I’ve been doing a lot of preaching these days. What a privilege! I love standing before congregations and bringing the word God has laid on my heart. Some places I’m asked to speak specifically about kids and others I’m asked just to “bring it”. Whatever the subject I’m a preacher at heart and it’s an honor to share.
I honestly believe if you can talk to kids you can talk to anyone. Between you and me, speaking at camps to kids all summer is way more challenging than preaching on a Sunday morning. Kids have the attention spans of fruit flies, they fidget, they interrupt, they make weird noises, and their social skills are lacking. Which means that they’re honest. Adults will feign interest out of respect and an innate desire to do the right thing. Kids do what they want. If I can keep 200 kids engaged for 45 minutes every night for a week at camp I can certainly keep adults engaged for 30 minutes on a Sunday morning.
How I speak to kids and how I speak to adults varies little. It amazes me how a message for “adults” reaches the little ears in impactful ways. It’s not rare for teens and kids to come up to me after a service and share part of their stories. Sometimes I have a line of them waiting. While this isn’t unusual for me I am aware that it is unusual in a lot of places. If kids are not the church of tomorrow but the church of today shouldn’t our messages be impacting them? Shouldn’t we be pushing ourselves to communicate beyond just adult ears? Shouldn’t we be encouraging them to dive deep and think big?
I’m not advocating for dumbing down our messages but I am advocating for being a little more aware of the little ears in our congregations.Because I don’t vary my style based on age I’ll share what I’ve learned about engaging audiences.
- Be personal. Kids today don’t listen me just because I’m an adult and they certainly have no idea who Melissa J. MacDonald is. If I want to engage them and earn their respect I have to be aware of what they want from me. They’re saying, “I don’t respect you until I trust you and I don’t trust you until I know you.” My audience wants to know who I am. Beyond my bio they want to know me. So I share something personal. Maybe about the 4 outfits I changed that morning because I was having one of “those” days or how I accidentally briefly held a stranger’s hand on my flight out to be with them. Once I share something personal they engage so much easier.
- Be funny. Humor is a great shared bonding experience. I get asked all of the time if I plan my “jokes” ahead of time. The answer is no. In fact, if I try to plan to be funny I fail. I’m just me and me happens to have a bit of humor to her. If I can illustrate a point using a funny story or by making fun of a common experience I have the audience with me. So whether I make fun of the fact that we’ve all had that “ahhh!” moment when we turn the camera on only to find it’s front facing or how I had road rage on the way to church that morning I engage my audience. We laugh over a shared experience and we suddenly become friends.
- Be clear. This world is exhausting with the number of messages coming at us. Mixed messages have us playing guessing games all of the time. Memes and quotes and more clutter up our newsfeeds and I think this generation is asking for clarity. They want something they can clearly and concisely remember. I spend less time on catchy points and more time on being clear. A simple clear message speaks louder than complexity.
- Be a storyteller. This generation learns in the language of story. It’s who they are. And let’s be honest, as adults most of us are suckers for a good story as well. My audience never remembers each scripture I reference but they almost always remember my stories. When my stories can illustrate my clear point I am winning. Stories illustrate our points in the most poignant of ways. They take our mere ideas and hopes and turn them into reality. Even if I am only given 5 minutes to share I will tell a story. Because there is power in story.
- Be authentic. I will probably never not mention authenticity when it comes to anything to do with kids. They are deeply hungry for something that’s real. They are searching for what really matters and what really counts. If I’ve been personal, funny, a storyteller, and clear but not authentic I have missed the mark. They don’t want a nice idea they want what’s real and they want to know what’s real for me. As a speaker it is so much less about me than it is about my audience. If me baring a little of my soul helps connect my audience with my Jesus then I am a willing vessel. Our imperfections and our scars and our mess are what speak loudest in a world that is constantly on the quest for perfect.
- Be scripturally sound. I could go on and on about this because I feel so strongly about it. I am tired, flat out annoyed, with speakers who do 1-5 and forget to point to Jesus and forget to point to His word. We are here for Him. Period. And if you’re not then you should probably find another blog to read. We’re here to point to Him. With our lives and with our words. My goal is to connect my audience with the heart of Jesus. Which means connecting them to His word. It’s not enough for me to say nice things, I need to speak and point to truth. Which means, I let scripture craft my preaching, not let my preaching craft scripture. There is a difference between being deeply rooted in the Word and pulling in a verse to make it look good.
And while I didn’t feel inclined to put them into my numbered list things like smiling, moving around, facial expressions, and asking rhetorical (and non-rhetorical, because kids have no idea what the difference is) are also extremely helpful in engaging your audience.
While kids won’t get everything we say they will pick up far more than you could imagine. They listen and observe. We speak and let the Holy Spirit do the rest.
And if you’re lucky, you’ll get a portrait of yourself like this one.