A Family Ministry Lens For Generational Discipleship

Family Ministry: A Holistic Approach was a breakout session led by Kathleen Jaoudi at the 2023 Children’s Pastors Conference. Wearing 3D glasses, she invited us to look at ministry with families through a different lens. Not the silo-ed lens of post-Young Life to the present, but generational discipleship for today.

Using a pie chart, she shared a model for intentional focus in six key areas. In these six key areas, you probably are already doing a good bit. Grouping what you are already doing might offer some insight for what to edit and what to shore-up.

First, she said that all ministry is Family Ministry. Agreed. Family Ministry is a process rather than a program with the goal of operating as a full Body of Christ in your local church. Agreed even more. Here are the six key areas:

Milestones: Milestones we make are the developmentally appropriate teachings of our faith symbols, rituals, and holy habits; Milestones we mark are the remarkable moments of life to commemorate the work of God in our family’s life in ways that we did not see coming.

Educational: The intentional building of educational experiences for some and for all. Ex: CLUB345, K2Club, Sunday school, Missions lunches, bringing in a special speaker, etc.

Caring: This is the congregational care of sharing life in grief and celebration; food ministry; new babies; hospital stays, etc.

Parent Equipping: Helping along the way in bite-sized pieces for resources, special events, emails, social media, etc. Ex: My son told me that a website is too much info and no one has time to get lost down a hole of too much information. But providing weekly resources in bite-sized pieces by email or social media posts make for a much easier application.

Family of Families: This is what we do to fill the holes of families, Jesus Loves You Boxes, prayer, moving, car care, Lent Dine-outs, mentoring, coaching, etc.  

Families in Service: Multi-generational opportunities to serve others and one another, family mission trips, hospitality, family VBS, cleaning and/or building spaces, Great Day of Service, delivering, collecting, donating, etc.

Christina Embree is the founder and creator of ReFocus Ministry. She presented at the most recent Bible Creatives Online Conference about the pillars of creating a plan for generational discipleship: Institutional, Spatial, Technological, and Relational. 

As I’m still processing how to incorporate these pillars within this family ministry pie, I really like her vocabulary: Generational Discipleship. I’ve spent some time with her and I really like her plan for intentionally setting the table for folks in at least three generations and sharing the life of the gospel through everyday discipleship in ways that all can engage in a life of faith in Jesus.

Whatever we call it, we know that the purpose of the church is to equip the saints for ministry. Equipping Christians is the one thing we are called to do. Everything else is good, but equipping Christians to live as Christians in the world is what we are to do no matter what. Let’s have a plan for it, let’s set the table for it, let’s push beyond the awkward, and quit protecting turf that we imagine is there because we can’t imagine anything else. I’m putting on my imagination hat!

“But you, Lord, sit enthroned forever; your renown endures through all generations.” Psalm 102:12

Time to Armor-Up

All of my training in Christian Education came from the amazing Christian Educators who invited me to their tables, the authors who invited me into their experiences, and the Lord who taught me early through the scriptures, “If you can extract the precious from the worthless then you can be my spokesman.” Jeremiah 15:19

We think when we’re hired on staff at a local church or faith-based organization it’s all kumbaya and glitter. Sometimes it is. But we have an enemy who fights dirty. An enemy set on driving wedges between God’s people to pull God’s house down leaving scars and scabs of cuts by stained glass where no one sees due to this enemy’s number one weapon: deception.

This is spiritual warfare and if we intend on standing firm, being courageous, doing what is right in God’s eyes, over the long haul, we must armor-up. The battle is not a power struggle, but a truth struggle. How do we armor-up? In the truth of God’s word.

Ephesians 6:11, “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” These schemes are plots and plans to distract, detract, and deflect from God’s truth. 

  • The belt of truth buckled (vs 14) – Buckles fasten by filling holes for a tight fit. What holes of truth need filling in your belt? Reading and studying God’s truth in community over time is the plan. It’s not fast nor quick, but it is a thorough plan. 
  • The breastplate of righteousness in place (vs 15) – A breastplate in place guards our heart, because our feelings can’t be trusted to know what is right in God’s eyes. Go with what you know is true and not with how you feel.
  • Feet ready with the gospel of peace – Do you know the gospel well enough to go and share it? Don’t guess the gospel. Learn it. Practice it. Tell it every chance you get and pray for opportunities. Our faith is based on an historical fact so it’s not intuitive. We must be ready to share the gospel in truth and gentleness for the purposes of telling our world of the Prince of Peace.
  • Shield of faith which extinguishes all the flaming arrows of the evil one (vs. 16) – Oh the evil one is coming and he’ll annoy and scare the daylights out of you with not just arrows, but flaming arrows. Do you know the sights, sounds, and smells of the enemy in spiritual warfare? If we are in this for the long haul, we’d better.
  • Helmet of salvation (guard your mind) and the sword of the Spirit (God’s word) – Be saved and be sharpened by God’s word. All of it. 

The first time I was in the thick of spiritual warfare, I didn’t know what it was. I just thought people didn’t like me. On this side of perseverance I know what it sounds like, smells like, feels like, tastes like, and looks like. My Spirit is on guard and I armor-up.

The first book I read about spiritual warfare was after reading about workplace bullying: The Three Battlegrounds. This small 171-page book taught me much about the schemes of the enemy. I’ve purchased many copies and shared them all along the journey.

Even with spiritual armor, we will suffer bruises (tender spots which can make us weepy), broken bones (reset and casted by the love of God’s people in community), and scars (reminders of the stories of God’s faithfulness and mercy.) I think we should do more to teach of the theology of suffering and church history. What faithful American Christians endure today as ‘suffering’ is nothing compared to those who have gone before us to further the cause of Christ.

When the battle is especially loud I pray, “Lord, don’t let me sin in this,” and I pull out my Bible even more alongside a ring of index cards filled with God’s word. This ring of scriptures was started when I accepted my first position on staff and it’s grown over almost thirty years.

Our enemy is a crafty one and as my heart and mind have grown in the truth, the flaming arrows came often and seemingly out of nowhere. The Lord taught me when to ride it out and when to just ride out. He indeed turns all things for good for those who love Him.

You are a warrior for Christ. When we humbly submit to His authority and the truth of His word, we will honor the saints who have gone before us for the cause of Christ. Learning about spiritual warfare while in the midst of the emotional toll it takes is so much harder than learning about it ahead of time and learning to armor-up.

As the prophet Jeremiah told the exiles in Jeremiah 29, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” God has plans. Our job is to be prepared. Preparation includes armoring-up for the battle we’ll face along the way.

“On the day I called, You answered me; You increased strength within me.” Psalm 138:3

Making Your Week Work For You

There is too much going on in my brain and on my calendar. You, too?

Children’s ministry folk are fast pivoters and quick on our feet to adapt and edit. Yet once I make the February turn and the closer I get to summer, I’m feeling the pressure of meeting expectations and the many ‘good’ distractions that take longer than they should to settle, and it’s Lent, and Sunday keeps coming, and Tuesday keeps coming.

How do I try to get it all done? If ‘all’ is this week, I’ve found a plan that works as a good boundary model. As in all models, stuff happens, but as far I can manage, this is my plan each week:

Sundays – A full work day; set the alarm for super early so I have time to arrive early and schedule others to arrive just as early to get the ball rolling to be able to face the day’s activities with joy and margin for a pivot if necessary. Sunday is game day! If there is no additional afternoon/evening programming, afternoons are filled with admin work – attendance; expense processing; placing orders; cleaning up; packing away; staging for the next thing. No one else is typically in the office so I have uninterrupted access to the copy machine.

Mondays – Communication day by emails/postcards/notes/letters; reports; writing; texts, list-making; social media scheduling; zoom calls.

Tuesdays – In-person and on campus meeting day (staff & lead staff & hallway meetings) since everyone is on campus; lunch meeting; evening Kids Bible study.

Wednesdays – Study and collaboration day at home office or travel day. Podcasts and Audible let even a travel day be a study day; writing and reading; social media scheduling; consults.

Thursdays – In-person and on campus morning Bible study; Sunday prep; lunch meeting; team one-on-ones; Lenten dine-outs; in summer this is generational discipleship event night like Family VBS.

Fridays – Personal Sabbath to do what reminds me that God is good and I am His.

Saturdays – The only day with my honey who is only off on the weekend, so I guard the daylights out of Saturdays.

Two additional priorities:

  1. At least two days each week I sleep until I wake up, meaning no alarm and nowhere to be in the morning. Sleep is one of my holy habits. According to James Bryan Smith’s Good & Beautiful God, ‘sleep is an act of surrender.’ “The number one enemy of Christian spiritual formation today is exhaustion. We are living beyond our means, both financially and physically.” “Sleep is a perfect example of the combination of discipline and grace.” (p 33-34)
  2. A subscription to Audible helps me hone the skills necessary for effective and changing ministry. Not only is it good for listening to books, but there is a whole list of classes included in The Great Courses and free-on-Audible books. Just last month I freely listened to The 6 Habits of Growth, How to Say It: Words that Make A Difference, Pivot and Pursue It, and How to Negotiate at Work

I went on my Walk to Emmaus in 2000. My walk was a tipping point for how I lived out my life as a disciple of Jesus and my calling to ministry. If I don’t set my priorities, my priorities will be set by someone and something else. There are indeed times when I have to submit to someone else setting my priorities. But I have a plan and do my very best to make my week work for me rather than the other way around.

How do you make your week work for you?

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18

What’s For Dinner? Lenten Dine-outs

It’s one thing to have a meal, quite another to share the table with Christian friends in the community wearing church t-shirts identifying where you come from. When I began hearing the Lenten sermon series for 2023 was ‘Journey to the Cross’, I raised an eyebrow. Now I’m the first one to share the account of our salvation by the sacrifice, death, and resurrection of our Jesus with little people in a developmentally appropriate way, but how do I make that journey relative to little people for a season? It got me thinking.

One of the major parts of planning for a trip or journey is to answer the all-important-question “What’s for dinner?” 

Wanting to bring our Lent celebration outside the church, we decided to offer Lent Dine-outs each Thursday during Lent at a local restaurant. We are inviting everyone and anyone to stop by a local restaurant we’ve already made arrangements with anytime between 6-7:30pm to enjoy a meal with other Christians.

We chose and called restaurants near the church where ‘kids’ teams’ celebrate after games because the staff would be accustomed to handling a large group and navigating multiple tickets since everyone will be paying for their own meals. We also called on restaurants we knew were owned by or the employers of church members.

Each week we’re promoting over social media and the Sunday bulletin where we’ll be. Last week we came in second on that location’s trivia night with the youngest being a 2 year old alongside littles, middles, youth, adults, including senior saints. We set the table for intergenerational and multigenerational table-life at its best.  Even though the first Thursday was Winter Break, the turnout and experience was fantastic.

We’ve designated a host/hostess for each dine-out to arrive about 15 minutes early to place laminated cards on a couple of tables and remind the staff who we are and what we’ll be doing. We’ll be sure to love the staff well and our folks will practice a bit of Christian testimony-tipping and generosity. 

I’m even covering the times Jesus had a meal or tasty beverage along his journeys in the weekly Children’s Moments. This week we’re heading to Moe’s. I started the children’s moment with, “I wonder if every time someone walked into our church we greeted them with, ‘Welcome to McEachern!’” with the same enthusiasm. This week we chatted about how a long conversation between Jesus and a gal at a well over a drink of water at lunchtime (John 4) set the table for a whole region to come to know Jesus.

If you are on our side of town, we invite you to come to the table where we’ll eat, where we’ll enjoy some tasty beverages, where we’ll tell some stories, learn a few things, and play some games. We’re headed outside the church walls and being a good neighbor.

Lenten dine-outs…it’s what’s for dinner on Thursday nights!

“Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” Romans 12:11-13

Turning a One-and-done Event Into Something More AFTER

Last week I posted ideas to consider to make an event an intentional next step in a discipleship journey BEFORE the event. You can find that blog post here. This week we’ll chat a bit about extending your event into something more AFTER the event.

Discipleship AFTER an event might look like….

  • Being prepared to share ‘next steps’ for those in attendance by announcement at the end AND a followup email a day or so after the event with links and a few more details to all those in attendance. This is one of the most important reasons to have online registration. Online registration offers tools to communicate next steps to those who attended the event with curated opportunities already prepared ready to receive inquiries, details, and a commitment to participate. Ex: Easter Sunday is a big deal in the church world. But as we prepare for Easter Sunday, what will be offered to help people along their discipleship journey afterwards? Easter Sunday can NOT be a one-and-done event. As much thought needs to go into after-Easter as Easter Sunday. Jesus showed himself to more than 500 people AFTER Easter Sunday. Are you as prepared for AFTER as you are ON Easter Sunday?
  • Story: There were four activities about to take place in our community (not just our church) in the next month which were perfect next steps for the ladies who attended the Ladies & Mother-Daughter Heart & Cookie Exchange (think a Christmas ornament exchange but in February because December is WAY too busy). I made the announcements at the end of the event. The next day I sent an email to those who registered and attended with follow-up well-wishes and links to the four activities mentioned in the announcements. A few hours later a Sunday school class forwarded one of the events as a shared experience for the ladies in that class and tickets are now being purchased and plans made to gather to take that next step together. This also affirms that most folks today want to participate in social events ‘with a friend’ or ‘as a group’. Making it easy to do so is a way to help disciples of Jesus know what’s coming up AND who else wants to share the journey. Laying it out there what the next step is makes for an intentional discipleship pathway and helps navigate the mega-communication of options. 
  • Taking and posting pictures before, during and after the event extends the event up to several days later. Ex: Campfire Christmas with its sub-zero weather and 30-40 mph winds didn’t keep 100 people from coming out to worship the Lord together as families. As pictures I took and posted AND the pictures posted by families who attended continued to roll in my social media feed, memories and smiles abounded. As they rolled into my feed, I was able to comment with ‘glad you were able to come’, ‘we hope to see you again when it’s warmer’, ‘this was one of my favorite moments, too’. In the algorithm world, those conversations continued and kept rolling in my (and a whole lot of other folks’) social media feed for up to 6 days after the event. 
  • Personal thankful texts within the first hour or two after the event to those who served on the make-it-happen team lets the team of folks you lead know their efforts were important to you and to their family of faith. A text with a picture of them with their family or of a special moment makes it easier for them to post in their own social media feed. Every time they search an image in their devices that photo will be there in the gallery for a sticky faith formation memory in their own list of remarkable faith moments. 
  • Preparing a response for the next week around tables or hallway chats to remind the WHY for the event in conversations when the event is talked about gives a ‘bow on the package’ opportunity to show your intentional purpose for the event. Everyone has their own reasoning for why an event took place, this keeps it within the navigational beacons of the planned WHY and the basis for how it’ll be measured. Be prepared to bring it up in conversation at every opportunity the following week whether your audience attended or not. 
  • Story: Our Finance Ninja is actively involved in another church in our community. With energy and joy I share with her the ‘family stories’ of the previous Sunday and every event as soon as I’m back on campus. She pays the bills and makes us all look good. She’s on my team even if she isn’t there ‘in the moment’. When comments are made or meetings take place, she has some reference and can add to the conversations, extending the narrative beyond the event.

Taking a little time to consider the AFTER can extend your event into the discipleship pathway for the folks who attend, the folks who serve, and the folks who will hear the stories of the event. In the words of the 1991 song by Bonnie Raitt, “Let’s give ‘em something to talk about.”

“The people ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.” Mark 8:8

Turning a One-and-done Event into Something More BEFORE

Any well-planned church event is just an event unless there is intentional discipleship before and after. Effective event planning at church must serve a discipleship purpose or it’s no different than the great events planned at your kid’s local school or the local YMCA.

What if you could extend the event into something more with just a little forethought and preparation by asking more questions?

Someone asked in the staff meeting last week if the event I’d planned the following Sunday afternoon was a one-and-done. Someone else piped in and shared, “DeDe never does a one-and-done event.” I smiled. They’re right!

I’m a disciple-maker, not an event planner. Yes, I plan events, but there is intentional discipleship before and after which makes a world of difference in what is planned and how resources (what’s at hand) are stewarded.

Discipleship BEFORE might look like….

  • Setting the WHY and up to THREE MEASURABLE GOALS to help the event stay within the navigational beacons and purposeful when add-ons come alongside disappointments. Story: As the Children’s Ministry Lead AND the Women’s Ministry Lead of my church, it’s important to me to bridge the high school girls into the women’s ministry and set the table to begin and deepen relationships between women of all ages and generations. When it was discovered that several of the older women decided not to go on the Women’s Retreat because, “we only want to go if there are grown women there”, the design team was disappointed. Yet, one of the goals of the retreat was to set the table for intergenerational relationships and we had to let it go. An event can’t be all things to all people all the time. Other measurable goals could include the percentage of first time participants, percentage of second step folks in attendance, setting a critical mass number for the space, number of generations in attendance, percentage of grandparents in attendance, lingering space before and after, base line for ages in attendance, anticipating trouble spots and addressing before, when to address trouble spots going forward, answering three main questions for next time, etc.
  • Determine the WHERE – this helps those who are new or still finding their way around your campus. Logistics and how we communicate those logistics matters as we try to remove as many awkward-moment possibilities as possible. Logistics and spaces can make for distractions, confusion, and an awkward start. Intentional hospitality through communication, registration, personal invites, and room reservations can set a good table for discipleship. 
  • Story: Last Easter there were so many families attending the Sunday morning children’s ministry Egg Scramble there were kids with families (new parents want to do everything, especially church, together as a family) opening eggs on stairs, hallways, and more rooms than I had planned. The spaces were also nearer their cars in the parking lot than the sanctuary (up one floor) to leave afterwards where we’d hoped they’d attend the second service. This year, we are moving it to a larger space, nearest the sanctuary, still adjacent to the kid’s Sunday morning check-in entrance, but critical mass will be seen and enjoyed. If there are less in attendance, it won’t look like it. If there are more in attendance the space can now accommodate them. I’ve invited the men’s ministry to offer a biscuit bar to follow the Egg Scramble to make sure the entire floor smells like bread and folks will linger hopefully to support and attend the second service.
  • Story: Wonderfully Made requires the hanging of vocabulary words I would not want included or remembered for being said or hung up on the walls in our kid’s worship space. It just needs to be different, but in a location that our community knows well. Mission accomplished by moving two buildings over where the community votes, enjoys scouts, and near an outdoor playground for big kids to remember they are still little kids in lots of ways when the information gets to be too much, and it does. 
  • Story: Due to a database upgrade that dropped an event, another event was approved two months prior overlapping my original event time. That’s how I discovered several of my events had been dropped in the upgrade. I pivoted my time to get the original space on the day originally promoted. Another space was offered a few days before my event due to the ‘chili smell’. Nope. Too late for all that. The space mattered for a whole host of reasons thought out last summer when the room was originally booked. Trying to navigate people to a different space in that short amount of time was not up to our standards for hospitality. It worked out just fine. 
  • Story: A site visit by the Women’s Retreat design team helped us get to know one another when transportation was the church bus. Yes, we needed information about the location in order to plan the event well, but what seemed like a last-minute stop (intentionally planned) at the local coffee shop gave me a ton of information about the design team members. AND asking a member’s spouse to drive us made for lots of easy conversations of “What brought you to the church?” setting the table for learning the stories of the women leading the team. Offering next steps in discipleship for each one in the year to come is so much easier when we hear the priorities as shared by their stories. Ex: One isn’t part of a Sunday school because she “doesn’t like to bring food.” I see this design team as one of the small groups I lead for this season, so I will maximize the discipleship time as they see to the tasks BEFORE the event.

The event itself should be prepared before, during, and after as a best next step in one’s discipleship journey with what’s in your hand and who is the Lord setting before you. Want to dig a bit deeper? Check out this post.

Next week I’ll offer a few ideas for turning a one-and-done event into something more AFTER the event, thereby extending the discipleship pathway into intentional next steps.

“But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.” 1 Corinthians 14:40

Tithing Volunteers

Effective ministry with children and families can not take place without a team of folks who love the Lord with their whole hearts, sacrificing time and brain space to littles and bigs for Jesus. Even Jesus insisted He was not a one-man show before His glorious resurrection by modeling and sending out his disciples two at a time. A good visible example of this kind of sending out is in one of the early season three episodes of The Chosen. But I digress.

The number one challenge I get phone calls about from fellow kidmin champions in the trenches is not having enough volunteers. They ask, “How do I get them?”, “Where do they come from?”, and “Why don’t they see how important this is?” I can relate because Sunday keeps coming. Take a deep breath.

What else is coming is that a good percentage of my entire ‘congregation’ will age out every year (I’m responsible for kindergarten thru 5th grade). Gone. Those 5th graders are going to be 6th graders no matter what. I could lament their leaving, but I prefer to look at them as ‘going into the mission field.’ Children’s Ministry is a sending ministry starting with relationships.

God called His people in the Old Testament to test Him by returning to Him a 10% tithe of their resources. People are your resources. Yes, money is nice, space is great, and priority at the table is important, but you can not do ministry with littles and bigs without other people.

What if you spent 10% of your weekly work time with, for, or about recruiting, retaining, appreciating, and growing in relationship with your volunteers? You’d be surprised how you could multiply and grow the ministry to love more kids to Jesus and your own faith. A 10-hour/week staff member dedicating one hour each week to volunteerism can go a long way to growing relationships because ministry with children is all about relationships.
20-hour/week staff member ~ 2 hours/week re: volunteers
30-hour/week staff member ~ 3 hours/week re: servant leaders
40-hour/week staff member ~ 4 hours/week re: team of laity laying it all out there

What to do to tithe or ‘return to our great God’ our best resources?

  • Pray daily ‘Who, Lord?’ (I write this with a sharpie on my windshield for the commute), then make the cold call. The first call/email can NOT be about THE ASK, but rather, “My name is DeDe and I serve the littles and their bigs at McEachern Methodist church and I saw you at church on Sunday. I wanted to get to know you better so I thought I’d give you a call.” 
  • Good questions to prompt the conversation: “Tell me how you came to McEachern?”, “How long have you been at McEachern?”, “Who is your best friend at church?” Not an interview, but just a couple of prompts and listening to toss the conversational ball back and forth. Take notes during or after the call. Close the conversation with, “Thank you for letting me get to know you a little better. I’m delighted to be at our church and I look forward to seeing you at church.” Short, sweet, confident, the start of a relationship. If you serve at their church, you’re family. 
  • Other tithing practices can include monthly appreciation swag, hand-written notes of appreciation, send a text, invite someone to tea/coffee or chips & salsa, drop off something in their home mailbox, pray through their classroom, hold a volunteer team meeting, meet for lunch/breakfast/dessert, comment on their social media feeds. Design a training meeting, compose a thank-you post to recognize your team on social media, be available and accessible before and after programming and services, attend a concert or special event together, text pictures of their family taken at the last church event. Sharing life! Make new friends and grow in deeper relationship with first friends. THIS is the church.

Ministry is all about relationships, not the tasks, not the curriculum’s ‘big idea’, but relationships. Relationships where Jesus is the center and the Holy Spirit is the binding force to grow us closer to Him and closer to one another. Yes, the tasks of copies, cleaning, organizing, and shopping (my least favorite part of ministry) need to get done, but your greatest delight at the end of your professional journey will not be the Christmas Eve Children’s Moment in 2021, but rather the people and relationships you tithe back to the Lord. Can you name them? There are a whole bunch I hope to share a mansion and the golden streets with in Glory forever. We’ll be singing at the top of our lungs and laughing our heads off of our new bodies.

“She is clothed in strength and dignity and she can laugh at the days to come.” Proverbs 31:25

We Can Not Wait

The calendar is always too busy, the season is already too full, and systems for navigating spaces and communication have become my greatest current frustration. Deep sigh.

But we can not wait to…

Support new families
* New families are concerned a lot about what foods/snacks their kids are getting so organic apple sauce isn’t much more expensive and Made Good foods has fabulous snacks which are very appreciated by families today. Make water available with small paper cups. Stop treating, serving, or rewarding with candy, cupcakes, and fruit juice. Children’s ministry people are more creative than that.
* New families have no idea what our worship habits or routines are and we should be better teachers. When I can’t get traction for that, I print small teaching documents to add to the worship clipboards the children get at the beginning of services or post short teachings on our children’s ministry Facebook group. It’s old school, but I love Chuck Knows Church for all things about liturgical seasons, history, vocabulary, and more. One new teaching a week can make a world of difference for families to feel more connected and comfortable in a less-than-kid-centric environment.
* Give church folk access to you and make yourself accessible to them before and after services. Intentionally introduce and connect people face-to-face with a commonality to begin new friendships, then follow up with a phone call or hallway chat. Know the best one or two small groups where you can direct new people to if new groups are not an option.

Support new small groups
* Don’t be afraid to start a new adult group under children’s ministry. New people need new groups to lessen the awkwardness of walking into a group with history, assigned seats, and set routines. Parents and grandparents need a place to grow in their faith, too, and you can set the table for that with ‘Small Group is sponsored by Children’s Ministry’. Rather than wait for the adult education dept. to start a group and ask for ‘childcare’, take the point to offer an adult Christian education class WHILE you are already leading littles in ministry at the same time. Not sure who to invite to lead/facilitate that? Pray for one and when they arrive with a YES, invite them to choose a partner (this is where THEY do the 2nd invite, not you) for TWO people to lead the group together in a 4-week, 6-week, 9-week season/study. Under children’s ministry, you get to choose the options. Right Now Media and Amplify Media have fantastic small group studies to choose from. People grow in their faith best in circles and at tables. How can you circle up and set the table for the bigs while you lead the littles?
* New families have been reaching out to me BEFORE an event or Sunday because I’ve given them space and opportunity for that with a ‘more info’ button on your website’s children’s ministry page and have a ready email – a kind of form email to edit to make personal in response. Invite your new folks to come 15-30 minute early to make for a smooth and less chaotic start. Plan for a hospitality greeter who knows check-in processes and systems with a resting happy face to make the beginning of their arrival experience a lovely one. It should be a different person from your church’s regular greeter team. This is more than holding a door and pointing. It’s the first trustworthy relationship parents will make to leave their child with you or join their children in your programming.
* New families are concerned about security and if you are trustworthy. Your systems for volunteers, Safe Sanctuary, spaces, hospitality, follow-up, and building relationships must be gracious, accommodating, visible, consistent and trustworthy.

Support existing small groups & classes
* Communication is an issue in every church, but we must be able to do it better no matter the inconvenience. Communicate on paper, email, social media, bulletin boards, posters, fliers about what is happening in the  ministry you lead. Leave notes in committee meeting spaces like trustees, finance, and staff-parish relations with a 6-pack of water and a basket of snacks. You don’t need to be there, just leave a little generosity and a note of appreciation for their work signed by you on behalf of the ministry you lead.
* Thank your small group leaders and encourage each one to raise up a ‘wingman’ to take on the administration or hospitality or in case you ‘get hit by a bus’. That is my mantra for pulling someone aside and inviting him/her to see what I’m doing/modeling just in case I get hit by a bus. Jesus never sent His disciples out one at a time, but rather two, three, or seventy. Yes, it’s easier to ‘just do it yourself’ or ‘he’s always led that class’, but we are called to be fruitful and multiply. Keep pushing your one-man-show to recruit a wingman, then love on them both. This raises your leader to be a disciple-maker and your wingman to be raised up to the next level of leadership.
* As a volunteer leader we DID the work of ministry. As a leader of volunteers we equip the saints to learn and practice the work of ministry. We are called to invest in others to use their talents and skills to love people to Jesus. Just as you had to learn, you now get to do the teaching and partnering with others to share the journey. Yes, I could have washed those 10 blankets from Campfire Christmas, but asking on the Facebook page ‘who can help’, we had more help than blankets. Yes, I could have decorated those bulletin boards, but asking others made the boards WAY more inviting. Yes, we could’ve cleaned out the moldy refrigerator, but asking a youth to do it for $20 cash with a box of Clorox wipes made for a much better story and the job got done while he listened to a zoom call for school.

“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever.” Deuteronomy 29:29 …pass it on!

Campfire Christmas

When we were hit with the pandemic in March 2020, I researched the Spanish flu. I found that the space of time from beginning to no longer making global accommodations was 2.5 years. Christmas 2022 was right there at the tail end of that period and offering a Christmas gathering not ‘in rows’, ‘kid-friendly’, nostalgic with Christmas carols, and a ‘chaotic-on-the-spot-Christmas program’ is where we started planning.

We planned for an outdoor service with firepits, roasting marshmallows (s’mores have too many pieces), a short message from the senior pastor, an acoustic guitar to lead the caroling, stick-masked costumes for all kids, with a program base from which to edit for our context from a fellow kidmin colleague in our networking group.

THEN the temps were anticipated to drop to zero with wind gusts of 35-40 mph was forecasted. THEN our guitarist had an accident with his hands requiring stitches the week of. THEN the adjacent building was torn down days before (we’d been waiting for over a year) covering the entrance with orange barrels, yellow caution tape, and two dumpsters we had no idea when pickup would be arranged. AND there was mud where the building used to be. Now frozen mud.

In true kidmin fashion, we pivoted with the couple of days the Lord gave us.

One firepit and a scout dad served as our firepit master outside at the entrance for the entire service time we were inside.

We cleaned a nearby, indoor space for a full day which hadn’t seen a broom nor trash bag in months. Thankful now for the dumpsters for the building tear-down which were removed the day of the event.

A team of visual artists turned the space into a warm, welcoming, sacred space. Bathrooms were loaded with appropriate welcome supplies, large banners were hung with mega magnets to the metal walls, battery-operated fire pots (from previous VBSs) were arranged in the seating area, luminaries purchased by a generous church for $5 each in honor or memory of a loved one, a hot chocolate bar (we ran out of three gallons of hot chocolate and hot apple cider in less than twenty minutes), and indoor table firepits to roast marshmallows with big blankets along the floors.

Activity bags were prepared with four marshmallows (in separate snack bags), a birthday candle and party blower to be used on Christmas Day to celebrate Jesus’ birthday at home, a jingle bell used for a ‘Joseph Says’ game as part of the service (think Simon Says), an LED finger light (to guide to the car in the dark since none of the outdoor lights/signage were working either), and a glow stick candle to use for singing Silent Night.

Each child, youth, whoever wanted to, picked up a mask on a stick to be part of the Christmas program and waited to be directed. Complete chaos and complete fun! We had a stage manager on the stage and on the floor. We had two Ambassadors serving as Mary & Joseph to set the stage for what the others were supposed to do on stage and two Ambassadors who engaged the audience in sounds and responses with cue cards prepared by a fabulous Sunday school teacher who has an eye for what is kid-friendly and beauty.

Activities started at 6pm, program started at 6:30pm, and we were finished by 7:30pm.

The last hiccup: I placed the event’s trash bags onto the hood of my car to drive to the trash dumpster near the main building. By the time I got there, bag had busted and frozen hot chocolate covered the hood of my car. It stayed until the temps rose above freezing four days later. Yet I was SO happy!

Families came out to celebrate a new tradition: A Christmas Adam family worship service completely led by the children and youth departments of the church less than a week after leading the charge and a year’s planning for an all-hands-on-deck Live Nativity and Bethlehem Experience the Sunday before.

The Campfire Checklist I gleaned last year from a church in Evans, Georgia who modified theirs this year to have the service inside with their firepits under their covered portico. The checklist built energy and let folks know that ‘though the weather outside is frightful, the fire is so delightful…’

Next year, Christmas Eve is on a Sunday and there are five Sundays after Thanksgiving. We will present Campfire Christmas again on the first Sunday in Advent, hopefully outside which was the original plan. Have you looked at your Advent calendar for next year yet? Having conversations and making decisions now while everything is still fresh will help guide you to lead your volunteers and families through a smooth, engaging, and well-planned-though-delightfully-pivotable Advent next year.

“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” Hebrews 12:28-29

Children’s Pastors Conference 2023

Attending a conference with friends is the best way I’ve found to learn and sharpen my skills as a professional Christian educator. I’m a verbal processor so asking questions and hearing the take-aways from those I trust will fill my creative bucket quickly. Last week at Children’s Pastors Conference sponsored by INCM (International Network of Children’s Ministry) proved even more fruitful when I shared a house with twelve other kidmin leaders from twelve local churches attending the same conference for the entire week.

CPC does a fabulous job of intentionally adding to my resource shelves and providing content to do my job better through various breakout sessions. CPC especially pours into us as disciples in the general sessions with incredibly effective communicators.

One of the most impactful for me was the general session with Bo Barredo, an attorney and native missionary to the Philippines. He and his attorney wife co-founded Advancing Native Missions. He shared, “Hope is anticipating the best of what’s good.”
“Mamas are a child’s first Children’s Pastor.”
“Those in Christ share in His story therefore we will share in His suffering.”
“Until Christ returns or we return to Him, we must work and suffer.”
“How do I stay in my hope in the middle of my journey and remain alive and vibrant until the first moment of eternity? JOY!”
“Do not have a poor joy.”
Brother Bo offered four places where I can find joy in the waiting and even the suffering. He is spot on.

Regarding content, I thoroughly enjoyed and got my sword sharpened by the following:

Gender-Specific Ministry Matters led by Cindy Bultema (GEMS for girls) and Adam Sculnick (CIA for boys). Backed by research, we explored…
86% of teen girls say they would feel more confident if they had a mentor
The average church offers 3-6 ministries for women and girls, but only 1-2 ministries for men and boys.
Church has become A place to go rather than THE place to go to learn to follow Jesus.

Family Ministry: A Holistic Approach led by Kathleen Jaoudi sharing, “Don’t re-invent the wheel; just add the layer.” I’ll save greater details about this breakout in a separate blogpost.

Equipping Parents to Navigate Technology and Their Kids led by Ela Hammond. She shared all her resources of books, links, a musical game, QR codes, takeaways, through a parent workshop model. Ela offered breakout information for (1) Screen Time for Littles, (2) Should I give my kid a phone?, (3) Pornography Prevention, (4) Social Media Strategies, and (5) Video gaming/YouTube.
“Today’s families have food boundaries, why not technology boundaries?”
“Our kids will be discipled by something.”
“In West Virginia, the majority of kids’ caregivers are not parents, but grandparents.”

Reaching the Families in Your Community led by Jennifer Edwards gave multiple, easy ideas for being a good neighbor in Jerusalem (inside the church) and in Judea (outside the church) in the community where we live. She’s presenting at the She Leads Church Online Conference and I can’t wait! In the mean time, I’ll be implementing several of her ideas within the next six weeks.

Holidays and Holy Days: Hands-On Celebration Ideas led by Emily Snider walked us through the seven festivals God called His people to celebrate in the scriptures. The four spring festivals celebrate Jesus’ first coming. The three fall festivals remind us of what will be fulfilled upon Jesus’ second coming. For this gal who has no trouble celebrating Jesus, this breakout just added more confetti to this amazing walk with Jesus. Watch out February!

Engaging the Grandparents in Your Ministry was led by Jill Vogel, a representative of the amazing folks at Legacy Coalition. The resources abound there and are fantastic. Their blog is great, their resources are great, their books are great, and their people are great. I found Legacy Coalition at my last in-person CPC2020. It gave me everything I needed to start a new ministry with grandparents during the shut-down which grew by leaps and bounds. I came back this time with lots of resources to gift to those involved in our Grandparenting With A Purpose team, to add to our Faith Grandparenting Facebook group, and share with churches where I lead workshops on this very thing.

The greatest content? The chats around tables, pizzas, Walmart & Publix & Bucc-ee’s runs, hallways, benches, beignets, walking trails, and Animal Kingdom ride lines (2.5 hours for the Avatar ride!) with my housemates who share the trenches in ministry from Georgia to Ohio. The discounted rate for CPC24 is good until January 20th and worth every penny. We’ve rented an even bigger AirBnB and we have four extra spots because sharing together is the best way to go.

My Spirit is full, my mission is clear, my joy can’t be contained, and I’m coming in hot to share the unending hope I have with whomever will listen or not. 2023, I’m coming for ya with my hands raised high!

“Surely you have granted him unending blessings and made him glad with the joy of your presence.” Psalm 21:6