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Preparing an all age talk

The dreaded all age talk is enough to bring even the most accomplished speaker out in hives. For many churches the all age service, where it still exists, is the one with the lowest attendance. Do you alternate between the adults and the children, or simply focus on the children and expect the adults to understand this service allows children to feel a part of the wider church community?

After one all age service, some of the elders of the church shook my hand with tears in their eyes – “thank you, I needed that encouragement.” Young couples left smiling, “I had never seen it that way.” The youth left saying, “I really want to follow Jesus,” the children came bounding out, “will you be back next week?”

What I am saying to you is this: it is possible to preach God’s word in a way that impacts everyone present. To do this requires us to be intentional in our preparation. It takes me longer to prepare an all age service than any other form of communication. I wanted to share with you the steps that I take to prepare an all age sermon.

Step 1: Get a word from God.

Firstly, and perhaps most obviously my preparation begins in prayer – what does God want to say to his people? It maybe you have a theme given to you already, but this does not give details of what direction the theme should travel in. If you have a Bible passage given to you, study it prayerfully to hear from God the main message that passage gives. If you have the idea of a theme, find the central Bible passage the teaching will be based on.

Step 2: Dig deeper

In many ways I see this step as the most important one in the whole process of preparation. Dig deep into the word of God. This part of the sermon we should be seeking deep truths as if we were going to be delivering the message to the most mature believers of the church. Providing moments of revelation from God’s word and revealing His rhema (now) word for our time.

Milk topics come out naturally in a sermon, meat topics require nurturing and chewing over in our own minds. If we do not have something substantial to say to the adults, then the message will not speak to the whole congregation. The Word of God should undergird the very foundation of the sermon and supply the substance for it. In recent times some sermons use Scripture as a garnish sprinkled on top of a message, cherry picking verses to act as a springboard for the preacher’s points, instead of the very substance for the point that God would want to deliver.

Step 3: Add the illustrations/stories

Many sermons include illustrations from people’s lives to demonstrate how the principles in Scripture are lived out in every day life. When preparing illustrations, I try to think of two illustrations for each point that I share together. One illustration is often targeted at those who are in education (children and young people) the other is for those who go to work. For example, if talking about loving people we might use the example of a social outcast in school and an unkind manager at work. By speaking about both these stages of life from the pulpit we are making it clear that every part of this sermon is intended for the hearing of everybody present.

Step 4: Add the visuals

My general rule of thumb is to have one visual illustration for every key point in the sermon. Visual learners are found among both adults and children. A good visual aid will help stick the point in everyone’s mind. It may involve volunteers from the congregation, props or media. The visuals are not the sermon, the sermon was prepared in step 2, instead they are the mental reminder of the key points.

To put it another way, the illustrations and the visuals are the packaging for the substance. When I give my children a toy, they wade through the packaging to get to the toy itself. The packaging serves to make the toy attractive to the buyer, drawing them in, but the toy is the reason you want it. In the same way God’s word is truth for our lives. “All Scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17.

Step 5: Prepare the ministry

Pray into the response that God’s word will bring in his people. Is it a word to build up and encourage or is it a word to reflect on and bring change? Having prepared the sermon I pray that the key message from that part of God’s word will impact God’s people in a life changing way. Sometimes I pray for the congregation by generations as I think about their response. Other times I pray for them in categories: Not saved, struggling in faith, mature believers, etc. Soften the ground for God’s word in prayer, so that when you start to speak hearts are prepared for the good seed of God’s word to be sown and bear fruit.

Step 6: Accept that anything can happen

If you are not used to working with children let me encourage you to be prepared for the unexpected. Your amazing visual that you spent hours on may result in your volunteer bursting into tears for no reason or the dourest member of the congregation suddenly comes alive and animated in response to an activity. Ultimately if we have studied God’s word honestly, prepared conscientiously and prayed faithfully, God will do what he wants to do in the lives of each person who comes.

Step 7: The Structure of the service

Finally, think about the structure of the service. I have found it helpful to have two mini-talks in an all age service, rather than one long one. Often the first talk provides edification to all generations to engage in worship and to set things up for the main meat of the second talk. In part, the first talk says, we are church together and all of this service is for everyone who is here today, regardless of your age or background.

All age services do stretch the communication skills of even the most gifted, but when every member of a family, household, life group and congregation walks out getting something from it, there is nothing more satisfying. You have set up church to continue in the small groups and homes of the community as they discuss and implement what they learnt together. Being able to learn together as one body is a great expression of God’s kingdom and definitely worth aiming for.


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