KEEP IN TOUCH
BY MARK MILLARD
About this Blog:
A few years ago The Lads performed at a Kids Pastor’s luncheon in the Seattle area. After we played Dr. Leonard Sweet was scheduled to speak. In place of his prepared talk he focused his entire session on critiquing our performance and unpacking the communication techniques we had ‘unknowingly’ used. He explained how those same techniques can be used when communicating to today’s culture. His session provided the foundations of how we communicate with young people today. The outline of this blog entry is formed from notes of that talk which we have adapted for Kids Ministry.
Speaking French in France
A few years ago, my wife and I were holidaying in France and one day while driving we had to stop and refill our rental car with gas. It was a very busy gas station which unfortunately didn’t have a credit card payment option at the pump. Before going inside to pay for the gas Andrea said me “What are you going to say to the cashier? You can’t speak French!” Trying to appear manly and confident I said “It’ll be fine babe… just tell me the French for ‘pump 5 please’”. She told me and I went inside the gas station, walked up to the cashier and confidently said (in my best French sounding accent) ‘Bonjour, pompe cinq s’il vous plait’
The lady looked at me and said ‘bluebley bleh bunco bnucbui, scoobie doobie doobie’ (not her actual words, but that’s just how I remember it!!!)
I froze on the spot - I had no idea what she just said to me! So I smiled uncomfortably, threw my money down on the counter, and shouted ‘Au Revoir’ as I quickly ran out!
So what does this have to do with kids worship?
If you’ve ever felt like no matter what you say in Kids Church - the boys won’t stop punching each other and the girls are more interested in passing notes to each other than what you have to say. Perhaps the reason they’re not hearing you is you’re are speaking the wrong language.
But what language do kids speak?
We are not talking about knowing the latest phrases, or newest pop culture icons, but more about knowing how they connect with their world and with information they are given so as to best communicate with them.
To understand how kids today communicate we use the acronym E.P.I.C.
Kids today don’t want to just attend something or be lectured to about it - they want to experience it. They quickly lose interest in theories and principles, but love to get involved and ‘just do it!’.
Kids today don’t want to just hear about God, they want to discover him and experience Him for themselves. They don’t want to just hear about: prayer, healing, serving, worship, miracles, the Holy Spirit etc. They want to experience prayer, healing, serving, worship, miracles, the Holy Spirit…
Now some people might hear this and freak out! What?! They want to experience God? Here? Now? With me? YES, and why shouldn’t they!?
Jesus gave us a great example of this. Instead of just teaching about the meaning of his blood spilled and body broken on our behalf, He said ‘take this cup… eat this bread and remember me’. This was real substance that the disciples could touch and taste and partake in. Communion creates an ‘experience’ of teaching about the cross - a sensory and visual representation of the truth of it.
To speak the language of kids look for ways they can experience what you are teaching them about; serving (feet washing?) (actual serving in communities?), prayer (pray for each other? prayer journal?), forgiveness (water? laundry powder?) or whatever it is you’re teaching on. If they can have an experience along with the teaching it will lock it into their memory for years to come and gives them a point of reference to hang that truth on in their minds. They are not just hearing facts, but they are practicing, experiencing what it feels like, watching and learning from one another and their leaders, and having fun along the way.
It’s also helpful to relate the concepts you want them to grasp hold of to everyday things they experience in their actual lives. Not what you experience as an adult, but what they are experiencing as kids. Their subjective experience is their WHOLE world at that age, so use that to your advantage.
This is similar to the first point, but more about the fact that they want to be active in your program, to have an opportunity to be part of the whole thing. Instead of just quietly watching and observing, kids today want to get involved. Instead of listening to you read the Bible they want to read the Bible themselves - they want to act out the Bible story. Instead of one leader running the worship, they want to take turns being in the worship team with you. The key is participation, not representation.
What’s important with kids today is not the quality of the performance but the quality of the participation. However, when you get kids involved generally the quality goes down and the level of chaos and crazy probably goes up! But the ability to engage and minister to kids also goes up (and so does the fun quota!!). If they know they can look forward to the opportunity to participate at an age appropriate level and see their friends do the same thing, then they will be more likely to engage in what is happening and be excited about it.
To speak the language of kids load your services with as much participation as possible.
A picture used to be worth a thousand words - with kids today 10,000! The currency of this culture is no longer words but images.
This explains the huge dollars spent on advertising and why teens prefer Instagram more than Facebook. Don’t talk about it - just show it!
Practically, that means you need some technology available. Instead of just speaking about Moses parting the Red Sea, show a picture on screen of the Red Sea today or download a YouTube clip of the Red Sea parting. If you’re speaking about compassion for others, show images to reflect that eg. kids doing a bake sale to raise money for clean water wells in India, a YouTube clip of kids receiving shoes for the first time etc. There are so many resources available to us on the internet today. Don’t be afraid to get creative and use age-appropriate images and videos to capture their attention and provide another dimension to your programs.
When I was a kid sitting in church the Pastor would begin his sermon with a small anecdote or story before moving on to Bible teaching. The model was 10% bridge building followed by 90 % content. If you’ve ever tried that same thing on kids today you’ll know it doesn’t work - the model has flipped to 90% bridge building followed by 10% content.
Why the change? Even our youngest elementary kids have already been exposed to literally thousands of hours of the best advertising in history trying to grab their attention and sell them something. They cope with this by putting up filters that allow them to ignore most of the voices unless it is a trusted source. This is why a friend’s recommendation has more influence on buying habits than a multi-million dollar television commercial eg. “Dude you’ve got to get this app. It’s awesome!”
This information may feel overwhelming, especially if the old model is how you have ministered in the past. The good news is, if you build up a connection with your young people and become a ‘trusted source’ you don’t need to spend 45 minutes building a compelling and logical argument, you can go straight to the conclusion e.g.. Jesus is awesome - He died on the cross for your sins so you can come alive. I have experienced it - it’s amazing. Who wants in?!
To speak the language of kids we need to understand how to connect with them. Connecting with kids is a big topic, so much so that we wrote a whole blog post exclusively about that CLICK HERE to check it out.
What can I do?
This is the fun bit! Before you next stand up in front of a group of kids to lead worship (or even speak) go through the E.P.I.C acronym. Ask yourself: What can I do to give these kids an 'experience'? How can I get kids to 'participate'? How can I use imagery to show rather than tell the message? How can I facilitate kids connecting with each other, with leaders and with God?
The good news is, after a bit of practice (and trial and error) communicating in this way becomes like a second language. You'll become quite fluent using E.P.I.C. techniques and at creating moments that engage kids in worship and help them discover more about God.
So 'fonce' everybody! That's French for 'Go for it'! But don't say anything else to me in French let's just leave it at 'Fonce'.
Mark Millard has served in ministry to young people for more than 20 years. When he's not performing as a member of The Lads band, he's writes songs, scripts, curriculum and is part of Big Big Productions, the creators of two different kids TV series (The Lads TV and TuneTime) which broadcast to over 180 countries around the world. Based in Franklin, TN he's married to Andrea Millard and together they have 4 kids.
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