Preacher, What’s on Your Kids Menu?
My family loves to eat out. Burger joints, Thai food, sushi, pizza, whatever. Fine dining or fast food. If you can name it, we’ve likely eaten it. And in our extensive amount of gastronomic experiences, one thing has been true of every restaurant: they all had a kids menu.
I mean, even fast-food restaurants, whose entire menu is essentially a gigantic kids menu, have a special section just for kids. McDonald’s Happy Meals anyone? Restaurants understand that if they can’t feed kids, then they won’t appeal to families and those families will find another restaurant.
I bring this up because when most parents come to a new church, they ask the pastor the same question they ask the restaurant hostess. What’s on your kids menu? They want to know if you have spiritual food for their children. Thankfully, most churches do have a kids menu. On it are things like children’s ministry classes, Vacation Bible School, youth group, and Awana. But one menu item is often absent: the sermon.
Yes, I realize that basically, all churches have a sermon. My concern is that many (most?) sermons don’t have anything for the kids. In that sense, the sermon isn’t just a menu item. It’s a veritable restaurant unto itself. So let me ask the same question to preachers about their sermons: Preacher, what’s on your kids menu?
Do you address kids in your sermons on a regular basis? Do you take time to explain certain things in such a way that kids can understand? When you help adults in your congregation think about how to apply the text to their lives, do you also help kids?
As you labor in the study to put together a feast for your congregation on Sundays, remember to include menu items that kids can eat as well. In order to help you do that, I want to share with you three menu items I have regularly included in my preaching that have, by God’s grace, caused the kids to engage more with the sermons and grow in love for God’s Word. The great thing about these is that you already have them in your preaching pantry. You just need to prepare them a bit differently for the kids.
The first menu item I want to encourage you to include in your preaching is questions. Make a habit of asking the kids questions about the text. Call them out as a group. Say something like, “Kids, I have a question for you. Can any of you tell me…?”
You’ll want to think about the ages of the kids in your congregation and the types of questions they would be capable of answering. Given that kids’ cognitive abilities develop quickly, you might even think about asking questions to specific groups of kids. “I have a question for the 5–7-year-olds… for the 7–10-years-olds… for the 10–13 year-olds… for the teenager…” Be as specific as you like, just be sure to vary it up.
I’m currently preaching through Genesis and have asked all sorts of questions to the kids. When talking about God being a shield, I asked the younger kids what shields are used for. When talking about the covenant God made with Noah, I asked the teens to name the major covenants of the Old Testament. While explaining why Lot and Abram separated, I asked the kids what would happen if I put 10 of them in a room with only enough toys for two of them. In response, they correctly yelled, “We would fight!”
The payoff of this simple practice is huge because kids love answering questions. Eyes will light up, and hands will shoot up. Consistently dripping in a couple of questions every week will do wonders for their engagement.
The second menu item I want to encourage you to include for kids is age-appropriate illustrations. Illustrations are important for everyone in the congregation, but especially for the kids. They not only capture their attention but can bring to life glorious biblical truths they might otherwise miss.
Here’s the thing though: when you’re preparing illustrations for kids, you need to use kid-friendly ingredients. This probably won’t come as a surprise to you, but illustrations drawn from your marriage, your work, or current events can be just as difficult for kids to process as the biblical truths you’re trying to illustrate. When you’re working on an illustration for kids, think about the types of things that capture their imagination.
When talking about our powerlessness to defeat sin, paint a picture for the little boys that shows how impossible it would be to defeat a massive army if they only had nerf guns and plastic swords. When talking to teen girls, tell them to imagine how amazing it would be if they were friends with Taylor Swift and could call her anytime they wanted. Then tell them how much more amazing it is that they're friends with God and can talk to him whenever they want. If you want children to know how much grace God pours out on us, tell them about the giant water bucket at Great Wolf Lodge that, when poured out, regularly knocks kids off their feet. (Check it out on YouTube if you don’t know what I’m talking about!)
From Daniel Tiger to Narnia, from Dude Perfect to amusement parks, from feeling scared in the dark to getting caught doing something wrong, the list of ways to illustrate biblical truths in a kid-friendly way is endless. Try to get into their world to make the meal you’ve prepared more edible for them.
Also, when you’re using illustrations for kids, don’t be afraid to get animated and be more expressive than normal. This may not come naturally to some preachers, but I want to encourage it nonetheless. Kids love seeing stories acted out, and getting into character for a few moments is a great way to make a passage come alive. The goal here isn’t silliness for silliness’ sake, but to capture their imagination and fill their mind with the greatness of God.
The third and final menu item I want to encourage you to include is kid-specific applications. I assume a key part of your sermon each week is thoughtfully helping your congregation apply the text to their lives. As you do that, consider including a couple of points of application for the kids.
One of the most effective ways to teach kids they aren’t spectators at church is by speaking directly to them about how they should live in light of what the Bible says. Consider the various commands we encounter in Scripture—commands like do not fear, put off anger, walk by faith, hope in God, and speak the truth in love, among others. Then think of the types of situations that arise in life in which kids can obey these commands.
Kids, notice what this passage teaches us. It teaches us that there is a connection between faith and being a peacemaker. Those who walk by faith will want to be peacemakers; they will want to give up their rights for the sake of unity. Does that describe you?
Would your parents say you’re a peacemaker? Do you look for ways to make peace with your siblings, or do you look for ways to get what you want? Would your siblings say that you’re the type of person who willingly gives up your rights for their sake, or do you always take for yourself the best seat, the best food, the best controller, the best clothing?
Just a little bit of application goes a long way.
And when it comes to application, you’ll again want to consider the different ages of the kids in your congregation. Application for elementary schoolers will be different than application for teenagers. You can speak to teenagers in much the same way you speak to adults; however, I’d still encourage addressing them as a group so they realize you’ve prepared part of the meal for them.
You can talk with teens about the idols of the world like self-expression, popularity, and power; you can help them think through cultural issues related to gender or race; you can help them wrestle with difficult concepts like the Trinity, God’s will, or eternal judgment. Some of the most fruitful and encouraging conversations I’ve had after church have been with teenagers who want to think more about how to apply the sermon to their lives.
We want our kids to know that the church is for them, Jesus is for them, and eternal life is for them, so let’s speak to them in our sermons. Consider adding these items to your kids menu, and in time, you’ll find a growing appetite among the kids.