Let’s TACO-bout Children’s Ministry

Preparing for a new school year in the local church is like celebrating New Year’s Day. It’s a new year of planning, recruiting, vision-sharing, and hopefully more laughs than tears. If you’ve already reached out last spring to those who were on your team last February/March, you are a huge step ahead. If you’ve got your school year calendar ready for publishing by mid July, you are a great gift to your families. If you’ve been editing your excel worksheet of everyone who has EVER served on your children’s ministry team with those who have done ANYTHING this summer, you are ready for the ask.

What’s the ask? Would you prayerfully consider serving on the Children’s Ministry Team this school year? Be sure to add to your email/letter celebrations of how the Lord is growing the ministry and a few teasers of what is new and updated. Everyone loves the energy that comes from starting something new. Be sure to add new parents/grand parents of kids to your excel worksheet/database of potential champions who’ve become involved over the last year. People get involved in a local church because they WANT to get connected. Invite them!

“As we prayerfully prepare a new school year for McEachern Kids, I hope you’ll consider coming to a free training dinner on Wednesday, July 17 5:30pm-7pm in room #F147.  We’ll TACO-bout the many different opportunities to serve Jesus on the McEachern Kids team. This is for you if you’re all in, if you want to get more connected, and even if you’re just curious and unsure of making the commitment.” There’s the ASK and the INVITE to TACO-bout it. We will use Moe’s Southwest Grill to cater a taco bar and mustaches for everyone!

Promotion Sunday for us is the first Sunday AFTER school starts, so we’re on a mission in July to champion ministry with children like a Dallas Cheerleader without the uniform…with joy, in every conversation, with personal stories, and an elevator pitch.

Prepare an email to go out after July 4th. I include a Parent Calendar for the upcoming year. The calendar is the greatest challenge of having it ready and prepared to share by mid July, but so worth it. With our calendar in the hands of the parents first, our parents have gone to task with the PTA and their kid’s schools to change their dates and it’s worked! Print several hard copies of the email and the calendar to hand out to folks you see on Sunday mornings or who the Lord brings to your mind. Pray, “Lord, who?” then act on it. Don’t argue with your Holy Spirit. Know that you’ll have to coach and do it well and often. Prepare for the ask. It’s what we’ve been called to do, invited to do, hired to do, and expected to do well. If this has you hyperventilating, order a copy of Sustainable Children’s Ministry. A blog post of this amazing resource can be found here. If you serve in North Georgia (or can get here), come to the Children’s Ministry Institute this fall so you won’t be hyperventilating next year.We’ll cover this exercise at the last meeting. You can do this!

Want a copy of our email and calendar sent just last night? Email me directly at dedereilly@comcast.net.

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10

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Become Known In the Summer

It is an ugly, awful, terribly misguided myth that churches can’t grow during the summer. Don’t listen to it. Don’t buy into it. Don’t settle for it. Summer is the perfect time to try new things, change up each week, and be so invitational it makes your hospitality team wonder where you came from.

It’s not just about VBS week, but the weekend after and every day until fall programming starts. I know of too many churches offering amazing Vacation Bible Schools as ‘outreaches’ yet plan nothing special to offer afterward to continue to build relationships, connections, and faith-formation experiences beyond a laid-back Sunday morning. We put in all that work, all those resources, and we’ve dropped the ball. We take a summer break. We think since most people are gone during the summer, we just can’t pull it off. I’m not gone. Are you gone?

Think about it. Reserving space is easier in the summer. Using shared space is easier in the summer since preschool, recreation leagues, and even some Sunday school classes take the summer off. Smaller groups of kids thrive in relationship-building during the summer. Summer is a great time to teach and lead new volunteers and leaders into a glimpse of how your Sunday morning team works and its logistical systems. Summer is the perfect time to get to know your volunteers better, hang out by the Gaga Ball pit, playground, and make friends with folks new to the church and community.

This is why we use incentives to recruit our summer Sunday morning volunteers who take over so the regular school-year servant leaders rest and refresh with ‘first 10 to signup get a logo-ed tervis tumbler’ and ‘free ticket to the ice cream truck coming on campus after services on National Ice Cream Day (July 21).’ This is why we offer Faith Field Trips for small groups of students to learn about Jesus, share in an outdoor experience with other kids their ages, and partner with other local churches in our districts. This is why we offered summer events like Nerf Wars and the upcoming Paint & Praise Party which helps us ‘fuel a warm community’ (from Growing Young, by Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin). This is why we celebrate each Sunday as a special Sunday in June and July.

Flipping Church is a book of amazing stories of Wesleyan church planters who have collaboratively broken the rules and fought the battle of church myths, struggles and successes for the called to share the gospel in multiple contexts. In it, Rev. Olu Brown, pastor of Atlanta’s Impact Church, affirms this challenge to the local church to ‘become known as the church of summer excellence.’

How do we pull that off? Rev. Brown writes, “In order to grow during the summer months, each church must PLAN FOR SUCCESS in the summer.” (emphasis mine) He continues, “Truly, if you don’t do something unique and creative over the summer, the likelihood is that your congregation will go into decline in both people and money.”

Rev. Brown invites the reader to consider the following:

  • Variety and innovation inspire worshipers to attend during the summer because the local church actively works to engage their attention. People have a ‘need for novelty and desire to have fun during the summer.’
  • Offer incentives to encourage attendees to be more consistent and invite others to join you during the summer. It’s not about watering down the mission of the church, but rather ‘good evangelism in the 21st century.’

School begins in the Atlanta area in August. Plan for summer success in January to be the church of summer Children’s Ministry excellence. What is your local church known for in the summer?

“But those who plan what is good show love and faithfulness.” Proverbs 14:22b

Big Guy-Little Guy Nerf Games

With a desire to build some ministry memories for our fathers and sons, we offered a Thursday evening Big Guy-Little Guy Nerf Games event 7-8:30pm on a hot summer evening in our gym. I read every blog I could find about Nerf Games for ideas, cautions, must-haves, and lessons learned.  The little guy had to have completed K5-5th grade. The big guy could be a dad, uncle, grandfather, big brother, etc. We did not offer prizes, other than the container of red, white, and blue M&Ms for the one who came closest to guessing how many were in the container. Prizes were bragging rights. It was a hit!

Promotion: Big Guy-Little Guy Nerf Games
All little guys (completed K5-5th grade) are invited to bring a big guy. Bring your own Nerf artillery and we’ll provide the ammunition. Thursday, June 20, 7-8:30pm. This is not a drop-off event, but a shared big guy-little guy event in the gym. Register today at… $5 per big guy, $5 per little guy

Supplies:
o Bullets and Target stickers
o Blow up rocks
o Barricades – Big boxes; panels
o Bandanas & Goggles & Ammo
o Name tags
o Black half-aprons to keep and store ammo (we use these aprons all the time)
o Overturned green buckets to raise items on tables
o Face paint makeup sticks and hand mirrors
o barriers
o Turned over tables
o Signage
o Helium balloons red, white, and blue
o 5 Back-up guns from 5Below & Walmart

Setup outside the gym included a sign-in table for name tags, bandannas green or blue, safety glasses, ammo, and black half-aprons to store ammo. (We use these half-aprons for a lot of things).
Setup inside the gym included one wall of various target shooting stations, one wall with M&Ms and water stations with camo paper cups, and a corner with 30 chairs for water break and devotion. The rest of the gym was filled with barriers, balloons, random chairs, etc.

7-7:20pm Big Guy-Little Guy photo ops and target shooting
7:20-7:45pm Various games such as Protect The President, Last Little Guy Standing, Last Man Standing, Last Team Standing, Little Guys Guard Big Guys, Big Guys Guard Little Guys, Family Target Shooting Contest, etc.
7:45pm Water break with Butterfinger snack bars and devotion led by a McEachern Kids leader who used all kinds of animals calls, then spoke about Jesus calls (outstanding!)
7:50pm Various games (see above) After each game, a whistle would blow to reload and pickup ammo from the floor
8:20pm Hands-on prayer time and clean up.

Delights? Watching a grandmother and wives/mothers viewing from the upper balcony. The laughter and giggles from the boys and their big guys. This was a summer follow-up to VBS which made for the majority of attendees being new to the church. There were dads who came without guns and dads who came with duffel bags full of them. We will definitely do this again. A colleague is planning to borrow our goodies for Veterans Day with a Veteran from her church to offer the devotion.

“He was a mighty hunter before the Lord.” Genesis 10:9

Faith Field Trip Season #2

Faith Field Trips are an intentionally memorable faith-formation experience, developmentally appropriate for students who have completed kindergarten-3rd grade and 3rd grade-5th grade off-campus and during the summer. We typically share this experience with other churches and take kids outside where Jesus likely spent most of his youngest years.

There are many local opportunities for faith-formation experiences when we can engage in multiple conversations about God our Creator, Jesus our best friend and Savior, and the Holy Spirit our comforter, helper, and reminder. Details about our first summer of experiences can be found here. Faith Field Trips are typically $20 per student unless the time goes beyond 3pm, when it becomes $25 per student.  Scholarships are always available. Students brown-bag their own lunches and a stop at QuickTrip for vanilla ice cream cones on the way back is a must. K5-3rd graders go on Wednesdays, 3rd-5th graders go on Tuesdays.

Some of the results of our first year of Faith Field Trips are new and deeper friendships between students who only see one another at church; are offered as follow-up activities following VBS which are varied and many and soon after VBS; and connecting with families on a smaller, more-intimate level with special memories and Bible training.

These are the trips planned this summer for 3rd-5th graders…

  • Hiking at East Palisades after preparing and delivering lunches for MUST Ministry summer lunch program. Bible story: Jesus walked along the Sea of Galilee as He told others about the Kingdom of God.
  • Mystery Art Bus – weaving carpets, attending new Aladdin movie (because it is beautiful and filled with colors and fabrics). Bible story: Paul, Priscilla & Aquila were tent-makers who grew in their friendship and service to the Lord even when it was tough to do so.
  • Lake Winnie Amusement & Water Park. Think classic amusement park from the 1950s. Not very busy, small footprint of space, covered picnic tables for breaks and lunch.
  • Red Top Mountain Paddle Boarding – Murph Surf rentals and training. Bible story: Jesus walked on water.
  • Lagrange Bible Antiquities Center – there’s a bunch of stuff here relating to the Bible.
  • Ambassadors Leadership Day at Mrs. DeDe’s. Bible study and more at my home with plenty of chaperones and fun things to do in the neighborhood. This year’s theme: Spiritual Gifts & The Avengers.

Faith Field Trips planned this summer for completed K5-3rd graders…

  • Search & Rescue Dog training & farm in White, Georgia – Jesus wants us to be found.
  • Seven Springs Water Park – Jesus was there when the sun and water were created.
  • Red Top Mountain putt-putt golf and sand-castle making – parables.

One of my favorite parts of our Faith Field Trips is the opportunity to collaborate with other children’s ministry champions and spend time with parent chaperones. We laugh, we plan, we calendar, and we get to know each other on a more personal level. We share life and fabulous memories. AND when I ask my students to invite their friends, they get to meet and spend time with mine. Faith Field Trips are all about relationship-building making them win-wins for students, for chaperones, and for our local churches.

“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my father I have made known to you.” John 15:15

Weary and Soul-Tired

Summer ministry with children and families is at warp-speed. Last week was a great week of Vacation Bible School in my local church, but this Enneagram 3 has hit the wall. I’m weary, and soul-tired. Not only was last week filled with Vacation Bible School, there were several meetings which stabbed my heart, and on the very day when our theme was ‘When life is sad, God is good,’ our wonderful family dog of 13 years passed away that morning. I grieve the loss of my faithful, morning quiet time partner. Our home is much too quiet. Did I mention that I’m weepy, too.

Yesterday, I packed the car to head to Athens, Georgia to serve as a delegate for my district at the 2019 North Georgia United Methodist Church Annual Conference. I’m not thinking my energy will improve with the anticipated contention which has been talked about for months.

It’s an election year. As a lay delegate, I will be voting for other lay persons who will represent me and my local church at the next General Conference, the law-making body of the United Methodist Church. My mailbox and inbox has been filled with people asking me to consider voting for them, laying out their qualifications, credentials, along with various expressions of their love and loyalty to our Savior lived out in service to the UMC Body of Christ. I read each one hoping to read, “I teach children’s Sunday school,” or “I serve every year at Vacation Bible School.”

I trust in a great God who chose the church as His representatives to a lost world. He sent His Son to die for it. He will indeed be present. We’ve prayed for Him to be there. We’ve asked Him to empower us to show His love to one another in word and in deed. As in the local church and life, there will be celebrations and disappointments.

Then next Sunday we’ll gather for Father’s Day at each local church. We are Sunday people. We’ll sing, we’ll teach, we’ll read our Bibles, and we’ll give. Children and their families will come to church earnestly seeking Jesus. Pray with us. Be informed. This week will not be easy, but just because it’s hard doesn’t mean His hand is not in it. And He is with us always.

“Better is the end of a thing than the beginning; and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.” Ecclesiastes 7:8

The Morning After The First Night Of VBS

Vacation Bible School is a major event. VBS is as part of the American summer as swimming pools and lemonade. In 1894, an Illinois Sunday school teacher, Mrs. Miles, wanted more time to teach the Bible to children, so she began a daily Bible school lasting four weeks during the summer. In 1898, Ms. Hawes started an Everyday Bible School in New York City for slum children in a saloon which was the only place available for rent. She added music, memory verses, games, crafts, drawing, cooking, and more to an array of Bible stories. She kept at it for seven years so that by the time she retired, she supervised at least seven separate schools.

Yet it is Dr. Robert Boville who is credited with establishing VBS as a movement recommending other churches do what Hawes was doing. He eventually established a handful of summer schools which were led by Union Theological Seminary students. By 1923, Dr. Boville was promoting VBS internationally and founded the World Association of Vacation Bible Schools. Standard Publishing would take the credit for popularizing Vacation Bible School by creating a full scale VBS program in 1923, dividing it by grade level in 1948, introduced the single-theme concept in 1952, and offered more than 120 tools to equip local churches to host their own VBS by 1987. By 1998, Standard reported that more than 5 million kids attended VBS programs each year.

We started our VBS on Sunday night and these were my first thoughts the morning after…

Good call on not serving food – More than 15% of our student’s registered reported various allergies on their VBS registration forms. Most were food allergies, but one has a glitter allergy and another a watermelon allergy. Students are with us for just a couple of hours. I’ve never dealt personally with allergies, but it must scare the daylights out of a parent to entrust their child with a community. Our community is not food scarce so we don’t need to offer food. We can serve water and lots of it.

The secret sauce of any VBS is the volunteers – The best way for kids to know and love Jesus is to be with people who know and love Jesus. At VBS training I remind our servant-leaders that this is the week they can get their Jesus freak on and they must. The kingdom depends on it!  Think: What if every follower of Jesus was just like you, would kids want to become a follower of Jesus?  Their YES to VBS means they will sing, dance, smile; high five, play games, and dress up. I tell them not to be concerned with decorating; we have a fabulous team for that. Just be ready to build relationships with their students and with one another. We even have personal post cards the travel guides will write to each student which I will address, stamp, and mail the following week. I don’t like the trash of lots of paper and plastic, so our decorating team builds VBS vignettes in strategic places around campus made up of a few large items. This makes it easier for us to pass along our decorations to other churches the morning after our last night. We can be the Jesus freak and do it every day.

It’s OK if someone didn’t get the information – Even if I overwhelm families and volunteers with emails, texts, social media posts, bulletin notices, fliers, posters, banners, and face-to-face, I still can’t reach everyone and folks are going to be surprised when they arrive. Smile and let it go, let it go…yes, I’m breaking into song. VBS and ministry with children is what I live and breathe, but not everyone else. Families are just finishing the school year, attending awards ceremonies, juggling summer camps, sleepovers, and adjusting to a new normal of late mornings and late nights. Just the change in a daily routine can turn families for a loop. We can serve grace and lots of it.

According to the latest Lifeway ResearchMost parents (95 percent) say VBS was a positive experience for their child. A similar number say VBS helped their child better understand the Bible (94 percent) and influenced their child’s spiritual growth (95 percent). Most (95 percent) also say that VBS is one of their child’s most meaningful church experiences. “People still believe Vacation Bible School is good for kids. Even parents who don’t go to church want their kids to go to VBS.”

In the words of our Senior Pastor who leads our Preschool Bible room all week, “Winner, winner, chicken dinner.”

Sending you great VBS vibes for an ext-ROAR-dinary week! For those of us in the trenches, we know that VBS is not about a week, it’s about eternity.

“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.” Ephesians 5:8

Seven Big BUTS of Children’s Ministry

Calendaring in January and June for the next 18-24 months calls for a level of fearlessness when facing the following seven big BUTS in Children’s Ministry:

BUT IT’S NOT THE WAY WE’VE ALWAYS DONE IT – Refreshing and editing ministry must be a constant if we intend on being relevant. 20% of each year’s programming should be as a result of an update, an edit, something new, or delayed/postponed.  Informally debrief after every event and after each special Sunday so energy and excitement builds and remains. Rename it. Change the season/date. Start small to get the kinks out so that people know you are hearing them.

BUT FAMILIES ARE SO BUSY – Learn the rhythm of your community, not just your local church. With the exception of Sunday (Sunday is Game Day!), clear your schedule for your volunteers and families the first few weeks and the last six weeks of the school year. Families are trying to get accustomed to new normals, schedules, and filling out all that paperwork that is required at the beginning of the year. May has become more congested for families than December. Reach out in prayer and encouragement, but give your families easy wins. When you calendar, choose what is best. Consider what you used to do annually to offering every other year. Remember that Sunday programming is your bread and butter. Treat it with even greater planning and preparation as you would a special event.

BUT IT’S NOT ON THE CALENDAR – Just because others in your church don’t calendar 18-24 months in advance, doesn’t mean you can’t. Call a calendaring meeting and see who comes. Set your working calendar in pencil and get your stuff on the calendar first with the plan that if something else comes up, you respond with grace and a spirit of collaboration. Calendaring is partnering.

BUT WE’RE A SMALL CHURCH – Churches that are growing deeper are the ones with greater intentionality of forming circles and not just rows as they share life, share interests, and share a heart for others in inter-generational service as a result of Bible reading and study. Relationships grow more quickly and deeper in small groups, so take advantage of these small moments with great fruit. Let go of the thought that everything needs to be a Broadway production and make the faith-formation experiences more personal, more participatory, and more thoughtful.

BUT WE DON’T HAVE THE BUDGET NOR THE SPACE – Think what Jesus used: his feet, his words, his posse, and what he had on hand. Whatever you have, invite other local churches’ kidmin to join your kids for a different experience. Whatever the other local churches’ kidmin is doing, call and ask if you can bring a group of kids for a shared experience once or twice each year. When the bottom fell out of the stock market just a few months after I was brought on to start a family ministry at a church financed primarily by retired college professors, I prayed and got creative with what was available. Bands and sports camps came on campus each week. Each night I sold hot Little Caesar’s pizza out the back of my car along with ice-cold waters and Gatorades for three entire summers to finance for three years the ministry God had called me to lead. Sunday through Thursday from 10pm-1am. Fruitful ministry and oh the relationships and connections. Use what you have and let the Lord do the multiplying.

BUT WE DON’T HAVE THE VOLUNTEERS – Who do you have? Then raise up and train folks to be the volunteers. I’d sit in the sanctuary during services and ask the Lord to show me who to invite. Stay off the struggle-bus of negativity and wishing for what you don’t have. Give the volunteers you do have the joy and wonder of using the spiritual gifts handed to each one by their Creator. I make a way for 4th & 5th graders (the oldest in my lane of influence) to be taught and experience the joy of serving our Lord in their home church. I’m looking down the road to train up servant-leaders for this and their future local churches. Think of yourself like a general contractor enlisting the help and gifts of sub-contractors to build His house.

BUT NO ONE COMES TO SUNDAY SCHOOL ANYMORE – Thinking of the local church becoming more decentralized, we must offer Christian Education on Sunday morning and beyond. I do love Sunday school because it builds sticky faith and sticky relationships, so I schedule the really special things to take place during the Sunday school hour. Edit what you are doing maybe with a name change: Sunday small groups. I just read about a youth group revived in a local church when it was offered on a Sunday morning. Try new arrangements in discipleship. We are not event-planners. We provide environments where we ‘make disciples and teach.’ We ‘make disciples’ in teaching and letting little people and their families practice what they learn so they become more like Jesus. The first thing Jesus did when he called his disciples was to ‘teach them.’ Sunday morning is our bread and butter, but it can look differently and be called something different to build energy, build buzz, build relationships, and fulfill the vision of the church and the Great Commission. Keeping my focus on deep relationships with Jesus and with one another, God and our children’s ministry leadership can figure it out. We have more resources available today than any other time in history. Let’s use them!

There has never been a more exciting time to edit, make new, and update what it takes for a gospel-payoff in the local church for kids. The kids you are leading will be the leadership and the innovators in the local church today and tomorrow. Let’s model prayerful editing, innovation, and accept the tension of BUTS with creativity and joyful obedience. I imagine you deal with your own set of BUTS. How are you overcoming your BIG BUTS in ministry with children and families?

“Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, BUT WITH GOD all things are possible.’” Matthew 19:26

The Tension of Graduate Sunday

Graduate Sunday: A morning filled with caps, gowns, testimonies, and great joy as families celebrate the major milestone of graduation. Last Sunday was Graduate Sunday. One high school graduate stood to give her testimony which started like this: I grew up in this church. I have known God before I even knew what that was. Isn’t that the way it should be? But it wasn’t until I was in middle school, I began to understand….

There are tensions between children’s ministry and youth ministry. This is one of them. Setting aside the natural differences in leadership, age, gender, t-shirt messages, and organization, I hope you find encouragement in that we are OK to offer the foundations in the faith of our little people. What is developmentally appropriate for children is not the same as what is developmentally appropriate for middle/high school students. “In Children’s Ministry we are trained for foundation, not exploration (which begins in middle school.)”Rethinking Youth Ministry: What Every Children’s Pastor Wishes Their Youth Pastor Knew

Children are concrete thinkers and learn best through story. Stories of Jesus and family are the stickiest. For example: the story of Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors…his daddy gave him a coat because he loves him; your parents give you a coat because they love you. God made you and Jesus loves you. Be like Jesus. Robert J. Keely in Helping Our Children In Faith writes “We need to take advantage of this developmental readiness to share these stories with them in a way that allows children to live inside of the stories.” Children are greatly influenced by the stories of the faith of people around him/her, his/her own stories of faith, and biblical accounts of faith. Kids begin to connect these stories together, but don’t yet see them as one large story that starts with “In the beginning God” and ends with “Amen” which truly begins in the middle school years (meta-cognition). There is more on why Bible stories are important here.

Ken Blanchard in The Stride speaks of the three spiritual practices which move people to become more like Jesus in strides rather than baby steps: Bible Reading, Financial Generosity, and Serving. We teach this in foundational and concrete ways in children’s ministry when we dedicate intentional time to Bible skills & Giving (loving the Lord our God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength) and Serving (loving our neighbors as ourselves.)

I hope my church was pleased to hear this graduate speak of growing up here and they were successful in partnering with her parents so that she’d know the Lord before she knew what that was. I wasn’t there when she was growing up, but I know some of the men and women who were. This is a legacy we get to share and I couldn’t be more thrilled for them and others who faithfully offer developmentally appropriate teaching and experiences for children. I love the tradition in some churches when a graduate is introduced by name, the people in attendance who were part of his/her journey stand as the great cloud of witnesses who have and will continue to surround them as each graduate runs with perseverance the race marked out for them…so they will not grow weary nor lose heart as shared in Hebrews 12:1-3.

A Rethinking Youth Ministry podcast 069 speaks to this tension and is worth the 40 minutes for those who serve in ministry with youth AND children. If you choose to listen to the podcast, I’d be very interested in hearing your thoughts on some best practices to ease the tension between youth and children’s ministries.

“We are laying a foundation, especially the early years of children’s ministry, that hopefully when it starts to be kicked against at some point in the future, that it won’t completely fall apart, but will be a renovation and not a rebuild.” 30:20 RYM069 podcast, What Every Children’s Pastor Wishes Their Youth Pastor Knew I love 

“Only be careful and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.” Deuteronomy 4:9

Rethink Communication: A Church Communication Playbook

Listening to a MyCom United Methodist Communications podcast, Phil Bowdle told his story. His dad was a United Methodist pastor. His mom led Children’s Ministry. He wasn’t just raised in the church. His family had keys. Today he is the Creative Arts Pastor at West Ridge Church in Northwest Atlanta. He wrote Rethink Communication: A Playbook to Clarify and Communicate Everything In Your Church, recently published by Center For Church Communication. This is not a theory book. He agrees right off that we have the greatest news to tell the world: the good news of Jesus Christ. What he DOES do is set forth the best tools, best questions to ask, best model for brainstorming and evaluation, best practices to effectively communicate, and best examples of what to do and what not to do to get the greatest news into our worlds.

The layout of the book is incredibly practical and well-ordered by process and system. Rather than report the statistics we already know, I was fabulously encouraged by the statement, “Church attendance is not decreasing, it’s decentralizing.” Decentralizing is moving away from a single administrative center to other locations or vehicles of engaging in Christian education and Christian community. “The average person who attends your church may only physically attend eight to ten times a year. The average person your church is trying to communicate with is on social media 116 minutes a day.” (pg 41) The challenge is how to best connect through communication with those who physically attend church AND as they live life every single day. Moving from one-way to two-way communication is the best way to engage with the folks in our community since the average attention span of people in 2018 is 8 seconds. (pg 46)

Take a deep breath.

Bowdle shares three things we can no longer assume when we communicate:
1. Stop assuming you have your audience’s attention. We have to earn it.
2. Stop assuming that because it’s important to you, it’s important to your audience. Speak first to what’s important to them.
3. Stop adding to your message. Start simplifying.

Start simplifying. This takes time. This takes planning. This takes brainstorming in community. This takes preparation as a team because for our message to be heard AND responded to, it will require more time to communicate that message than it did in the past. (pg 104) He offers tips for planning your timeline so to clarify your message for each event/activity, know your audience’s persona, develop an elevator pitch, communicate answers to problems, then remember the ‘rule of seven.’ The ‘rule of seven’ is the number of impressions it takes before someone new is going to respond to your message.

He offers specific systems for the messages we want to share, the deadlines to consider, and to constantly be advocating for your target audience no matter what. He confirms that church communication is not a service, but rather a ministry. He then drives home his thoughts on church announcements. He speaks clearly on the tension between meeting the needs of our audience and meeting the requests of the ministry leaders. Cutesy names and insider language have to go. Simplify and tell a story. Any message worth communicating is worth communicating more than once. He suggests beginning with a soft launch (first early impressions of your message to build anticipation and awareness with the core of your target audience); a launch (communicating your message when people can hear and respond to your message); a blitz (building on impressions already made and concentrating multiple impressions into key times when you want people to respond.)

There is so much great material in this book, it is indeed a playbook for how to most effectively communicate the message of what makes your church your church. This is a practical playbook and should be required reading for leaders in ministry today who want to be the most effective at communicating inside and outside the church. We’ve got the best news in the world to share. This tool can help you ask the best questions to get you there.

“The two words ‘information’ and ‘communication’ are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things.  Information is giving out; communication is getting through.” – Sydney J. Harris

Moving On Up to Middle School

MovingOnUp2MiddleSchoolAccording to Barna Group research published in March 2019 entitled Who Is Responsible For Children’s Faith Formation, “In this and several other studies with Christian parents, our research has found that they crave guidance on how to educate and form their children, knowing that they are growing up in a world that is far more secular than their own childhood. Parents want to hear from their pastors on this issue,” Hempell continues. “Church leaders have the opportunity to develop a unique community for faith formation by bringing parents, school administrators and faith leaders together in partnerships for faith development. This is the basis for intentionally equipping parents through events such as Moving On Up to Middle School.

Moving on Up to Middle School is a dessert and panel discussion for 5th graders AND their parents offered the last week of April. Promotion language sounded like this:

Initial communication: McEachern Memorial UMC wants to help your family navigate this big move to middle school with confidence, information, and tools for success. 5th grade students AND parents are invited for dessert to a panel discussion and Q&A on Tuesday, April 30 6:30-8pm in the lower level of the Christian Life Center room ***
Free childcare will be provided for siblings by ***.  Please RSVP for parents and 5th graders at ****.

Secondary communication: Get a free copy of Viral Parenting, get some questions answered, satisfy your sweet tooth, and enjoy some laughter at tomorrow’s Moving On Up To Middle School dessert and panel discussion event for 5th graders and their parents. Free childcare for siblings by emailing ***. Register at ***

2Students and parents were invited to write down questions on index cards and get dessert. At 6:50 we played a game of how to work a combination lock. We found colorful dual combination locks with the same combination so they could help one another…we are better together. Panel discussion began at 7pm. At 7:30-45 (or when the questions were finished, students would sit knee-to-knee with their parents and discuss some items based on the questions/discussion. For example: “What does helping with homework look like to you?”, “How can I let you know that I need to talk?”, and “What if I mess up?” We dismissed at 7:55pm with a benediction and prayer.

The panel included our Youth Ministry Director, a middle school teacher, a dad with a middle school boy and a mom with a middle school girl who are navigating middle school with healthy success. Thank you notes for the panel were attached to a box of Sour Patch Kids. We chose not to take questions from the floor to ensure students nor parents would be put in unflattering, uncomfortable, or judgmental spots.  One of the main goals in offering these educational events is to engage in successful and healthy conversations between kids and their parents.

Other parent-equipping opportunities which have taken place in the last 4 months included Wonderfully Made: Loved By God, John Rosemond spoke during a Sunday school shared event, and various Faith Milestone events for the lower grades. The sacred and courageous conversations have begun. This research affirms we are moving in the right direction. We’re already preparing for opportunities to offer this fall: Cell Phone Safety, Sharing Your Faith With Your Family, Will You Be My Friend?: Healthy Relationships, and more.

2Testimony: I instructed students I’d give them a Combination Lock for a question written on an index card for the panel to discuss. They began writing furiously. Without instruction they struggled. Thinking they would work together, they did not, but rather continued to struggle. I let them struggle. After 5 minutes, I asked the students to hand the locks over to their parents. Hearing the clicking of opened locks all over the room, the kids were amazed, looking at their parents with pride and admiration. This was a great way to begin as they now saw how their parents knew more than they thought and would help them ‘unlock’ a whole lot more.

ViralParenting

Note: Viral Parenting is one of the latest books to be published specifically for parents and caregivers on navigating boundary setting and living with a cell phone in a social media world. I then cautioned them on reading any book passively. Though the authors are part of a faith community, it is not a faith-based book. There is a section toward the end of the book when the author talks about their family attending church and faith-based education. Which is good info. However, they then share that though the reader may not have or believe in the Lord, they can still find hope elsewhere. I shared with my audience of 5th graders and their parents as followers of Jesus, we do NOT believe that. Our hope is ONLY in the Lord Jesus Christ. Sally Clarkson, Author of Book Girl, which advocates for the transforming power of a reading life speaks to reading everything with a discerning filter: Because stories engage my imagination and heart on a deep level, I am aware of the fact that what I encounter on their pages will teach me how to see the world, and this is why I’ve had to learn to practice discernment. (pg 9)

How else are you training and equipping parents to lead their children so they “grow in wisdom, stature, and in favor with God and man?” (Luke 2:52)

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ – which is the first commandment with a promise – ‘so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’ Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Ephesians 6:1-4