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.