The Children’s Talk: Critiquing Current Practice

I’ve been tasked with reviewing the aim and focus of the ‘all-age talk’ or ‘children’s talk’ at the church where I serve as Youth Minister. We are a pretty conservative Baptist church with a fairly set form of service (affectionately known as a ‘hymn-prayer sandwich’). The Junior Church leave approximately half way through the service and head into their own groups for age-specific teaching. But before they go we have the mini-talk which is aimed at them.

For a few years there has been confusion over the title and aim of this talk. Some refer to it as the ‘children’s talk’ and argue that it should be aimed at the children (4-12 years?) with others calling it an ‘all-age talk’ which should be aimed at everyone present (0-90ish?). It was primarily this issue (the name and focus of the talk) that it is my challenge to resolve. But as I scratch the surface of the issue it feels very much like opening Pandora’s box.

Whichever understanding you have of its purpose, in reality the talk rarely hits the mark. Frequently too long, rarely engaging, sometimes indecipherable even to the most switched-on people present, regularly pitched nowhere in particular and occasionally seen as an opportunity to say something to the adult church that you’ve been wanting to say for a while but could never find the right place or time.

There is little doubt that the initial thought/aim was to make the first part of the service more interesting (you might even say bearable?) for the children & young people. I’m sure it was well intentioned – but we’re still a long way off achieving that. Our approach to involving children and young people is very tokenistic (we also ‘allow’ the young people to collect the offering). Clearly something must be done.

At present, at the very least (in my opinion) we need to:
– firmly establish the aim & focus of the slot
– provide training to volunteers on the rota
– produce guidelines & practical advice to assist volunteers in their preparations
– provide feedback to volunteers after each slot with the aim of helping them to improve (not to knock them down)

However, I think a far more radical approach is called for (gasp!). But I’ve said enough for now.

Over to you…

Do you have any thoughts/comments/wisdom to share? Please take a minute or two to describe how you engage children & young people in your services, and if you have any nuggets of wisdom to share – positive (‘this works well…’) or negative (‘here’s how not to do it!’).

20 Comments

  1. Your comments bring into debate the total structure of the service, i.e. ref to the 'hymn-prayer sandwich', which is a whole debate in itself, not dealt with in the comments below.

    For the present 'young people's / all-age talk', I can agree with some but not all of your comments, viz:

    1. "Whichever understanding you have of its purpose, in reality the talk rarely hits the mark." – Rarely? I would say more like 80% acceptable for all-age or 20% for youngsters.

    2. "Frequently too long" – I believe an exaggeration – more like 'occasionally too long'.

    3. "rarely engaging" – as (1) above.

    4. "sometimes indecipherable even to the most switched-on people present" – a bit harsh but perhaps true of 20% of presenters.

    5. "regularly pitched nowhere in particular and occasionally seen as an opportunity to say something to the adult church that you’ve been wanting to say for a while but could never find the right place or time" – Agree is open to abuse in this way, so perhaps subject or content should be vetted before use? On the other hand do we want freedom of expression?

    Agreed with: "At present, at the very least (in my opinion) we need to:

    – firmly establish the aim & focus of the slot

    – provide training to volunteers on the rota

    – produce guidelines & practical advice to assist volunteers in their preparations

    – provide feedback to volunteers after each slot with the aim of helping them to improve (not to knock them down)"

    General comment: It has been said that this slot 'has had its day' but that came from people who had run out of ideas. Many of the congregation actually look forward to this slot, especially from particular presenters on the rota who seem to have a natural ability to command attention and offer interaction and challenging thoughts. There is a naughty streak in me that anticipates and waits for bad habits, such as the presenter walking up to the pulpit, taking out notes from an inside pocket and unconsciously creating a din by unravelling them in slow motion in front of the microphone! This is one area where presentational training would be useful.

    Thanks for the opportunity to comment. "Engaging … nuggets of wisdom" etc need more prep … to follow later in the debate.

    • Hi Douglas – thanks for the comments.

      Forgive me if you think I’ve overstated it, but perhaps the bad practice sticks in my head more than the great stuff. I should also say that I don’t exclude myself from the bad practice category either – I’m sure I’ve delivered some shockers over the years.

      ‘many of the congregation actually look forward to this slot’ – hmm, I wonder what this says about the rest of the service?!

    • :: Your comments bring into debate the total structure of the service,

      I think that's definately a debate which needs to be had, and some of my thinking around the children's talk/all-age worship issue has the potential to impact this, but I won't be discussing it in detail. The scope has already widened far enough ;0)

  2. Hi Ricky!

    from my experience what may be intended as a childrens talk, when presented is accepted by children of all ages :-) We are all children of God and hopefully all children at heart! I've also known the minitalk to be labled "setting the scene" sometimes for the rest of the service or what the children will be doing in their own activities – these I find to be the very worst examples of minitalk!

    I prefer to think of it as being the all age talk as it happens when the whole church family is together. Although if you really want to engage with youngsters then it is good to try an engage more than just their sense of hearing – something visual too is good or even smelly, and eating is always well received! ( I can let you have a chocolate mediatation that draws on nearly all the senses! )

    What is the minitalk contained within? I wonder whether it comes within a section of all age worship within the main plan of the service

    I'm guessing not. But it is an idea!

    I really should be doing something else right now! so will leave it there, but look forward to other comments with interest! :-)

    • Thanks Angela.

      The setting the scene argument doesn’t really work in our context as there isn’t a common theme to the teaching in church or the junior chruch groups each week. In fact each week, whilst the young people are still in the church we have a Bible reading which relates to the later sermon, but it rarely relates to the Children’s talk and is never explained to the young people.

      I definately agree about the need to engage other senses and not just auditory. That’s often a fairly easy way to increase engagement, but as it generally involves a little more work it can be overlooked.

  3. Hi Douglas – thanks for the comments.

    Forgive me if you think I've overstated it, but perhaps the bad practice sticks in my head more than the great stuff. I should also say that I don't exclude myself from the bad practice category either – I'm sure I've delivered some shockers over the years.

    'many of the congregation actually look forward to this slot' – hmm, I wonder what this says about the rest of the service?!

  4. Thanks Angela.

    The setting the scene argument doesn't really work in our context as there isn't a common theme to the teaching in church or the junior chruch groups each week. In fact each week, whilst the young people are still in the church we have a Bible reading which relates to the later sermon, but it rarely relates to the Children's talk and is never explained to the young people.

    I definately agree about the need to engage other senses and not just auditory. That's often a fairly easy way to increase engagement, but as it generally involves a little more work it can be overlooked.

  5. You're right about first establishing the focus and aim.

    When that's done you will have also answered the questions of what to call it, when it happens and who does it.

    (btw I have fond memories of a singing fish trophy and someone falling asleep on the train. Which just proves we were listening sometimes.)

    Regarding content and context, the talk should at least line up with the Bible readings and sermon.

    As Angela said, all the senses should be involved but especially visual.

    Some churches have the children come to the front for the talk.

    I like to consider what families are talking about when they go home… is the children's talk helping families unpack what God has said to them that morning? Is it encouraging further discussion? Will it cause families to act on what they've heard?

    Hetty

    • :: I have fond memories of a singing fish trophy and
      :: someone falling asleep on the train. Which just
      :: proves we were listening sometimes.

      But if you’ve taken away the memory of the singing fish and someone falling asleep on the train, without remembering the real message of the talk, then it has missed the mark.

      :: the talk should at least line up with the Bible readings and sermon

      I totally understand this point of view, but think that would add further confusion in our context, as the theme of the service & sermon is not the theme studied in Junior Church. Each Junior Church group follows different material, and there isn’t a common theme on a particular day. I think adding the additional message can be counter-productive.

      • Give me a break. It was a long time ago!

        There is Sunday School curriculum out there that lines up sermon, family devotions, and Sunday School teaching:)

        Also, kids can handle different messages when given in different places: this is what the pastor said in church and today in Junior Church we heard the story of…

        I'm thinking about the non-kid worshippers who would probably appreciate a common theme.

        Hetty

        • :: There is Sunday School curriculum out there that lines up sermon,
          :: family devotions, and Sunday School teaching:)
          :: I'm thinking about the non-kid worshippers who would probably
          :: appreciate a common theme.

          I know – but my remit is really only supposed to extend to considering the 'all-age' slot – I think suggesting that all Junior Church groups switch their material (and the Minister should follow it too) might make me incredibly unpopular!

          Thanks Hetty

          • We had no experience of the young people's talk until we got to Spurgeon's and just thought it was another one of those quirky English things.
            For a long while I viewed it as the boxed paragraph you find after an article in the Readers Digest. Lighthearted, sometimes thought provoking, sometimes humorous. And sometimes way better than the previous, or the following article.

            May I suggest a series of talks on a particular topic. This would give guidance for the presenter, and control to the leadership. If the pastor wishes to link into the topic with his sermon he can, but it's not imperative.
            Perhaps if you gathered together the regular presenters you might get feedback yourself as to how they see their role, the purpose of the 'talk', etc.

            Hetty (ps what's the radical change you're contemplating?)

          • :: May I suggest a series of talks on a particular topic.

            This is certainly one of the ways forward that I've been considering.

            :: Perhaps if you gathered together the regular presenters
            :: you might get feedback yourself as to how they see their
            :: role, the purpose of the 'talk', etc.

            I hadn't actually considered this – but they would of course be involved in the wider discussion within the Church. Maybe a group meeting would provide some useful input during the process.

            :: (ps what's the radical change you're contemplating?)

            I'm getting to that – honest. I'm finding it hard to make the time to write the next few posts (and even form my thoughts into coherent enough sentences).

  6. :: I have fond memories of a singing fish trophy and

    :: someone falling asleep on the train. Which just

    :: proves we were listening sometimes.

    But if you've taken away the memory of the singing fish and someone falling asleep on the train, without remembering the real message of the talk, then it has missed the mark.

    :: the talk should at least line up with the Bible readings and sermon

    I totally understand this point of view, but think that would add further confusion in our context, as the theme of the service & sermon is not the theme studied in Junior Church. Each Junior Church group follows different material, and there isn't a common theme on a particular day. I think adding the additional message can be counter-productive.

  7. Churches without a "chilren's talk" or whatever you want to call it often just have a bunch of singing before the kids go out. Not sure if that's any better really! But it raises questions as to what the slot is for, and how we engage all ages in worship meaningfully (without wishing to pre-empt the series!). Could that slot be an all age prayer slot or a creed slot rather than a talky teaching slot? And does it make more sense (as has been raised)if the whole church family is following a common curriculum?

    • Thanks for the comment Pete.

      :: (without wishing to pre-empt the series!).

      You're definitely pre-empting the series – all in good time ;o)

Comments are closed.