thousands of dollars for this kind of feedback, but kids will do it for free! Everyone needs this kind of honesty in their profession, whatever it may be. But for pastors, this kind of honesty can push you out of old preaching ruts and challenge you to communicate in new, more engaging ways.
So what are those ways?
Here are 5 of them:
1. Tell more stories
Kids love stories. In fact, you can tell the same story 10 times and they won't get tired of it (unlike adults who will tell you if you used the same illustration twice in 10 years). If your primary text is out of the epistles, consider choosing a story-based secondary text that illustrates that epistle.
But don't stop with Bible stories. Use an ample amount of contemporary stories too—stories that illustrate your message. Those stories become even more powerful for kids if they are personal stories. And if you really want to grab their attention, tell personal stories that happened when you were a kid. For obvious reasons, those are the stories that kids identify with the most.
2. Show them what you mean
For some people, the last time they used a visual aid was in high school speech class when their grade depended on it, but there's a reason our teachers pushed for visuals—they're effective! The spoken word fires on one part of the brain, but visuals fire on another. Visuals help kids soak up content quickly, understand information more fully, and serve as a memory aid. More than that, it breaks up the talking and grabs their attention.
As you're preparing your message, ask yourself, "How can I show people what I'm talking about?" Use videos or pictures. Better yet, integrate an object lesson. Digital is still effective, but it's commonplace. There's an added novelty with kids when using a tangible prop or object.
3. Involve the kids
Benjamin Franklin said, "Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn." It's true—the greatest way to help kids learn is to involve them in the message. This could be as simple as asking them a question. Not a rhetorical question. (There is no such thing as a rhetorical question to a kid.) Take a microphone around the room and let them answer.
Do you have a scripture reading during the service? Let an older elementary kid do it. Are you using an object lesson? Ask for a kid volunteer to interact with the object. Even better, consider ways to make a kid the object of an object lesson. However you do it, pull them up front and let them be seen. When kids see other kids involved with the service, the interest level suddenly sky-rockets.
4. Move with purpose
Speakers have two primary communication tools in their tool belt—their voice and their body. If you stay put behind the lectern the whole time, you're leaving half of your tools unused. For a kid, physical movement adds the same level of visual interest as a picture or an object. Stillness can become monotonous, but movement breaks up stillness. Find reasons to move from throughout your space.
Here's something kids love—don't just tell a story, become the story. For example, if you're telling a story about fishing with your dad when you were a kid, choose an area that becomes the pond and move to it. And don't just talk about casting the rod, pantomime it. Whatever the story is, use your body to show them how it unfolded.
5. Include a moment for the whole family
You're probably familiar with the traditional "kid's sermon" where kids come forward for a message just for them. Well, we've redesigned it into something called "The Family 5." It's a short five-minute sermon experience designed with both kids and grown-ups in mind. It's fun, it's visual, it's interactive, and families will be talking about it long after the service is over. But don't call it a "kid's sermon!"
Because we've designed each message in a way that the WHOLE congregation, regardless of age, will learn from and enjoy. It has 14 weeks (3 months) of family sermon scripts, slides, coloring sheets, and sermon notes. It even comes with an intro video that alerts kids when it's time for the family sermon to begin. As soon as kids hear the toe-tapping music, they'll nearly jump out of their seats in excitement. Click here to learn more about it.
And here's the plot twist...
The 5 techniques mentioned above don't just work with kids, they work with the adults in your congregation as well. If you can master the art of preaching to a kid, you'll have everyone's attention!