By Joelle Yamada
I have recently visited a number of Protestant churches and have been surprised to find that many have forgone a “Sunday School” time before church and instead have the children in “Children’s Church” during the main service time. This seems to serve two purposes: first, it cuts church time almost in half and second, there are no kids in the main service to be disruptive to their parents or others.
Though I appreciate that the children are then receiving biblical teaching gauged at their age level, I am concerned. The world these children live in is constantly trying to get their attention and the most entertaining generally wins. Unfortunately, this is teaching our kids to need to be entertained. Most kids no longer know how to sit quietly for 30 minutes, entertaining themselves or paying attention to something they might deem “boring.”
In services where children are still present, it is my hope that pastors will become more adept at pulling kids into the service. A children’s story, school-aged kids involved in reading scripture, performing for special music and dismissing pews at the end of the service are all ways children can be a part of the overall service. But ideally, the kids would also begin to learn how to listen to the sermon as well. We don’t expect that a seven year old will make it attentively through a 30 minutes sermon, but if they were engaged by at least part of it, that’s a step in the right direction.
There are many ways for a pastor to include children in his sermons, but here are three suggestions:
1. Word Count – Philip Knoche was my pastor in California as a child. Each week before his sermon began, he’d give the kids a word to listen for and keep track of—a word he knew would be repeatedly used during his talk (cross, baptism, forgiveness, etc.). I’d begin my tally and usually managed to pay attention through the whole thing. I’d whisper the number to him on the way out and would always get a little piece of candy or gum for being right. It was not until much later that I realized he probably had no idea how many times he’d said it and was just rewarding us for paying attention.
2. Props – Children need concrete visualizations to learn until well into high school. The allegories and ethereal wording we often use in our sermons (faith, righteousness, grace) are totally over their heads. But if you bring a puzzle or a loaf of bread or a saxophone or whatever would visually illustrate a story you’re telling or an example you’re giving, all eyes will be on you.
3. Start with a simple story – If you can engage children with a story at the beginning of your sermon, they will naturally listen a beyond the story. It doesn’t have to be a “children’s story”-type, but any story told in an animated fashion will engage children.
Joelle Yamada is a freelance writer and mother to small children. Better Sermons © 2005-2007. Click here for usage guidelines.