Preaching with All Ages – Ally Barrett

Preaching with All Ages

Twelve ways to grow your skills and your confidence

by Ally Barrett

This is a book by someone who knows the problems and pitfalls, as well as the rich rewards, of stepping out of the three-point-sermon comfort zone.

Whether you are new to this or an old-hand, confident or terrified, lay or ordained, this book can help you to be your best when working with all of God’s family.

Speaking from many years’ experience as both a parish priest and children’s minister, Ally encourages us to examine our (tacit) assumptions and to be wary of practice that implies that learning is for children and worship is for adults. Not so – all need to learn and all can worship. Preaching, she says, is where these two meet,

First, note the title: Preaching With All Ages – not at, not to, but with. There’s food for though before we even open the cover. Similarly, the section ‘Theology by children’ – not for, not to, but by childrenI know from my research and late-night discussions with my own children that small people can conceive of big ideas, and state them bluntly in simple language. That’s a gift that many adults would like!

Ally quotes this brilliant illustration from a 6-year-old: “In the circuit of love God is the battery, Jesus is the fuse (because the love of God comes through Jesus) and the people are the light bulbs.”

From the blurb:

The all-age talk is a task guaranteed to give preachers sleepless nights! Very few people feel they have a gift for it, and most lack confidence.

This reflective and practical guide addresses these concerns, and aims to build a sure theological understanding, develop skills and grow confidence. Twelve chapters explore different kinds of engagement – with the senses, with one another, with oneself, with scripture, with liturgy, with the church, with God, with challenging situations, and more – to enable preachers make real connections with their listeners, whatever the age.

Each chapter is followed by a practical case study illustrating key principles and providing down-to-earth, tried and tested wisdom for all kinds of contexts and occasions.

From my Amazon review:

Very useful for everyone who gives all-age talks – and I really mean *all* age, not just kids.
If you want to properly engage with this important ministry but can’t abide stodgy theology books, this is the book for you.
Ally gives examples of her own experience with all-age talks – what worked well, what could have been different – and reflects upon the issues and themes raised.
You can pinch the ideas from the example talks and adapt them for your own situation, but this is not a book of off-the-peg talks. Interspersed between the reflections are insightful explorations of ways of engaging: through the senses, experience, church life and mission, and many more.
The useful questions for self-reflection help and challenge us all to do this well, because all-age talks are not less important than ‘proper’ sermons. (In fact, I’d argue that they are more important. Think back to a church service you remember – I bet it was a more than just a lecture from the front. Engaging deeper than the ears is vital to communication and I have no idea why we think it’s only children who need that – but back to the book)
The chapter on children as theologians is of particular interest given the growing realisation that children are vital for a healthy church (and I don’t means sitting at the back with colouring, or being made to be silent mini-adults) As Ally says in the introduction, “Without the witness of children, the Church’s encounter with God is impoverished”
Highly recommended.

Available from your local Christian bookstore, or online from EdenAmazon etc.

ISBN: 978-1786221711, 144pp, 2019, Canterbury Press Norwich

Ally Barrett

Ally Barrett is Chaplain of St Catharine’s College, Cambridge. She was previously Director of Pastoral Studies at Westcott House (an Anglican theological college in Cambridge, UK), a parish priest, and a children’s minister.

Ally is a practical theologian with a particular interest in all age worship and preaching, baptism, weddings and ‘liturgy and life’ – how worship contributes to discipleship. She also writes hymns. Her blog is at

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