A minister friend told me recently that in his next church there will be no children's talks in the morning service. Kids' ministry (which he strongly believes in) will happen separately, in Sunday school.
There's reasons for and against having kids' talks in church. The main reason against is that they are often poorly done. They are cringeworthy and of dubious educational benefit.
To hit the mark, a talk must:
To hit the mark, a talk must:
- be absolutely true to the bible,
- be crystal clear about the one point that it is teaching (the big idea of the passage it is based on) and not get distracted with other stuff,
- be age appropriate (there's a knack to finding the correct level to pitch it at in a multi-age group),
- be concrete without losing the subtleties and nuances of the passage,
- be presented in an engaging, energetic and creative way so the kids can't help but be drawn in,
- be entertaining for the adults,
- keep the kids under control (no one likes to watch kids misbehave)
- be pretty short, and
- fit with the broader flow and feel of the service
A decent adult's sermon takes at least 10 hours to write. Most people won't have anything like that amount of time to spend on a kids talk. If you have a kids' talk in church each week, the chance of it not hitting the mark most of the time is pretty high. Even if you employ a 'professional' (a teacher or a someone with a degree in theology) to give the talks, the results are often still disappointing. (IMO, the skills/personality required to give good kids talks are quite different from the skill set of the general classroom teacher.)
So why try to do kids' talks at all?
Well, I don't think every church should.
Kids talks (done well) are a fantastic addition to a church service. The children feel that the main church service is for them. Parents get to see what their kids are learning. Adults learn along with the kids (this is particularly helpful for people with English as a second language or lower literacy levels). Kids talks can add a fun element to the service. The importance of children's ministry can be highlighted and kids' ministers get an opportunity to profile what they do. Furthermore, having kids' talks in church makes it easier for the church's leaderships - minister(s) and elders - to oversee what is happening in children's ministry. If it is off track, action can be taken.
But kids talks done poorly detract from the service. Generally, the bigger the church, the more professional the kids' talk needs to be just to be adequate. If kids are taught exclusively in Sunday school, then different teaching methods can be used. Small group leading requires a different (and more common) skill set to up front teaching. With preparation and basic training, most Christians will be able to teach a group of 5 or so kids. Good small group teaching will achieve much more than poor up front teaching and will be more achievable than up front teaching for most churches.
So my friend's next church won't be having kids' talks.
But most churches aren't about to give up on kids' talks. How can the pain be minimised?
In my experience, most kids' talks suffer most in their 'hinges', in their pitching, and in their delivery.
The 'hinges' between the different parts of the kids talk are really hard to do well, particularly the hinge between the opening illustration or story and the direct teaching part of the talk. If the connections aren't really clear in your mind and seamlessly executed, then you'll lose the kids. I usually spend as much time working on the hinges as the rest of the talk. I find they work best if I've flagged where I'm going right from the start so that the 'moral of the story' isn't just an awkward add on.
Pitching a kids' talk is also a real challenge. If there are kids in the church from 0 to 16 it can seem really perplexing deciding where to aim your address. But the trick is to not worry about ages but worry about clarity. A five year old can understand (at a basic level) just about any biblical doctrine if it is taught properly and a four year old, a fourteen year old and a forty year old will all be fascinated by a story that is told well. If you don't know where to pitch your talk, don't worry about it. Work out exactly (EXACTLY!) what you want to teach and when you are absolutely clear (ABSOLUTELY CLEAR!) about your big idea, teach it by telling a story well, flagging your big idea from the start. Object lessons (where you take along an object and draw out some similarity between the object and God or something (I've bought along this ring today. Look at it. See how shiny it is? It's very precious to me. Something else that's precious to me is the bible/Jesus/?)) are much more likely to fail than stories. Chances are that you'll hold no one's attention.
The delivery of kids talks is also tricky. You have to be enthusiastic. You have to be confident. You have to present in such a way as your draw kids (and adults) in. You have to be seen as exciting or interesting or as a close friend. Different people will achieve this in different ways and while everyone can learn to do it better, some people will never be able to do it really well.
That's all for now. Thoughts? Does your church have kids' talks in church or does it focus on its Sunday school program? Do you have strong feelings one way or the other?