| from Dr. Kathy Koch |
For all of time, children’s attention spans have been discussed. Or maybe it’s a truer statement to say they’ve been questioned. “Why can’t they focus?” “Why won’t they listen to me?” “What can I do to make them listen longer?” “Why are they so easily distracted?”
Some people make the mistake of thinking entertainment is the way to increase their attention spans. It’s not. I tell children’s pastors, teachers, and parents to stop competing with Hollywood or Disneyland. We can’t do what they do and a constant menu of their type of programming will eventually no longer work either. And, our goals are different. Right?
What can work? Engagement. Children (and adults) who are engaged will pay attention. When their minds and hearts are stirred and captivated, it’s more likely they’ll listen longer with greater focus and benefit. This is what we want – learning that shows up in children’s character, abilities, actions, choices, and more.
My example or role model for engagement that causes attention and all these benefits is Jesus Christ, the Master Teacher. I’m grateful He didn’t come to earth to demonstrate effective teaching, but while He ministered to people and fulfilled His purpose, that’s exactly what He did.
How? I think there are primarily four ways Jesus kept people’s attention. Look at my verb – kept. I think He was more concerned with keeping people’s attention than getting it. Maybe this is relevant for you. Do we think more about getting children’s attention or keeping it? We can’t expect something that makes them curious on the first day of a lesson to last for a week or something we do at 9:00 am to still motivate them at noon. We must think about keeping their attention.
Jesus’ Methods. I don’t believe for a minute that Jesus wanted to be known for His methods, but they were excellent. They were a means to an end because Jesus was (and still is) interested in meeting needs. We must make sure to choose methods that fit goals for our learners and that we don’t choose them to have “the best” reputation or something else. As you read, think about which of these ideas you can use.
Jesus’ methods were largely simple and informal. They looked spontaneous. Therefore, people were free to respond and ask questions. He involved His audience and used “props” that were there. Jesus masterfully went from the known to the unknown, using things like a sparrow, mustard seed, coin, parts of the body, and a lost sheep to teach important principles.
Jesus also used relevant life situations to illustrate points so it was easy for people to relate to His teaching. He observed people, spent time with people, and put Himself in their shoes. He talked more about their interests than His.
Jesus was a masterful storyteller. His stories were masterful because they had purposes. Because He knew why He was telling the stories, He told them effectively and people listened. His stories stimulated thinking.
Jesus taught with authority and expected and asked for attention. He appealed to curiosity. Herman Horne wrote that Jesus “came not to answer questions, but to ask them; not to settle men’s souls, but to provoke them.”
- Are our methods working well for us? What changes might be in order?
Although I used more words to describe this reality that Jesus’ methods were significant to His ability to keep people’s attention than I’ll use for these next points, I think these are actually more important. I wonder what you’ll think.
Jesus’ Character. Jesus wasn’t a hypocrite like so many leaders and teachers of His day. He was a beautiful combination of being wise, humble, compassionate, and encouraging. Of course, there’s much more to His character. I think these attributes are significant reasons people paid attention to Him.
He was refreshing. Did some people follow Him because He wasn’t like the others? I think so. Did some follow Him so they’d be there when He would be caught being a hypocrite like everyone else? Possibly.
- Is our character in our favor or detrimental when it comes to people listening to us? Are any changes in order?
Jesus’ Unconditional Love and Value. The list of His character traits could have included the strengths that Jesus unconditionally loved and valued everyone. I kept it separate to draw attention to these truths.
Jesus cared for individuals even in a crowd. People knew they were seen by Him and important to Him. Every person mattered to Him. This is, of course, still true today. Our behavior, talents, skills, and positions do not influence how much He loves and values us.
- Do people who spend time with you know you unconditionally love and value them? What do you believe about your audiences? What do they think you believe? What changes, if any, might be in order?
Jesus’ Content. This is it. Jesus held people’s attention because what He spoke about and taught about was life-changing, true, and relevant. So much so that we’re still talking about it!
I absolutely believe that great story tellers with nothing to say will eventually be out of work. People will stop listening. I equally believe that people with brilliant, life-changing content must present it in accessible ways or people will stop listening.
- Is our content engaging to our audiences – our children, students, colleagues, etc., or is it only relevant to us? Any changes necessary?
Children (and adults) don’t need to be entertained, but they do need to be engaged. How can we improve?