Summary: Preaching to an all-age congregation is something we all find hard to do. Here sre some tips on how to make it a positive experience for all.
Preaching at an All-Age service
Preaching at an all-age service is for many of us, the most difficult environment in which to speak. I prefer speaking to adults, either in an evangelistic setting, or in Bible teaching. And many of us, though not specialists, can turn our hand at a children’s talk from time to time.
I, for one, am glad when the children go to their classes. Not because they are relegated though! It is just that little bit easier when the span of your audience is not so wide.
Having said all that, the church is a family! At home, my dad went to work before I got up for school. My mum got us up, gave us breakfast, and took us to school. But at some point during the day, perhaps meal times, we were all together. We all had our own level – school, college, university, or work and our own interests, but there were times when together, we celebrated as one family.
Some of our best services have been all-age, and so have some of our worst! So what makes the difference?
Of course, as with all preaching, prayer and preparation are key. But it is not enough to simply say ‘prepare and pray!’ Here are some key elements to help you engage everyone with God’s Word in an all-age environment…
1. Be Joined-up
As far as possible, ensure that the first part of the service is all-age inclusive! This may sound obvious, but it really isn’t. If others in the church are planning the first part of the service, they need to be sure to include the children. Boring notices (even the adults don’t listen), long repetitive songs, and dull, expressionless scripture reading (not the scriptures, but how they are read), long monotonous prayers… If the children are bored by the time you get up to preach, then the adults will be distracted, and nobody will be listening.
2. Be Interesting
This means story-style, narrative preaching. You may be the greatest champion of expository, verse by verse preaching. You might even be interesting and worth listening to. However, Jesus regularly spoke to mixed-sex, all-age audiences. When his disciples wanted the children excluded, he reproached them “Let the little children come to me!” Mark 10 v 13-16
Much of Jesus teaching to the crowds was story, narrative, parable. A good story, well told, is like a picture – worth 1,000 words!
For me, a simple retelling of a Bible story, is a wonderful way to preach all-age. For example, last week I retold the prodigal. I didn’t update it, just retold it, explaining it as I went. Doing this you can explain…
• Why asking for the money was like saying “I wish you were dead…”
• Why being rich doesn’t equal being happy
• Why not all friends are good friends
• Why working with pigs was a dirty job
• Why God wants us back, whatever we’ve done
• Why being religious is as bad as being a rebel
I introduced both sons at the start, and explained that we’d come back to the older one later…
Explaining the story as I went meant that I never lost the flow; kept picking up the story; could make useful asides for adults (‘he had a different girlfriend every night,’ ‘maybe you are running away, and it’s time to come back,’ etc.); and never lost the attention of the children.
Too often, we retell, or read the story in 5 minutes and then spend half an hour preaching on it, and lose the children.
In Narrative, story-telling preaching, the story IS the message.
3. Be Visual
On feeding 5,000, a child gave the visual-aid, which not only became central to the miracle, but also to the retelling of it. Jesus was always pointing out every day, or unusual visible reminders or occurrences that brought depth and clarity to his stories and sermons…
• The temple
• Shepherds and sheep
• Sowers and seeds
• People – fathers, sons, mothers, judges etc.
There is hardly a story that Christ told, that he did not visually represent, or could not be clearly imagined by his hearers.
His stories were earthy, relational, real, believable, and always to the point!
In the age in which we live it is almost inexcusable to not visually represent your message in an all-age context. This can include…
• Great pictures
• Video clips
• Objects lessons
4. Be interactive
On illustrating the Kingdom, Jesus had a child stand amongst them. Matthew 18v 1-5. On other occasions Jesus asked questions of his audience, interacted with key characters, and generally engaged them in His teaching.
Too often, our preaching is one-dimensional, in the sense that ‘we speak – they listen!’ Interaction can be very daunting for many of us. However, why not consider…