The Children’s Address, as it used to be called, remains the highlight of the service for some.
It’s an open secret that most children’s talks are the main thing that the adults remember long after the sermon has become hazy. It’s also an open secret that most ministers, if they haven’t managed to contract out the kids’ talk, have, at least, half an eye on the adults when preparing.
At our church, prior to Covid, we had all but stopped kid’s talks. This was partly because we were using teaching material that follows a different plan to that of the ‘sermons’. It seemed confused to initiate two narratives for the children.
Post Covid, we have yet to recommence the children’s work and all services are currently ‘All Age’. So, the kids’ talks are back on. Accompanying the main ‘sermon’ we usually provide a worksheet that includes the ever popular sermon bingo.
The kids talks are being given by a range of people from the congregation. What has struck me is the variety and creativity with which these are delivered. They come with visual aids, songs, video, worksheets, and crafts all illustrating what is being said.
In contrast, the ‘sermons’ have a lot more talking and a lot less creative illustration. Why? Why do we teach adults in a way that is much less creative and varied?
Is there an underlying belief that creative illustrations and participation in practical activities are childish? That would concur with my experience of school where primary eduction was play-based but later education was often more like a lecture. I hope that schools have moved on from this approach.
Similarly, even tertiary education appears to have moved on from lectures to greater use of discussion and practicals. Of course, the lecture is still perhaps the most effective way of delivering information to large audiences. Or at least it was until the arrival of massive online meetings. But churches may be alone in their fairly monochrome approach to plenary communication.
People will sit for long periods and listen. Just look at the success of stand up or TED talks. But neither of these examples is supposed to be an all encompassing approach to educating the audience.
Over the years we have tried more interactive and creative approaches. Once a month our church has/had the ‘Breakfast Service.’ This is just as it sounds, a worship event that includes breakfast sitting around small tables.
More recently we added a more discursive approach to teaching. We started with a variation of Nigel Barge’s ‘Hearing the Word’ method. For the first 15 minutes, each table simply read the text and asked questions. In the first section you were not allowed to answer the questions. Afterwards in plenary, each table selected some questions to share and an attempt was made, from the front, to answer these. The other tables were also welcome to share their own answers. All this was supported by a homemade worksheet that displayed related images and encouraged reflection and drawing, even by the adults.
As you can imagine, this was met with mixed responses. Anecdotally, it did seem that often that those who were ‘unchurched’ or ‘less-churched’ were more open to this approach to learning in a church service.
The question still to be answered is, does such an approach constitute a legitimate way of preaching the Gospel? The answer, I suspect, will depend on whether, or not, you think that Preaching the Gospel requires a particular form of communication.