Planning a worship service can feel like a race against time: what all can fit in approximately 60 minutes? Besides the non-negotiables, such as the sermon and the offering, is there actually time in every service for confession and assurance? How about the Lord’s Supper? What about a children’s message? I started out a skeptic, but I’ve come to see a lot of value in children’s messages.
My introduction to children’s messages
About five years ago, I joined American Reformed Church in Orange City, Iowa. In each Sunday service, this congregation includes a children’s message connected to that morning’s sermon. Soon after becoming a member, I was asked to be one of the lay people who deliver the three-to-five-minute messages.
My initial response was, “Who, me?” The bulk of my teaching career has been among college students, not children. After 30 years of teaching young adults, could I be understood by children? Could I find a child-friendly point that connected to every sermon? And how would I account for the layers of audience (the children, the rest of the congregation, and the eventual local television audience) who would listen to my little talk?
Let’s be honest: we have heard bad children’s messages—those with vocabulary and jargon that flew over the children’s heads, those that used elaborate metaphors that didn’t work in the minds of concrete thinkers, those that went on too long (while Jimmy helped himself to some communion bread), and those that were designed to entertain adults rather than make a simple point to kids.
Even after weighing all these concerns, I said I would try. Now, after four years of delivering these little talks from the top step near the pulpit, the children’s message is a service component that I would hate to see squeezed out.
The importance of the children’s message
The children’s message sends an audio and visual message to children: you are an integral part of this congregation. There is a reserved time and place in the service for little children to escape the rows and patter to the front to sit at the feet of a teacher. The whole service is for everyone, but this element is specially designed for attendees in their early stages of cognitive and spiritual development.
And this point I feel strongly about: the children’s message is for the grown-ups, too. Several adults, especially our elderly members, tell me that the children’s message deeply engages them and prepares them for the extended message to come.
Whereas the main sermon relies primarily on auditory learning, the children’s message often appeals to other senses as well. Young children do not think abstractly very well, and frankly, neither do I. Examples help me to understand; maybe you’re the same way. Our members with intellectual challenges may also resonate with multi-sensory delivery.
The children’s message contributes to faith formation. It helps children (and the rest of us) come to a deeper understanding of God, the Bible, the church, and God’s world. Of course, to be effective in this mission, the children’s message must be done well. As you think about—and maybe even prepare—children’s sermons, I hope you can understand the potential to bring a word from God to the kids and to the rest of us, too.
Tips for preparing meaningful children’s messages
Here are key points that I keep in mind as I prepare.
- After getting sermon information from the pastor and doing my own study, I determine one point to communicate to the children.
- The message simply must be engaging. To keep the children’s attention with me, I often incorporate visuals, tangibles, dramatic aspects, or other elements of surprise. Sometimes other congregation members play roles in the message.
- The message must be short. Five minutes is the maximum time we can expect kids to sit at the front of the church among their friends without getting restless. A good word can easily be said in three to five minutes.
- Not all speakers may need to totally script out their children’s messages, but I do. Typing the message helps me stay focused on one point, choose words carefully, and stick to the time limit.
- Practice may not make perfect, but if I say the message aloud at home enough times, I can deliver it on Sunday without the script, allowing me to maintain eye contact with the children.
Examples help me to understand, and maybe they help you too. So below is an example of one of my children’s messages, at least its script. Read it aloud and imagine the visuals. Hopefully you can understand my defense of the children’s message and its potential to bring a word from God to the kids and to the rest of us too.
Sample Children’s Message
A communion Sunday
Scripture: Mark 2:13–17
Sermon topic: the Lord’s Table
- 4 big cardboard pieces that represent parts of a table
- 10 paper plates
- glue or tape
The pastors are going to talk about a story in the Bible from the book of Mark. In this story, Jesus goes over to Levi’s house and has a meal at Levi’s table.
At my house, we have a table that looks a little like this one:
(Have two big pieces of cardboard with three paper plates glued or taped each. Ask two children to stand up and hold the pieces up in front of them, with the pieces touching each other like two parts of a table.)
How many people can sit around this table? Yes, this table comfortably seats six people.
But we like to invite people over for dinner, for lunch, for brunch—whenever! So sometimes we have to add what are called leaves to the table to expand it. We have three leaves. We have to pull apart the main table and put the leaves in the middle.
(Have three pieces of cardboard with two paper plates each, representing table leaves. Ask three children to hold these leaves in between the original two.)
When we add these leaves to the middle, how many people can sit around our table? Shall we count together? Yes, 12!
(Thank the table holders and invite them to sit down.)
I’m thinking that God has a big table too. My question is, how many leaves do you think God has at his table? I think that he has an infinite number—too many to count. There is always room for more at the Lord’s table.
God invites everyone to come to his table—young, old, rich, poor, healthy, sick, people from the snow of Iowa or the tropical forest of Nicaragua or the mountains of Japan. Everyone is invited. To quote our pastors, “God’s table is beautiful and spacious.” Today, I invite you to take a cracker and remember that you, too, are invited to God’s table.