Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Vacation Bible School Alternatives

Vacation Bible School is, for most churches, a big part of their planning for the year.  If you are planning a Vacation Bible School and you want it to be successful, you have to work on it months in advance.  It takes a lot of time, effort, and money to buy the curriculum, get the volunteers, prepare the decorations, find the crafts, get the proper snacks and so much more.  However, if VBS is traditionally well attended in your area and it opens doors for outreach for your church, then it is time, money and effort well spent. If it is working at your church, keep it up.  It can be an amazing tool to reach children and shouldn't be set aside if it is still connecting with the families in your area.

But what if it no longer seems to work at your church?  What if it is like pulling teeth to get the volunteers, your budget is stretched thin, and the kids just don't seem interested?  Don't beat yourself up.  You are not alone.  In fact, I have Children's Pastor friends all over the country and lots of us are beginning to face this issue.  The numbers of attendees are down.  The folks in the church simply can't help like they did in the past.  And now, with so many schools going to a balanced calendar, the window of opportunity is very small to even hold a Bible School in the summer.

So, what can be done?  In my opinion, we have to get out of the traditional five day VBS mindset and start focusing on what might work for our area.  There are lots of alternatives if you are willing to make a few changes.

Use an existing service time
If you want to do a program in the summer, but you don't have a full week available, perhaps you could hold your VBS on Sunday Mornings, Sunday Nights, or Wednesday Nights.  This doesn't work everywhere, but in some places, simply replacing an existing children's service with special Vacation Bible School Services is a fun way to change things up in the summer.  
Pick a different time of year
In my area, because of the balanced school calendar, summer is about 8 weeks long.  Four of those weeks are taken up with our District Family Camp, two Teen Camps, and three Children's Camps.  One week on either end of the vacation is difficult to plan around because not all the schools begin or end on the same day. That leaves two weeks in the summer and often those weeks are difficult to plan big events around because of all the family vacations that people take.  So, why not plan your big event at a different time of year?  If you want to do a Vacation Bible School (either three day or five day), why not plan it during part of one of the other longer school breaks.  For example, many families in our area travel during part of the Spring Break, but not so much during the Fall Break. And our Fall Break is two weeks long, so there are about 5-7 days that all the schools are out at the same time.  For us, it could be a much better time to plan an outreach event. 

Try a Sport Camp VBS
I am about as uncoordinated and athletically challenged as they come, but even I was able to pull off leading a Mega Sports Camp.  It's totally different from your traditional Bible School in many ways, but there are some great Biblical lessons and in this program that the kids will love.  If you want to do Bible School, but want to put a different spin on it, I highly recommend this one.  
Do something different
If your town is full of churches, like mine is, there are probably 20 different Bible Schools going on during the summer.  So why not plan something totally different?  Perhaps a Family Concert or Bazaar.  Maybe a Friday night/Saturday family camp out at a nearby lake or park would be well received.  You could have a special family service right around the campfire.  Look at your area and see what the families enjoy.  It will be different everywhere, but if you can plan something really fun, but different than what everyone else is doing, you will automatically stand out.    

Don't overload your volunteers
Your volunteers want to help.  After all, that is why they volunteer, but be careful that you are not overloading them.  If you are seeing that your team is getting pretty tired and are in need of a break, that is NOT the time to add something new to their plate.  Part of our jobs as ministers is to take care of those who are working along side us.  I read a great book not long ago by Barry Newton called "A Mile In These Shoes."  I highly recommend it and there was a quote in it about how we work with others that hit me hard.  He said, "If we are reaching the lost at the expense of those we already have, we are not saving the world.  We are simply leaving a trail of burnt, broken people in our wake." (pg. 104) Programs and events are great, but if our schedule is so full that we are burning out our volunteers to present them, then the price is just too high.  It might be that, for one summer, you don't do a big event so that they can rest and come back refreshed and renewed.  

Don't be afraid to fail
Now, don't get me wrong, I don't want you to try something that you know will fail.  But don't let the fear of failure prevent you from trying something new.  If it doesn't work, you can still learn from the experience.  If it does work, you may have just started something that will reach lots of new families in your community for the Lord.  

Times continue to change and we have to change with them.  But don't be afraid, change can be good...and the right change can revitalize your ministry.  

Until next week...


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Helping Grieving Families...

This past Friday my Grandmother passed away.  I had lived with her for the past two and a half years.  She went into the hospital on July 3rd and then suffered a massive heart attack two days later.  After 12 total days in the hospital she passed away.  This is the first time I have ever been through an experience such as this and it has been an extremely difficult couple of weeks.  But there have been some wonderful people who stepped up to care for our family in some very simple ways.  I thought I would share some of those ways this week. 

Snacks are a blessing...
For several days, my Grandma was in hospice care at the hospital.  We would eat in shifts, but times would come where we really didn't want to leave and it was such a blessing to have snacks like fruit, chips, veggies, animal cookies, and etc in the room to snack on.  The hospice folks were wonderful and kept us stocked in coffee, drinks and a few snacks, but those other treats that were shared with our family meant a lot during those days.

When you offer to help, be specific
We had people who constantly offered to help us in any way we needed and it was such a blessing.  However, what I noticed was that most of time, my mind simply didn't work very well and if you asked me if I needed anything, I would automatically say, "No, I'm fine. Thank you."  And usually I didn't need anything.  But occasionally someone would say something like, "Would it be ok if we brought you dinner?" or "Would you like me to check on your dogs?" and then that would trigger something in my mind and I would realize that that would be very helpful.  But it wouldn't have occurred to me unless they had mentioned it.

Check in often
During our days at the hospital with Grandma, a few people would text me every day just to see how we were.  Sitting in that hospital room would make for long days and though not everyone could come to visit, just getting a text telling me they were praying meant so much.  More than I can even put into words.  

There was literally nothing that anyone could do during the time we sat by my Grandma's bed and waited for her to enter Glory.  But lots of people were praying for us and it was such a comfort.  We had messages on Facebook, text messages, phone calls and personal visits that continually reminded us that others were walking this road with us and carrying us to the Father when we had run out of words ourselves.   

These last few days have been incredibly difficult, but these few kindnesses have made all the difference in making what could have been nearly unbearable...bearable.  When any of the families in your church go through something like this, I'm sure these same kindesses would be a blessing to them as well.

Until next week... 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Co-Workers in the Kingdom

Over the course of a year, there are lots of events that the Children's Ministry plans at my church.  But we are just one of many churches in our area.  There are four other Nazarene Churches, as well as many Church of God (Anderson) Congregations, plus Baptist, Wesleyan, Methodist, Presbyterian, Assembly of God Churches and more.  Most of these churches, if not all of them, have an active Children's Department.  Some people would see all these other churches as competitors, but I think it is important that we see them as our Co-Workers in the Kingdom.   

Have you talked to the Children's Ministers at the other churches in your area?  If you haven't, I would suggest that you do and here are a few reasons why:

They can help you get to know the quirks of the area.
Every place is different and every area has it's own unique quirks.  If you are new to an area, these other ministers can answer key questions like: 
Is there a specific park that is especially good, or bad for having activities?
Are there community events (parades, fairs, etc) that you should be sure to plan around?  
Is there a certain sport or school that seems to take precedence in the area?  
Are the schools easy to work with for events. Do they not allow church involvement at all?  

They are full of fun ideas
Check out the children's departments in the churches around you.  You may not have time to see them all, but see if you can look at a few.  You can glean new ideas for decorations, check-in, signs, and many other things.  Sometimes, just viewing a new department will get your own creative juices flowing.

They are doing the same job you are...connect with them.
There is something very special about connecting with other Children's Workers and if you have the opportunity to do so, it will be a blessing to not only your ministry, but also to your own personal well being.  

We are co-laborers in the Kingdom and we should be supporting one another and helping each other grow.  If you haven't already,  would challenge you to step out of your comfort zone and connect with another Children's Pastor from a nearby church.  We're all on the team.  Let's work together.  And you might just make a new friend too.  

Until next week!    

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Review Days

I love doing series lessons.  We've done a series on great people of faith (Billy Sunday, Fanny Crosby, Billy Graham, The Five Missionaries to the Waodoni, Martin Luther, etc), did a super fun series on the Judges, "toured" the Holy Land in a Biblical travel series, and lots of others.  And each series ends with one Review Day Sunday that is full of lots of games to help them remember what we have learned.  We had one recently to finish our current series and I was reminded of a couple things that are helpful when doing a Review day so I thought I'd pass them along to you.

Not every child was there every week
In fact, there is a high probability that none of the children were there every week.  A series is usually 6-8 weeks long and in that time we will have either one or possibly two Family Sunday services where our children will be in the main sanctuary and not children's church so that extends the time a bit longer.  If you stop to think about it, probably most of your kids will miss at least one Sunday over the course of 8-10 weeks.  So keep that in mind when preparing your games.  I combat this issue by using teams for the games.  No child is ever on their own so no one has to have all the answers.  They work together no one feels pressure to know the answer all the time.

Include at least two games that can be played by a visitor 
A new child won't know many (or any) answers from the series you are reviewing, so include a couple games where they won't feel like the outsider. For example, we were just finishing up a series where we were "traveling" to different locations in the Holy Land and one of our games was a bingo game that reviewed those locations and lots of others too. Every child could play and even the newest had opportunity to win because it was Bingo, not a question/answer game. I also included a game where the answers to some of the questions were literally in front of them on the pages of a previous game.  We had two new children at our last review game and I think they had just as much fun as everyone else simply because the service was planned with them in mind...even before we knew they were coming. :-)

Be flexible and be prepared to change things up
Like everything else in ministry, the unexpected is to be expected. Be ready to add a game or activity if the service goes long or perhaps change a game if necessary. My preschool teacher had a family emergency urging our last review game so I can a child much younger than the others stay in our service...but with a few tweaks, all went well.

Have fun!
Review days should be lots of fun. Enjoy it! Praise their memory when they answer correctly and encourage team work when a question is missed. It's not about who wins (in fact I've started taking away points from a team if I see/hear gloating), it a celebration of what they have learned and how they are growing in their walks with the Lord.

Until next week!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

An Unusual Week

This week's blog will be a bit different.  We had a death in my family on Thursday evening and it has taken a bit of a toll on me.  My Grandfather was 84 and sadly he had not been very much a part of my life for the last few years.  However, his passing has been much more difficult than I expected.  Grief snuck up on me in ways I simply wasn't prepared for.  Indeed, I fell apart over a cup of coffee in a restaurant early Sunday morning because it reminded me of a memory with Grandpa from days gone by. 

However, I am reminded that in everyone's lives there will be difficult days.  The children we work with have them, the volunteers who work with us have them, and we will have them.  During those days it is important that we remember where our strength comes from.  Yesterday, I sat down and wrote a poem trying to find the words to help me work through the feelings that were stirring within me. Now, I am by no means a poet.  In fact, outside of an assignment for school, this may be my first poem.  However, God spoke to me through that activity and I thought that I would share it with you all.  I hope it brings you, during your difficult days, at least in small measure the comfort if has brought me.

Next week I'll be back to the regular Tuesday's Tips.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Trip Book...

All through the year there are various activities that will include a trip of some sort for our kids at church.  It might be a Bible Quizzing meet, it might be Church Camp, it could be a retreat of some sort or any number of other activities.  It’s easy for those things to run together.  And we don’t want to lose the memories associated with those trips.  To help with that, at our church, we have instituted a “Trip Book.” 

The “Trip Book” is simply a notebook (preferably hardback so that it lasts a while) that we take on our special trips.  At the beginning of each trip we put the following information:

Trip Name: (Bible Quiz Meet, Retreat, etc)
Who is on the trip:

Then throughout the trip, we write down anything we want to remember.  It could be something serious (like how God talked to the kids or an important event that happened), or something funny.  Sometimes pictures are drawn or favorite songs are listed.  I let the kids decide what goes in the book.  It is their way to record memories for those who didn’t get to go as well as help those that went remember what we did.   The same book accompanies all the trips until the book is full and then another book is started.  

This is a simple and inexpensive (the only cost is the price of the notebook) way to help children connect with each other as well as take note of what is going on around them.  Just recently, we took several preteens to an event that only one had attended before.  She immediately got out the "Trip Book" and showed all the others what had happened on the last trip.  It was fun for her to remember and gave the other preteens exciting things to look forward to.  I highly recommend you try out a “Trip Book” with your group and see what they decide to record on your next trip.

Until next week!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Never Assume...

Assumptions cause all sorts of problems.  We have to learn to never assume.  There are people who simply will not think of things that you find very basic to ministry and on the other side of that, there will be things that others find very basic that will not even cross your mind as necessary.  For this reason, we have to be very specific about our plans and our programming.  We are all created differently and we will all find various things important...but when those things are not the same things we sometimes can have conflict.  What can we do?

My Dad, who is also a pastor, gave me a piece of advice early in my ministry.  He said, "It's not what you do, it's what they think you do."  Now this might seem like a pass to be lazy, but it's actually quite the opposite.  What it means is that people will only know about what they see you doing.  You may spend 40 hours a week in your office planning your services and preparing activities, but no one generally sees that part of your ministry.  If you are never seen outside of a service, the easy assumption is that you don't do anything.  How can you change that thinking?
        BE VISIBLE. You must promote what you are doing.  I don't mean that you need to toot your own horn to the congregation, but you need to be sure that the church leadership understands the work that you are doing.  That may simply mean putting your activities in your monthly report, but it may also mean inviting the Board members to attend a children's church service, or asking to be an active part in your church's Family Sunday Service.  Be visible in and around the community whenever possible as well.  Attending local events/fairs/activities is a great way to connect with new people as well as strengthening bonds with folks you know.  
        DELEGATE TASKS.  If you are doing everything, no one else will know what it takes to prepare a service, plan an event, or promote an activity.  It may seem simpler to just do the job yourself, but we are here to train others to do ministry, so share the responsibility.  Allow others to learn from you and you must be willing to learn from them as well.  They will do the job different than you and that's ok.  

For the following we will use a fundraiser lemonade stand as an example.

Be Specific...very specific
When you are making a plan, don't be general in your plans.  Generalizations can lead to assumptions.  If you say, "We're going to have a lemonade stand fundraiser in July," that might be all you need to promote to the church, but for your team you need a specific plan:
         Jan will buy the lemonade
         Mark is going to make the lemonade on Sunday morning and put it in the fridge to cool.
         Each week a different family will run the stand.  Mary is in charge of setting up that rotation.
         Max will see that the donation box is put in the safe each week for the counters. 
Now each part of the plan is in place and no one is wondering who is doing what for the fundraiser. Planning is very important, but be careful that you do not become a micro-manager.  Once you have delegated the task, let that person do the task their way.

Be sure everyone knows the plan
Plans are great, but if you don't share them, they are not much help.  Make sure everyone knows the plan for your fundraiser.  Mark may know he's to make the lemonade, but if he doesn't know that Jan is going to purchase it, he may buy is as well. If Max isn't aware of who is setting up the family rotations, he may send people who are willing to help to the wrong person.  Making sure everyone has all the information is incredibly important and can save all involved a lot of frustration.

We all have to work together in ministry, and the easiest way to do that is to keep the information stream going.  Never assume others know what you are thinking, planning, or doing.   

Until next week!