Communicating with God's littlest children: Sharing God's big story with our churches children's groups

Sharing a message can be a bit nerve-racking at the best of times. But sharing it to a roomful of four-year-olds? That’s in a whole other league!

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Sharing a message can be a bit nerve-racking at the best of times. But sharing it to a roomful of four-year-olds? That’s in a whole other league!

First, you’re contending with the limited attention span (think length-of-time-it-takes-to-boil-a-kettle at best). And the shuffling and the fidgeting. Not to mention the wonderfully random interruptions. (We’ve all had that moment where we’re trying to explain about the value of forgiveness, only for little Sammy to start sharing about his guinea pig.) It’s all too easy to lose your train of thought mid-message, repeat yourself, go off script – and end the session wondering if anyone learnt anything.

If there’s one key piece of advice to give anyone planning a message for young children, it’s this: say one thing and say it well. On the matter of ‘saying one thing’, it’s good to take some time as you plan your session to pray into what that might be. What affirming, inspiring, challenging, relevant thing would you like your children to take home with them? That God’s love is bigger than we can imagine? That God is always with us? That we can talk to God whenever and wherever we are? As difficult as it might be, stick to just the one – and see if you can say it in no more than ten words!

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1. Actions (tone and expression) speak louder than words

Imagine that you’ve just landed the job of your dreams. Or you got tickets to see your favourite band play in your hometown. Or your team won the Championship. How excited would you be? And how would people know?

‘Gospel’ means ‘good news’. To say that God’s love for us is good news would be the biggest understatement in all history. It’s amazing, extraordinary, breath-takingly stupendous news. And we need to tell it like it is!

Children won’t always remember everything we say – no matter how carefully we craft our words. But they will remember how they felt when they heard us say it. They’ll pick up on non-verbal cues: tone of voice, facial expressions, hand gestures. Some things are caught, not taught. If we’re excited about God’s love, then they will be too!

2. Explain what you mean

Jesus famously asked his disciples to shine their light before others (Matthew 5:16). But what does that mean? Should we keep our bedside lamp on? Or carry a torch in our pockets at all times? Or is Jesus asking us to live in a lighthouse?

In church, we use a lot of figurative language when talking about big faith ideas. We were lost, but God found us. Jesus saves us and gives us clean hearts. We get so used to this language that we may not even notice when we slip it into our kids’ talks – often without explanation.

It’s undoubtedly a good thing to introduce children to the language the Bible uses to explain God's great love and saving work in Jesus. But it’s important to unpack what that means in everyday language and illustrations. After all, God’s littlest children are still new to learning: about language as much as about God!

3. Tell a story

So you’ve got three minutes to explain ‘repentance’ to a bunch of four-year-olds. Just three precious minutes to unpack one of the core ideas of discipleship. What are you going to say?

You could do worse than spending two of those minutes telling a story. Everyone loves a story. They’re irresistibly engaging (‘how’s it going to end?!’) and they’re incredibly helpful for illustrating big ideas (‘and in many ways, that’s a lot like...’).

So why not share about a time when you set off on a journey, missed your turning and got hopelessly lost, and then had to turn around and get back on the right road – linking it with the idea of repentance as changing direction? Asking a few simple questions to the children during your story will increase interaction and involve the children in drawing out the key learning points: e.g. What do you think happened next? How do you think I felt when I...? Why was it important that I...?

4. Paint a picture

They say a picture speaks a thousand words. If this is true, then one well-chosen picture will take what you’re communicating to another level – as well as saving you a lot of time and effort trying to explain it in words.

Pictures spark imagination. A great visual image will connect with your kids as much, if not more, than what you say – especially in younger children who are still developing their language skills. And on a practical level, pictures give children something visual to fix their attention on, making them better able to listen!

It doesn’t need to be complicated – just something that sums up the sense of what you’re trying to communicate. In fact - the simpler, the better!

5. And one final thought: pay attention to pronouns

Spot the difference:

A) God loves you so much!

B) God loves us so much!

There may not seem to be a huge difference, but the choice of whether to use ‘you’ or ‘us’ when we talk about faith can shape how our children grow to understand it.

The Bible was written for a community of believers. Using ‘we’ and ‘us’ tells children that the journey of faith is something we do together as God’s family – a team effort, rather than a solo pursuit – and something grown-ups are still learning, as much as them!

What’s more, ‘we’ says that God’s heart beats for more than just ‘me’. Our individualistic culture often focuses on ‘me’, ‘my needs’, ‘my happiness and fulfilment’. But that simple word ‘us’ helps children see that God’s enormous, extraordinary love is for everybody – and something he invites us to share far and wide.

Challenge!

Why not have a go at putting this into practice with the following challenges? You might like to spend time chatting about them with members of your children’s work team, or have a go separately and compare ideas.

●       Think about the parable of the lost sheep. How would you explain what being ‘lost’ and ‘found’ by God means to a 6-year-old?

●       How would you explain the meaning of Easter to a 3-year-old?

●       Find a picture that sums up for you what it means to be loved by God.

Looking for inspiration? Subscribers to the RaiseUP platform can discover over 250 pre-built lesson plans, and over 2,000 pieces of content, all designed to help you communicate with your little ones. Content brands like Treasure Champs, Little Worship Company, and Henry Hand Puppet are tailor made for this young audience.

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