Humor just may be the most-overlooked spiritual element of kidmin.
By: Kathryn MacDowall
Kathryn MacDowall is a writer for the Hillsong Kids Big Curriculum. She is part of the Hillsong Safe Church Office (child protection) and has been on the Hillsong team for 15 years. Her secret kidmin super-skill is puppets. hillsongkidsbig.com
“Hello… .” With one simple word, Funny Man Dan, Hillsong Kids resident comic, has thousands of children in fits of laughter. “Hello” is the single line script of his World Famous One Word Show.
Funny Man Dan is not a magician, he is not a musician, he is not a clown and he is definitely not a dancer. But if you take a little portion from each of those and cook it in an oven with slapstick and stand-up comedy, out comes Funny Man Dan.
Grown-ups just like you have for generations been enjoying stand-up comedy—where a comedian will stand on a stage and make people laugh by talking to them. Children are filled with imagination and can find joy and laughter in almost anything, but when you are in front of thousands of kids, standing may not be enough. So Funny Man Dan embarked many years ago on a journey to develop what he calls Bounce Around Comedy. Being the World’s First Bounce Around Comedian means Dan will do anything and everything to make a child laugh and experience the simple joy of watching someone trying to tie a knot or saying the word “Hello.”
Dan is visible proof that comedy is a valuable yet often under-used goldmine for ministry with children and families. Especially when many in the church question: What’s so spiritual about laughing? It’s great to have a fun moment in a program, but spiritual stuff should be serious, right?
Sure, the outcome of ministry is a matter of great importance, but on the way to it, laughter may be one of the most important and spiritual aspects of ministry to children and adults.
Laughter: The Best Medicine
Laughter is a gift from God; we were born innately with the ability to laugh and experience joy. Think about hearing a baby giggle with glee—he or she didn’t have to sit in laughter lessons to figure that out. Psychology Today reports that toddlers laugh over 100 times a day, and the average 40-year-old laughs only four times a day (and maybe that’s just from cat videos on the internet?).
One of the best things children can experience is laughing. The Bible says in Proverbs 17:22, “A cheerful heart makes you healthy” ((NIRV). And science backs it up!
Laughter relaxes the whole body, relieving physical tension and stress, leaving muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes. It boosts the immune system and improves heart function. Laughter even burns calories. (Yes, we like this!) One study found that laughing for 10 to 15 minutes a day can burn about 40 calories.
Laughter also has proven social benefits. It strengthens resilience, enhances teamwork, diffuses conflict and promotes group bonding. When the children in your ministry laugh, they let down their guard, relax, bond together and strengthen their relationships.
Think about the opposite. Maybe a child visiting for the first time arrives full of nervousness and fear. They think: I won’t know anyone. I’ve never been to this place before. What happens next and why is there so much singing? The shared experience of laughter puts the child at ease, connects them with others, and brings a sense of security that they are welcome and will have a great time. It could even cause them to want to stay a little longer and come back next week! As comic Phyllis Diller said, “A smile is a curve that sets everything straight.”
The gospel transcends age, social status, race and gender—as does laughter! God’s heart is to see a community of believers made up of people young and old, of every color, social status and gender. The gospel bridges the gaps between people; a good dose of humor goes a long way to connecting people despite their differences. Comedian and performer John Cleese (of Faulty Towers and Monty Python fame) states: “It’s almost impossible to maintain any kind of distance or any sense of social hierarchy when you’re just howling with laughter.”
Laugh to Learn and Learn to Laugh
Comedian and performer John Cleese (Faulty Towers, Monty Python ) is known for his brilliant humor, so, to quote his wisdom: “He who laughs most, learns best.” The truth is that kids (and adults) learn best when they’re having fun! When children laugh, they relax, and their capacity for taking in new information and retaining that information is greatly increased. The elevated state that humor evokes makes it easier for children to understand fresh concepts and for learning to stick. Laughing activates the brain’s dopamine-reward system, creating the desire to keep coming back for more. Dopamine also improves both goal-oriented motivation and long-term memory.
Humor is a powerful tool in ministering to people, a sense of playfulness and joy can bring life and light as we share God’s heart with people. A favorite catch-phrase of Hillsong Church Senior Pastor Brian Houston is, “Church is to be enjoyed, not endured.” And the same goes for our children’s and family ministries. Ecclesiastes 8:15 says this, “So I advise everyone to enjoy life. A person on this earth can’t do anything better than eat and drink and be glad. Then they will enjoy their work. They’ll be happy all the days of the life God has given them on earth” (NIRV).
Occasionally you luck out when unplanned funny moments strike. Maybe an object lesson explodes all over you or the balloon you’re attempting to twist into a poodle shape bursts. You jump in fright, sparking raucous laughter from your audience. Good comedy isn’t left to chance; it’s well-prepared and well-planned.
Says Funny Man Dan: “When you’re on stage in front of a group of children, you are acting in your ‘on-stage’ self. When you’re in front of kids, you’re you, but with a subtle difference; you’re acting in a role … playing the character of you.”
Here are ways to build the character of You while using humor or comedy more effectively when you’re on stage.
Be Surprisingly Predictable
When you are on stage there needs to be a certain predictability about you. Develop catchphrases, funny voices, silly walks or sound effects. Being predictable puts the audience into a state of comfort and lets them enjoy what they are seeing. Think of your favorite cartoon characters and what their predictable catchphrases and responses are, Homer Simpson says, “D’oh!” out of frustration when realizes he has done something wrong or something is about to go wrong. Children should get to know your surprisingly predictable behaviors. Maybe you greet the children in the same quirky way every week—the one week you don’t do it, they will miss it!
Stand Passionately For or Against Something
We’re all passionate about certain things. You might be a fanatic sports fan or a chocolate-obsessed dessert eater, but whatever it is, your on-stage You needs to be extreme in your love for that thing. You may dislike something; that’s fine, too. Garfield loves lasagna and hates Mondays. Funny Man Dan says, “To be effective on stage you either love something or hate something and have no in-between.” Children, even if they disagree with your opinion, can relate to someone who takes a stand for their opinion of pineapple on pizza.
Magnify Your Uniqueness
The on-stage You is still you, but magnified. There are things about you that are already fun and interesting. Ask yourself, What do I want to magnify? Maybe you’re a keen fisherman or an excellent skateboarder. Those things are part of you, and the children in your ministry want you to share this with them. If you love to fish, magnify this by showing pictures, all the time, of the strange things you’ve caught on your line, and then when it’s time to teach the “loaves and fishes/feeding the 5,000” lesson, you can bring your smelly fish for everyone to see! Funny Man Dan encourages this. “Every time you go on stage you should be taking steps that cement your character and add depth so the kids can relate to you more,” he says.
Laughter, just like the gospel, transcends age, social status, race and gender! God’s heart is to see a community of believers made up of people young and old, of every color, social status and gender. Adding a good dose of humor to your kidmin will go a long way to connecting everyone involved, despite their differences. To quote John Cleese again: “It’s almost impossible to maintain any kind of distance or any sense of social hierarchy when you’re just howling with laughter.”
Who is Funny Man Dan?
Dan Lee-Archer started busking with circus performers as a teenager on the streets of Tasmania, over 16 years ago. After moving to Sydney, Australia, with the hopes of becoming a famous actor (which may still happen, according to his mom), he stumbled upon the opportunity to perform in front of children at conferences and big events. This was a match made in heaven as the kids found everything he did (and what he looks like) hilarious, and Funny Man Dan was born. Since then he has performed for children all over Australia and around the world, including the United States, United Kingdom, Japan, Cambodia and even Rwanda—where he performed for a crowd of 20,000 without speaking English.
Here are Funny Man Dan’s top tips to get your kids laughing this weekend:
- Try “The Humongous High-Five.” It’s an oldie but a goody. Simply recoil in pain over the softest high-five. Advanced level: use a fake hand that falls off from the high-five!
- Ask kids questions that are disproportionate to their age: “Can I see your driver’s license? Is your wife here? What ages are your children? How was work this week? Oh, you’re at school; what grade do you teach?”
- Emphasize your speech by waving your arms around while holding a soft toy and “accidentally” knocking kids in the head with it.
- Use videos. Show some (carefully vetted) YouTube videos.
- Bring a prop. Examples: Use a whistle and direct traffic as the kids enter your programs. Use a microphone and interview kids as they arrive. Carry around a toy moose, just because you find it a-moosing, or an emu because that’s even more emu-sing, but not a vacuum cleaner because that idea sucks!