Friday, August 31, 2012

SUNDAY SCHOOL: Tips for Teaching First Graders

First graders are fun!  There are things about them that will help you.  Keep in mind that kids grow and develop at different rates so not every child is in exactly the same place.

First Graders (6 year olds)...
  • Are imaginative and have lots of energy.
  • Are noisy and active and shouldn't be expected to sit still for long periods.
  • Are able to follow through with 1 or 2 directions.
  • Understand that actions have causes and effects.
  • Are learning right/wrong and fair/unfair without shades of gray.
  • May invent rules.
  • Become attached to their teachers and thrive on encouragement.
  • Can sit still and pay attention for short periods of time.
  • Can listen to stories without interruption.
  • Like to tell stories from pictures, enjoys "show and tell" and explain things.
  • Enjoy crafts, coloring, and painting and can cut and paste as they learn to control fine motor skills.
  • Enjoy simple games, songs, poems, and riddles.
  • Love to ask questions.
  • Like surprises and treats.
  • Like playing make-believe and dressing up.
  • Need friends in class and may have a "best" friend.
  • Like to be shown affection!
For Sunday School teachers of first graders this means they will enjoy hearing Bible stories; they like non-competitive games and shouldn't be expected to be quiet for long periods of time.  Try finding ways to include movement into your stories or activities and maybe have different hats, capes, or other props to help their imaginations.  If you show them pictures they'll be able to tell the story back to you and they enjoy stories and songs with actions.  They also enjoy coloring pictures and making simple crafts.  Be sure to answer their questions with simple answers and let them help pass things out and clean up before they leave.  Be sure you have simple yes/no rules.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

SUNDAY SCHOOL: Student Management

Sharing Jesus with young kids can be a great experience!  Sunday School is a much shorter time period than regular school and you want it to be both fun and a time of learning but it can't be a free-for-all.  If your class can't settle down they'll be too distracted to hear anything you say and it will give you stress.  Here are a few tips to help you manage your classroom:
  • Set the tone and expectation of behavior early in your class.  Tell them "good morning" and let them greet you back and greet each other as well.
  • After they've greeted each other take a few moments to remind them of the basic rules (they can tell you what they are) and let them know what they're going to do that day.
  • Always use positive languange.
  • Be consistent about your expectations.  The younger the student, the less they see shades of gray. 
  • Have logical consequences and expect students to fix their mistakes.  It's not enough just to tell them they shouldn't hit or call somebody stupid.  They have to learn to apologize, clean it up, tell their parents they wrote on the table, etc.  It never hurts to say, "What should we do about this?" 
  • Give students appropriate choices when possible.  They feel a sense of control when they can decide a few things.  "We can do this or this."  "You can have red or green."
Using techniques that give students a moment to collect themselves when they seem out of control is a good idea.  That's what time out is for.  Remember that it's about a minute for every year old the child is.  Make sure you talk to them before they return to participation to give them a chance to make it right.

Always, always, always say 'goodbye' to your students and tell them what a great time you had learning about Jesus with them!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

CONFIRMATION: Google in the Classroom

Remembering that technology is a tool and not a teacher, Google has a lot of tools that can be used to help organize your classes and bring the world into your classroom.

Google Docs
Google Docs, which is being upgraded to Google Drive, can help easily share work online.  Students who may not have access to MicroSoft Office can use Google docs to create documents, spreadsheets, and presentations.  If students are required to write a paper or create a presentation or even a drawing, they can put it on Google Docs and receive electronic feedback or it allows for easily collaboration. 

Google Earth
Google Earth can give you a virtual journey to any location in the world. You can create a virtual tour of the Holy Land, the journeys of Paul, and explore 3D buildings, imagery, and terrain.  It's amazing what you can see with this satellite imagery.  See the terrain and make the places Jesus walked real!

Google+ Hangouts
A hangout is a place where you and (up to) 9 others can have a live video chat using a variety of devices.  If you have a small class and can't be available one week, you can connect in a hangout.  It's also a perfect way to have a guest speaker who isn't local.

Monday, August 27, 2012

LEADERSHIP: Proverbs on the Walls

A lot of companies try to give support to their employees by putting inspirational posters on the walls of the company, in the bathrooms, and the breakrooms.  They want to remind their employees that they can succeed and help them feel good about themselves and what they're doing.  Teachers put inspirational posters on their walls too.  They want their students to feel smart and positive about what they're doing and that they can be successful as well.

Why don't churches do that?  We've been given some of the most comforting and supportive words in the world and we should share them!  We should remind ourselves that God is with us and give people words to hang on to.  I'm not suggesting posters in the sanctuary, but I've been to a lot of churches where there is nothing on the walls in their education rooms, entry ways, bathrooms, or their halls and some posters can be beautifully framed pictures with inspirational words.  Imagine how a troubled visitor walking down the hallway might need to see those particular words Jesus said... "In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world."

These days things can so easily be scanned and printed that kids can choose the verses and come up with their own art for the walls in the education building/rooms or the youth room; more formally framed pictures can be put up around the sanctuary.  The one you see here I did using a public domain picture and an online topical Bible.  Either way, let's take the Bible off the shelf and share it.  People need God's Word all the time!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

YOUTH: Leadership curriculum? What's that?

I have a simple philosophy about a lot of things.  These days people think there are curricula for teaching things people learn naturally when given the opportunity.  Leadership is one of those things.

If you want to encourage leadership among your youth, give them opportunities to lead, to succeed, and to fail.  Success is fantastic but failure is a part of life and youth need to know that when it happens we just try again or try something new.  Let them fail but don't let them bail.

The truth is that some people are more natural leaders than others.  Even so, everybody who wants to lead should be given the chance.  Depending on the size of your group, all of the committees below can have one leader and helpers or have two or three people of equal rank. 

Opportunities within the group: 
  • Leadership - "President" and "Vice President" who will run planning meetings and make sure the other committees are doing what they need to do.  They also should attend youth board meetings and voters meetings and convey that information back to the rest of the youth.
  • Spiritual Life - responsible for making sure somebody signs up to lead devotions at or after activities.  All youth activities and meetings should have a spiritual life component.  That's why they're there!
  • Fundraising - responsible for coming up with fundraising ideas to bring to the rest of the group and decided by the whole group at a meeting.
  • Food - responsible for organizing snacks or food for events.  If there are special events such as a fundraising dinner/dessert theater or camping/mission trips, they're responsible for helping decide menus, shopping, etc.
  • Communication - responsible for bulletin announcements and email, text reminders, and/or facebook pages.
  • Service - responsible for finding areas within the greater congregation for service.  This might be helping in the nursery, being an usher, etc.  They also would be responsible for finding service opportunities outside of the church to be decided by the whole group at a meeting.
If your group is really small (less than 10 or so) you'll have to adjust appropriately.  More things can be decided by the whole group or responsibilities can be combined.

Remember:  The key to building leaders is to LET THE KIDS LEAD.  Adults should be aware of what's going on and guide the process but LET THE KIDS LEAD.  If somebody does it for them they're not leading.  If some of their ideas don't work, it's ok.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

CHRISTMAS: Chrismon* Ornaments

What's a CHRISMON?

Chrismons are Christmas tree ornaments that are Biblical and/or theological symbols. The word Chrismon* was copyrighted in 1957 by a woman from Ascension Lutheran Church in Danville, VA who wanted to create decorations she thought were more appropriate for a church Christmas tree. By definition they are typically white and gold to symbolize the purity and majesty of the Son of God so are most often created from styrofoam, gold ribbon or sequins, pearls, glitter, and/or gold beads. Christian symbol ornaments can certainly be made colorfully but those are not considered chrismons... just beautiful Christian ornaments. I may make some of those this year because it warms my heart to have my tree full of reminders of what Christmas is truly about.

Many, many years ago my mom had a group at our church who got together and created Chrismons both for the church's tree and for our family's tree and she loves them and continues to hang them on her tree every year. Having only one set, I've been forced to create my own but they can't seem live up to the ones she created so long ago. The photos below are a few of my mom's Chrismons. There are any number of different Christian symbols. Be creative as you design yours and rejoice in the splendor and majesty of the King!

To get some books:

For very simple templates look here. They were created by me and can be put on 1/4" or 1/2" styrofoam sheets to be cut our and decorated.

This one is my favorite!

LEADERSHIP: Moving a Slow Board

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “The people on the board are great but we never seem to get anything done.”  It’s easy in a smaller church when some people have been on the board a long time and most boards/committees meet once a month, for time to fly by and have accomplished nothing new or exciting in the ministry of the church.  Life just trudges on... same old stuff comes and goes.  Either through personal or shared experience I've learned the following about small church boards.   
  • Members can be closed to new ideas, change, or evolving.  (Stuck in a rut.)
  • Members say they want change but they don’t want to do anything differently.  "We've always done that."  (I think that’s a popular definition of insanity.)
  • Members participate in a ‘general consensus’ instead of a vote and issues are often informally tabled 3, 4, and 5 times because the consensus is a little too general.
  • There’s such a concern about money that they lose focus of the ministry.
  • Board members are not trained and are unsure of their purpose and unfamiliar with their bylaws.
  • The board misunderstands the difference between a corporate leader and the pastor as a shepherd leader.
  • The board does not plan annually but flies by the seat of its pants.
  • Members don't use work groups and experience frustration and burn-out.
Some people say leaders are born and others say they’re made but the reality is that every board or committee needs at least one person who will push the talk to the action phase.  In response to some of the issues listed above I recommend the following:
  1. Annually have board training and planning.  Just do it!
  2. Stop looking for general consensus and vote. 
  3. Allow topics/issues to be tabled only once.
  4. Never say 'no' to a new ministry or idea unless you seriously can't afford it, there's nobody to lead it, or it goes against the mission of the church.  Try it!
  5. Remember that it's not your church, it's God's.  You focus on Him and let Him focus on the money.

Jesus didn't stay in the same town and do the same things over and over again with the same people.  He went here and there and was about His father's work.  A board meets to act on issues and focus the church to be about His father's work as well.  What is on the agenda is what is discussed and it either gets a vote or is tabled.  That's why agenda approval occurs at the beginning of the meeting.  This keeps the meeting going and doesn't allow for unwarranted or off-track discussion.   

Sheep, if left alone, wander.  That's why they need a shepherd.  There are also under-shepherds and/or sheep dogs, aka board or church leadership.  They help keep the sheep focused and moving in the direction the shepherd walks.  Don't just let them wander around the hillside unsure of where they're going or what they're doing.


Friday, August 24, 2012


Many churches now have Thanksgiving Eve services instead of Thanksgiving Day.  It really doesn't make any difference as giving thanks should be done regularly and it sure is easier on the cooks.  It may be something you already do, but one really nice thing my small church does is to have a Thanksgiving Eve pie social after the service.  It doesn't take long and everybody enjoys having a bit of a pie preview.  YUM!! 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

REACH OUT: Won't you be my neighbor?

We all know that we're supposed to be reaching out to people and sharing the love of Christ individually in our everyday lives, but there are also ways we can reach out to our communities.  Inviting people to Bible study and church is the most important thing we can offer everyone because we can learn so much about God, the world, and ourselves, and it can truly transform our lives from the inside out, but reaching out with practical help is responding in love.


The question is... how can you help?  Brainstorm a little bit.  What issues stress married couples?  What issues stress single parents?  Your church can host child birth classes, Financial Peace University, Mothers of Preschoolers, fitness classes, afternoons of free babysitting, a blood drive, and anything else you can think of that might help your community.  One of my churches had a ministry where they kept used clothes and a few food items in an unused classroom for people in need.  Who are the people in your community and what are their needs? 

Spread the News!

They key is in letting people know you're open to be a resource for the community.  Spend a little copy money on flyers and have the youth walk around the neighborhood and share them, make use of local bulletin boards, and even check to see if the library or local schools have community bulletin boards where churches can post things that will help the community at large.  Many local papers allow churches a certain amount of free space.  Use it wisely.

Spread the word of Jesus love by helping.  Plant the seed of love and let the Spirit nurture it.  Don't make it about marketing your church.  Let it be about loving people.

Financial Peace University

MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers)

Sacred Marriage Curriculum

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

EDUCATION: Old Testament Who am I?

I believe it's important to study the books of the Bible instead of pulling it apart to try to make it fit our needs.  There's SO much we can learn about God and His chosen people in the Old Testament.  It has some of the greatest, and most unlikely, characters.  In order to develop an interest in learning more about these characters, try an activity I like to call OT Who am I?  Try to stay away from the obvious clues that will be a dead give away.  For example, "This boy killed a giant."  Give one clue at a time until they put them all together and get it.  It'll take some prep work but I've included a few to get you going.  Try to pick some of the more unusual or unexpected pieces of information.
Picked up everything he owned and left at the age of 75.
Had his wife pretend to be his sister twice. 
Was circumcised at the age of 99.
Tried to save Sodom and Gomorrah.
Had two wives before he died.
Nearly sacrificed his son.
Who am I?  Abraham.
Gave her Egyptian maid to her husband to have a child.
Laughed at God's promise.
Bore a son after her child bearing years.
Was jealous of her maid's child.
Lived 127 years.
Who am I?  Sarah.
Was one of fraternal twins.
Was peaceful and was his mother's favorite.
Bought a birthright.
Stole a blessing.
Married two sisters.
His name was changed to Israel - had 12 sons!
Who am I?  Jacob.
Was one of 12 brothers
Was in Jesus' family lineage.
Kept his brothers from killing their youngest, Joseph.
Sold him instead.
Who am I?  Judah.
Her father tricked her husband into marrying her.
Her maid was Zilpah.
It was through her son, Judah, that Jesus would come.
Was married to a man who loved her sister, Rachel.
Who am I?  Leah.
Some possible questions for closing the activity: 
  • Isn't it interesting that the lineage of Jesus was through Judah and not Joseph? 
  • Isn't it interesting that the 12 tribes of Israel came from a man who bought a birthright and stole a blessing?
  • What do you think about Abraham having his wife pretend she was is sister TWICE?
  • Isn't it interesting that it wasn't through Jacob and Rachel, but Jacob and Leah that Jesus came?
  • What does it mean for us that God chose some of these people to be in the lineage of Jesus?
Of course, this can be done with the New Testament too, but I find the unusual characters of the Old Testament so much more interesting!

YOUTH: Ready, set, play games!

Games are important because they help kids get to know each other, building relationships and trust.  If you're having trouble finding games, here are a few online sources:

Youth Group Games

Great Group Games

The Source for Youth Ministry

Ultimate Camp Resource

Don't forget that there is almost always one (or two) who don't want to participate.  They may not say it but it's probably because they don't feel a part of the group or have some fear of looking foolish.  It's always best if one of the kids, and not an adult, encourages them to participate.

Monday, August 20, 2012

HALLOWEEN: What should we do?

Sometimes when little kids fall down they're more scared than hurt and will either burst out crying or shake it off, depending on your reaction.  If you rush over and make a big deal of it, they burst out crying.  If you make light of it, they shake it off and just move on.

When I was young I dressed up as a hobo, Robin Hood, Peter Pan, (ya, I'm a girl), a ghost, a cowgirl, and yes, even a witch.  We all understood that halloween was just a fun dress up night where we got a whole lot of candy.  My parents didn't make it a big deal so we didn't either.  We went to church and Sunday school every week and were solid in our faith and a secular holiday was not going to change that any more than Santa or the Easter bunny. 

Some people, however, have a problem with halloween.  They battle it by having special parties at church where kids dress up like Bible characters, have elaborate fall carnivals, Reformation parties, or "Trunk-or-Treats" (a clever name for a fall carnival held in the parking lot where people decorate their trunks and hand out candy from them, though I'm not quite sure why dressing up and going from trunk to trunk to get candy is inherently better than house to house in your neighborhood - except they're all close together and the people are all from church).  These kinds of events can also be used as a huge community outreach opportunity. 

That being said, in my opinion, we do not need to have a Christian alternative to every secular holiday.  Instead of making a big deal about secular holidays, why not just celebrate the Christian holidays more intentionally!?!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

ADVENT: Family Devotions with a Twist

Isaiah 64:1a
Oh that You would rend the heavens and come down...

Many churches no longer have Advent services (oh no!) though they may hand out some type of Advent devotions.  These are nice and are usually a small bit of scripture and then somebody's thoughts on the verse(s) or the season.  The writings are usually pretty cool and adults enjoy them but they're really boring for kids. 

I suggest Advent devotions with a bit of a twist.  Life is pretty hectic before Christmas so I wouldn't plan too many activities but do something to create some new family or church Advent traditions. 

Encourage families to:
  • Make special Christmas cookies or candy that are only eaten when Advent devotions are read.
  • Have materials or give a list of materials to make a family Advent wreath.  (3 blue/purple candles, 1 pink candle, 1 white candle)
  • Take time to talk about Jesus' family and then talk about Christmas memories.
  • Hand out prayer spinner templates for the families.  In each section they write a category of something/someone they'd like to pray for and somebody spins it every night to see who prays for what.  This would also be a good time to teach families about popcorn prayers.
  • Find some easy Christmas ornaments that can be made by the family.  It would be really cool if every Advent the church suggested a different ornament.  After a few years people will have some keepsakes.  They can also be shared as gifts.
  • Use salt dough to have each family create its own nativity scene according to specifically chosen Bible readings.  They can do different pieces each week.
  • Paper Nativity
  • Have families read the prophecies and scripture leading up to the birth of Christ and have the kids create a "paper doll" nativity.
Hopefully my ideas will help you come up with some of your own!

If you're looking for a great Advent devotional to read with/to the kids, check this one out.

Friday, August 17, 2012

EDUCATION: Video - The Case for Christ


I just watched the video The Case for Christ (2007, 1 hr 11 min).  It is the story of how self-described atheist Lee Strobel became a believer by researching the validity of the claims of the New Testament. 

The Case for ChristThis video is a really good resource but it will have far less impact if you just watch it.  Personally, if I were going to use it, I'd watch it by myself first and prepare questions for a pre-video discussion asking the students (adults or high school youth) some of the questions Strobel asked.   I would include in the discussion problems or questions atheists might have with Christianity.  Then I would watch the video and either have questions for afterward or stop it periodically to ask questions.  If you don't stop the video I would give students a list of questions or things to pay attention to while they watch.  It keeps their minds engaged and gives them an idea of what you think is important or clues them in to some of what may be discussed afterward.  The most relevant part of the discussion will most likely come from final questions pertaining to how this video may have changed anybody's thinking or beliefs, things they hadn't known prior, and to give them an opportunity to verbalize why it's important to think about their beliefs the way Lee Strobel did.

As a professional educator, all I can do is beg that you not ask simplistic questions like, "So, what do you think?"  If you'd like more guidance on how to create an appropriate set of essential, thought provoking questions to ask adults or high school youth, please contact me through the comments. 

I got the video through Netflix but it's also available at Amazon at a very reasonable price.

H.S. YOUTH: Welcome the newbees!

While sometimes we need to know when to let go or embrace new ideas, there's a reason we cling to traditions.  They're cool!  They can also create anticipation and help people feel more a part of things.  After confirmation the newbees will eagerly be awaiting what they know is coming (though they may not know when).

A lot of churches have asked me what to do about transitioning new comfirmands into their current youth group.  It seems that sometimes the old group is comfortable with each other and groups can become a bit polarized.  I say, if you don't have one, start a tradition.  Have a bunch of ideas ready and let the H.S. youth decide which one they like best.  More than likely they'll come up with a spin-off of their own, which is great because then there's self-generated ownership and enthusiasm.

Some tradition starting newbee assimilation ideas:
  • Kidnap the newbees for an unexpected lock-in that is all about "getting to know you" devotions, activities, and games. 
  • If there aren't many, the newbees may be kidnapped very early on a Saturday morning for a pajama breakfast and games at church (robes and slippers may be required).
  • Have a traditional trip to a camp for team building activities, a ropes course, etc.  Our district (MN So) has Camp Omega ( that has a beautiful new high ropes course that the kids would enjoy and with Bible study would help form new friendships/mentorships.
Of course, depending on when confirmation occurs in your church this could occur in the late summer or early fall.  Whatever you decide to do, don't forget that activities may be fun but it's nothing without Bible study and prayer!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

RALLY SUNDAY: What's your mission?

Sometimes in smaller churches we get so used to things being the way they are that we forget that planning is a good idea.  I'm a teacher and summer has a great purpose for us.  We rest, have time to think about things we want to change, and most importantly, we gear up for the fall so we can enter the classroom in the fall excited and ready to go.  I believe the same is good for a church.  After the summer, take a Saturday afternoon (or all day) to get the leadership together to get excited for the year and brainstorm and/or dream about all the great ministries in which people can be involved.  What a great thing God has given us in seasons.  Let's take the excitement that comes with autumn, loosen up, and open the doors wide to great possibilities.
What's your mission?

Some people really, really like slogans.  They think if they come up with a cool phrase that people can get behind that they'll get excited and jump on the bandwagon.  In organizations that's their mission statement but I'm not sure mission statements actually do what they're supposed to do.  Sometimes it's better to break that down and have the leadership focus on one thing (but not the only thing), for example, this year let's really focus intentionally on...
  • getting people into the Bible more. 
  • making sure all our leaders are trained and confident.
  • building unity and community.
  • educating people about worship. 
  • making sure everybody can comfortably verbalize what they believe. 
Then you must ask, how can we do that for everybody across the board?  It might affect Bible study options, VBS themes, sermon series, group activity or retreat themes, etc.

If you want more details about how a Saturday might be used for planning look at the Planning post in July or contact me.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

ADVENT: Happy New Year!

The liturgical year begins with Advent... anticipating the coming of Christ.  When I was working with youth I found they had no idea of this!  They didn't know Advent was the beginning of the year and they didn't know anything else about it either.  For me, everything becomes about education and knowing that according to brain research a picture is worth a thousand words, I created church year posters to put around the room as reminders.  Even adults need to be reminded of these things so it wouldn't hurt for the pastor to make a comment before the service to help educate those who have forgotten, are visiting, or have never known.

New Year Party!

Some people think that if you did it last year then you don't have to do it this year but repetition is what helps people learn and if it's just once a year, do it every year.  Have a New Year party for the Sunday school opening or for the whole Sunday school hour to explain to the kids a little bit about it.  Use the colors of purple or blue (depending on your church paraments) and talk about what it means that the promises God made to His people came true.  Wrap a piece of purple or blue yarn around their wrists as a reminder for them to tell their parent(s) or guardians about Advent and every time they look at their little bracelet they can remember that God keeps his promises!  I think that's something to celebrate, don't you? 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

SERVICE: Not an event but an attitude!

Galatians 5:13-14
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

The church has kind of turned service into more of a group event than an individual attitude.  It's a mission trip to another country or a less-fortunate area in the U.S., but are we remembering to nurture a heart of service every day?  Jesus served everybody, everyday, all day.  He served anybody He came across as he traveled the journey of his short life and we are to serve like Him as we travel the journey of ours. 

Opportunities for service are all around us if we look.  There are people in assisted living apartments and nursing homes who are lonely.  There are older people in the congregation who could always use help around the yard or the house.  There are parents who would love time away from their kids to run some errands or get jobs done around the house.  There are single moms who could always use help taking care of their homes or yards or taking care of their kids for a while to give them a much needed break.  There are single women who would love some help or advice with their car or their homes.  There are single men who would love a home cooked meal.  There are kids who would love for other kids to be nice to them.  And the most important but the least offered is giving time to someone who has been hurt and just needs an ear or a hug.  There are people to serve all around us!

Let's teach our congregations to adopt an attitude of humble servitude.  Help them get started by keeping a list of service opportunities for individuals in the congregation and not just organizations.  When somebody asks me for a favor, before I answer I ask myself, "Do I have a good reason to say 'no'?"  I rarely do.  Let's pay attention to those around us, serve them as Jesus did, and teach our children that service is not a group event but an attitude.

Friday, August 10, 2012

FUNDRAISING: Family Christmas Pictures!


For a donation the youth can pick a day or two to have folks come in to have digital  pictures taken to be used for Christmas cards.  They can provide different creative scenes or take them straight and serious.  Let the kids have fun and be creative setting up scenes and creating appropriately colored backgrounds.  I'm sure the youth will come up with hilarious ideas but here are a few to get the creative juices flowing.
  • fancy dress
  • casual dress
  • in front of the altar
  • in front of a few undecorated Christmas trees
  • in front of a decorated Christmas tree
  • outside
  • kids dressed in angel costumes
  • whole family dressed in costumes
  • everybody with funny hats
  • with props they bring in
  • with props made available
  • everybody with halos
  • looking at, next to, or behind the nativity
  • candids - looking surprised, etc.
With digital photos everybody can approve the photo right after it's taken and will be able to choose their favorite.  They can be emailed the same day or very soon after the photo day is over.

BE SURE TO:   Keep copies of the photos in case something goes wrong, test the resolution to be sure they can be used without being pixilated, ask the families if their photos can be shared with the rest of the congregation.  Here's a sign-up form you can adjust to your needs.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

CONFIRMATION: Technology in the Classroom

Technology is a tool, not a teacher!!

Some people think if you just let kids play with technology or if your lesson plan is full of technology that the kids will be entertained enough to pay attention.  This both is and isn't true.  Educational research indicates that while technological resources have the opportunity to enhance a lesson, there are still some things that provide greater learning, such as discussion, which requires both thought and interaction with the subject.  Nobody can think about anything for which they have no information and some things just need practice.  Students become better readers when they read and memory work just has to be memorized.  That being said, there are some great web resources out there that can enhance your confirmation class.

Glo is an interactive Bible that brings the text of Scripture to life through HD videos, high-resolution images, articles, 360-degree virtual tours, and much more. Glo can be used by Mac or PC.  Research indicates that a picture really is worth a thousand words and that seeing something is far more stimulating educationally than just hearing it.  Use the atlas to see where the major stories of the Bible happened.  Use the map overlays, tours, photos and expert video.  Use the timeline to see where events happened in relation to other events.  The best way to get an idea of what it's like is to watch a YouTube video  Find the GloBible at

This is a game template that allows you to create a customized Jeopardy game without PowerPoint. The games you make can be played online from anywhere in the world and if you use their simple editor, are easy to create.  These types of games are great for review or to find out what the students already know about specific topics.  Categories might be:  church history, Martin Luther or the reformation, Lutheran doctrine, Bible 101, Hodge Podge (anything), or Small Catechism.

EdGames - for MicroSoft programs
This site has customizable games to suit your curriculum that would be especially good for review.  The PowerPoint games will probably be most useful and there's also a timer that might be helpful for when you give students limited time to finish a lesson activity or write down memory work. 

A WebQuest is an inquiry-based lesson format in which most or all the information that learners work with comes from the web. Put simply, a web quest is a list of hyperlinks so it can be created in Word, PowerPoint, or even Excel. If you're going to call it a WebQuest, though, be sure that it is a quest for something and not an exercise that has no point. It should be an exercise in higher thinking and can take a lot of time to create.

To learn more about webquests go to
To create a webquest go to or use a Google App.

For confirmation a webquest would be an activity that is assigned to be completed at home to prepare them for discussion the following week and should probably take no more than 15-30 minutes. It would be best used in the areas of historical inquiry, researching and understanding what other religions believe to compare and contrast to Lutheranism, etc. Students may use the webquest to gather information but the goal is to have them use it!

 (For more information about teaching confirmation, please ask for a copy of my graduate paper.)

FAMILY: Family Fun Days/Nights

The greatest influence on a child is the family!

One of my greatest memories as a teenager living in Denver is the year there was a blizzard on Christmas eve.  As an adolescent I was all about my friends and most of them were in my church youth group.  The Christmas Eve candlelight service was the one where all the girls wore their new dresses and we all exchanged gifts... you know... Lip Smackers and Love's Baby Soft.  I had mine all ready to go and then found out, to my great disappointment, that the services were cancelled and I was going to have to spend Christmas Eve with... my family. 

We planned on going to my aunt's house for Christmas dinner so we didn't have a lot of special food laying around.  What a disappointing Christmas Eve.  Stuck at home.  My dad, however, nut that he is, saw an opportunity and was determined to make the best of it.  He pulled out some games and mom made popcorn (no microwaves then) and we had fun and laughed all night.  It turned out to be one of the best Christmas Eves in memory.

Family Fun Days/Nights!

That experience taught me that it's important for families to laugh together.  People are SO busy running around working toward something that they often forget to stop, breath, and enjoy the moment or the beautiful creation God gave them.  Remember that our goal is to show people Jesus at every opportunity so every event includes prayer and a time for devotion to God.  Here are some ideas of main events:
  • Fall - Pumpkin Carving Gallery!  They're going to carve them anyway but how much more fun is it when you see what everybody else is coming up with?  Have plenty of newspapers and large garbage bags around and don't forget the popcorn and cider and be sure to take pictures for the gallery.
  • Summer - Water Games (games that include an afternoon of water balloons, hoses, and other opportunities for kids to slip and slide around the lawn).  This is one moms may not love but dads would.  Don't forget the popsicles or ice cream sundaes and sunscreen!
  • Winter - Snow Day!  If there's enough snow around, it would be fantastic for families to get together and create a huge snowman, snow-family, snow-nativity, or anything creative in the snow.  If you're not into creativity you could just play snow games.  There's nothing like a slippery, snowy relay.  Don't forget the cookies and hot chocolate afterward!
  • Spring: Mom and Me Tea - something like this can become a treasured tradition.  Our church was small enough that we had all the children (of any age) perform something whether it be reading a touching or funny story, singing a song, telling a memory, or playing an instrument.  It wasn't about being great, it was about being fun.
  • Day with Dad - spending time with dad is really important and what a better way to do that than an afternoon playing kickball in the park, an afternoon fishing (boat or shore), or just swimming at the lake or local pool.  It's always more fun with other dads and kids!
Things to remember about Famiy Fun Days/Nights:
  • Friends and non-member families (who hear about it through friends and neighbors) are always welcome!
  • If you schedule too many family events, attendance may dwindle.
  • Game nights are fun ONCE IN A WHILE.
  • They don't need to be too time consuming.  A couple hours is fine.
Family Camp-Outs are always a great idea and campfire devotions that give families something to talk about at night in the tent or camper can be profound faith building experiences!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

ADVENT: Advent Calendar or Jesse Tree?

Advent Calendars

According to some sources Advent Calendars were created by German Lutherans and varied from marking the days on the door frame with chalk to lighting 24 small Advent candles or hanging different religious pictures on the wall.  (Let's hope those pictures were very small...)  Then a company began creating them in the way we're familiar with seeing them in the early 1900's.  The point of an Advent Calendar is to countdown the days to the birth of Jesus, but now they've gone very secular and for many have become a countdown to Santa.

Jesse Trees

A Jesse Tree can be either a live tree, a branch, a banner, or something created out of craft materials. It is decorated either with specific symbols that are used to tell the stories of key Bible events in the Old Testament leading to the birth of the savior and are added each day (at home) or in a group on Sunday or Wednesday (at church). The tree is called the Jesse Tree after Isaiah 11:1, "A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit." Also Jeremiah 23:5, “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land."
There are many places online where you can find a description of possible ornaments and the corresponding Bible verses, two of which are shown below.

What should you do with all this information?  Instead of just opening small windows or eating candy every night with an Advent calendar, invite your congregation to start a tradition of sharing the Jesse tree stories while adding an ornament every night.  It helps take the birth of Jesus from a single cool event and connects it to Old Testament history.  If they still want to eat candy, feel free, or better yet, they can eat special cookies that are eaten just during that time at home.  (There is also a children's book that contains the stories.)

The Jesse Tree: Stories and Symbols of Advent [Book]Start a congregational tradition of taking the Sunday School hour just before Advent to introduce the Jesse tree, its stories, and the ornaments.  You can either find samples of ornaments online for families to create together that Sunday or at home, you can buy them and just hand them out (Jesse Tree book), or you can contact me and I'll give you more creative ideas.  The pastor can take a short time during each Advent service to add Jesse tree ornaments to the sanctuary's Christmas tree as well.  A few moments of education and a great tradition!

Monday, August 6, 2012

FUNDRAISING: Church T-shirts!

Many major churches have major budgets and give a lot of money to their programs.  They automatically get t-shirts for major events.  But, if you're a smaller church you may not have the luxury for that.  We didn't.  Actually, our church was so small that the only money in our youth budget was money the youth earned.  We never had t-shirts but we did have a softball team and we also thought it was time for the congregation to be able to walk around town with the name of their church plastered on their chest.  So, we had a design contest and the winner got a free shirt and the glory of having the coolest design.

There are a few things you need to check out before you start the contest because the details count.  First, find out from what company you'll be ordering the shirts and get all the details:
  • Many ink colors cost many dollars.
  • White shirts are less expensive than colored.
  • Childrens sizes cost less but big designs don't always fit on smaller shirts. 
  • Larger shirts usually cost more.
  • The number of shirts you order will affect your price point.
I found out all the details and then we had the congregation order their shirts before we placed the order with the company.  That way if we only had one person want a specific size we might be able to negotiate either way.  If you have an idea of how many of each shirt will sell and don't mind having extra shirts you can order them and just sell at a table but we thought it would be better to make sure we had exactly what we needed so we used this order form:

Friday, August 3, 2012

RALLY SUNDAY: A New Culture of Study

Deuteronomy 11:16-21
Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them.   Then the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and he will shut up the heavens so that it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce, and you will soon perish from the good land the Lord is giving you. Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.

Rally Sunday is the perfect time to start a memory program for the whole congregation and change the culture of your Bible studies.

Bible Sound Bites - It's the Real Thing

Most kids go through confirmation memorizing Bible verses and then promptly forgetting them because they only learn them long enough to recite them.  I often encourage teachers of confirmation to make memorization a family event or task to give it more meaning.  I've even thought about having the whole congregation learn along with the confirmands or putting Bible memorization back into our culture by having a theme verse for the year or a church season.

The Bible Out of Context - No More Topics!!

Cultural Christians have gotten very good at taking verses out of context to suit our topical needs.  We want to know what God says about drug use or pre-marital sex or parenting or we don't want people to feel sad so we take verses out of context to use as we see fit.  There is a local pastor here who uses Jeremiah 29:11 to tell people that God wants them to be rich.  Convenient and something every cultural Christian wants to hear but absolutely and completely out of context.  In an attempt to appeal to people we've begun to study topics instead of books but the one and only Almighty God is NOT our psychologist.  He offers us ETERNAL LIFE, not an hour of psychoanalysis.

If people study the Old Testament and they see and understand the true nature of God, they will not need psychoanalysis.  If they read the life of Jesus as told by four different men in the New Testament, they will hear His words and their hearts will be changed.  If you want to know what the Bible says about parenting then look at how God treats His children... with love and discipline.  It's an overall picture.  You don't need somebody to find verses to fit into the 5 easy steps to Biblical parenting. 

You want a good topic about you, your life, and how you should live to be happy?  Try the book of James... the whole book! 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

REACH OUT: Visitor Gifts?

It is harder than you might think to decide on what kinds of gifts to give visitors because people think their gift will affect whether or not a visitor returns.  I would think the most important purpose of a visitor gift is to point the visitor to Jesus first and your church second! 

Many people want to have something engraved with a cutesie cliche like "Happy Church is a little slice of heaven" or "Come to Happy Church to see the light" but I would caution against that.  I would also caution against something with just the name of your church on it.  Point them to Jesus using God's words.  They're far more meaningful and powerful than anything you can come up with.  If the gift is too small to have scripture and the name of the church on it, ask yourself what the goal of the gift is and what God would want you to do?  HE is the one who brings people back.  And really... if they found their way to the church once, I think they'll be able to find it again.

One of my favorites are refrigerator magnets.  They can be made very inexpensively, customize easily, and can share scripture and church information.  I printed these on ink jet printer and fit about 12 on a sheet.

I also like the idea of mugs but they're pretty expensive.  Paper cups?  Just kidding...

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

FUNDRAISING: Football Season Subs

Making sub sandwiches during football season turned out to be a great fundraising idea for the youth.  We only sold them on days the Vikings played at home because we didn't want to over sell our clientele or overwork our youth.  Some people would rather sell pizza but a family of 4 may buy 1 pizza but need 4 sandwiches so we made more money with sandwiches.  The key is not to make them too complicated and be organized about when you need to buy.  We bought from CostCo except for the bread which we got locally.  Sometimes it can be tough to find the right size bun.

We offered ham or turkey, cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles, packets of mayo and mustard, and for $0.50 each extra, soda (Coke or Diet Coke), small bag of chips, or a cookie.  It cost us less than $2.50 per sandwich and we suggested a donation of $6.00.  It might seem like a lot of money for a sandwich (I debated charging $5 for a LONG time) but it was for a good cause and everybody knew that. 

The order form we used was simple and we required one per person/sandwich.  It got very confusing when a family tried to order 5 sandwiches on one form.  A sample of our order form is below.  We made the forms available before the service (could be put in the bulletin) and the pastor made an announcement so we could take care of that before worship began.  We also made sure ALL the kids attended at least one service.  Worship is not skipped for money.
 We organized our labor force and found it was a lot easier to make sure they knew what to do by using the directions below.  We wrapped the sandwiches tightly in plastic wrap, sealed them with a sticker with the customers name on it.  We put whole family orders in one plastic bag and kept the order forms in case there was a mistake.
We are a very small church so this simple organization worked well for us.  If you have a very large church it will require a lot more organization but you're probably already used to that!  Happy subbing!!