The secret of a good all-age talk

Here are my Ten Commandments of speaking in an all-age context. What are yours?

1. Don’t call all-age services ‘Family Services’

However nicely you put it, using the term ‘family’ in any title will put off the (on average) 40% of your congregation who are not in a nuclear family. Even ‘Church Family’ does it. If the service is for all ages, then say so. Let it do what it says on the tin!

2. Not everyone has children—but everyone has been a child

It is important not to appeal to the experience of children through the lens of parenthood, since this will exclude (painfully) those who are not or cannot be parents. However, it is fine to appeal directly to the experience of children since all have been children and all can observe how children behave. To make use of personal disclosure in preaching, share some of your own experiences of different stages of life.

If Jesus is right, there is something about the experience of children and young people which gives a unique window into what it means to be human before God.

3. Don’t dilute your content; just express it simply and clearly

I don’t believe there is any theological truth which, with creativity, cannot be expressed in a way that children can grasp. If it is too complicated for children, then it is too complicated. Look how simple Jesus’ explanations and illustrations are in his teaching.

4. Treat children like any other group in the congregation you are addressing

Pastoral encounter forms an essential part of preaching, since it is our encounters with others that tell us some of the assumptions, issues and challenges they are living with. For all those we are speaking to, we need to be asking how the passage or theological principle might affect them in their lives—and we need to do just the same, no more and no less, for children and young people.

5. Don’t say anything without a concrete illustration

By this I mean an artefact, a picture, or a visual illustration. If you are a very good storyteller or you are expert at inciting the imagination, you may be able to get away without this. But normally you need to have a concrete illustration for each point you make. Scripture is full of metaphors, and these are often good starting points for your illustrations.

6. The illustration must serve the point

If you illustrate being the salt of the earth with salt (what an idea!) then what you say about the salt must show something about what it means for us to be salt, and vice versa. Don’t make people taste the salt (yuk!) and then suggest that salt adds nice flavour.

7. If you bring people up front, make it a good experience

Welcome them up, affirm what they say (it might be ‘interesting’ even if it is not what you are looking for), thank them, invite applause, offer a reward, and thank them personally afterwards. In this regard, learn a lesson from television presenters and pantomime starts.

Don’t forget to invite up all ages of people, and make sure you and they address the congregation (not just each other). If you humiliate them, they will remember it to their dying day!

8. Rehearse everything as it will be on the morning

Do the pieces of the cardboard body stick as they are supposed to? Do the images tie in with the music? Does it all work? Sunday is too late to find out! So make sure you find out on Saturday or before.

9. If you can, learn it

If you are giving eg a ten-minute talk, with perhaps three points, you should be able to remember what your three points are. If you cannot, how will they? You may well need prompts because of nerves; make them inconspicuous as possible (record cards work well).

10. Invest the time—it is worth it

Adults will usually learn more from a good all-age talk than from a sermon. My consistent experience is that men engage with good all-age more than any other, since they are often kinaesthetic learners, and all-age is a rare occasion when things happen in a kinaesthetic way.

And last but not least, enjoy yourself. If you do, others will too. And joy is a great aid to encounter and learning.


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2 thoughts on “The secret of a good all-age talk”

  1. Here is my email comment, which as Ian points out refers not just to the talk, but also the service:
    I find this a good set of guidelines. I’ve experience so many all age services that have, at some point fallen down. It’s normally when the leadership try to fit in a sermon which is invariably too long, and so the children (amongst others?) turn off.

    I wouldn’t impose long boring hymns on children, and I’d appreciate it if I wasn’t told to join in with action songs that even as a child I have hated.Just allow me to observe if that’s what I want.

    Don’t make us all join hands with the people next to us! That’s the point when the “guest”, who has survived so far wishes he’d never come, and I wouldn’t blame him!


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