Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Fun Family Ideas

In Family Ministry, we are always looking for fun ways to connect our families to each other and that can be a challenge in this busy day and age.  But below are a couple fun things that I have done that are not expensive, offer a cool way to connect, and are specifically for families (as opposed to just dropping off the kids).

Family Picnic
If your city has a park, and most do, this is an easy way to connect your families. Pick a day and do a Family Picnic.  Have each family bring their own lunches and then pick a spot and eat together.  You can rent a shelter house, but it's not really necessary if there is a place with an outdoor picnic area.  After they eat, either the kids can play on the park playground while the parents chat, or your can plan some fun games to do as a group.  Because each family brings their own lunch, there is really no cost involved for this event, and except for the games (if you choose to plan them) there is very little prep.  It's truly a win/win activity.  Lots of fun without adding a lot of work to your schedule.

Family Game Night
There are a few ways you can do this.  The first, is to set out a lot of table type games and allow the families to play these with refreshments, music, and perhaps some fun videos.  Easy, and not really any different than they could do at home, however, not all families take the time to play games at home. Plus it gives families opportunities to connect with other families in a laid back pleasant atmosphere which is always a good thing.

The second way, is to provide family vs. family games and give out prizes to the winners.  To do this, each family is a team and the teams compete against each other in games such as "Name that Tune", "Jeopardy", "Concentration", or "Family Feud".  Admittedly, these games can be very time consuming to plan and put together, so make sure you have plenty of time to prepare.  You will have to come up with the questions or puzzles for each game and that can be work intensive, however it is worth noting that there is a Family Feud Card game that can be purchased and has tons of questions and answers already done.  When I create these games, I try to do it in such a way that neither the parents or the children could win without the help of the other.  So, for example, when we play Name That Tune, not only will I include music from the parent's growing up years, but also music that we sing only in Children's Church...that way they have to work together.  We also have a game where we give each team a random assortment of objects and ask them to create something with them.  This year we gave each team objects that included, a piece of rectangular cloth, a small box of colored clay, a variety of lengths of yarn, rocks, beads, pipe cleaners, and a few other things and asked them to come up with a diorama of something that they did as a family.  I am always amazed at how creative the results of this activity are.  It was truly awesome to see!  As for the prizes, they are always something that promotes another time of family activity.  Perhaps a board game, a puzzle, a family movie, or even the components for them to make cookies as a family.   

The third way to do this, is to create life size versions of games such as LIFE or Candyland and let the families play with each person being their own game piece. This would also be rather work intensive, and while I have yet to try this, I have no doubt that it would be an awesome memory for the families who participated. I mean, who wouldn't love to play a life size version of a favorite game?

We who work in Children's Ministry are often cut off from the other parts of the church simply because we are with the children so much.  Both of these activities promote times of fun with the whole family and also allows them to interact with other families. Plus it gives us the opportunity to be with the family as a unit instead of just with the children.  And if we really want to minister to the whole family, we have to find ways to connect with the whole family...and these are good ways to do just that.  

Until next week! 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Blessed are the Flexible

I love working in Children's Ministry.  I do.  It's my passion.  I like planning out services and events and when I mean plan...I do mean plan. Everything...down to the minute.  I do not like having empty spaces in the plans.  And I want to know what is going to happen and in what order it will happen.  BUT, no matter how much I plan, no matter how meticulously I prepare, nothing ever goes according to plan.  Computers freeze up, games go faster than scheduled, sound systems go on the blink, kids are more talkative than usual.  You name it, it can happen in the course of the Children's Church service.  So, I have to be flexible.  I have to have a back up plan...and sometimes even a back up back up plan.  Flexibility is key to Children's Ministry...and actually to any sort of ministry in general.  Because ministry is by nature connected to the lives of people and life is simply unpredictable.

Now, for me, since I have grown up in a ministry family, this is a lesson learned early.  But for others, flexibility not something that they are used to and it can be tough.  So here are a couple things that can help you remain flexible...even if you are a planner like me.

Plan for change
Within my service agenda, there are generally things that I have purposely put into the program that can easily be shortened or lengthened as needed.  For examples, if I have four songs in the music section, one will be my "if necessary cut" song.  I can easily skip it if time is short.  An extra game could be put into the agenda if you need a time filler.  For me, I have a review game that I can easily put together if I need to expand the service.  Crafts are great, but they can take an enormous amount of time, so if I am using one, I am prepared to cut something else in the lesson, if it is necessary.  

Have a technology back up plan
If your computer has issues or if your sound system is on the blink, that can totally mess up your plans.  While you probably can not be prepared for every instance (after all computers are constantly changing as are the problems that can go with them), there are a few things you can do to help alleviate issues.  
1)  Make sure any video or audio you need is downloaded into your hard drive as opposed to streaming them live.  Internet issues are very common in lots of places, but if you can learn to not rely on needing things live, that can help a lot.  
2) Keep an old school CD or DVD player handy.  These can come in handy in a pinch.  If the computer isn't working, I can at least pop a cd into the player and have music.  
3) Work on projecting your voice.  I realize that not everyone has a naturally booming voice and many people use microphones during services.  But, if the sound system is on the fritz, there is only so much you can do, so practice projecting your voice, so that if it becomes necessary, you can still be heard.  Even the most timid of voices can be heard if you learn to project.  If you feel that your voice is simply too "small" to be heard without a microphone, you might consider investing in a few vocal lessons.  Voice lessons can help a great deal in this area because those who sing are taught how to breathe and project their voice in ways that will make them heard, but without straining their vocal chords.

No matter how well you plan, there is always a possibility that things will go differently than you planned.  So being flexible is necessary.  When the unexpected happens, say a prayer for wisdom and stay calm.  There is always a way to continue, but 99 times out of a hundred, it will force you to stretch.  And that's not a bad thing.  The more we stretch, the more we grow.  And the more we grow, the better ministers we will be.  So don't be afraid to be flexible...it can lead to great growth.  

Until next week!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Do you know what's popular?

One of the things kids face is a barrage of entertainment that is anything but positive.  Every year, I try to check the winners of the Teen Choice and Kid's Choice Award shows and many times I find myself shaking my head at what they are choosing as their favorites.  More often than not, the things that are winning are not kid friendly...especially where the Teen Choice Award winners are concerned.  And if the teens are watching or listening to it, their younger siblings are probably watching/listening as well.

Just like when you watch the Emmy's or the Oscars and the winner may not be your choice, it is the same way with kids and teen award shows.  Just because something wins doesn't mean all the kids in your department are watching or listening to the winner.  However, it is almost a given that they are aware of the winners and probably have friends who like that artist, television show, or movie even if they do not.  And that being the case, we need to be aware of them too.

It sounds easy...simply know what is popular in the world of children, but it's not.  It changes all the time.  What was popular last month may not be popular this month.  The band the kids couldn't get enough of  when they were in 4th grade may be uncool when they reach 5th grade. The toy that everyone had to have last Christmas is collecting dust on the shelves by February.  The game all the boys were playing on their phone in May might be deleted by August.  You could spend hours every week trying to keep up with it all and let's face it...we don't have that kind of time.  So, what do we do?

If the kids in your department are excited about something, they will talk about it...a lot.  What shows are they talking about watching?  What song in stuck in their head?  What books are they reading? What apps are they loving?  They may walk right up to you and say, "Do you watch __________?  I love that show!"  But we are often so busy before and after church services that we don't always hear what they are telling us.  Make a point to listen to what they are saying.  You might be surprised at what you will hear.

A quick google search for "Teen Choice Award Winners" or "Kid's Choice Awards Winners" will bring up lots of articles about those shows.  Take a few minutes and look them over.  Take note of the artists or movies that win more than one award.  Maybe take a few minutes to look up the names of any winning artist, show, internet celebrity, or movie that you are not familiar with.  These shows also give awards for video games and social media personalities so it really is an overview of all the media that in coming at the kids.  This doesn't have to take a long time, but it can give you an idea of what is popular.

We may not have time to watch every television show or movie that comes out geared at kids, but we can do our best to see the ones that seem to be the most popular.  Is there a song that your kids are listening to repeatedly?  There is probably a video on YouTube of that song.  Take five minutes and watch it.  Catch at least one episode of that show they all love to watch.  The game they love to play on their phones may be a free download.  If so, try it out.  See what has made it so addictive. We may not see it all, but we can at least make an effort to know what they are seeing.  

You might not think this sort of thing is important, but here is what I've noticed over the years.  If what is important to the kids is not even on our radar, they will listen to us less.  Not because they don't like us, but because we do not seem to understand them.  If they talk to us about their favorite show and we know what it's about, or if we know who the new popular artist is on the radio, it shows them that we find their interests important...and by extension that they are important.  And if they know we find them important, they are more likely to listen to us on things that we find important...like our Bible lessons.  And they will also be willing to listen to us when we explain why we don't like the lyrics of a particular song or how the message of such and such a movie isn't appropriate.  As the old saying goes, "They have to know you care before they care what you know."

That's all for this week!   


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Implementing Change

Change is often necessary, but hardly anyone likes change.  We may say we do, but most of us, when push comes to shove, are pretty happy with doing things like we always have.  It's comfortable.  It's known.  But, change is a part of life and especially when you go into a new place of ministry, change is inevitable.  No, doubt the people you are working with will need to implement some changes, but you must be willing to change too.  And if you implement change in the wrong way, you can ruin your ministry even before it begins.  So, here are a few tips that have proven useful for me.

Change very little in your first year.
In one of my ministry classes, this was taught as a key part of church leadership.  If you come into a new place and start to make big changes right away, you have already driven a bit of a wedge between yourself and your new congregation.  In fact there is an old pastor's saying (no idea who came up with it) that says, "If you make two big changes in your first year of ministry, the third change will be you."  And this is indeed a true statement.  We like to come in and make everything work the way WE like it...after all that means that WE won't have to change.  But, it is really much smarter to wait to implement change.  After all, for the entire first year of your ministry, you are doing everything for the first time in your new location.  You need to see how things have been done in the past before you know what is working and what is not.  That's not to say that you can't put your own spin on things, but there is no reason to fix things that are not broken. Take note of yearly events.  What is working?  What needs improvement?  Then the next time that event rolls around implement those improvements.  But don't just change things because they are different than what you normally do.  You have to see the perspective of your people before they will be interested in your perspective.

Change only what is necessary.
If you move into a new ministry position and find that there are no safety procedures in place, that is something that needs to be changed as quickly as possible.  If you see that there is not a sign-in/sign-out area for the department, that is something that needs immediate change.  Or perhaps you find that the curriculum in use is not actually teaching the correct theology for your denomination (it happens more than you might realize), that would be a necessary change.  But if it is not a detriment to safety or the spiritual learning and growth of the children, it is probably a change that can wait. There are exceptions to this, of course, but choose wisely about what is necessary and what it simply a preference of yours.

When change is needed, do so slowly, prayerfully, and with your Senior Pastor's support.
Any change you make, will probably cause some sort of ripple in the department.  Sometimes it's positive, sometimes not so much.  Make sure you pray about any big changes before you implement them.  Is this what the Lord is leading for this church?  Or is it simply what you want?  If it is the latter, your chance of failing is pretty much off the charts, but if God is behind it, you are already ahead of the game. However, when you find it necessary to implement changes, make sure your Senior Pastor is supportive.  More than likely, if folks don't like the change, the Senior Pastor will hear about it before you do and you want him or her to understand, and be able to explain the changes people are seeing.  You need their support, so keep them in the loop.  And when you do make a change, you need to be able to explain why it was necessary.  "Because I like it better this way," is not going to be a good enough reason and neither is, "We did it like this at my last church and it was great."  You need to be able to show your people why, at this church, this change was needed.  If they understand the reasons, they will be more likely to embrace the change.

Make sure your Children's Council is on board with the changes.
These people are the backbone of your Children's Ministry and if they are not on board with any changes, no one else will be either.  Talk to them.  Get their advice.  And once you have come up with the strategy to implement the necessary changes, let them help you institute it.  They are also a great way to hear what others are saying.  Complaints (especially those about you or something you are in charge of) will often go to your team but not to you.  So, make sure your team knows that you want to know what they are hearing...good or bad.  Then be sure to listen to that feedback and make further adjustments if they are needed.

Change is never easy, but if you take your time, are prayerful in your decisions, and listen to those around you if can be done without too many problems.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

When You Hit A Wall...

There are times in ministry where you get tired.  Planning services, preparing events, paperwork, problem solving, working with people...it can easily become overwhelming after awhile. And when it does, it is hard to get any creative juices flowing.  You sit and stare at your computer and not a single idea comes to you.  You read your Bible and instead of something triggering an idea for a lesson, the words just sort of run together. Your "To Do" list seems to get longer and longer because you simply can not seem to concentrate long enough to accomplish what you want to do.  You, my friend, have hit a wall.

First, let me assure you that you are normal.  This happens to all of us from time to time.  I love what I do.  I can not imagine doing anything else, but let's be real here, ministry is one of the hardest jobs anyone can have. For all the jokes about preachers working only one day a week, we know that it is at times a grueling marathon.  So mental, physical, and emotional fatigue are all things we have to watch out for and deal with.

Now, lets talk about some ways to get passed the wall and move on.

Take a break!
You're body is telling you that it needs some rest.  Listen to it.  Have you taken a vacation in the past year?  Are you working too many hours?  Have you been taking your day off?  We Pastors are notorious for working too much.  Many see their days off as optional and vacations are few an far between, not because we are not given vacation days, but because we feel guilty about being away from our flock.  But times of rest and refreshment are not something you can do without.  If you have vacation days, use them.  If you can't get away at the moment, then make sure you are taking your day off.  You would be surprised how helpful even a few hours away can be to getting past a wall.  

Get out of your routine.
I say this as one who LOVES routine.  I want to know what I'm doing and when I'm supposed to do it.  I plan out my days and get a bit stressed when things get out of whack.  But, when I hit a creativity wall, sometimes doing something out of the norm will help me a lot.  It might be going to a store and looking for object lesson ideas (Dollar Tree and Hobby Lobby are two of my favorites for this activity), or perhaps taking a drive to a Christian Book Store that I do not normally frequent and simply browsing it's merchandise.  Before I go into the store, I simply breathe a prayer like, "Lord, show me something I need to see," or "Please speak to me," and then when I go into the store, I look purposely for something God can speak to me through.  And, let me tell you, it is amazing the things God will sometimes speak to me through.  A random item could spawn an entire lesson idea or the perfect craft will be sitting there waiting on me.  God is always trying to speak to us and when you actively listen, you may be amazed at what He will show you.  Usually, when in stores, I'm a woman on a mission to get a task accomplished, but this shopping trip is different.  The mission is simply to hear from God, and that is an entirely different experience.  But it never fails to refresh my soul and kick my creativity into gear.  Perhaps, you would enjoy an outdoor activity or a drive.  Whatever you choose, simply ask God to speak to you and then really listen for his still small voice to respond.  It may just come from a place you least expected it.

Find an accountability partner.
Ministry is emotionally draining and we need someone we can talk to who will encourage us, pray for us, and keep us accountable.  This person should be someone you trust fully and someone you can confide in.  Perhaps a pastor from another church or a friend outside your current ministry.  But this person needs to be someone who will ask you questions like, "How's your devotional life?" "Did you take your day off this week?" "Are you spending too many hours in the office?" "How's your walk with the Lord?" "Are you spending enough time with your family?"  We need someone who will come along side us and pray for us, but also who is willing to ask the tough questions about whatever might be taking a toll on us emotionally, physically, and/or spiritually.  I suggest another person in ministry because they will know and understand the stresses you are under, but it doesn't have to be a ministry colleague.  It should, however, be someone of the same sex as you.  If you don't have one already, I highly suggest you look for an accountability partner. 

We all get tired.  We all have those times of hitting a wall, but the important thing is that you get passed the wall.  Don't let it stay in your way.  God has big plans for all of us and we can not allow walls to get in our way.  I hope this gives you some ideas of how to get around them when they come.