A November to Remember

We’re leveraging the time change and encouraging families to come to church early. I was a band mom and we learned, ‘If you’re on time, you’re late.”  Several of our families were arriving late and we wanted to make it worth their while to arrive early so the children had time to play with their church friends before our regular programming.

There are lots of reasons why folks can’t get to church on time, or early. It’s Saturday down South, so there are late college football games. Some folks are just tired. I get it. We also have an enemy who wishes to keep us from growing in our faith in Jesus and spiritual warfare is real. When mine were little I intentionally made Sunday morning different and special. We started these Sunday habits even before I was on church staff. I’d get up way before everyone else, make ‘add water’ muffins, and serve everyone breakfast in bed with a muffin and a favorite morning tasty beverage. The smell of fresh-baked muffins and a smoother start to the day made all the difference in the world for our family. Church on Sunday started on Saturday by gathering clothes, shoes, Bibles, tithe envelopes, quarters for the littles, gas in the car, etc. all before dinner on Saturday. A much easier way to start a sacred day set apart for sacred things. 

As families are trying their best to make Sunday mornings happen, we pulled from our season of Special Summer Sundays to roll out the red carpet of hospitality for the thirty minutes before Sunday school in the Children’s Welcome Center.

Legos & Eggos – Invited a fabulous mom to wear a chef’s costume and serve up various flavors of Eggos with syrup and whipped cream (the best topping ever!) hot from the toaster as we had buckets and bowls of Lego bricks all over all the tables. I borrowed toasters from my Bible study group.

B.A.R.F. – Living into our vow of membership to support the church with our witness, kids Bring A Real Friend to Sunday school. Placed fake barf on all the tables. Made a bowl of BARF in a cereal dump of Fruity Pebbles and a bunch of little boxes of various cereals, then added milk. We served with spoons in small cups. Kids invited friends and parents picked up kids all along the way to church to come early and enjoy some BARF. They LOVED it and we met some new friends!

PopTarts & Pickles – Of course they don’t go together, but the phrase easily rolls off the tongue. The previous week we started talking it up for kids to be adventurous to eat pickles on their PopTarts. A sticky and hilarious memory for sure.

Pumpkin Day – We’re playing Bible Bingo with all the prizes pumpkin related. I like watching the kids carrying their big winnings around campus and chatting with the many who ask about it. Now to find the largest boxes of pumpkin cereal, pumpkin pies, and all the pumpkin stuff I can find. Y’all….I found Pumpkin Spice Ramen Noodles. Yep, that’s making the prize table!

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

A Hospitality Audit

Our church has taken the last year to determine not only our core beliefs, but our core values. As a staff and a church in our local community, it was decided that our number one core value is hospitality.

Hospitality is any opportunity to show over-the-top love and care. In true edit-to-excellence mode, the kidmin team has been evaluating our family’s experiences with an informal hospitality audit from the pre-visit through dismissal.

Intentional Pre-visit experience should include

  • Overcommunicating where to park, enter, and what to bring (most non-typical item first), then we know where to jack up the greet/sign-in/place additional information, and signage at registration.
  • Consistent start times. Families don’t have time to wait, so CLUB345 begins at 3:45, Bible study always starts at 6:30pm on a Tuesday (but we are ready at 6pm to build in margin for chatting and relationship-building).
  • Consistent end times. No one likes finishing late. Everyone expects to finish on time. Everyone likes finishing early. Family schedules are too tight to add to their stress. This attention to time builds trust.
  • Communicate Sunday info on Tuesday AND Thursday to give time for weekend planning and the checking of emails.
  • Update social media the morning of a special so that families can easily find the info at the top of the social media feed.
  • Online registration confirmation reads, “All communication for this event will be by the email address used for this registration.” By communicating several times to that email address beforehand, we build energy.
  • Space looks updated, clean, sharp, and intentional. Be a good sharer of spaces because most people don’t know how to do it well. Tip: Walk the entrance, hallway, and rooms. Wash the windows, doors, light switches, throw away the clutter or buy storage bins which look like we are ready for company all the time. Add mulch/pine straw and flowers at the entrance all your families use to attend your programs on a regular, scheduled basis. 
  • It matters how people feel BEFORE the experience and AT THE END of the experience, so be sure to ask, “How will this space/event/experience make someone feel walking in?, Waiting for pickup?, At closing, Whey someone is walking out the door?”

Present Assessment

With the eyes of a parent/grandparent, we ask…Have we made it easy for families to know the what, when, where, who of Sunday morning and any special event?”
– Communicate where to park, then we know where to focus the greatest attention to visual elements..
– Consistent update the website. Develop a system and shared process for everyone, then do updates early and with great joy.
– Check the website weekly for what applies to the children and check ALL the registration links.

Action Steps

Thirty to 45-minutes prior to all activities/events I walk through ALL of our spaces picking up remnants of ‘whatever’ from the floors, turn on all the lights, check the temperature, empty the dehumidifiers (our space is underground and surrounded by trees), open all the doors, check the bathrooms that all are working for supplies, and basically inspect to set aright all the spaces shared by littles and the bigs who serve them.

  • Is our dismissal (ending experience) as great as our arrival experience?

Story: What we saw in our auditing our Sunday morning dismissal experience is that we had a couple of runners (students who didn’t want to wait until their parents picked them up) and students who crowded the exit door waiting for their parents, requiring our team to likely ask students to step back, and not crowd. We felt like we were fussing at the kids. Not a great dismissal experience. Talking through multiple scenarios, we now return all the students to the Welcome Center where they play games with friends until called by walkie-talkie to exit through another doorway. No more crowding nor running, and kids are laughing and playing. What we say to them as they leave is a blessing. Their last experience is with a smile and a ‘kind send off’ into the world . Their ending experience is as good as their all-morning experience.

Evaluation

  • Goal: I’m shooting for visit #3. “Do what you do so well that kids will want to see it again and bring their friends.” – Walt Disney
  • Goal: I’m shooting for another connection. With multiple onramps, we can target what would be a natural next step in discipleship for a family.
  • Goal: What will be so greatly consistent, one of our own will want to invite someone else from their team, class, neighborhood, school, server at the local restaurant they frequent, to come to their church? Be ready to ask a kid, “Who can you bring next time?” 
  • Ask: How can what we do in kidmin hospitality be a blessing to others in the church outside kidmin? We are not responsible for every area, but we are responsible for all the areas and experiences of our own.

Story: Last Sunday was the first chilly morning of the season. I picked up 3 gallons of apple cider to set up a hot apple cider station in the Children’s Welcome Center. The Children’s Welcome Center opens 30 minutes before all other programming on campus. The kids who came early enjoyed hot apple cider to taste and smell. A really great smell! Once Sunday school started, we moved the hot apple cider station to the gathering outside the Children’s Welcome Center with a balloon which read, “Happy Fall” to share with those who linger between services in that space and a senior saints Sunday school which meets in their large group after. 

Story: I wash the glass doors where my families enter and church greeters stand because a beautiful day has got to be seen clearly.

Story: Since most of our kidmin families enter through those glass doors from the parking lot, I pay a lot of attention to that entrance so it looks attractive and welcoming, uncluttered and ‘prepared for company’. I’ve invited several folks who love to play in the dirt to update the island flower beds for fall/winter including pine straw. 

What does an edit to excellence of hospitality look like in your ministry with children and families? I’m always wondering, “What am I missing?”

“Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways.” Proverbs 4:26

Ideation for Advent & Innovation

It’s been a bit and I’ve missed the faces of my ministry friends from around the country, so I set up two zoom calls. One for Advent ideation and another for Innovation into 2022. So many great ideas were shared, but here are a few of my own takeaways:

Advent Ideation

  • Don’t just prepare for Christmas, but be intentional about those two weekends following with a Blessing of the Toys, a cereal bar, a Pancakes & Pajamas, or other such special experience.
  • Use November and not wait for December for Advent.
  • Prioritize the one thing which will have the biggest bang for your buck and throw your greatest creative energies and budget at that.
  • Address Christmas cards with a nativity image now (November) to your families. Ask a church saint with beautiful handwriting to hand write the addresses on envelopes, get the cards signed by the clergy/church leaders, yourself, or kidmin team. Stamp now to be ready to mail the first week of December. Personal touches at Christmas are powerful.
  • Offer at-home popup advent calendars for church families and a small take-home for preschool/recreation ministry families to hint what can be shared if they come to church. We want folks to come to children’s ministry programming, so don’t give away the whole thing of what you share at church. Giving them a cut out star or birthday candle is easier on the budget and can be prepped now (November).
  • Nativity is the priority. Keep all things pointed to Jesus. It’s CHRIST-mas….much about Christ.
  • Go ahead and give your servant/leaders/volunteers a schedule of what’s coming up for Advent. They want to be there and though they might not sign up early, they need to know early to move some pieces of life around to make things work.
  • Advent is for you and your family, too. Build in margin for your own family to celebrate Advent. Pre-set priorities now for you and your family’s calendar and budget. 

Innovation into 2022The ZOOM Call Rules: No mention of VBS or Sunday school referring instead to ‘Sunday morning’ or season of faith formation experience.

Facts to consider:

  • Families are looking for experiences over stuff.
  • Faith formation on other days of the week offer greater relevance to those with work rhythms where Sunday is a work-day.
  • Parents are asking for help with life skills.

Ideas:

  • Kids have grown and look different than last we saw them. One church made a grade-level church directory to use to pray over the children followed by notes home which read, “Your name was on my lips when I talked to God this morning.” Start with your oldest in your ministry since your remaining time with them is shorter.
  • Hospitality on the front end is what we’re good at. Evaluate the last experience and intentional hospitality on the back end with an edited dismissal, a Chapstick or oil-roller blessing on the back of the hand, a free-time-to-chat-to-build-relationship experience, greeters with smiling resting faces at the end of a service and not just the beginning.
  • Parents and grandparents receive online newsletters and calendars, but kids love mail and get very little. Mail a monthly paper newsletter specific to youngers and another specific to olders with dates for upcoming events, but also riddles and easy faith formation experiences to do at home. This is the stuff which makes the refrigerator or family bulletin board. Rather than monthly, I’ll be looking at doing this quarterly.
  • Go in for the big asks: money, space, calendar, resources, budget. You might get a ‘no’, but it’s only the first ‘no’. Keep sharing the vision for reaching families where they are. Build in room for negotiation by going in large.
  • When a person leads a small group or Bible study, they also agree to recruit from their circle of relationships OUTSIDE the church to participate. Promoting in the bulletin won’t reach new people like the circle of friends a leader already has outside the church. Co-lead with that person to take care of promoting inside the church as well as offer any administrative and follow-up support. Model what you want from your leaders.
  • Tap into the faith formation skills and experiences of Christian grandparents in the church. These are the untapped volunteers to hand-address Christmas cards, birthday postcards, pour hot apple cider, serve at the Eggo waffle station on time-change Sunday, be present for hospitality at the beginning and the end of, and transport their grand to/from children’s activities/events at church.  

How does Advent look differently for you? What are you hoping for in 2022? The seasons are on top of each other. Carve out a bit of ‘balcony time’ for each (looking from above at the greater picture) then put on something sparkly, pick up a medicine-ball tea from Starbucks, and let’s get this advent and new year party started. How can I help?

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

ABCs of Family Worship

We’ve had many new families come to our local church for lots of faith formation experiences on weekends and just about every day of the week. Many come from no or other faith traditions. This makes for awkward moments almost every week in worship. We desire to invite them to worship as the next step, but it can be a leap of faith for new families. We want to make it easier. Learning something new together with those we love is always a good and better thing. 

Our leadership has joined Children’s Ministry to provide space for a teaching service for kids with adults in the room in our regular worship space at our traditional 11am service. I’m beside myself in joy and shaking in my boots all at the same time. 

Elements of the teaching service has been to form a family worship team with clear goals, provide a dress rehearsal the Wednesday prior with dinner together, and a teaching through the alphabet to prepare ourselves for worship before the service even begins.

ABCs of Worship
Faith Milestone: I Can Worship With My Family

A –    Arrive early.
Arrive in time to find a good place to sit. Sitting near the front of the Sanctuary will give littles a better view of the chancel (stage front) area.

B –     Bring colored pencils or crayons.
These tools can be used for coloring or taking notes. When our hands are busy, our minds are calm.

C –     Clue in children to what will happen next in the service.
Children who can read will want to go over the Bulletin and find hymns (songs) in the hymnal (song book.) They like to be prepared.

D –     Discuss worship at home.
Discussion ahead of time gives time to ask questions and get answers about worship.

E –     Express joy to have children in worship.
Be sure to welcome the children sitting near you. Include them in your conversations before and after worship to let them know they belong.

F –     Free yourself from worry about children’s behavior.
We are a family and need to hear the sounds of children in our family.

G –    Gonna want to be in church.
Disciples of Jesus gather weekly to celebrate God’s goodness and God’s faithfulness together. You don’t want to miss this!

H –     Have your offering ready.
We will follow the children’s lead to walk forward to give our tithes and offerings at the end of the service. Movement in the service is good for everybody.

I –      Include the babies.
We love babies! A loving nursery is available for families with littles under 4yo if this works best for your family.

J –     Jesus
Jesus came for everybody!

K –    Keep an eye out for guests.
Making space for new friends is the first step of sharing the love of Jesus in an act of hospitality.

L –    Look around the Sanctuary when you arrive.
Give vocabulary to special spaces and places like crosses, pews, choir loft, chancel area, organ, piano, baptismal font, paraments, colors, aisles, narthex, acolytes, and more.

M –    Make a joyful noise.
Sing and do the motions to the music even if you don’t know the songs. Let the children see worship modeled by the best worshippers ever!

N –     Names are important.
Tell the children your name and ask them theirs.

O –    Open your Bible. 
Show children where to find God’s truth. Children learn best to read God’s word by spending time with people who read God’s word from God’s word.

P –     Prepare for Sunday on Saturday.
Church on Sunday starts on Saturday. Lay out your clothes, get your Bible, find your shoes, your keys, and prepare your offering the night before.

Q –    Quarters can make a difference.
We’ve made plans for a noisy offering. Bring your quarters and help us make some noise at the end of the service.

R –     Rejoice in the Lord!
Children learn best how to worship Jesus by spending time with people who worship Jesus. Come and show them how it’s done with great joy and gladness. Show us your smile!

S –     Stay a little longer.
Don’t’ rush off when service is over. Linger a bit to meet three new friends-in-the-Lord. Talk to littles and bigs in the Sanctuary, the stairway, and the parking lot.

T –    Treat children as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Children who choose Jesus as their Savior and Lord are full members of the family of God. Jesus said, “Let the children come to me and do not hinder them.”

U –     Understand that everyone learns to worship our great God better together.
Lord, let me always be ready to learn something new to follow You more closely.

V –     Visit the Sanctuary.
Look at all the colors, flowers, decorations, and visual elements which add to the worship experience.

W –    Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle!
Stand, wiggle, and move to the music or whenever you just need to move. This applies to littles AND bigs.

X –     Exit when you feel necessary.
There is no judgment if you or your littles need to step out for a bit, but be sure to come back. Practicing new skills always take grace and time.

Y –     You are your child’s best spiritual leaders.
Be a positive role model of a follower of Jesus everywhere you go with all of your actions, words, facial expressions, and presence.

Z –     Zeal means eagerness, passion, devotion, excitement, inspiration, warmth, enthusiasm.
Bring your zeal for Jesus with you. “My zeal wears me out.” Psalm 119:139a

The Faith Milestone: I Can Worship With My Family will take place on Sunday, October 31 at 11am in our traditional Sanctuary with traditional elements and engage all five senses, led by littles and bigs, and not everything happens on the stage. These ABCs are being shared on social media separately each day with a short version printed on the back of the bulletin prepared with child art.

“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

Got a Cemetery?

Serving local churches adjacent to cemeteries offer a great opportunity to take a walking field trip and learn the history of the church and the community. I’ve served at two local churches with cemeteries and oh the stories.

Every other year, on a Sunday afternoon before the time changes, we enlist the presence of a saint to meet our 3rd-5th graders at the cemetery ready to tell the stories of the people who have gone on to Glory. These folks gave money, prayed, and served on committees to make the decisions to provide the spaces the kids now call ‘my church.’ 

Most cemeteries have a caretaker who grew up in the community the cemetery and church serves. This saint knows the families and the history of the community more personally than anyone else. They know the founding families, what used to be where the drug store is now, why their school and roads are named after these folks, and how these folks made church-life part of their holy habits in following Jesus.

We invite parents/grandparents and the church-at-large so we never know who will meet us there.

Program
Supplies: 2 bunches of yellow carnations; hot apple cider (for our return to debrief)
Arrival: a short time of teaching at the beginning makes space for late arrivals (we taught on Baptism last week continuing our teaching curriculum for CLUB345) .
One of our leaders wears a bright-yellow vest so motorists see us as we walk to the cemetery.
Teaching: What can we learn about the person from the limited info and symbols provided on the grave marker/stone?
Response: a single yellow carnation is left on each grave if we stop to learn.
Allow time for wandering, chatting, and storytelling.

  • Two brothers are buried head to head, yet their names are different by one letter. There was a family feud and they refused to be associated with one another in life, yet are buried head to head.
  • The first youth leader was a new burial site when we visited. She sat in the front youth pew at 11am worship with her special-needs, adult, son up until the Sunday she passed away in her nineties.
  • The wife moved to the area with her new husband as part of a Cobb County land grab, crossing the Chattahoochee River on the ferry. She desperately missed her family and told her new husband that when she died, we would not be buried in the field where their animals relieved themselves. Her daddy purchased the adjacent land for her to set up a family cemetery and a church for her to start for the community. Her husband is buried in the field. She is buried in the cemetery.
  • The church I currently serve is named after a man who started an insurance company. His family trust now funds with the interest only the local high school (which was a 1st-12th grade school originally), facilities and missions for our church, and Young Harris college. But the history goes all the way back to the 1830s with the community’s priority of the local church and education. We heard of the unwed teacher’s home (dormitory) and the principal’s ‘parsonage’ of the A & M school. 
  • One of our buildings is named to honor his incredible wife. She was an educator, business woman, and built the church on her husband’s donated land. She was elected president of the National Council of Federated Church Women and was a member of the World Council of Christian Education. 
  • We learned about the only place to get gas, the hardware store which is no longer there, and so many young educators which came to the area for teaching jobs until they married.
  • One of our students in attendance last Sunday had his own stories to share he’d heard from his mom, who joined us, and his grandmother. His family is part of the community’s history. He shared who were teachers, a dog story, a first mayor story, and was filled with delight to be sharing HIS family stories with us, too.

Learning the stories of real people who followed the Lord and have gone on to Glory is a gift only the local church can share and share well. How do your kids learn of the people who made your church the place it is today in your community? Enlisting the service of the saints of your local church is always a win-win!

“Let this be written for a future generation that a people not yet created may praise the Lord.” Psalm 102:18

Parenting With A Purpose: Accountability

We have been super intentional to equip and invite parents into the faith formation of their children. The scriptures outline this is God’s plan in Deuteronomy, Psalm 78, Isaiah 18, etc. 

When young adults who never strayed from the faith are asked the how and why, they speak to learning to read/listen to the Bible as a regular habit. First and by far, foremost. Followed by the family minutes, moments, and milestones which impressed the priority of their faith in Jesus in community: home first, then church.

Let’s be real. There are 168 hours in a given week. Even if we throw everything we have into that one hour of developmentally appropriate faith formation in a typical Sunday school setting, it will never be enough for a robust faith in Jesus in any culture. 

A multi-level plan (developmentally appropriate), over time (habits), in community (home, car, extracurricular, church) is the best strategy. That’s a big elephant to eat. We can eat that thing one bite at a time and over a period of time, but we need permission for accountability.

We can’t tap into the accountability of ‘if you’re not here for practice, you can’t play.’ We can’t lay out expectations to parents like a teacher can at a parent-teacher conference of ‘Sue is lost and I would suggest a faith tutor to meet with her every week, sometimes twice a week, to get her up to speed.’ We can’t send a note home with ‘Joe has already been absent 9 days. One more day absent and he’ll be held back to be sure he gets the material to be successful.’ None of these options are reasonable for the local church.

So what do we have? 

Side note: Our parents have more than enough guilt. They lay awake at night questioning their parenting skills already. I’m not adding to that. Every parent I’ve ever met wants the best for their kids. The very best! They have dreams and hopes for their children and want desperately to make available every opportunity for success. Christian parents want their kids to have a robust faith in Jesus. An hour a week, even if they come every week, is not gonna cut it for a robust faith in Jesus.

So what can we do?

We can equip and train parents and grandparents (the greatest untapped faith formation resource in any family) and offer space to make all their minutes, moments, and milestones count for Jesus. Everything we do must point to Jesus. Everything!

We offer Parenting With a Purpose classes each fall and spring. Last week it looked like this with a PowerPoint and a Ziploc bag of 167 M&Ms + 1 jumbo gold gumball (representing the weekly Sunday school class): Parenting With A Purpose – A Blueprint.

6pm-6:30pm Kids had pizza dinner (+water, fruit) with 3 kid’s Bible study leaders wearing candy corn flashing headbands (a visual that this is a special night); greeted and checked in by an Ambassador (relationship with an older kid); eat and check in with friends (relationships; food; table life).

Parents set up in another room to get a chance to breathe, get water and cookies, take a bio break, chat with who they sit beside. Hospitality time for me to work the room saying, “Hey ___, do you know ___? She goes to the 11am service and has a 3rd grader” to intentionally introduce the commonalities of participants. Then give time for them to chat before the program starts at 6:15pm.

6:30pm-7:30pm Kids bring in buckets of building toys they chose from the Children’s Welcome Center and sit together at the feet of their parents to play. The visual for parents and children was intentional.

Program: Though six Biblical holy habits are important only one, the research tells us, bears the greatest weight, so we will focus on Bible Reading.

Read the Bible, not a devotional, not a study Bible. Read the Bible. Listen to it in the car on a Bible app. Use Breath prayers to remember phrases and words from the scriptures. Begin with a book with a narrative like the Gospel of Luke. Introduce the author as Dr. Luke and the gospel is his letter to his friend Theophilus. I wonder if Theo was short, tall, quiet, or his loud friend? Dr. Luke investigated and determined these events to be true, historical, and worthy of defense.  

The Next Generation Ministries suggests the narratives of the New Testament first. Then the Old Testament. Then a Chronological Bible. Several of our kidmin leadership team took an online conference of Discipleship Begins at Home sponsored by Women In Apologetics last summer which taught and offered the Blueprint resource to all participants to share with our families in their local churches. 

They reminded us that if a kid can read a chapter book, they can read the Bible as a family and in Christian community.  “This is what Christians do and we are a Christian family.” At middle school, purchase a study Bible. Invite the grandparents to purchase it and make notes in the margins of their favorite passages. The kids can read. The parents can read aloud. A Bible app can read it aloud for you.

Each participant received a children’s book on a hard faith subject (the Trinity) and what I think is the best Bible Handbook in print (which is hard to find) published by Gospel Light (I miss them) which is child, youth, adult-friendly to give context to the family Bible reading.

Parents are front-line disciple-makers and the saints the local church is supposed to equip. This is one very intentional way we are living into Ephesians 4:12.

At the end of class, I gave them each a heads-up. By walking out with all those resources, they are inviting me and everyone else in the room to hold them accountable. 

That accountability might sound like a hallway conversation, “How are you doing with your family Bible reading?”, or “Have you started with your family Bible reading yet?” That’s what partnership looks like. A life coach does that. A pitching coach does that. A personal trainer does that. A math tutor does that. 

Let me ask you, “How did you do last week in your Bible reading?”

Nehemiah 6:3 “I’m carrying on a great project and cannot go down.”

Getting Organized For Advent

It’s Fall Break in the school systems of North Georgia. While others are headed out of town or enjoying a staycation, it’s the week I set aside to get organized for the fall and advent season. Everything was calendared months ago, published on July 1st. Now it’s time to put some details on the Advent google docs to be shared with the lead teams for each event and campaign when they return.

Parenting With A Purpose – with a focus on Apologetics (giving God our minds to defend our faith in Jesus) we will share a Blueprint for Discipleship at Home for the fall and a teaching of what God teaches us about work in a world that only wants to play for the spring.

Grandparenting With A Purpose – with a focus on engaging in sacred conversations we’ll have a table chat in both the fall and spring with other grandparents who have navigated the hardest conversations with their grands.

New Faith Milestones
I Can Tell the Story (one for Advent, one for Lent) which will be Messy Church events using images to tell the birth story of Jesus and the resurrection story of Jesus. For Advent: soup & bread, activity themes from Matt Rawle’s new advent study, The Heart That Grew Three Sizes: Finding Faith in the Story of the Grinch. It’s a post-pandemic look at the Grinch taking the redemption story to a whole new level. The adult videos, only around 10 minutes in length are so rich I was able to write the Children’s Moments, the event stations, and a lot of the Christmas Eve service from Rev. Rawle’s materials speaking of phrases kids get like hate, words and people redeemed by Jesus, truth vs lying, and the power of music and memory.

I Can Worship With My Family – interactive, intergenerational worship service for kids with adults in the room. We bring our teaching services from the summer parking lot to Big Mac (the sanctuary). It’s a teaching service at 11am in Big Mac for worship, prayer, giving, singing, Apostle’s Creed, doxology and more when the whole family learns together why we do what we do and what makes Big Mac, Big Mac. Opening a registration link for kids and families who want to take a lead lets us communicate expectations to families and not just kids. Clarity and communication builds trust. All of the other Faith Milestones we teach separately will be now be lived out in community with our church family, not only the Children’s spaces.

Part of that organization is also getting some shopping done so the resources are on hand and we’re not scrambling hoping to find what we need.  The complete details are not on the google doc yet, but today I placed orders for….
Advent Blocks (purchased in summer at deep discount/added another church to order for even more discounts)
Red squishy hearts imprinted with “Jesus loves me”
Red, green, white, lime chenille sticks
What the Bible Is All About Handbook for Kids
Discipling Your Grandchildren: Great Ideas to Help Them Know, Love and Serve God
Prayer buddies in pompoms
God Is Three Persons
Family Advent Pop-up Calendar

Let’s not forget to be clear of the goals and the why of each experience. Every experience must be a developmentally appropriate faith formation experience. Ministry leaders are not event planners, but disciple-makers who take every opportunity and effectively use what’s in our hands to give testimony to God’s goodness and His faithfulness to His people. Determine when, where, how, who, and the discipleship follow-up for sharing the good news of Jesus and His plan of redemption and restoration in truth as the priority not the add-on or side-note. Write it down so not to be distracted by a negative comment or an expectation expressed after-the-fact. Measurable goals offer clarity, purpose, and let you set priorities to filter the could-haves and should-haves. The experience is part of your over-all strategy for faith formation, not a one-and-done.

Partnering with families means they can trust that we will be prepared to be a blessing as their calendar begins to turn into fall. Partnering well with our leadership team means they will not be overwhelmed and will have on hand the tools to be successful.

How do you get organized for the next season?

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your heart and be thankful.” Colossians 3:15

Neighborhood Prayer Partners

One of our super-leaders serves on staff at another local church in a neighboring county. She shared with me how the church she serves lives out praying for their neighborhood at their weekly prayer meeting. We’ve adapted their system to be kid-friendly for our own community using the 5-finger prayer method for a sticky, holy habit with our students.

5-finger prayer
Thumb – pray for someone closest to me (a local business; local entrepreneurs)
Pointer – pray for someone who teaches me (a local school)
Tall – pray for our leaders (a local public official; local first responder)
Ring – pray for those who need help (another local church/missionary)
Pinkie – pray for our own (a church family facing extraordinary challenges)

We introduce our monthly five on the first Sunday of each month. A new prayer prompt card is shared with the students to take home. We invite the students to hold up that finger (their whole hand for the tall finger) as we silently pray as a large group for each organization/family/person is named. We practice in large group each week, then follow it up throughout the month on social media and by email who the prayer recipients are each month. This time of silent prayer and repeat-after-me prayers naming our neighbors has become one of my favorite moments each Sunday morning. 

At the beginning of each month, we draft a letter to each organization, family, person. The students and our leaders sign their first names in fabulously colored ink to each letter upon arrival in the Welcome Center to be mailed the following week. One example would be:

Dear…..
We consider it a privilege at McEachern Memorial United Methodist Church to partner with and to pray for our neighbors. We believe that it is also a joy to lift up our local businesses and their staff. After all, we are all serving God’s families and that service needs us working together.

This month you were chosen as our local business of the month. During the McEachern Kids Sunday school hour you and your staff will be mentioned by name in a specific season of prayer. We will pray that you will be touched by God’s protective hand as you go about your daily interactions with our community. 

May God’s greatest blessings rest upon you as you faithfully serve in this community.

Seek Him First,
McEachern Kids
K-5th graders and leaders

Teaching students to pray for their neighbors, at church and at home, is a holy habit everyone can practice. Yet most littles don’t know who to pray for outside themselves, making most of their prayers all about themselves. This holy habit also lets our neighbors know that we want to be good neighbors, too.

Who can you pray for today?

“When it was time to leave, we left and continued on our way. All of them, including wives and children, accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray.” Acts 21:5 

S’more Jesus Late Night for 3rd-5th graders

When families prioritize a time on their calendar for a weekend retreat for their 3rd-5th graders and discover we are unable to make it happen the way we’d originally planned, we pivot with intentionality because our 3rd graders have finally arrived. Our 4th graders should’ve arrived last year, but 2020. Our 5th graders see everything as ‘the last time’. Asking the question, “What’s in our hand?” and partnering with another local church, we planned a late night event, 4:30-9:30pm on a fall Friday night.

Promotion
– 3rd-5th graders are invited to learn to grow s’more like Jesus as we travel to Mountasia for putt-putt, go-kart, and pizza then back on campus with s’mores at the fire pit. $25 per student. Chaperones free.
– Logo image built on phone through Bazaart app
– Coordinate original chaperones along with new leaders for driving, fire, tshirts, hospitality, setup, cleanup, and space arrangements on a campus used by multiple ministries on a typical Friday night.
– With the ‘bring list’ including non-typical items, we sent 3 emails before event night: one week out, 3 days out, the night before so families could make whatever arrangements were necessary.

Space
Everything was outside except the bus ride. Dinner of 2 slices of pizza and unlimited pitchers of water (my beverage of choice) and unlimited putt-putt and go-cart time for 2 hours cost $25.10. With local Friday night football, we were the only group at Mountasia. Most of our kids were not old enough to ride alone, so this was a time of intentional relationship building between leaders and students to share a go-kart.

Students were instructed to bring
– Gas or food gift card for a mission project – a dear church family battling childhood leukemia would be delivered a gift box filled with notes written by students along with the gift cards the following Sunday
– Refillable water bottle – holy habit to take care of our bodies and the earth
– Bible – Bible study on Luke 2:52
– Closed-toe shoes (can’t go-kart without them)
– Camp/lawn chair – place to keep track of their own stuff, personal space, and to sit for Bible study

Schedule
4-4:30pm Welcome, Rules, Introductions
4:30pm Assign small groups w/leaders
5-7pm Mountasia
8-8:30pm Bible study and teaching
8:30-9:15pm Split into 2 groups, with time then flip
Group 1: S’mores at the fire pit & note writing to mission family
Group 2: Breath prayer Labyrinth
9:15-9:30pm Talk to each other-1 on 1 w/ get-to-know-you and either/or questions
(students stood facing each other so they could move; release nervous energy)
9:30pm Group picture, dismissal

Bible study: Luke 2:52
The one Jesus-as-a-kid eyewitness account was placed in God’s Word especially for kids by Dr. Luke. How do we become s’more like Jesus? We spend time with others who love Jesus together in prayer (labyrinth), play (Mountasia), service (gift cards/note writing), at tables sharing food (pizza, water pitchers, s’mores), and in conversation (get-to-know-you questions).

Scripture memory: Jesus grew in…(chat through ways to grow in…)

  • Wisdom – take good care of your mind – hands on head
  • Stature – take good care of your body – arms up showing muscles
  • Favor with God and man – take good care of your heart – hands over your heart in shape of a cross.

Breath Prayer at Labyrinth w/Bible Buddy (plush s’more distributed by Ambassadors)
Lord, let me grow in wisdom, in stature, and in favor with God and man.
The prayer labyrinth has been a labor of love and gifted by an art teacher in our church. Though unfinished due to the rain, she came to teach and practice the labyrinth journey with the students at it’s inaugural use. 

Weather was the greatest consideration of the entire week preceding, so Plan B was walked through and ready to go: gym reserved if not outside, umbrellas for labyrinth, sterno tins in glass jars for s’mores in small groups (now we can take this anywhere and share), arcade was arranged if no putt-putt/go karts running, gaga ball pit space/covered space for outdoor Bible study with camp chairs. Both Plan A and Plan B were walked through every step the week before and the day before.

Leading ministry with children and families has always required navigating multiple moving pieces, especially people and calendar resources, and requires pivot adaptability and Plan Bs. It’s what we’ve always done. It’s what we’ll always do. When done often, it builds adaptability muscles. When done well, it builds trust and integrity.

How did you spend last Friday night?

That’s Gonna Leave a Mark

The gold-framed Guardian Angel picture followed my maternal grandparents to every home they lived in. They moved from the coal mines of West Virginia to Virginia to Florida then back to Virginia. They also kept a huge, white family Bible on the coffee table. These are the images I recall from my childhood related to their faith.

In Family Driven Faith: Doing What It Takes To Raise Sons and Daughters Who Walk With God,  Voddie Baucham, Jr. speaks of marking the home as God’s territory. He shares the memory of his Buddhist mother. Her regular practice of that belief system involved all five senses: a black lacquer box in the corner of their dining room, a statue of Buddha, a scroll of strange writing, incense, fruit, beads, and a small gong or bell. Those images remain with him to this day even though she became a Christian within six months of his conversion.

“Imagine the impact that Moses’ teaching had on the children of Israel in the Promised Land.” God’s people were entering a new land with new smells, sights, sounds, tastes, yet were expected to retain their distinction as followers of the one true God. How?  Marking their doorposts, celebrating annual feasts with bitter herbs, unleavened bread, and the stories. Oh, the stories, the stones, the Sabbath practices, the music, and so much more.

My BFF-in-the-Lord just set up her new office space with bright yellow chairs and throw rugs to cover floor stains. She has stuffed animals (you know, the holy stuffed animals like sheep, donkey, lamb, plush Jesus which are staples for family faith experiences) on shelves and filled a wall with pictures of remarkable moments with the people of God she has served alongside. Visual reminders of creative, innovative, hard, hilarious moments in time where she served her families in ministry with great zeal and joy. She has marked her space as the Lord’s.

How can we regularly and intentionally mark our spaces and places for the Lord? At home? At church? At work? Sticky faith formation experiences engaging all five senses.

Engaging Eyes
“There was a period in history when anyone who wanted to be considered a serious painter, a grand master, painted biblical themes.”
At this week’s Faith Milestone: Bread & Juice Class, we’ll pull out the jumbo framed picture of Da Vinci’s Last Supper for our kindergarten and first grade students to stand behind for their class photo.

Engaging Ears
“Music is an incredible medium. With a few notes we can be transported to another time and place.”
Preparing for this week’s S’more Jesus Late Night with our 3rd-5th graders, we prepared a Spotify playlist with camp songs. Sent it out ahead of time to the leaders and the children.
Dr. Richard Hunter offered a sermon based on his daughter’s favorite song, at the time, Tim McGraw’s Live Like You Were Dying at my home church. There are some messages super sticky because of a song.

Engaging Taste
“There is no such thing as Christian food.” Well, I beg to differ.
I recall a young pastor at my home church who prepared a summer sermon series based on breakfast cereals. I’ll never be able to look at a box of Frosted Flakes the same again.
Goldfish? Cheerios? S’mores prayers? Bread and juice? 

Engaging Smells
“I could almost smell the Sunday dinner as he described in great detail his vivid memory of every aspect…”
Dr. Doug Thrasher gave a sermon at my home church about Sunday dinner with biscuits and gravy on a communion Sunday. I’ll never forget the intentionality of a mama setting the Sunday table for her family and the planning involved.

Engaging Touch
“Have you ever walked into a home with one of those enormous family Bibles? I mean the kind you have to open with two hands.”
When a local UMC church was closing in our district, one of my moms went to the garage sale the church was having. It was her home church. She asked about the Chrismons which were a sticky faith formation experience of her now art-teacher-of-the-year faith journey. They pulled them out and gave them to her! Even before this, she had led our 3rd graders in October and November for the last four years in a rite of passage to make and learn about Chrismons. She leads those students to decorate the children’s large group space each year for Advent: Hanging of the Greens. Lots of gold beads, lots of white styrofoam, lots of conversation, LOTS of stick pins. The Chrismons of her home church are now enjoyed and shared with her students at her son’s home church. The Chrismons of both churches hang together in our children’s spaces.

In my weekday preschool days, we displayed an apple when we studied apples. We ate apple stuff, counted apples, played with apples, used apple-scented shampoo in the water table, read apple books, painted with apples, and did everything we could possibly think of with apples.

“It all comes down to a simple question: Why are we here?” If our local church, and our family, exists to know Jesus and make Him known, how are we intentionally marking our lives for Him in the stickiest ways possible, through our five senses? At home. At church. At work.

“You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Deuteronomy 6:9