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

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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

 

Blessing of the GaGa Ball Pit

We borrowed a semi-portable GaGa Ball pit from a generous church for a couple of weeks last summer. We loved it. It seemed that each time there were kids in the area, the kids would begin a pick-up game and the parents or grandparents would enjoy some bench time to chat and visit. We knew the ball playing would be fun, but the added benefit of building community was a bonus. Last December, we made the big purchase from Coach Cliff’s and just held onto the boxes until I could find a great carpenter to buy the wood and put it together.

GaGa Ball is believed to have originated in Israel, and slowly spread across the U.S. over several decades. Ga means “hit” or “touch” in Hebrew. In the rules of GaGa ball, the ball must touch the ground two times before it is considered in play, hence the name. The game moves fast and kids of all ages and stages can play together.

The goal was to have the pit ready for the Sunday after Easter, but we didn’t want to just put it out there without some expression of gratitude and ceremony. We wanted to let the children know that their church loved them so much they provided the pit for them, but ultimately all good things come from the Lord. So, we promoted a Blessing of the GaGa Ball pit to take place immediately after all Sunday services along with freeze pops on the Sunday following Easter. The freeze pops gave us a chance to offer direction since there will be no eating inside the pit. Once they finished their freeze pops, they could enter to play AFTER we gathered to remember that all good things come from the Lord and it is good and right to give thanks.  The pit will stay up until the first week of November, then packed away until the Sunday after Easter the following year.

Leader: Thank you, God, for this Gaga Ball pit.
All: This is a day to remember God’s love.
Leader: We know that everything we have ultimately comes from you, because you are the Creator of all things.
All: This is a day to remember God’s love.
Leader: We ask you to help this Gaga Ball pit to grow in us love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control as we play.
All: This is a day to remember God’s love.
Leader: We ask that as we play, we would remember to play by the rules.
All: This is a day to remember God’s love.
Leader: We ask that you help us remember that as we play, it is more important to be kind than to argue. Let us celebrate when we play well and when my friends play well.
All: This is a day to remember God’s love.
Leader: Let us invite the old friend, the stranger, the new friend, and all who want to play.
All: This is a day to remember God’s love.
Leader: As we play, let us remember God’s love.
All: This is a day to remember God’s love. Amen!

Two bouncy balls stay inside the pit making a pick-up game available anytime kids are around. That same afternoon of the Blessing of the GaGa Ball pit, upon our return from a 3rd-5th grade shared-event, the lingering began. The returning students started a game and the kids who were at church helping their parents set up for the following week’s consignment sale, came bounding downstairs to join in. Our families stayed another 30 minutes chatting, laughing, telling stories, and watching their kids play ball. This is going to be fabulous.  Thank you, Lord! This is a day to remember Your love.

“Sing to Him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy.” Psalm 33:3

Who Will Lead Them?

Just imagine with me if there was a way to intentionally train up future leaders in Children’s Ministry FOR Children’s Ministry. I’m talking preparing the next generation of professional Christian educators while they are still kids. As I post multiple job openings for churches of all sizes all over North Georgia seeking amazing candidates to serve as the lead in ministry with children, I struggle with the lack of intentionality to coach young students to answer those calls…even for a season.

So this is what I’m thinking….

Right now our local church provides training for a team of Ambassadors to serve as leaders in the ministry they’re in. They set up, take down, clean up, provide tech support, greet, acolyte, encourage, and take on the beginnings of serving with intentionality in their home church in 4th & 5th grade. When they age out of our program upon entering 6th grade, I’m so grateful they are not expected to walk away from the Children’s Ministry in my local church. This is a rarity and I know it. I prayed for it.

At 6th grade through middle school, these students can return to be trained to serve in deeper and greater roles such as small group leaders, station leaders at special events, set up & take down for special events, provide tech support on a larger scale, write notes, serve as Cherub Choir leaders, take photos, and decorate. I recall a middle schooler who provided decorating support for VBS sharing, “I had no idea it took this much work to pull this off. I really thought y’all just pulled stuff out of a closet and it just happened.” There would be coaching all along the way as they interacted with students and parents, learned new sound systems, and the administrative support necessary to pull off an effective and sustainable ministry with children. Teaching not just the tasks, but the why behind the tasks, and the follow up. Those of us in the trenches know that follow-up doesn’t just mean clean-up and the measure of success isn’t just the numbers of kids who attended.

When these students age up to high school…I’m dreaming…in all honesty, I’m planning in my head….that there would be several very intentional times of training this team to dream, plan, calendar, and creatively provide for moving through the liturgical calendar year. This team would be involved with the teaching, the training, the creative energy behind large family events and weekly small faith-formation experiences. We would teach them to resource their idea, market it, plan it, set the goals for it, measure it for success or edit, as a team of freshmen, then as sophomores, then as juniors. As seniors in high school they’d serve as full-on interns to train up those behind them. We’d pay for their first national kidmin conference once 18 years old AND all the local kidmin training we can get them to throughout these high school years.

Then. Then! THEN! When these students age out of youth and into the next season of their lives, they’d be prepared and ready to serve in a local church as the lead in that 10 hour, 15 hour, 20 hour position if those were available. We’d get them connected with a local coach for THIS to be their part-time job in college. With churches probably moving smaller in the future, yet more connected, they’d be prepared for the continuing decentralizing of local church attendance.

I’ve begun talking about it among our students and they are all over it. The wins, just off the top of my head?

  • Fulfill Titus 2 with a great hand-off ready for effectiveness.
  • Through the training up, our local church would remain culturally relevant because of these student’s influence and leadership.
  • Students can grow our church’s engagement in the digital revolution of our changing culture.
  • Students will be ready to continue serving the body of Christ with effective skills.
  • Students can earn a small living in those areas which are paid positions while in college/continuing education. Who doesn’t need a few bucks as a young adult?
  • Students will keep those of us currently leading from making irrelevant assumptions about our community and the future of the church.
  • Students will help us clarify the gospel message to our community.
  • Students moving to a new area would have immediate connection to Christian community.
  • When I hear there is a job posting for a 10-hour, 15-hour, 20-hour position, I won’t have to post it. I can send them someone ready to go with skills, enthusiasm, and a call to ministry…for we are ALL called to the ministry of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
  • What else?

‘Go ye therefore, and TEACH all nations, baptizing them…: TEACHING THEM to observe ALL THINGS whatsoever I have commanded you: AND, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.’ Matthew 28:18-20

A Target Audience Survey

Reading Rethink Communication: A Playbook to Clarify and Communicate Everything In Your Church, author Phil Bowdle shares the following:

“The basic foundation of most churches has not changed dramatically. The average church is built around worship services, children’s ministry, student ministry, Sunday school or small groups, and ministry events. So what’s changed? It’s the people.”

He then quotes Dave Adamson, “Church attendance is not decreasing, it’s decentralizing.” BECAUSE, according to http://www.socialmediatoday.com, “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 engage with is on social media 116 minutes a day.” 

Breathe. Really. Just breathe.

Phil Bowdle was interviewed on the MyCom Church Marketing Podcast of March 12. He shared his dad was a United Methodist pastor, his mom served as a leader in Children’s Ministry. He didn’t just grow up in the church. His parents had keys! Phil serves today as the Creative Arts Pastor at West Ridge Church in Northwest Atlanta. I ordered the book before the podcast ended.

Jesus’ Great Commission to us as His followers is to ‘make disciples of Jesus Christ’ or in other translations, ‘go and teach’. We can only do that through engaging people in discipleship as they live their lives every day of the week. We MUST prepare and plan to engage people as they are inside the house AND outside the house.

So where do we start? Phil writes that many churches exist in the ‘chaos cycle.’ Two of the many symptoms of the ‘chaos cycle’ would be ‘reactive workflow instead of proactive planning’ and ‘everything comes together at the last minute.’ To break out of the ‘chaos cycle’ Phil suggests and outlines six plays to effectively communicate our message. Play #1: Clarify your message.

In clarifying your message, we ask ourselves three great questions:
1. Who is your target audience?
2. What’s the win for your message?
3. What are the barriers to your message?

I’ve spent the last week contemplating and talking about and to my target audience as we prepare to plan and promote a new monthly ministry to students in 3rd-5th grade next fall. I surveyed our 2nd-5th graders on Palm Sunday as they were waiting their class’ turn to move through the Easter Story Stone Stations after the traditional palm processional. Why? I no longer have a 2nd-5th grader living their everyday in my home and I don’t want to make assumptions.

The information gathered was surprisingly delightful, and so helpful. The questions we asked are below:
1. Top 2 shows you like to watch
2. Top 2 outside-of-school activities do you like to play
3. Top 2 sports you like to watch
4. Top 2 people in your life
5. Top 2 people you’d like to hang out with (past or present people)
6. Top 2 restaurants where you like to eat
7. Top 2 family traditions
8. Top 2 favorite colors
9. Top 2 things you like about church
10. Top 2 things you like about school
11. Top 2 things you like about Jesus
12. Top 2 things you like about your family
13. Top 2 people you like to talk to when you have a problem
14. Top 2 friends you have at church
15. Top 2 church leaders you know
16. Top 2 times when you like to pray
17. Top 2 times when you read your Bible
18. Top 2 songs you like to sing
19. What do you or have you participated in at church since you’ve been at McEachern? (circle all that apply)
Sunday School / Vacation Bible School / Ambassadors / Messy Family Lent / Messy Family Christmas / Acolytes / Winter Ball / Gaga Ball Pit / Christmas Caroling / Trip to Bethlehem / Ultimate Camp / Princess Class / Knights Class / Splish Splash / Tour of Nativities / Day Away at Ms. DeDe’s / Bible Ninja Warrior / Summer Special Sundays / Camp Glisson / Wonderfully Made / Faith Field Trips–Paddle Board, Puppets, Hiking, Movies / Recreation-Soccer, Basketball, etc. / McEachern Preschool

Next, I will work with our team to determine the win. Then, we address the barriers. This book is a practical playbook on communicating your message. Do I dare prepare a ‘next steps’ plan of discipleship for each age level based on this information? You bet I do!

“And again, ‘I will put my trust in him.’ And again he says, ‘Here am I, and the children God has given me.” Hebrews 2:13

Messy Family Lent

Messy Church is a fresh expression of inter-generational worship, service, and fellowship experiences which values being Christ-centered, based on creativity, hospitality, and celebration. We used the framework for Messy Church for a Messy Family Christmas event last December for an afternoon event. Thirty minutes for creative activities; thirty minutes for inter-generational worship with familiar live music and a jacked-up children’s moment; thirty minutes for table life with a simple meal of soup, bread, and water. It was a huge success in registration of 100 and actually 120 in attendance. Our Missions Committee also used the Messy Church model as an opportunity to extend a Christmas blessing to families in need who are serviced by our food pantry and Teach-One-To-Lead-One missions in our local elementary and middle schools naming it The Christmas Table for the sole purpose of growing in relationships and sharing table-life with even more families in our community.

After receiving permission to take on the four 5th Sundays in the coming year to expand the Messy Church model in our context, we chose to present a Messy Family Lent event as an opportunity to celebrate the end of our first Glee Club & Cherub Choir season on March 31st. What was different? We chose to offer it as a takeover for the first part of the 11am Sanctuary service where the children sang, signed, offered the call-to-worship as a call and response, and were flanked by worship art the children had prepared with six panels representing six scenes of the Lent season in the life of Jesus.

The schedule included twenty minutes of familiar music (Jesus Loves Me; This is the Day) including special music (song and sign language) of Rend Collective’s “Strength of My Heart.” We then dismissed from the Sanctuary, along with all of our parents/families, to the gym for a beautiful signing piece from our Cherub Choir (4-5 year olds) followed by eight stations of experiential activities. Parents were required to stay with their children as they moved from one station to another. At 12noon, the stations closed and families joined up at tables (assigned tables of eight for families who registered to encourage families to make new friends) along with additional table and chair spaces for 32. With two two-sided serving stations, we served sloppy joes, buns, shredded cheese, chips, pickles, and water which folks signed up to bring when they registered. At 12:20pm we finished the event with a sing-along of Jesus Loves Me and This Is The Day (song sheets on the tables) and a rousing rendition of a JumpStart 3 song our students have enjoyed singing since the first of the year.

This particular Sunday was the beginning of Spring Break. Expecting numbers to be low, we were surprised with the 85 registrations. Knowing what happened at Messy Family Christmas, I planned supplies for 125 at each station that had individual take-aways. We used everything! One of the reasons this planning freak gal likes to use the Messy Church model for creative and inter-generational stations is that not everything is a craft requiring a fixed amount of individual take-aways. Each station is not about the task, but rather the discussion and relationship-building.

With our theme of JESUS IS AMAZING, the following stations were set up around the perimeter of the gym. Not all the stations were ‘manned’ since the families were to remain together. When the station was ‘manned’, it was manned by past Ambassadors (current middle school youth) or an adult (not a parent/grandparent), and the story eggs were led by a husband and wife team who shared the Resurrection story with flare, excitement, and creativity.

Station #1 – Decorate bag to carry goodies home
Discussion: What do you think about Easter?
What do you think about Lent?
Did your family do something special for the season of Lent?
Jesus is amazing!

Station #2 – Decorate an altar cloth for the altar table in the Treehouse
Supplies: Full Sheet
Sharpies
Activity: Draw a cross and write your name around it on the sheet in a sharpie.
Discussion: What does the cross remind you of? Jesus died on a cross so we could be forgiven and was buried in a tomb, but He didn’t stay dead. He rose on the 3rd day to let us know that we are forgiven. A cross reminds us of God’s love for us. For God so loved YOU that he gave His one and only son that whoever believes in Jesus will not perish, but will have everlasting life. John 3:16
After Jesus died on the cross, the women who followed Him, wrapped up His body and laid Him in a tomb (a cave carved out of rock.) What Jesus did for us on the cross is amazing!

Station #3 – Lent words to know
Supplies: Scrabble letters on a large cookie sheet from the kitchen
Paper
Markers
List of words to start with: Lent, Easter, Jesus, cross, blood, water, soldier, pray
Activity: Make a word; build on a word already on the cookie sheet (like a crossword/scrabble board).
Discussion: During Lent we might hear lots of new words like ‘resurrection’, ‘redemption’, ‘holiness’ which we don’t typically hear any other time of year. What are some new words you have heard? Every word points to Jesus, because Jesus is amazing!

Station #4 – Story Eggs
Supplies: Wooden eggs
Activity: Draw symbols on your egg to decorate it so you can tell the Good News of Jesus.
Discussion: Dots – Jesus’ mommy Mary & friends cried tears of sadness when He died and cried tears of joy when He rose again
Hearts – God sent His son Jesus so we would know how much He loves us
Swirls – God made you and Jesus loves you
Cross – Jesus died on a cross, but is risen because Jesus is amazing!
Star – Where is Heaven? Heaven is up like the stars are up! Jesus walked the earth for 40 days to talk with his family and friends after His resurrection then went up into the clouds to (1) prepare a place for us when our time on earth is through, and (2) to send us a helper, the Holy Spirit, to help us live a life that honors God and our family as followers of Jesus. Jesus is amazing!

Station #5 – Decorated Crosses
Supplies: Wooden crosses
Activity: Have children choose a wooden cross they can keep.
Discussion: Talk about why the cross is the most important symbol of Easter for Christians (Believers and Followers of Jesus). Jesus in amazing!

Station #6 – Please Stones
Supplies: Small stones/jewels
Activity: Pick up a stone/jewel and hold it in your hand.
When Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, He asked God to please let something else take place to save people from sin. But, if this (Jesus dying on the cross) was the only way people could be saved and forgiven of our sins, then He would do what God asked of Him. This was a “Please prayer.”
Discussion: What’s on your mind? What are you hoping for? What are you wishing for?
Pray a “please” prayer (a prayer where you ask God “please”) for what’s on your mind.
When you’re done, place your stone in the bowl along with everyone else’s. Notice the growing numbers of prayers we share together.
God hears every prayer, even the ones that seem small or silly. Jesus is amazing!

Station #7 – Crown of Thorns
Supplies: Brown playdoh
Toothpicks
Activity: Mold a circle/crown with the playdoh and place broken toothpicks in it to make a crown of thorns.
Discussion: The first time ‘thorns’ is mentioned in the Bible is as a punishment for disobeying God’s first and only rule for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. “Don’t eat the fruit of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.” Because they disobeyed and did eat the fruit from it, they had to leave the Garden and now grow their own food ‘among the thorns and the thistles.’ Now we see that a crown of ‘thorns and thistles’ were placed on His head. This is an example of what we call, “The rule of first mention” in the Bible. When something is mentioned in the Bible for the first time, it matters how and when it is mentioned throughout the Bible. What does it feel like to your fingers? Jesus loves you so much that He took the punishment for our sin (our selfishness) so we can be forgiven and learn to live a life of kindness and help for other people. Jesus is amazing!

Station #8 – Rolling the Stone
Supplies: Marbles, poster paint, linen hand towel
Activity: Roll marbles in paint, and then roll them over the hand towel to leave a pattern.
Discussion: Talk about the stone being rolled away from Jesus’ tomb=the cave where Jesus was laid after He died on the cross. Jesus is amazing!

“They celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness.” Psalm 145:7