When I signed on as a camp counselor, I anticipated many things: late nights and early mornings, homesick kids, smothering humidity, and mosquito bites. But I didn't anticipate how much the sermons geared for fifth and sixth graders would minister to me as well. My camp experience was my introduction to how good teaching can reach all ages.
Although an audience of many ages may not be considered the ideal setting for teaching, there are ways to keep the attention of the youngsters while capturing the hearts of the adults, too.
• Use visuals. Adults and children alike remember only a small part of what they hear. The more senses involved, the higher the retention.
• Keep them guessing. As the camp speaker pulled out his visual aids and began to teach, it was seldom obvious where he was going at the very beginning. The kids enjoyed watching him work the visuals and tell stories; the adults enjoyed the challenge of trying to anticipate his direction. Not knowing increased my interest and kept me listening.
• Use nature. Both children and adults can grasp spiritual concepts when illustrated through God's creation. God was the first to illustrate truth through nature: When He wanted Abraham to grasp how many descendants he would have, God told him to count the stars. The encouragement in Proverbs to consider the ant is another example of this teaching method.
• Be brief. Many children (and adults!) have short attention spans. Twenty minutes is long enough to present a significant message and short enough to hold the attention of even the youngest listeners.
• Involve the audience. Unless you are working with a very large group, there should be opportunities for both adults and children to participate in your teaching. Adults and older children can read Scripture out loud. Youngsters enjoy helping with visuals. Adults and children can share their personal stories of how God has worked in their lives. In one church I attended, the pastor presented a children's sermon each week using an object that one of the kids had brought from home the week before. (A box was kept at the back of the church for children to deposit items.) Audience participation keeps everyone attentive and helps them to retain the teaching.