Kids praise

What Children’s Ministry Can Teach Grown-up Church

As they filed out of church, several adults slapped the children’s minister on the back and said the same thing: “I got more out of that children’s message than I did out of the rest of the service.”

Note to staff: They meant it.

The more I’m around children at church the more I believe they have a lot to teach us grown-ups about worship. And learning. And believing.

Last week as I observed children worship at a field test for one of Group Publishing’s vacation Bible school experiences, I noted five ways children’s ministry can inform and inspire us.

1. Keep it simple. Effective messages and lessons for children do not overcomplicate. They don’t attempt to make multiple points. They make one point. And they make it clearly–without flowery language or theological hair-splitting. People of all ages crave God’s simple truth. They love a message they can understand, sum up in a sentence–and remember long after they leave the service.

2. Make it visual. Successful children’s messages frequently use props, pictures, costumes and other visuals. Why? Because most people–children and adults–are visual learners. They learn and retain through what they see. Jesus, the master teacher, made powerful use of visuals–with fish, bread, mud, water, wine, and little children.

3. Welcome questions. As kids process a captivating message, they naturally tend to interact, and ask questions. Good children’s ministers take their questions and involve them in the discovery process. Adults have questions too. Accepting and interacting with questions helps to clarify a message, clear up misunderstanding, and involve the people in the process of learning and growing.

4. Make it brief. Effective children’s messages and lessons are short, or divided up into short chunks. Everybody knows kids’ attention spans are short. But not everybody realizes that adult attention spans are also short. Research continues to confirm that effective communication for adults is best delivered in short (under 10-minute) chunks. A 30-minute talking head is mostly a waste of time, regardless of the speaker’s charm.

5. Praise God. Not the band. Kids thrive on the communal energy of singing and praising God together. It’s a participatory thing, not a spectator thing. Last week, whenever it was time to sing, the kids poured out of the pews and rushed the front. There they sang and swayed in heartfelt worship. Their spirit was contagious for the rest of us. Imagine if that scene would be repeated in “big church,” with people of all ages crowding the front of the sanctuary in song. The focus would shift from watching hired music professionals to joining in communal worship.

Maybe it’s time to hire a bunch of pint-sized consultants to show us how to reclaim a Jesus-inspired expression of childlike faith.

10 Responses to “What Children’s Ministry Can Teach Grown-up Church”

  1. Wonderful! In the upside down kingdom of God, we adults are supposed to become like the child.

  2. Great post. Shared it with some fellow pastors. I’m challenged every day by the childlike faith of my daughter. And have recently discovered I am most definitely a visual learner!

  3. Yes! Absolutely! Amen! I’ve had a preaching ministry and I’ve worked in children’s ministry and without question preparing a children’s message is far more difficult, and far more rewarding, than writing a 20-minute lecture for adults. For all the reasons you mentioned, but also because there’s a need to distill the message to one relevant point. I write a session for children several times per month and lately, while reading through the Gospels, I realized that Jesus often spoke to the adults around him in a way that would be just as effective with children. No quoting a half-dozen theologians…no footnotes…no circular logic. Small wonder his teaching was such a challenging breath of fresh air: he drove home the truth with simplicity and directness and power. If Jesus were physically on earth today I’d try to recruit him for our children’s ministry–he’d fit right in.

  4. Very good, very correct. However – there is a small minority of people that are auditory learners (like myself). I can listen to my professor for hours…and retain what he says. I actually enjoy it. I’m in the minority though. To reach a larger segment you must use tactics like the ones mentioned.

    I also believe that our visual culture has much to do with the way we learn. In America, we demand more eye stimuli than any other nation. Our visual culture has lead to the simplifying of everything – which is not always good. Many new airplane pilots can’t really fly an aircraft manually – which has led to accidents and in some cases deaths – why, relaxed standards and over reliance of technology and auto pilots.

    I see the need for simplification – but there’s also a need to dig deep, maybe not in the “worship service” but most definitely within study. There’s a group of people called “intellectuals” that must be reached also (they don’t attend “church” either …for a whole different set of reasons). Simplification is needed, as well as an ability to discuss (two-way discussion) at length the who, what, when, where, why, and how’s of the scriptures – Jesus did both of these.

  5. Jill commented on Facebook: “We’re a traditional New England Congregational church, and have started a contemporary worship service that includes all of these points you’ve mentioned. The people coming love it!! A big change from our traditional services.”

  6. Great thoughts, Thom, as always…as an “intellectual” I am far more attracted to speakers who keep it simple yet profound (producing my own mind to whirl with insight and idea). I like to hear a Greek word and what it means, but I don’t need a Greek lesson. I like to hear an ancient cultural nuance, but I don’t need a history lesson. Jesus used parables (simple stories) for this reason. He didn’t tell people what to think, as much as how to think (“You have heard it said,…but I say”).

    Less is more.

    I do think you missed ONE children’s ministry strategy though: MAKE’EM LAUGH. Fun is fundamental to learning. The brain electrifies when there’s enjoyment, even entertainment. He who laughs, lasts! Great children’s ministries–and communicators–create smiles.

  7. On Pinterest, Christy wrote: “I know, I know. I. KNOW! And yet. When I was eleven, my parents changed churches because of the great preaching. The preacher delivered a deeply researched, finely honed sermon lasting at least a half-hour, and my parents hung on every word—my father usually jotting notes and both parents discussing the message on the way home. It’s hard for me to get out of my head that this is what it looks like to teach, lead and motivate the people of God. Of course, that was another day and a different generation. Thanks for the smart, helpful post.”

  8. My first year in ministry I was co-leading a college small group. I had this picture in my head that it would be this perfect picture of discipleship as we dug weekly into Gods word. I planned an in depth study of the weekly message.

    When we broke out into girl guy time. I found a different picture. One girl was having sex with her boyfriend, another suffering from a drug addiction, another a recently former prostitute, another couldn’t even say a word she was so shy.

    As I drove home I was feeling defeated. You see I didn’t believe that God was able to work in them or that he was in charge. I believed the challenges in their lives were more powerful than he was.

    Over the next six months I ditched the lesson. We instead just talked, about anything and everything. We got together outside the group to go to the gym, have dinner or go shopping. We prayed for each other and supported one another.

    And God showed up. He did all the work. Slowly one by one they turned towards him and closer to him and as a result their life preferences and choices changed. God did that. I have been to each of their weddings, they all went on to be in ministry and are some of the most powerful women in my life to this day.

    I don’t know if homosexuality is a preference. I have no way of knowing that. But I know that when you love, accept and live life next to people God does all the rest.

    Sometimes I look at the way we deal with sin and think- do we believe that God is really here and working? If we did why would we keep doing his job?

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