Many churches share a children’s message as a way to say to the children, “Come up front, sit down and enjoy. We want to let you know that you are important to us.”
If your church provides a children’s message make it the best it can be.
Frankly, the children’s message is often more interesting than the sermon. It is often an object lesson, it involves the audience and you never know what’s going to happen next. Art Linkletter made a fine living off of simply asking questions of children and taping their responses.
As a top-selling children’s performer for several years I have a few biases regarding successful children’s communication that I’d like to share in point form:
· Make the children the focus of your attention. Yes, the adults are in the room and yes they are the ones who put the money in the offering plate but the children should be your main focus. This is not to say that you can’t depart by giving a funny comment that the adults grab on to but this should be the exception. Look them in the eyes, and communicate warmth.
· Ask questions. Then be gentle with what you do with their responses. This is never a time for sarcasm (as much as I like dry Monty Python wit).
· Use an inviting voice but don’t condescend. Treat them with respect. Remember that God spoke to little Samuel when the adult priests of the land weren’t listening to His voice.
· Remember that you’re speaking to children. This will require adapting your vocabulary and presentation so that it is age appropriate.
· Choose one concept with a simple illustration and take your time with it. If you go beyond one simple concept and illustration you’ll be too rushed to take the time with the children that you need to.
· The general rule of thumb for attention span is one minute per average age of the child you are speaking to. So, that means that if you are speaking to 4 year olds you have 4 minutes in general to make your point and wrap without them doing handstands on the altar railing.
· Make sure there’s a point to your object lesson and that the object lesson doesn’t become the point itself. Yes, Cirque du Soleil will catch your children’s attention but all they’ll remember is the guy riding his bike inside the wheel without falling. Make sure your object lesson is not so distracting that the children aren’t just focused on the object itself. Make sure that there is a take away.
· Stories are gold. When our children were small they’d jump into our king-size bed and I’d make up stories about people called the Dweezledorfs. I’d ask each of the children to choose a character and my challenge would be to weave an interesting story that included each character and ended up with a moral to the story. (Yes, characters like the whale named Merford with legs and that could fly always were a challenge to weave in with the kitty with no legs named Poofy) We didn’t need objects or magic tricks; the story was enough. In the same way, story is a powerful way of communicating no matter what the age.
· Involve the children. They can hold puppets in their hands or act like waves on the water for Peter to walk on. When they’re involved, they are immersed. Get to know your children. Some are better chosen than others. (Be cautious that little Johnny who is supposed to be a wave for Peter to walk on doesn’t turn into a Tsunami when he gets back to his parents in the pew)
· Come alive – use your voice, your hands, your facial expressions, your body – you communicate in how you present. This doesn’t mean that you need to be over the top with hyperactivity. Many of the best children’s performers who have blessed children such as Raffi and Fred Penner know how to communicate in multiple ways without looking like they’re on amphetamines.
· Consider coming down to their eye level. I’m 6’ 4” so it’s a long way down to the floor for me, but I often found that when I shared with the children gathered around that by sitting lower (whether on the floor or on a shorter chair) that the children received the message better. Looking up at a giant can be a little overwhelming.
· Create safety. Reduce embarrassment for the children (and their parents). Don’t reprimand and don’t insult them if they make a scriptural or theological faux pas.
· Be Biblical. Make sure that you’re not off on some theologically inaccurate tangent.
Stay tuned for our continuing series on service elements.