By Rev. Michelle Foster
Are children’s sermons anything more than adult entertainment? Have you ever thought of the importance or relevance of a children’s sermon to the fuller worship experience? The children’s sermon is of equal value to the “real” sermon that is delivered each week from the pulpit. The difference is the target audience and the style of delivery. Actually, the truth of the matter is that a good children’s sermon is more challenging to prepare and deliver because you have less time, a much more active audience and a smaller vocabulary from which to choose.
So, how can you deliver a quality children’s sermon while keeping it kid friendly?
• Keep your audience in mind. The average children’s sermon is directed toward children 2 years of age through second grade. Choose your words carefully and in accordance with those who are participating in the children’s sermon. Remember that highly developed metaphors and concepts that adults might understand are not as easily understood in a child’s mind. Young children receive words and illustrations literally. Most have not yet developed the skills to make sense of metaphors, concepts or symbolism.
• Use illustrations and stories that are relevant to the children with whom you are speaking. For example, if the scriptural focus is Jesus at the wedding feast in Galilee, remember that most young children have little understanding of a wedding reception. They will, however, have experience and understanding of a party.
• Children learn by doing, experiencing and seeing what is happening around them. Search for ways to share your message through visual and tactile stimulation while also providing a verbal message to reinforce your message. Usually children’s sermons are primarily verbal with an occasional visual or physical component. We should strive to reverse this trend. Auditory learning is a secondary way of learning for young children.
For example: If the story focuses on God’s love for the world, come with a globe and a heart sticker for children to place on the globe. Help children complete the statement “God loves everyone who lives in _____ (wherever the children place the heart sticker). When the focus of the sermon is on repentance which means “to go the other way from the direction you are currently going,” get up and illustrate this message through your actions. Actually, illustrate repentance by asking the children to physically go with you one way and then turn around and go the correct way.
• Steer clear of asking open-ended questions as you engage with children. Children will speak their mind and are notorious for throwing your thoughts “off balance” as you deliver a children’s sermon. Find ways to engage the children through activity and movement to emphasize your point or main idea.
• Keep it simple. Prepare and deliver a single thought or main idea. To check yourself as you prepare try to write one sentence that encapsulates the point of your sermon. If you are not able to do so, you have fallen into the trap of trying to cover too many ideas and missing the boat on all of them.
• Lead children in spiritually forming disciplines. As has been mentioned earlier, children learn best by doing. Find ways to teach children the spiritual disciplines through the practices of these disciplines. Some examples may include inviting the children to share with you in prayer by repeating short phrases after you or rather than talking about tithing and offerings to God, invite children to bring to the altar their tithes and offerings.
• Do not underestimate the importance of the children’s sermon – for the children and the rest of the gathered congregation. What you say can and does make a spiritual impact on the lives of those gathered. Make preparation for the delivery of a children’s sermon a top priority that is covered in prayer.
Foster works in Connectional Ministries in the areas of children and family ministries.