A children’s message is not meant to be a watered-down version of the regular sermon or a preview of the “real” message. It’s a great opportunity for everyone to experience the Scripture and/or theme of the day from a varied perspective and it’s meant to stand on its own and function as an important part of worship. Children’s messages deserve respect and careful preparation.
My husband, who is both an ordained ELCA pastor and an elementary teacher, has a knack for creating and giving children’s sermons. Here’s a bit of his wisdom. Enjoy!
1. Keep it short.
Long childen’s sermons lose both the children and adult listeners. Kids are usually excited to be up front; if you don’t hold their attention, there are many interesting people for them to engage in the congregation other than you.
2. Think missional, not moral.
It’s easy to turn children’s sermons into moral lessons–treat each other nicely, listen to your parents, clean your room, be a good person–yet kids get great moral lessons in school. What unique voice does the church have for them? Being a good person isn’t the only goal; we’re already loved wholly by God. The grace and mercy of God sends us out into the world. Kids of any age are capable of doing mission. They’re called! Tell them God loves them as they are, and give them ways to live out their identities as children of God. Obedience is not the only goal; thriving as God’s created and loved child in the world is also the goal.
3. Use metaphor carefully.
Most children who come forward for children’s sermons aren’t developmentally ready for metaphor. If you find yourself saying, “God is like..,” you may be getting too complex. Children need concrete examples. It’s difficult for them to understand that prayer is like a reliable, well-worn shoe we wear every day. Instead, tell them that prayer is how we talk to God and give them a few ways to pray, such as giving thanks and praying for others. Tell them they don’t have to write a letter or call God on a phone, but they can talk to God anytime. It may feel too simple, but these are the questions children ask. Trust it!
4. Use their senses.
Read a book. Have them eat crackers (check for allergies). Paint a picture. Give them fabric to touch. Sing a song. Do a dance. Every sensory experience you provide will draw them into the message and deepen their learning.
5. Take some risks.
They’re not always going to work. Kids are inherently unpredictable. That’s part of the fun, and gives this part of the worship service a fresh, engaging feel.
6. Make sure everyone can hear the kids.
The congregation often can’t hear what the kids are saying. Always repeat the kids’ comments and questions into your microphone before you respond. This serves a practical purpose, but it also shows everyone you’re listening to the kids, seeking to correctly understand them, and taking what they say seriously.
Children’s books often repeat words and phrases, and you can incorporate this technique into your message. Call and response is fun, such as, “God is good. All the time!” or “Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!” My congregation has a long history of ending every children’s message with, “All God’s children say…Amen!”
8. Engage the congregation.
If you ask the kids a question, have the congregation answer it too. If you take a poll (like asking kids to raise their hands if they pray before meals, or are excited for Christmas, or help with chores at home), have the congregation raise their hands. If you do a call and response, have the congregation participate (see above). If you ask the kids to repeat you during a prayer, have the congregation repeat the prayer as well. Send the kids into the congregation to bless them and be blessed.
9. Treat the kids with dignity.
Children’s comments and questions during the message often incite laughter from the congregation. While this may be appropriate at times, please remember to listen to kids attentively, affirm them, and avoid joking at their expense. Their thoughts, questions and ideas are important to them and help everyone learn, and they deserve respectful responses.
10. Keep it simple.
It’s hard to go too simple with a children’s message. Don’t be afraid to structure your whole message around retelling the day’s Scripture story from a children’s Bible. This gives everyone a chance to experience Scripture from another point of view, and it reinforces the idea that Scripture is relevant and important enough to stand on its own.