At the close of the service, a man and his wife walked down the aisle in response to the pastor’s invitation to accept Christ. Knowing this couple and visiting with them several times, the pastor wasn’t surprised about this decision. On impulse, he asked them, “Was it something I said in my sermon that helped you step out and move forward?” Looking a little embarrassed, the man said, “No pastor, it was the children’s sermon earlier in the service.”
Never underestimate the power of a simple sermon, prepared and presented through study and prayer.
Finding data and statistics on the number of pastors who use children’s sermons is difficult. Why? Because many churches provide Children’s Church, for which the children leave the main assembly and move into another room before the morning message.
Randy Rinehart, pastor of Parkway Baptist in Houston, Miss., has mixed feeling about this. “Are our children missing something by not being in the worship service with adults?” said Rinehart. “I expect that ministers to children are responsible for 50 percent or more of the sermons. Very little is done from the pulpit. Object lessons speak to adults, too.”
Messages aimed at children may pop up in Sunday School assemblies, church dinners and other congregational gatherings; the pastor, children’s minister or volunteers present children’s sermon during this time. Regardless of the location, the children’s message can be an important part of a worship service.
The purpose of a children’s sermon is simple: It encourages the child to be involved in Bible study; and if adults are listening, it provides simple, direct biblical applications for them, as well. Often, the children’s sermon is what the congregation best remembers.
Preparing a Children’s Sermon:
Pastor Al writes a few thoughts late Saturday night for his Sunday morning children’s sermons. “I almost forgot about the kids’ message in the morning,” he says to his wife. “I wish I could give this part of the service to someone else!” With this attitude, it’s no wonder most of the children stay with their parents when they are called to come to the front of the church.
However, look at the difference between that approach and another pastor’s preparations. On Monday morning, Pastor Bob already is thinking about the following Sunday’s sermon and the children’s message. He is referencing John 13:34, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
As he prays about the service, he wonders how he can apply this passage to a children’s sermon. Plans include a large red heart to represent love. Then, he brings it together with the game he played as a youngster, called “Mother, May I?” In this simple game, the mother tells the others to do something. The players must ask, “Mother, may I?” Immediately, the mother answers and says, “Yes, you may.” Only then, can you continue the game as children follow the commands. When Jesus tells us to love, and we ask, “Jesus, may I?” He gives us the power to love as He does.
Pastor Bob understands the need for a prop, for children to act out parts, and connect the lesson with the music and worship service. The message to children doesn’t stand alone but is an important part of the worship service. Is it any wonder every child in this age range hurries forward for a front-row seat?
Speaking in concrete terms instead of abstract language is vital to communicating with kids, given the developmental stages of young children. Aaron Kennedy, minister to children at First Baptist Church, Jackson, Tenn., understands the age of the child determines the attention span. “Less is often more,” says Kennedy. “I think it’s best to use one idea at a time, and repeat often. When teaching children, refer to the Bible as many stories that tell one story.”
Children are not too young to learn about the Bible and its truths. Remember, Jesus told us “to come as little children.” The Bible is a gospel narrative that shows creation, the fall, redemption and resurrection.
Presenting a Children’s Sermon:
Wanting the children to enjoy the sermon, Pastor Al involves the youngsters by asking personal questions about their home lives. Soon, a few children try to top the others by making their anecdote bigger and better, to the delight of the audience. Soon the situation, as well as the children, gets out of control. What could have been a biblical lesson gets lost in chaos.
Now look at how Pastor Bob handles the same scenario. Perhaps the sermon is about the boy Samuel, his mother and grandmother. For example, he could have asked, “What makes for a happy home?” This would lead to topics that children could respond to positively.
Not knowing what to expect, the parents are uncomfortable when their children answer questions formed by Pastor Al, and Pastor Al is unsure of himself when the children are out of control. Pastor Bob understands that you prepare, pray and give thought to questions and expected answers to use with youngsters.
Rinehart notes that children learn best through their senses, so we should present sermons that focus on sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing. “When using object lessons, make them concrete, not abstract,” notes Rinehart. “Young children do not understand symbolism.”
The time factor or length must be considered in presenting a sermon for little ones. Youngsters have short attention spans; maybe that is one reason adults enjoy these messages, also!
In presenting a message, some children’s sermons actually are object lessons that say, “This object is like the truth.” Donald Hinchey, author of 5-Minute Messages for Children (Group), says, “The problem with most object lessons is the presenter does the talking and the children just listen. The unspoken rule is: Be quiet and sit still.” Children like to talk, and they’re always wiggling; so, a good children’s message should let kids talk and wiggle!
Children, similar to adults, learn through visual, auditory and kinesthetic modes. Use props, PowerPoint presentations, puppets, music and musical instruments as additions to sermons when needed. However, do not allow these to overshadow the purpose of the lesson.
Suggestions for Keeping Children Focused:
Keeping children’s attention sometimes can be a challenge. Here are some suggestions:
• Ask Sunday School teachers to review guidelines for participating in the children’s sermon if used in the morning worship service.
• Ask several parents or teacher volunteers (a 1:4 ratio) to sit with the children. Instead of everyone talking at once, ask the children to speak first with the adult before speaking to the leader. This is especially helpful for large groups.
• Call out the child’s name if they’re being disruptive and involve them in conversation. Never embarrass them.
• Move closer to the child who is engaged in a personal conversation with another, or ask this child to be your helper.
• Lower your voice instead of raising it if disruptive behavior occurs.
• Maintain eye contact with the children.
• Sit near them, and be on their level. Use a cordless microphone so everyone can hear.
• Include props related to the sermon.
• Read the Scripture straight from the Bible as a reminder that this is God’s Word.
Who knows? The children’s sermon you prepare may be the turning point to help a child—or an adult—make a decision to follow Christ, a decision that can change his or her earthly life and provide eternal life in heaven.
For Further Thought:
Components of Effective Children’s Sermons
All sermons must contain a Scripture and a theme. Are other features needed?
• Assistants may be needed for skits. Ask a teen or youth in advance of the service.
• Active games involve children in the message and help them recall the sermon. Plus, kids love these!
• Props should be shown to all children and available for youngsters and adults to view.
• Mementos or souvenirs, if given, could include items from your Christian bookstore that carry biblical thoughts such as pencils with an imprinted message, a small cross or stickers.
Carolyn Tomlin writes for numerous Christian publications. She is the cofounder/teacher of Boot Camp for Christian Writers. Tomlin is married to a Baptist minister and resides in Jackson, Tennessee.