Produced by Proclamation Trust Resources, this book encourages church leaders to gather their entire congregation — young and old — to hear the preaching of God’s word together on a regular basis.
They base their case on the nature of the church as a family, rightly stating that ‘children are not the church of tomorrow — they are part of the church today’ (p.13). Numerous biblical examples are given of children gathering alongside adults to hear God speak. While the difficulties are acknowledged, the book demonstrates that, with thought and effort, it is possible to address a mixed age congregation to the profit of all.
The argument is positive and persuasive. In fact it may be stronger than the authors intend, in that it becomes difficult to justify excluding children from any Lord’s Day meeting, for Sunday school or any other cause. There’s something to consider!
The authors demand no less than ‘proper preaching’ (p.7) in which the message is shaped entirely by the biblical text. They go so far as to say that ‘there is no bit of the Bible that is not suitable for an All-Age Service’ (p.28). There is welcome advice for preachers, who must not only work hard to understand their passage, but also to explain it clearly and simply, with relevant illustrations and applications for the different age groups.
The final and largest part of the book provides 29 ‘worked examples’ of what all-age services could look like in practice. And here it takes a most regrettable nosedive. The brief exegesis of each example passage and its ‘big idea’ is consistently good; but then come the gimmicks. Recommended activities involve props, sound effects, games, jokes, film clips, drama, puppets, silly song, live animals, dressing up — nothing appears to be off limits.
The aim seems to be to ‘increase everyone’s involvement’ (p.39) by making the gathering as fun as possible, and the authors insist that these things mustn’t distract from the substance of the message. But the flippancy of some of the suggestions leaves little place for the fear of the holy God in whose presence we meet. The whole approach serves as a reminder of what chaos can ensue when the regulative principle of worship is absent.
So, contradictory as it sounds, this book is simultaneously outstanding and awful. Church leaders ought to read the earlier chapters and think long and hard about the challenge which they bring. But they will need to do their own thinking about how to meet that challenge within the bounds of divinely authorised worship.