This past Sunday our church enjoyed having Barney Kinard visit as our guest speaker. Barney is known as the Kidhelper. He is a former children’s pastor, 50 year veteran children’s evangelist, and Kidology Coach. We celebrated 26 children making decisions for Christ on Sunday.
Guiding children to making this life-altering decision doesn’t happen by mistake. It requires intentionality, creativity, skill and a sense of purpose. Let me share with you several observations I made on Sunday as I watched Barney “do his thing” that he has been doing for years developing presentations that create results.
1) Be Real.
Barney doesn’t go into character. He is himself. He is the same person before and after the presentation. Kids need to connect with a real person if they are to make real decisions.
2) Don’t Talk Down to Children.
Too often adults talk down to kids. They can do this both with their tone of voice, mannerisms or by talking to them as though they are younger or “dumber” than they really are. Expect kids to engage and understand and they will. They appreciate being honored as people, not as “just kids.”
3) Use Language Kids Understand.
Barney avoids using “big words” and confusing terms. Keep it simple and clear. When you use an adult word, explain it. Define your words, such as explaining that Gospel means Good News. As my first pastor, Erwin Lutzer once said, “I like to explain things in such a way that even an adult can understand.” There if value in keeping things simple and clear no matter what age your audience happens to be!
4) Use Humor Purposely.
Kids love to laugh. When they are laughing, they are listening. Barney did a fun routine when he was explaining there are four parts of the Gospel that always need to be completed. He kept letting one of his four fingers fall down – the kids would laugh and yell, “You are missing one!” He would re-count them, and struggle to hold them up. The kids thought it was funny, but you learned it was purposeful humor as he added at the end, “You can’t let any of these slip, or you’ll have an incomplete message.”
5) Use Creative Repetition.
You’ve heard it said, “Say it often, say it well.” When it comes to teaching kids, “Say it often, and say it in different ways.” Barney did several Gospel magic tricks that each illustrated the message in different ways, but with the same message. This way, he strengthened the message with each explanation.
6) Be Visual.
No matter how skilled the teacher – if you attempt to get up in front of kids and just talk, you will lose their attention. Barney not only used magic tricks, but he used a giant flannel board to track the message with words and symbols to help the children see, read and follow the message.
Barney also wore a bright red vest that made him stand out. It had the effect of saying, “I’m a special speaker worthy of listening to.” His tables were covered with the same bright red table clothes. It drew the curiosity and attention of the children.
7) Take Charge.
Speak with authority. As soon as I introduced Barney, he immediately started with something that captured their attention. I often see speakers start like a locomotive – slow and with great effort and it takes them awhile to get up to speed, but by then, they have lost most of their audience. Think carefully about your first sentence – and seek to capture their interest and attention within seconds, and you’ll rarely lose them after that!
8) Engage the Entire Group.
Of course he brought volunteers on stage to serve as assistants with his tricks, but he also included the entire audience with questions, opportunities to raise their hands, and in praying for all of them after they indicated where they were in their walk with God.
9) Give an Opportunity to Receive Jesus.
You’d think this would be obvious or assumed, but it isn’t. In fact, I rarely see it done. Too often the Gospel is explained, but no opportunity to respond is given! You have to actually say the words, “Would you like to accept Jesus as your Savior today?” Kids can’t respond if they aren’t given an invitation. He first asked kids to raise their hands who had prayed to receive Christ in the past. Then he said, “If you weren’t able to raise your hand, perhaps you aren’t sure, aren’t ready, or have just never been given the chance. Would you like to today?” Then he led in a prayer that kids could repeat after him to invite Jesus into their life.
10) Follow Up.
Afterwards, we dismissed all the children to their classes and invited the kids who had prayed for the first time to accept Jesus to come meet with Barney up by the stage. He explained a little more why this was an important day, some things they should start to do – reading the Bible, praying, living for Jesus, etc. – and challenged them to share what happened today with at least one person, whether it is a parent, relative or friend. Then he prayed for them.
I’m following up with the kids individually and with their parents, as the children’s pastor, during the week, but this immediate follow up really helps solidify in their hearts and minds what they did this morning.
Enjoy watching Barney’s presentation during one of our services:
So, when will you share the Gospel with your kids and give them a chance to decide to follow Jesus?
GREAT tips to remember!! I attempt to use all of these, especially the one to not talk down to the kids. Children are SO smart and can pick up on things that we adults have a harder time understanding. Thank you for your article!
Great article. Good tips. I do have a problem with #9, though. Having the children repeat a prayer to “ask Jesus into their heart.” Sadly, this is the method Jack Hyles and his ilk have used to bring thousands, men, women and children, into a false assurance of salvation. No where does the Bible say we are to “ask Jesus into our heart.” No where does it say we are to say a prayer to be saved. Salvation is by grace through faith. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.
As the father of 5 year old twins, one of my biggest worries is some zealous children’s teacher will lead them in a “sinner’s prayer” when we are visiting a church somewhere.
Dennis, you bring up some valid concerns, but I caution against throwing the baby out with the bath water, as the saying goes. The bible talks about the heart over 600 times, Romans 10:10 is one of the basis for both the expression of inviting Jesus into the heart, and for a sinner’s prayer, “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” I have no worry about over zealous soul winners (tho some bother me) – I’m more concerned with under zealous, as I mentioned above – too many never actually invite children to a point of decision. Yes, getting kids to simply pray a sinner’s prayer is disastrous – IF they have not understood nor truly had a change in their heart – but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it right and stop reaching children for Christ. Countless people have been led to Christ this way for centuries – so the issue isn’t the few who did it poorly or weren’t sincere canceling out the millions for whom it was sincere and meaningful. (Myself included at age 4!) We can argue the semantics of “asking Jesus into the heart” – I personally don’t use that phrase, as children can be very literal, (you’ll note I didn’t even use it #9, tho you referenced it as though I did) but the phrase isn’t really the issue, it is a heart issue, and the decision of the heart must be expressed somehow, and while perhaps not ideal, it is still a valid reflection of what has happened. And a prayer may not be required, but prayer is how we express our decisions and how to confess (which literally means ‘to say’) Jesus is Lord.
I have no issue with those who don’t use “Jesus in my heart” or who claimed to be saved without ever praying a sinners prayer – I realize that they have made a heart commitment and perhaps prayed silently – but likewise, those in that category need not knock or discredit the millions who have asked Jesus into their heart and prayed a sinner’s prayer. It was after all, the profession of faith by the thief on the cross to which Jesus replied, ‘today you will be with me in paradise.’ There is plenty of biblical support for a prayer of salvation and for the use of the word heart.
But I love your sensitivity to trite conversions – we share that concern.
I have a few comments. :)
First I have to say this was wonderful. It’s nice to see how effective Barney was even though he isn’t loud and flashy. He is just himself, and the Holy Spirit does the work.
Second, there’s always that kid who falls out of his chair during the crucial moment. LOL
Third, addresses the above comment from Dennis and your reply. I’ve struggled with, “do we or don’t we have a group invitation with kids?”. I’ve been afraid of bringing kids to a false sense of salvation by them just doing what they are told, or having them respond to the emotion of the moment or doing it because of friends doing it. But lately I’ve begun to realize what you are saying Karl, that if we don’t present the chance to make that decision, we may miss the opportunity. We have not given an invitation like this in VBS in years. But what if a child (who often doesn’t know how to express themself) is feeling that tug of the HS and we don’t offer them a chance to respond? I’m going to keep praying on this. I will have to convince a few other people on my team to change.
Thanks so much for all you do Karl!
Angel, thanks for your contribution to the conversation. As I mentioned above, Dennis has valid concerns, but the danger is that we end up never giving kids an opportunity to respond. Jesus always invited… and throughout history evangelists have taken people to the point of decision, and it’s changed lives. I’m not worried about whether a kid fully understands it – all that is needed is a step of faith. Jesus repeated tells adults they need to “come as children” with simple faith, and then God promises that he will carry to completion what has been started. (Phil. 1:6) Even John disciples had responded to an incomplete Gospel -accepting what they heard at the time from John, completely missing that Jesus had come and died and returned to heaven! When the Paul met them, they didn’t get saved then, they just got educated on what they had missed. (Acts 19) They needed their initial faith to be brought up to speed, but it was still their initial faith that saved them, even though they were missing key elements.
I say, “If in doubt, share the Gospel!” And God is faithful to begin, maintain, and eventually complete their spiritual journey, even if we didn’t do everything “exactly” right at the beginning. A journey has to have a beginning, so I’m all for inviting children to begin their journey of faith.