Let’s Be A Good Neighbor

One of the best ways to reach the community we serve is to offer families what they can not do on their own or may be way more complicated to make happen on their own like…

CPR/Basic First Aid Training – Contact the local American Red Cross and get on their schedule for a Sunday afternoon or Saturday morning. Local scouts, parents, and local businesses need CPR and basic first aid training. Roll out the hospitality red carpet, get registration information to build your community database, and make your space bright, clean, and warm. Contact the local daycares and local businesses to let them know you will be offering it with a face-to-face invite.

A Last Gift of Love – Organize a basic informational meeting or four separate mini 45-minute- to 1-hour gatherings with an attorney about the laws on wills and powers-of-attorney; a financial planner about beneficiaries; a funeral director about what to do when a loved-one dies; local senior services; life, health, long-term-care insurance instruction. Promote this to young families by letter or postcard to help begin the conversations of taking care of their parents as well as their children. So many of my local church’s young parents are dealing with these issues right now and they don’t even know where to begin. When my mother-in-law passed away suddenly several years back, I was so grateful for prior general conversations with a congregant who was an estate attorney to help us know where to begin. I am forever grateful.

Driving Practice – Put out a dozen orange traffic cones and offer driving and parking practice or a space/time for families in the evening in your large parking lot. Offer water bottles and lawn chairs for chatting. Be sure to offer a prayer over the learner’s permit and the driver’s license when it’s earned. What a milestone to share with a local family! Promote with yard signs.

Playground playdates – offer a regular, intentional time for preschool children to come to play with their parents/grandparents when you can be there to let the kids play and make space for conversations about what every preschool parent deals with such as nighttime routines, picky eaters, pediatricians, where shoes are on sale, etc. Set the time for 1 hour – 1.5 hours and offer a prayer time to close out your time together. Over time, regular routines, growing trust relationships, enjoying some laughter. Not a drop off, but rather a drop in. If you have a preschool or daycare, you’ll have easy promotional avenues.

College/Job Application skills – enlist the help of a college professor who might be in your church for their partnership.

Home Improvement Classes – enlist the help of a general contractor in your church to teach basic home improvement skills for kids WITH their parents and grandparents for measuring, leveling, hanging drywall or spackling, painting, trimming bushes, community container gardening.

Each one of these can neighborly extend the love when you….

  • Purchase honorarium gift cards for your instructors at local businesses and tell the business why you are purchasing the gift cards. Shop local and let the local business know you will be sending someone their way with the gift card. 
  • Shop local. Find a mom & pop or local family business to support. These are the folks who are feeding their families directly from your business. Come from a place of generosity rather than ‘what can you give me?’
  • Find out when the local community will be offering a farmer’s market (spring/summer) and holiday parade (summer/Christmas) and go through the paperwork to walk in the parade or offer a ‘station’ in the kid’s area. Find the community calendar online for your town and invest in a plastic A-frame sign or table cloth with your church or children’s ministry logo to set up then prepare to chat with folks about their lives wearing a church t-shirt. Use a local vendor for your t-shirts.
  • Discover the ‘walking’ schedule of the local neighborhood nearest your church, then invite a couple of church members (Jesus never sent out His disciples one at a time, but rather two, three, and up to seventy) to join you for a walk. Load up a rolling cooler with iced down freezer pops, safety scissors to clip the tops, and a side trash bag to collect the empties. Stroll as you roll and start some conversations fully intending to make some new friends of your new neighbors as being a frequent walker in the neighborhood. You can’t walk every neighborhood, but you could certainly dedicate March & April to one and learn it deeply.  Pray for each home you walk pass and consider writing a blessing on the sidewalk (not their driveway UNLESS you know them, then by all means!).

Gentle Reminder: Registration will probably be last minute and may be small. Do it anyway to build trust with your neighbors that your yes will be yes and your no will be no. If you promote it, do it. Promote it at least 60-days out with the understanding that it may take families a while to budget their time to build in the margin to make the registration. 

We all need new friends. We all need a good walk. We all should be learning new things. We all learn better together.

What other ideas do you have to be a good neighbor?

“Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up.” Romans 15:2

Hot Topic Table Chat

Dr. Lawson Murray published a blogpost entitled, “Developing a New Plan for Children’s Ministry” last November addressing many of the hot topics in today’s local church regarding ministry with families. Children’s ministry people rarely get seats at the tables where decisions are made about these hot topics yet they will respond with excellence. So we set a table especially for those who serve in ministry with children and families with in-person and online seats to chat about several of the hot topics mentioned in Lawson’s blogpost.

With great thanks to our host Tambryn Freund at Dunwoody UMC, a ten-minute limit to each topic, and the great note-taking skills of Vic Harmon of Alpharetta First UMC, the following amazing insights from the kidmin champions who took a seat at the table will be guiding my planning in 2022. 

Hot Topic Table Notes:  Remember We Are BETTER TOGETHER!

Why should we develop a new plan for children’s ministry?

#1 Children’s Ministry is NOT a priority
• If the church leadership focus is on 40s, 50s, 60s-year-olds, that is the perfect demographic for Grandparents since the average age of a first-time grandparent is 47 years old. We can focus on providing ministry to Grandparents and their grandchildren.
• First time grandparents are seeing the value in spiritual development for their adult children and grandchildren.

#2 No Collaboration in faith formation
• Pre-pandemic some schools allowed a Bible Club before school
o Find a Christian teacher/PTO parent who is willing to head it up and find a way into the schools.
• Misconception of collaboration: programming for adults and programming for the kids doesn’t equal collaboration
• Get your local school calendar and find out about school events to piggyback or creatively support
o We need to know what’s in the rhythm of our community, so find out what the local school is doing, and pick a different lane.
o Example: If the schools are doing a “Santa Shop” then we don’t need to also do one.
• During events, take time to pause and create space for adults and their kids to chat. Model what faith-based conversations can be like, and show them it isn’t as scary, difficult, or time consuming as they thought.
• Make your presence known in the community
o Support teachers, families, etc.…

#3 Program Driven vs. Relationship Driven
• People say they want it to be the way it was, but do they really? Parents are exhausted with change, so even though we keep wanting to change things for the better, there has been some push back to just go back to the way it was.
• During the last couple of years, parents have put themselves on the backburner, so what if we do something to encourage lingering time and community building for parents.
o Like once a month offer coffee/hot chocolate outside the kid’s area, to invite parents to hang out for a little bit, while some of our volunteers work the room to connect with parents.

#4 Resources and Tools are not flexible!
• Sundays are no longer sacred, because extracurriculars and jobs are done all the time now.
• How can we meet families outside of Sunday Morning? And is it worth it?
o Focus on building community with adults
o Once a month, take parents to lunch, while the kids are in school and talk about everyday things, focus on building connections.  This also works for dinners if parents work during the day.
• Very short-term Bible studies (3 weeks)
o Keep it short, 1-1 ½ hours.
o Set the boundary that if you want time to chat come 30min early, because once it’s time to start we have to start.
o Example: 5 Love Languages of kids
§ Week #1: What are the 5 Love languages of Kids?
§ Week #2: How to know your child’s love language?
§ Week #3: How to keep it going at home?

#5 Parents are not taking a lead role in faith formation
• GIVE GRACE to parents because teaching faith formation was not modeled for them
• GIVE GRACE to yourself because how to equip parents for faith formation was not modeled for us
• Partner with the Associate Pastor or Adult Leaders and work together to model faith formation.
• Family Events! Share the responsibility of faith formation within family events with other areas of the church.
• Get Grandparents to share the lessons they learned in parenting to new or younger parents.
• Keep trying! If we model this now, we will see the fruit in this next generation.

#6 Intergenerational Ministries are limited
• When children participate in worship services all people know is children singing. We now have to reteach what it means to have children in service.
• Invite 50s, 60s, and 70-year-olds to volunteer while parents are with their kids
o Example: Advent Craft event, parents want to be/need to be with their children while doing crafts, so invite the 50s, 60s, 70s, to volunteer to lead the stations, so that parents can have that time learning alongside their child.
• Incentives for kids to take notes in worship
o Coins and treasure
o Blackout Bingo of words to listen for in the worship service

#7 Nursery (this topic has been the hottest since last fall as all churches are struggling to staff church nurseries)
• How do we get people to work? How much do we need to pay?
• Safe Sanctuaries doesn’t say they have to be paid, just trained
• The salaries most churches pay nursery workers is a social justice issue; we must respond with great generosity and it’s true value as a ministry, not just a support. 
• Partner paid staff with volunteers
o Paid staff does the diaper change, disciple, check in, feeding, etc. while the volunteer plays with and/or interacts the kids and parents/grandparents
• Short-term commitments
o Asking, “Can you serve 3 times in the next 3 months?”
• Appreciation as we would a volunteer with such valuables as gas gift cards to offer additional financial support if unable to increase per-hour pay
• Paid Compensation to specialized skills such as Nursery Hospitality 
o Not paid hourly, rather paid a stipend
o Show up 30min before and stay 30min after, plus 2 hours during the week to follow up with families and to check in and see how they are doing with monthly hospitality coaching.

Last Thoughts
• Go to Sunday School classes and ask them to sponsor Volunteer Appreciation, then follow up with Sunday School class about who it went to.
o Always give credit to who sponsors, tag them on social posts. Or if they don’t have social media, print the picture and give it to their Sunday School class
o Example: if a Sunday School class sponsored a lunch for your volunteers, have a sign that said, Lunch is Provided by _______Sunday School Class, and have attendees take a photo with it, and that’s what goes on social media.
• Find people in the church who have specialized skills like beautiful handwriting and invite them to participate in a way that fits their skills.
o Example: Give them a list of families with addresses in October that your ministry is sending Christmas cards to and ask them to hand-address each envelope. Then each family receives a handwritten card from your ministry at Christmas.

Children’s Ministry champions are the most creative and adaptable disciple-makers on the planet. They are active in the trenches with the families we serve as well as the families we seek to serve. They are knowledgeable and wise. The next table for hot topics will be set on the west side of the North Georgia Conference in February. I can’t wait!

“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” James 3:17

Five Things You Must Do In 2022

Pray for and chat with your children’s/family ministry leaders.
Set the table for some facetime with your top, committed leaders who are the face, hands, feet, and heart of the ministry with families in your local church. Ask how they are. Ask what they hope for in the year to come. Invite yourself into their lives to partner with them to take the next steps in their discipleship.
Ideas: Pastability Dinner, tea, coffee, join their morning/afternoon walk.
Gentle Reminder: As church staff our job is to equip the saints for the service God has called them to do.
Ephesians 4:11-12

Pray for and chat with your littles.
Set the table for some facetime with the littles you serve.
Ideas: Play a game, ask what they got for Christmas, find out what they are doing on Saturdays.
Gentle Reminder: If the littles you serve are Christians, they are your full-on brothers and sisters in Christ with a full-on Holy Spirit. You’ve only got a few more months with your 5th graders before they transition to student/middle school ministry.
Ecclesiastes 3:1

Pray for and chat with their bigs.
Set the table to be available to the disciple-makers in the trenches of your student’s every day.
Ideas: Ministry FB group posts, Family Resource station, Parenting workshops, arrive early and stay later in the Narthex.
Gentle Reminder: Partnering does not mean overloading their family calendar with church events, but rather ask good questions so you are aware of the rhythm of their days, weeks, seasons, etc. and plan accordingly.

Pray for and chat with your grandparents.
Set the table for intergenerational conversations, story telling, intergenerational social spaces and places. These saints of your church have stories to tell and every kid loves a good story.
Ideas: Add kid entries to the adult chili cookoff or bake sale, one-on-one invites for a very specific role, call them by name often in front of kids. Relationships are key.
Gentle Reminder: The average age of a first-time grandparent in the US is 47 years old. This generation is the team of worker-bees and well-trained super volunteers of 15 years ago so make their commitments shorter, smaller, super enjoyable, trustworthy, and resourced.

Pray for and chat with your church leadership.
Rev. Rhoda Howell is a prayer warrior. I’ve asked her for help with better prayer vocabulary to share with other family ministry leaders at a Children’s Ministry Hot Topic Table Chat in North Georgia last December. With her permission…..

When DeDe asked me to offer a prayer that might encourage you when you are frustrated or discouraged, well, it is a big task. I don’t know you all, but I know that you all have big hearts for making sure little people know Jesus and you go well beyond what ‘has always been done’.
I am thankful for you.
As a pastor of 25 years, I have sat with several Children’s advocates, directors, ministers, and heard you.
So I humbly offer this rambling to help you, encourage you and expand your vision.
 
God,
Thank you for these folk who love you and love your children. Thank you for their willingness to do what no one else would think of doing so that these littles grow in the likeness of your Son. I am thankful that their vision is laser-focused so that they don’t miss an opportunity to talk about Jesus. Continue to give them courage to speak and wisdom to be silent.
Teach them that their strength comes from You not how many battles they have endured. May they remember that you carry their burdens so they can release their heavy burdens to You. May they feel Your presence. Amen
 
DeDe also asked that I share some language for you to pray for those that support you and those who do not. So, I will bullet point these:
  • Pray that your antagonists may be blessed today. Period. That they may be wowed by God’s presence. Do this every day.
  • Remember, they have hurts and wounds just like you. The antagonists have had to fight for their place at the table at sometime in their career.
  • Give thanks for their year(s) of service in their area. Remember, that they have reasons for the way they do things, just as you do in your area. They have seen lots of changes…the good and the not so good and are shaped by all.
  • Remember, some are a long way from the raising of or ministering to children. Let us not hold it against them.
  • Ask God to send you encouragers. You need more than one.
  • Pray for your pastoral leader. Pray specifically that he or she might hear God’s voice above all other voices, including yours. Remember, if someone is coming to you to tell you how to do ministry, there are probably a ‘gaggle’ of folks telling the Pastor that they don’t know how to do anything.
  • Remember, the pastor is over the whole church and has to manage every single ministry, special interest group inside and outside the church.
  • Ask questions instead of assuming. Ask the Lord for a Spirit of curiosity.
  • Be open for unusual ideas. Resist setting up or speaking obstacles. Ask the Lord for a Spirit of YES.
  • Don’t attend every fight you are invited to. You choose how you will rise to the occasion.
“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” Hebrews 5:7

Help Your Next-Advent-Self Out

We just finished another ‘edited’ advent season. Not everything came back. Not everybody came back. Yet we gathered and celebrated in many creative ways, with creative themes, and even at creative times.

Well done.

Take a rest.

Before you close out Advent 2021, take a last look at the Advent celebrations posted by colleagues and on other children’s or family ministry Facebook groups. Go ahead and decide the one or two themes/events you really liked and reach out to the post originator and ask for their electronic support documents. Right now all of that documentation is at the top of their feeds and quite handy.

Set up a folder in your computer to hold the documents and pitch your idea to your leadership for approval in January. Don’t delay, because we know that Advent 2022 will be here before we know it. Looking ahead, Christmas 2022 falls on a Sunday and our local schools will be out for the entire week beforehand.

If the creative-base part is already set, you’ll have plenty of time to gather materials (I ordered two inexpensive snow machines in October which were sold out by mid November), make reservations (I’m placing deposits in January for animals for a Christmas-break drive-thru live nativity since school will be out, so I can choose two consecutive days anytime the week prior I can get animals), and get the push-back done earlier while all the challenges are fresh on everyone’s minds (I’m pitching a Children’s Campfire Christmas for the children’s service next year on Friday offering an outdoor option around our huge firepit and have time to prepare well for all kinds of weather rather than an indoor-production).

I’m still holding to the 2.5 year transition to a new normal that followed the Spanish flu of the early 1900s. The 2.5 year transition period has given me a baseline to plan for every possible scenario when putting things on the calendar. Advent 2022 puts us right at the end of that. Trustworthy pre-planning on my part will help me confidently offer a flexible and great serving experience for our littles and their bigs during one of the busiest times of everyone’s calendar year.

Jesus’ birthday is too important to wait until Advent is already here to start gathering information. Reach out to your colleagues about one or two of their specials and get the Christmas cheese-ball rolling, then look at it again next summer. 

“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.'” – Luke 2:10

A Grinchy Christmas Eve Service

Children’s Ministry people share. It’s part of our DNA to help each other. With the blessing of a great innovative collaborator, Devin Gordon, the following includes the goodies from our 2021 Grinchy Christmas Eve service. 

The goal of our Children’s Christmas Eve service is for children to participate and not perform, serve and not sit, and engage in conversations and sticky faith-formation memories on Jesus’ birthday as a family. As every leader, speaker enters and exits, he/she walks to the manger positioned at the center of the congregation seats, touches the manger, lingers a bit, and exits. No matter what takes place in the whole space, our eyes must always come back to the manger. 

A dress rehearsal for blocking two nights before with a popcorn bar to get rid of the grumbly tummies, song practice in Sunday morning large group since November along with the previous Monday night’s Christmas caroling (Faith Field trip), borrowing some of the set materials from Spirit of Dance’s Christmas recital backdrops from several year’s back (What’s in our hands?), and recruitment for serving in early October, Whoville opened at 4:20pm, the program started at 4:45pm and was finished at 5:30pm.

IN SEATS UPON ARRIVAL

PRESERVICE

4:20-4:40 Stations

  • Bakery – white petit fours
  • Hot Chocolate & Ice water station – 4 oz cups with lids
  • Lime green pipe cleaners – child directed bending, chatting
  • Missions drop off for diapers (quads) and socks (Mountain Top Boy’s Home)
  • Heart station – write names of family members on white, green, red hearts and clothespin to jumbo frame
  • Heart ornament station – fill plastic hearts with precut pipe cleaners

Hear Ye, Hear Ye

As the Assistant to the Mayor-Under-Secretary, I do hereby welcome everyone to our Christmas Eve Family Service at the John Newton McEachern Memorial United Methodist Church here in Whoville.  

We are so honored you are here, and we know this will be a night of great joy and celebration of all that Christmas means to each of our families. And for that, I present to you:

A Christmas Eve Proclamation for the Town of Whoville on this 24th day of December in the year of our Lord 2021… 

WHEREAS we have waited for this Christmas Eve for an entire year…

WHEREAS we have dressed up and cooked up and driven up and rallied up to celebrate the birth of Jesus our Savior since He came from Heaven to earth more than 2000 years ago and is coming back…

WHEREAS you’ll find in your celebration seats candles for candle lighting, song sheets for singing, and candy canes for a game later in the evening…

WHEREAS you are cordially invited to move and sing loud for all to hear….

WHEREAS we ask you to take out your phones and record your attendance in the Whoville Census by scanning the QR Code on the back of your song sheet…

We DO HEREBY declare it is time for the Whoville shops to close so that all the Whos and our guests have time to settle into their celebration seats as we begin the evening’s festivities.

5 MINUTE TRANSITION

4:45PM – What a wonderful thing that Christmas Eve Whoville festivities are all back on again this year, after missing last, given the rampant outbreak of Corona-Who.  But Corona-Who cannot stop the LOVE of Christmas nor the reason we celebrate the season. 

  • Christmas Joy is again in the air!
  • We will be joined shortly by our Whoville Boomwhacker Brigade who will kick off our festivities with a rousing number.  
  • But first, a prayer from Ruby-Lee-Who. 

OPENING PRAYER – by student Ruby-Lee-Who

RECORDED NARRATION #1

Well, every Who down in Whoville liked Christmas Eve a lot . . .
But the Grinch, who lived just north of Whoville, Did NOT! 
The Grinch hated Christmas Eve! The whole Christmas season!
Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.
It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right.
It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.
But I think that the most likely reason of all,
May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.

But, whatever the reason, his heart or his shoes,
He stood there on Christmas Eve, just hating the Whos.
Staring down from his cave with a sour, Grinchy frown,
At the stained glass church windows below in their town.
For he knew every Who down in Whoville below
Was getting dressed in their best – to church they would go.

Then he growled, with his Grinch fingers nervously drumming,
He had to find some way to stop Christmas Eve from coming!
Oh, for in just a few short hours he knew,
All the Who girls and boys would show up in the pews.
With their families they would gather together to pray,
Celebrating the joy of a special birthday.
The boomwhackers, the candles and donations of toys!
And then! Oh, the noise! Oh, the Noise! Noise! Noise! Noise!
That’s one thing he hated!
The NOISE!

And then they’d do something he liked least of all! 
Every Who down in Whoville, the tall and the small,
Would stand close together, with Christmas bells ringing.
They’d stand hand‑in‑hand, and the Whos would start singing! 

And the more the Grinch thought of this Who Christmas Eve Sing,
The more the Grinch thought I must stop this whole thing!
Why, for fifty‑three years I’ve put up with it now!
I MUST stop this Christmas Eve from coming! . . . But HOW?
Then he got an idea! An awful idea!
The Grinch got a wonderful, awful idea!
He decided to steal Christmas Eve!

BOOMWHACKER BRIGADE – Silly Jingle Bells (3x)

RECORDED NARRATION #2

The Whos were all dressed, and ready to go,
They jumped in the car to drive through fresh fallen snow.
On the way to church on Christmas Eve,
Every Who down in Whoville had only one place to be!
Joy and excitement filled the air,
Except on Mount Crumpet – there was no joy there. 
The Grinch long ago snuffed out any joy to be found,
As he greeted any visitors with a scowl and a frown.

As they drove by the mountain, all gloomy and dark.
one precious little Who had an idea that just sparked!
She couldn’t understand why the Grinch hated Christmas Eve,
The celebration at McEachern, you wouldn’t believe!
The lighting of candles and carols they would sing,
All, to celebrate the birth of a King!
She knew if Grinch knew the true meaning of the day,
Not even his grumpies could keep him away!
As she sat there with her fingers happily drumming,
she launched her own special plan as her heartstrings were strumming.
As they parked at the church to begin the celebration,
Cindy Lou Who went into action to address the situation.
She hopped from the car and told her parents to hold tight,
Then she sprinted towards mount crumpet with a very special invite!

ADVENT CANDLE – (Updated to be Seussical, read with great joy and whimsy)

Reader One: On Christmas Eve, this candle we light. In the midst of the darkness, we provide something bright. But can one small candle send the darkness away, bringing light to the world on each new day? Or do we let fear, separation and doubt fill our hearts, taking the message of Christmas away before it even starts. One small gesture – kind words or an invite, could it possibly change a heart that’s not right? Don’t underestimate the power of one, to light the way as this candle has done. 

Reader Two: We light these candles, because we, too, have seen a light, long, long ago in a manger on that first Christmas night. In the midst of the darkness a baby was born, to bring light to the world on that first Christmas morn. God sent His Son because He loves us so much, to show us the way, and our hearts He will touch. And now we are called to live as people of the light, spreading joy to the world, it will be such a sight! Away with the darkness, no more fear fills the air, because we know in our hearts that Jesus is there. 

Reader One: So as we light these candles, may it remind us well, that the light of the world is coming, and on the mountain we must tell! The candles of Hope, Joy, Love and Peace, lighted now, our circle’s complete. The last one we light in the center of it all, the sign of Christ’s presence among us, the Christ candle it’s called. No matter how dark at times it may seem, know that God’s light is with us, in radiant beams. (Light all four candles on the wreath and the Christ Candle in the Center) 

Reader Two: To those who have walked in darkness, may their hearts be changed, as we have seen a great light, Jesus his name. Glory to God in the highest we sing, and on earth let there be Love, as the Christmas bells ring

12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS – Song with actions led by the children in the aisles.

RECORDED NARRATION #3

It was just then that the Grinch heard a knock at the door,
Who could it be, what was this disturbance for?!?
He scowled and growled as he rolled out of bed,
Shaking the fog from his ears that clogged up his head.
When what to his crooked and slanted old eyes did appear,
But a tiny little Who girl who seemed to have no fear.
Didn’t she know he was the meanest and grumpiest in town,
Who could scare any person with just a flicker of his frown?

What do you want, yelled the Grinch, you’re disturbing me!
But Cindy Lou Who just stood there, as happy as can be…
Hello sir, um, I’m Cindy Lou, and I’m not sure if you know,
But there’s a church called McEachern, down in Whoville below.
Each year on this day we have a Christmas Eve service so bright,
To celebrate the birth of the savior born this night.
It seems to me that your heart could use such a lift,
I was wondering if you’d join me to share in this gift.

Well the Grinch just howled, with a dark evil laugh,
Could she be serious – you do the math.
The Grinch goes to church with all the Who girls and boys,
To experience up close all the NOISE, NOISE, NOISE, NOISE!
No thank you, no way, I’m not going there, not for me
Then he paused for a moment, an idea he could see…
What better way to steal Christmas Eve forever,
Than to infiltrate the celebration, this plan’s coming together!

OK little Who, you’re quite convincing I must say,
Let me grab my coat and we’ll be on our way.
Cindy Lou Who smiled, as she’d done her best,
And she knew at the church, the Holy Spirit would do the rest.

MISSION MOMENT – Missions Dept. Lead with a hands-up blessing over the diapers and socks.

OFFERTORYOne Small Child duet by senior pastor and his Mrs. as Ambassadors received the offerings.

NARRATION #4 – Grinch tosses bags of colorful jumbo pom poms all over the audience as the disturbance.

As the Grinch sat in church amidst the Who girls and boys,
He felt a stirring inside him, just listening to this NOISE!
His heart began growing and filling the void,
Out with self-loathing – as in came JOY?
What’s happening to me, his head started reeling,
this is not going well, HELP ME, I’M FEELING!
I must act at once, my plan put to action,
I’m here to ruin Christmas Eve, not to find satisfaction.
OK, just think, what should I DO…
I know, I know – I’ll cause a disturbance for all of the Whos!

FAMILY PRAYER – The Grinch is quite upset

  • When I’m upset, I know I can go to OUR GREAT GOD in prayer.
  • Our Great God created us and loves to hear from us.
  • Having something in my hands helps me when I pray.
  • When my hands are busy, my mind is calm. 
  • Collect and hold a pompom or two, or three, or more and gather with your family to pray together in your own family.

(2 minutes)

Every time an angel gave a message to God’s people, they always opened with “Do Not Be Afraid.”

  • Let’s close our family prayer time together as one family in a repeat-after-me-prayer….
  • Let’s learn more about the birthday story of Jesus from Lilly B. Who (youth)

CHRISTMAS READING RIGHT/LEFT STORY – read by a youth

A telling of the story of Christmas on Christmas Eve is a treasured tradition held dear to our hearts. While we love seeing fellow Whoville friends and experiencing the giving, the candle lighting, and the singing on Christmas Eve (oh the singing!) hearing the story of Jesus’ birth in a manger is our best reminder that Christmas, perhaps, means a WHOLE LOT more. 

Please join me in the reading of the Christmas story this year in the way of a Left/Right Story. Get out your candy canes, and as I read the story, pay attention to the words “Left” and “Right” – when you hear them, pass your candy cane from your left to right hand in the direction stated and keep listening for more directions as we go. If you don’t have your candy cane, please raise your right or left hand as we talk through the Christmas story.

(Do one practice instruction) – “Let’s try one practice round with this – there are no instructions LEFT, do you think you’ve got it RIGHT?”) And now,

The Story of Christmas!

A long time ago, a woman named Mary and a man named Joseph were going to be married. RIGHT before that happened, an angel came to Mary and told her she was going to have a baby! 

Before the angel LEFT, he said she should name the baby Jesus. The baby would be the Son of God, the Savior.

While Mary was pregnant, Caesar Augustus decided to count everyone LEFT living in the whole Roman world. Joseph LEFT, taking Mary with him  to his town of Bethlehem to register. No

one could be LEFT out of the census. 

The two weary travelers LEFT the dark, dusty road and entered the crowded town of Bethlehem. People bustled LEFT and scurried RIGHT past them, heading toward places of rest.

They had all LEFT their towns and villages and come to Bethlehem loaded down with bags and baskets in order to be registered and counted.  Mary was exhausted, and needed rest RIGHT away. The trip had been long and tiring, and Mary had no energy LEFT.

She waited patiently as Joseph looked LEFT and RIGHT in search of a place for them to stay, but after a while it became clear that there were no vacant rooms LEFT in town.  They settled on a stable RIGHT behind an inn. It was not what they had expected or wanted, but they were thankful for a place to lay their head.

It was RIGHT there in that cold stable, surrounded by animals and the smell of hay, that Mary gave birth to her child, a son. She wrapped him in strips of cloth to keep him warm, and LEFT him to sleep on the hay.

PASTOR’S MESSAGE – Object lesson by pastor about the gift of Christmas with a star (Jesus is the light of the world) and a red heart (Jesus loves us so much.)

RECORDED NARRATION #5 – Cindy Lou takes Grinch’s hand and guides him to center manger where they linger and then depart.

And so it happened, on that fateful night,
Surrounded by Whos, what a wonderful sight!
The Grinches’ heart grew, three sizes they say,
As he learned the true meaning of Christmas that day.
Hearing about Baby Jesus had changed him, indeed,
He couldn’t ruin Christmas, at that he would never succeed.
It would come without ribbons, it would come without tags.
It would come without packages, boxes, or bags.
Maybe Christmas (he thought) doesn’t come from a store.
Maybe Christmas perhaps means a WHOLE LOT more!

SILENT NIGHT – written for a guitar accompanist, our pastor played with same song leader who led 12 Days  of Christmas

CLOSING

  • Christmas is about growing your heart three sizes!  
  • And like Cindy Lou Who, sharing your heart for Jesus with others so that they too can experience the wonder and joy of Christmas. 
  • Go tell it on the mountain – Mount Crumpet, Stone Mountain, Kennesaw Mountain, the Blueridge Mountains – EVERYWHERE!  
  • Jesus Christ is born.
  • I hope you found a squishy heart to take home as a reminder that Jesus loves you. What does the heart say? 
  • Join us in our last song….. (SNOW!) but don’t go anywhere. Dr. Doug has a last word to share.

GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN ….. SNOW starts after the first verse.

BENEDICTION

Blessing of the Toys

 

The Sunday following Christmas and New Year’s is considered one of the lowest attended services of the year. Plan to make it a special event and promote the daylights out of it just as you would Christmas Eve…WHILE you promote Christmas Eve. We always have guests on this Sunday. This ‘special Sunday’ and the energy it brings can make a world of difference for children new to the program as well as those who are already part of the family.

This will serve as my children’s moment on the New Year’s Sunday.

We will use a blessing from Rev. Steve West’s blog, Musings Of A Musical Preacher. Pastor West serves as the senior pastor of Arab United Methodist Church in Arab, Alabama.

When God made Adam and Eve and placed them in the garden, He put them in charge of taking good care of the earth and naming all the animals.
Ever since then, girls and boys, women and men have enjoyed not only work, but play. God gave us the ability to make games and invest toys to help us enjoy ourselves and enjoy growing in our love for each other.
The tradition of Christmas gifts for children began with magi from the east, who brought the child Jesus three gifts. So today, let us place one hand on our toy. If you don’t have your ‘something’, then place your hand over your heart to remember the love that went into what you got for Christmas. Place your other hand in the air towards heaven.
Let’s remember the one who made us, and gave us hearts and minds that love to have fun, love to share, and love to grow as we play. Let us pray…
(Repeat after me) “Bless our toys, O Lord. Help us be truly grateful for the time you give us to play. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

Research about the best and worst attended worship weekends of the year reported by Len Wilson can be found here. Though we place a great deal of emphasis on December, January is looking like a great opportunity to set the table for Christian community.

What have you planned and promoted for your families for the Sundays following Christmas and New Year’s Day?

A Circuit-Riding Family Ministry Director

What if two or three local churches hired a professional in ministry with children and families to ‘circuit ride’ for a year to two years among the two or three local churches?

Circuit riders were commonplace in the frontiers of America as communities began organizing formally. The circuit riders of the past were clergy. Most Christian educators today are lay people who love Jesus and love people; have history in their community. If ever the local church was in a season of pioneering the new frontiers of America today those frontiers would not be land, but rather minds, schedules, rhythms, relationships, and truth.

Goals

  • Lead, model, and offer training support of leadership to provide a Sunday morning faith formation experience for children/families when most of that local church is on campus for critical mass.
  • Provide marketing, promotion, training, resources, and tools to coach each of the two or three local churches to offer a shared experience to be rotated with individual local church flair in a small group formation mindset.
  • Meet and train the local church leadership the most effective ways to partner with parents and grandparents in their community with life skill classes.
  • Evaluate each of the two or three local churches to determine ‘What’s in your hand?’ to leverage for effective fruitfulness.
  • Packaging and sharing events for intergenerational relationship-building.

Premise

I believe God has already equipped every local church with all the resources necessary to share the light and love of Christ in that community, but may need some coaching and modeling for ministry and growth as the local church looks differently as we ALL start over pioneering this new local church frontier.

Skills to consider

  • A relationship-building networker in-person and online.
  • Understands today’s family rhythms with the demands of work, school, and extracurricular activities.
  • Nonjudgmental team-leading coach and teacher.
  • Exudes the joy of the Lord.
  • Christian hospitality.
  • Experienced innovator or innovation broker.
  • Someone who starts and finishes stuff and communicates well along the way.
  • Experienced recruiter
  • Ability to ask good questions, prioritize schedule, and a sense of urgency to connect littles with bigs who love Jesus.

What it could look like

  • Start with table conversations of each local church with conversational surveys.
  • Dashboard research of ‘what’s in your hand’ and ‘what’s in each church’s area’.
  • Plan an 18-month calendar of special Sundays (to build energy; ignite traction; lay out next steps for each family event). The first event could be rolled out in 30 days.
  • Combine financial resources between the two or three local churches, along with grants, to roll out a quarterly special community event which would be rotated, with a specific-church-bent, among the two or three.
  • The two or three local churches provide the financial support to compensate the FX (Faith Experience) Director/Coordinator in salary/stipend and supply acquisition. 
  • Systems for security, safety, budget, curriculum, schedules, mission, would be implemented as shared and common best practices.

What if two or three smaller local churches came together to share the expenses of hiring a called, professional Christian educator with children and families to ‘circuit ride’ for a year to two years among the two or three local churches in relatively close proximity? The learning curve to secure a staff member to reliably serve part-time who comes with the skills of recruiting, marketing, evaluating, and the drive to independently learn on their own what’s developmentally appropriate for multi-age children is a winding, steep curve and takes years. Within a year to 18 months, this person might coach and lead a team at each local church ready to take the next step into ministry development to see what could be done with what they have and where they have it better together.

What if?

“What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.” 1 Corinthians 14:26

A Christmas Faith Field Trip

Shared events are some of my favorite sticky memories for my families and the community. A shared event is when two or more local churches come together to plan, promote, pray through, and roll out an event in Christmas community as a stronger Body of Christ working, serving, and sharing life together. Our 3rd-5th graders and their families partnered with two other local churches in our district to provide food box blessings and reindeer games with a local community which receives free summer lunches for kids, added some Christmas lights, Christmas caroling and pizza dinner at the local Costco, and hot chocolate with book reading at Starbucks.

Two of the churches traveled to a mobile home community which is a large route during the MUST Summer Lunch program. Each child in the community received fun reindeer themed toys and a generous Food Box blessing bag which included Christmas treats. We played the right/left games which tells the Christmas story with all sorts of candy and candy canes. Each family received an invitation to attend Christmas services at the closest church to their location as well as the regular provider of weekly backpack blessings to the families. The local church already had a relationship with the mobile-home community and we were invited to share by bringing reindeer toys, games, a book to read about the Christmas story, and fresh fruit to add to the boxes that were filled by the closest local church’s ongoing relationship with the Greater Atlanta Food Bank. Lots of singing, too, from a karaoke machine on wheels programmed through a leader’s phone. The tent, signage, and more was provided through a grant.

On to the local Costco we ate pizza, drank lots of water (we brought our own water bottles), and sang Christmas carols when joined by the third local church. A karaoke machine on wheels made for a great singing and listening experience. Printed lyrics were fabulous! Think about it: Costco on the Friday evening before Christmas!

Driving through the local Holiday of Lights at the Veteran’s Park let us support children with special medical needs. Then we headed to a large Starbucks for hot chocolate and a public reading of another children’s book about Christmas. We finished the evening with caroling of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” for the staff and the full coffee shop.

Faith Field Trips shared with other churches are some of my favorite ways to make sticky, faith-formation memories for our families. Our students meet my friends (fellow kidmin leaders) and their students, practice hospitality with other Christians who they might meet at summer camp or later in middle school, and see what joy shared looks like, sounds like, feels like, and even smells like. Blessed to be a blessing!

The Faith Field Trip for this year is a 3pm-10pm time of Christmas caroling to our shut-ins, making and delivering Christmas potpouri gifts for some Christmas smells, dinner at a Saints’ home with games midway through the evening, ending with a hot chocolate bar at the home of one of our Sunday school leader’s. All on the Monday before Christmas in reindeer headbands!

“Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together.” Psalm 34:3

A Messy Grinch Christmas

Messy Church events are the best for inviting guests, self-directed family time, and rolling out the red carpet of hospitality to begin a new church season like Advent. With our Advent theme based on The Grinch, we opened the Sunday afternoon of the first day of Advent and will engage in the practices to grow our hearts for Jesus through Christmas Eve. Holy practices of learning, playing, praying, singing, laughing, creating, chatting, sharing, eating, and serving together as God’s people. We set up the room in zones with round tables in the center, rectangle-table stations along two walls, and the meal tables along the other two walls.

Registration included signing up to bring either a crock pot of soup, 2 large bags of rolls, set up, or clean up. The schedule looked like this:
4-4:45pm             Stations (engaging all 5 senses)
4:45-5:15pm       Service – 2 songs; interactive children’s moment #bettertogether  Grinch/isolated heart shrinks/together heart grows (learning)
5:15-5:40pm       Soup/Bread dinner (tablelife)
5:40pm-6pm      Nativity Bingo w/prizes at dinner tables (lingering at the table)
6pm                    Closing – Family Prayer

2 Meal Lines  – red table covering
Crock pots with soup & ladles, Bio-paper bowls, spoons, shredded cheese, toppings, etc., napkins
10 Meal Tables – green table covering, sit 8/table; labeled each table to dismiss for food line with each letter to spell G-R-I-N-C-H M-A-X
Conversation starters on tables
Bread rolls in center of each table on red/green paper plate

Messy Advent stations – tables along the walls; white table covering

Bag table
“Max, grab a bag. We’ll come back for the rest. Of course, when I say ‘we’ I mean ‘you.’” – The Grinch
Instructions: Grab a bag. Write your name on it. Decorate it with stickers and use it to carry all your take-home goodies.
Ask: What is your favorite thing about Christmas?
Supplies: brown gift bags, peppermint stickers, sharpies

S’mores Jars
“I’m all toasty inside.” – The Grinch
Instructions: Make s’mores with the supplies.
Ask: What is your favorite Christmas food?
Supplies: Sterno in glass jars, bamboo skewers, marshmallows, lighter, chocolate bars (2 rectangles per keeps the mess at a minimum), paper plates, graham crackers

Christmas Cards
“No one should be alone on Christmas.” – Cindy Lou Who
Instructions: Write a note of Christmas encouragement to someone special and sign your name inside the Christmas card. Place a stamp on the envelope in the upper right hand corner. Now it’s ready to mail!
Ask: Who are your favorite people to spend time with?
Supplies: Nativity Christmas cards, gel pens, winter postal stamps (This year’s Otter is super cute!)

Heart Ornament
“It’s because I’m green, isn’t it?” – The Grinch
Instructions: Write the name of Jesus on the green paper strip. Roll it up and place inside the heart. Jesus is why we celebrate Christmas. CHRIST-MUCH. CHRIST-MOST.
Ask: When we follow Jesus we give Him our heart AND our mind. What do you know about Jesus? Do you want to know more? Let me tell you….
Supplies: plastic heart ornaments, green paper, gel pens

Photo Station
“Are you having a holly, jolly Christmas?” – The Grinch
Instructions: Use the props and ask someone to take your family picture. (Getting into the habit of talking to other people.)
Supplies: Leftover Christmas wrapping paper, tape, Grinch photo props

Snowball making
“What’s that stench? It’s fantastic.” – The Grinch
Instructions: Make a snowball with the playdoh. Flatten it out and add a pinch of glitter and a drop of peppermint oil. Mix it well with your hands. Place it in the jar/bag to take home. Enjoy a peppermint candy. (Goodbye pumpkin spice, hello minter!)
Ask: What is your favorite Christmas smell?
Supplies: Candy canes, white playdoh, glitter, paper plates, peppermint essential oil, Ziploc bags

Who Hair Station
“Blast the Christmas music…It’s joyful and triumphant.” – The Grinch
Instructions: Use the supplies provided to prepare your hair properly as a Who.
Ask: What do you think would be the most fun part of being a Who?
Supplies: Red pipe cleaners, rubber bands, brush, hand mirrors, chair (Two youth ladies took this station to a whole new level as they worked together and chatted with the youngers!)

Face/Hand Painting
Supplies: 2 chairs, face paint, paper plates, paint brush, demo sheet of possibilities (bow, heart, manger, candy, candy cane, etc.)

Nativity Bingo
Use Christmas cereal, mini marshmallows, or M&Ms for playing pieces; Nativity Bingo sheets
Prizes – consumables(for dessert) such as Little Debbie Christmas Trees, Girl Scout Cookies, Confetti Cannons, etc.

I Can Worship With My Family: A Faith Milestone

A Faith Milestone: I Can Worship With My Family was a teaching service in the Sanctuary at 11am, the prime time of our church family gathering. The service was the culmination of two months’ of teaching with teaching continuing within the service.

The local church may teach holy habits in classroom settings and at special events, but I’ve never known a church to teach about worship. We talk about it. We plan for it. We set aside the greatest amount of our budget for it. We guard the space and time for it. We built for it. Yet we expect everyone to just ‘pick it up as you go.’ It’s been my experience that worship is caught and rarely taught. This makes for awkward moments, uncertain expectations, clumsy transitions, and unsettled assumptions for our guests no matter how well we roll out the hospitality before and after. The generation of parents today will do anything to avoid feeling uncertain, clumsy, and anxious about anything. We help by offering spaces and places where we learn together.

In the actual service, we taught four specific elements within the service.
1. Who were the people on the stage/chancel and why were they there? Example: a choir is a group of people who lead us in singing praises to our Great God. The individual pastors gave their names, explained what they each do, and made an announcement.
2. What are the hymnals and how to read a page? Example: the title is not always the actual title to a song; the words along the bottom are special; we sang a William Bradbury song and our special worship leader gave a brief, kid-friendly history lesson since he also wrote “Jesus Loves Me.” Mr. Bradbury wrote choral music and loved writing music children could sing well in church.
3. As United Methodists we give and return to the Lord from our vows of membership: we give our prayers (we pray for each other), our presence (we come to church; gather together in community), our gifts (we give a regular amount of all money we receive through earning or gifting), our service (we use our skills and learn new skills to help our church family and our neighbors), and our witness (we invite people to come to church to worship and learn about Jesus).
4. Ways to respond/participate in what we hear, sing, do in worship? We sing, we listen for special words (every time we heard the word ‘strong’ or ‘strength’ we flexed our muscles) and we return to the Lord our portion. The congregation walked up to drop/pour their offerings in buckets (noisy buckets of galvanized metal on wooden steps). 

The teaching which took place over the two months’ prior included:
1. The purpose of an order of worship by forming and directing a worship planning team.
2. Taught the Apostle’s Creed line by line as well as the American sign language in Sunday morning large group as a statement of what Christians believe.
3. Worship art to provide the visual elements to worship. Two 5th grade girls signed up for flowers and they filled the stage area with flowers, vegetables, and plants of the fall season. The 1st & 2nd graders painted banners and black foam boards in their Sunday morning small group time (what colors…white on black foam board… can be seen in a large group in a large space to make it feel more intimate?)
4. It was the 3rd Sunday of our Stewardship campaign so the children were given and taught the Godly way of handling money 4 weeks prior, then given plastic jars to take home to work to earn money to ‘save’, ‘spend’, and ‘return’ back to the Lord at this service since everything belongs to Him anyway.
5. We published and promoted the ABCs of Family Worship in print, social media, and on the bulletin back so the expectations were as clear as we could make them.

The special movement elements included:
1. The scriptures read were printed on slips of paper and ‘found’ under the pew cushions.
2. The Call to Worship was a familiar song with motions: My God Is So Great
3. The processional included acolytes (candle lighters; cross bearer), littles holding up signs with special words-of-the-day to listen for in the service (painted on black foam board); percussion instruments played by children
4. Children served read scripture from the floor; read prayers; directed people where to sit; handed out bulletins they’d folded at dress rehearsal the Wednesday prior; handed out worship bags.
5. Bags were given to all with pipe cleaners which were used to shape into hearts and held by families to pray together in place of a pastoral prayer. The children filled all the bags at the dress rehearsal the Wednesday night before.
6. Leaf cutouts were placed in all the hymnals on the page we would be singing from.
7. Our special worship leader taught movements to the first congregational song, Raise A Hallelujah, A bridge in a song, the hymnal pieces, etc.
8. Everyone was instructed to text a family selfie to a number at the beginning of the service. The pics were compiled and our amazing tech ninja team put them into a slide show at the close of the service as the congregation sang, “I’m So Glad I’m a Part of the Family of God.”

As a teaching service, it looked nothing like a children’s program. That was the point.  Our senior pastor still preached his stewardship sermon. It was a service where the entire church family could participate, not just spectate. We sang, we gave, we served, we shared, we moved, we learned, and we want to do it again. There are so many other elements to teach and learn and one service is not enough time. We’ve already asked for the last Sunday in March.

What is it? A worship service….
– where little people actively participate in various interactive elements…and so do their families.
– where children learn and practice some of our church’s cherished traditions.
– where there is movement and all five senses are engaged.
– where we utilize art, drama, songs, percussion, storytelling, current events, poetry and holy habits to reinforce a central theme as we help children connect with God.
– when we create a developmentally appropriate faith formation teaching experience that worship is so positive that worship will always be a major part of their lives.

In complete transparency, this was amazing AND it had its challenges. There were lots of moving pieces over an extended period of time. There were lots of unmet expectations because those expectations did not serve the ‘what is it’ above. The amazing parts were the people, the parents, the grandparents, the children, the leaders, the pastors, and the feedback of, “We need to do this every quarter or more.” Families want to learn to follow Jesus and grow in their faith together. Worship teaching services are worth all the challenges, because everything we do that tells Jesus, “I love you!” is worship. Even walking through challenges. He is worth it!

“He said to his servants, ‘Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” Genesis 22:5