I have a love-hate relationship with children’s messages. I love that the offering of a children’s message provides a time for talking about God with children within the context of the worshipping community. But I hate that sometimes this opportunity gets used as a time for silly entertainment or a way to get a message across to the adults.
Perhaps what I hate the most is the perceived pressure from the adults in the congregation to provide what I call “the Ministry of Cuteness.” For whatever reason, too many congregations have become accustomed to being entertained when children are brought up to the front of the sanctuary. And this truly is a shame because, as Jesus reminds us, “…it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs” (Matthew 19:14).
So what do we do to assure that the children’s message time is used most effectively with our beloved children? How can we approach our youngest disciples in ways that will nurture their souls?
Here are five key do’s and don’ts that I hope will be helpful to those of you who minister with the children in your congregation through a children’s message:
- Don’t use object lessons with preschoolers and elementary aged children; these children are not yet developmentally ready to make those connections and will only remember the object rather than the lesson.
Do use visuals (in non-symbolic ways) and hold conversations with the children, inviting their questions, particularly about God, prayer, important items in your sanctuary, and the like.
- Don’t ask the children to do anything you wouldn’t ask the adults to do.
Do invite the entire congregation to join the children in singing a song or participating in some sort of litany or echo activity together, for example.
- Don’t talk down to the children or insult their intelligence by asking obvious questions. (“What day is it today?!”)
Do invite the children to wonder aloud about big picture concepts such as God, Love, Jesus’ miracles, etc. Ask imagining questions, such as “Why do you think we use water to baptize?” and allow the children to share their wisdom with the rest of the congregation.
- Don’t use this time to prepare the adults for the sermon or to get a laugh from the congregation at the children’s expense.
Do tell a (Bible) story from memory to engage the children in the narrative through verbal imagery, then trust that they will take from it what they are developmentally ready to hear.
- Don’t ask questions with one “right” answer.
Do ask questions that allow the children to get at all aspects of the topic. For example, “What do we know about God’s Love?”
Our time with children is precious and we want to be sure that we are modeling the best examples of what the Church has to offer as they grow in faith. May we all love this time with the children as we nurture them with God’s Love.
Click here for more resources about children’s messages.
Debbie Gline Allen is the Minister of Faith Formation, Youth and Families for the Southern New England Conference.