Friday, September 28, 2012

CHRISTMAS: Host a Chrismon Day!

What ornaments are on your Christmas tree?  There are TONS of beautiful ornaments out there: snowflakes, jingle bells, carousel horses, a myriad of santas and snowmen, colored glass balls either painted or with glitter, personalized, cute animals, ribbons and bows, and it goes on and on.  Then there's the natural look: popcorn, berries, nuts, flowers, pine cones, and birds.  My favorite are the homemade ornaments the kids make at school or in Sunday School or even the ones you make yourself.  What seems to be missing are the Christian ornaments.  We see angels, crosses, and sometimes a nativity scene creatively painted on a bulb but that's about it.  What about all the other Christmas symbols? 

Why not host a Chrismon Day during Advent?  Invite people from your church and churches in the area to come and spend a Saturday afternoon making Chrismons for their christmas trees.  The supplies needed are sheets of styrofoam, Chrismon templates, gold beads, gold sequin strips, pearls, glue, scissors, etc.  Anything gold and white are for Chrismons.  (Be sure to use glue that doesn't yellow.)  Chrismons are technically gold and white but, of course, if you want to get really crazy decorate with color.  If you want some decorating ideas see the photos in my first post about Chrismons.

If you're curious about the meanings of some of the symbols, check out this simple chart.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

EDUCATION: Video - God On Trial

(I would NOT USE THIS VIDEO WITH KIDS YOUNGER THAN HIGH SCHOOL and if you use it with your high school youth group watch it first and be ready!  There are a lot of very provoking questions.)

Ever seen the GOD ON TRIAL (Masterpiece Contemporary)?  It's a pretty serious portrayal of a legendary discussion by Jewish rabbis in Auschwitz who have decided to put God on trial for murder?  No.  For breaking His covenant with them as the chosen people!  Very provoking questions and outcome.  There are so many interesting questions that I would watch and discuss in the same hour instead of watching the whole thing and discussing later.

Remind people that these are JEWS and not Christians having this trial so they come without the New Testament hope that Christians have.  Some questions that arise are:
  • Historically Jews have suffered.  Historically, has God broken His end of the covenant with them?
  • If God has betrayed us, why should we remain faithful?
  • Are tests a part of the covenant?
  • Who broke the covenant first, God or the people?
  • Was the holocaust a punishment for breaking the covenant?
  • In the covenant, if God reserves the right to punish the wicked, why is He punishing the good Jews and not Hitler?
  • Is the holocaust a punishment or a purification of the people?  Will there be another holy remnant afterward?
  • Were good people sacrificed because with God any sacrifice must be the first, best, unblemished?
  • Is Hitler doing God's work in the same way Nebuchadnessar was in 2 Kings?
  • If God is all-powerful and just, then why did he not stop the unjust killing of the holocaust?  Either He wanted to stop it and could not or He is not just because where is the justice in genocide?
  • Evil is a choice in the world.  People have free will.  If given the free will to save one of your children, what is your choice?  Do we want free will?  Do we always have choices?
  • Were the Jews martyrs?  Were they killed because of their faith or their race?
  • If God is suffering with them, who needs an all-powerful God who suffers?  Do we not need a vengeful God who will send the angel of death to our enemies?
  • What kind of God do we want?  Maybe God needs us?
  • Do you ask where the evil comes from or where the goodness comes from?
  • As Jews, whenever the Old Testament speaks of the descendants of Abraham and David, it is talking about the Jews at Auschwitz.  If God's covenant is about the survival of the people, is the survival of the people certain if Hitler kills them?  How can a people cease to exist?
  • At the point of death, if you deny God, what does it get you?  At the point of death, after 4000 years of saying prayers and wearing "silly" hats, what does it get you?
  • Justice?  Was God JUST when He let Pharoah live but killed the first born male children, drowned the soldiers in the Red Sea, smote the nations showing no mercy to men, women, or children, killed David's son for David's sin?  What do we learn about obeying God?  Is He good or just on our side?
  • Hitler's Germans wore belt buckles that said "Gott mit uns" or God with us.  Has God made a new covenant with someone else?
  • Is there nothing for those Jews to hope for, after all?
Considering the fact that the Jews don't consider Jesus and the New Testament, what important questions were not asked?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

EDUCATION: Puppets for Preschoolers!

8 Plush Happy Kids Hand PuppetsIf you don't know Oriental Trading Co., let me introduce you.  This is the company you go to when you want to buy personalized pencils for Sunday School, carnival supplies, theme party decorations, Christmas ornaments to give the kids who participate in your Christmas program, craft supplies, education resources for young kids, and many other things.  They have a large Sunday School &VBS section as well as a Fun & Faith section.

One of the things they can provide are simple 14" hand puppets at a good price (8 puppets for only $36).  They're machine washable and with a little creativity and velcro you can easily turn them into different Bible characters.  They come in many different skin tones and can be used for a million different things from telling Bible stories to enacting life situations.  Remember that young kids LOVE to interact with puppets!!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

EDUCATION: Bible Memory for Everyone!!

The other day a friend and I were tripping down memory lane and watching The Partridge Family and when they started singing, I started singing.  I knew that song from the 70s!  My brothers can recite whole sections of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  It's almost a performance!  The reason is simple.  In high school kids listen to music constantly, day after day.  My brothers watched that movie a million times.  In his book, Brain Rules, John Medina says that in order to remember something long-term you need to repeat it over days, not minutes.  Kids listen to the same songs over and over every day!  This doesn't mean every piece of information needs to be a song, it means that in order for something to be stored into long-term memory it needs to be repeated more than once for 5 minutes.

Bible Verse of the Week
Try this:
  • Choose a Bible verse for the week.  It can go with the sermon theme or the Sunday School theme for the week.  To start, make it something short but gets the point across. 
  • Introduce the verse to the congregation during the sermon or just before or after it.  One of the tactics I use as I teach is, "Say it with me folks..." but, of course, you could introduce it however you want. 
  • Put it in the bulletin for them to take home, have a short blurb about saying it out loud 5 times every night to commit it to long-term memory
  • Revisit the verse before church the following Sunday as part of the welcome or good morning speech and have everybody say it together.
  • Encourage them to say it as a family at dinner, at bedtime devotions, or attach it to a visor in the car and say it while driving.  
  • Have the verses beautifully printed and hung on the wall in the education part of the building to remind everyone what they've learned.
Oh, be sure to put it on your website, Facebook page, or even Tweet it so those who miss can check it out!

Monday, September 24, 2012

EDUCATION: Catechism for the Grownups

Most people act like once they've completed confirmation they no longer have a need for the catechism.  After all, they've already passed that class.  There are ways, however, that you can incorporate more of the catechism into the regular life of the church.
  • If you're going to offer the Lord's Supper, instead of a blurb about what someone might believe before they partake (or in addition to it), choose some of the questions people should be asking to prepare themselves for it.  (This would be one of my personal favorites!)
  • Throughout the year, as you teach confirmation, add something to the bulletin that allows the congregation to follow along with the students and remind themselves of what they learned so long ago.  For example:
    Confirmation Update!
    Do you remember the purposes of the Law?  What purpose does it serve?  What is sin?  What’s the difference between original and actual sin?  
  • If you provide weekly discussion questions for the family, make them available to the congregation through the bulletin as well.
  • Use Luther's beautiful morning and evening prayers!
  • When you're doing a baptism, include a separate sheet in the bulletin that introduces the family and the child, and on the other side, brief answers to the questions regarding baptism found in the catechism. 
After time people forget these things and need to be reminded of why we believe what we do.  According to brain research, if you want people to know and remember something, they need to see it often and over time.  Recap, repeat, and remind!

FAMILY: Looking for Christian Movies?

Did you know that along with all their other distribution labels, Fox has created one called Fox-Faith?  I didn't, but I do now!  All of the theatrical films distributed by this label have overtly Christian themes, or are based on books by Christian authors.

Try these websites to check out the films:
I can't promise all the movies have good stories, are well made, or are worth watching but it sure is nice that a major studio like 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has noticed that we're out here and looking for quality entertainment that reflects our beliefs.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

CONFIRMATION: End of Year Class Project Video

I recently saw this video called "Evidence" on YouTube.  It's about 7 minutes long and is about a teenager who is charged with being Catholic.  She admits that she is and is about to be convicted but her attorney gets her off by saying it's a misunderstanding because based on her life, she doesn't really understand what it means to be Catholic.  It's fairly well done but the argument at the end could be better.

What a fantastic idea for a final confirmation project or a pre-NYG youth Sunday message!  They can either perform it live or create a video.  Have the kids write a script explaining and/or defending their faith.  The defendent wears a sign that says she is Catholic but there is no real evidence of that in her life.  The question the kids must consider is where is the evidence of your faith in your life?  Can people tell by your choices that you are a follower of Jesus?  Remember... if it comes from the heart of our faith, we do good works because we want to, not because we have to.

This video is really good right up until about minute 5 when he asks about serving the poor.  That's where the kids need to be creative about coming up with ways the person on trial shows they're Christian.  When did you serve the poor?  When did you stand up for somebody being bullied at school?  When did you befriend a "loser?"  When did you not follow the crowd because you knew what they were doing was not God-pleasing?  When did you turn off an inappropriate tv show?  Do you believe casual sex is ok?  When was the last time you read the Bible?  When was the last time you comforted a friend by sharing Jesus?  When was the last time you actually told somebody what you believe?  Carrying the sign of Christian or wearing a cross is not enough! 
This is how God showed his love among us:
He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.
1 John 4:9 (NIV 1984)
Live Love(d)!!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

EDUCATION: Video - Cyberbully

Bullying is a huge problem for kids these days and it's time for us to address it in the church to make sure our kids know what to do when they're attacked by ugliness in the world.  Of course, being bullied in person is horrible, but being bullied online is easier and more frequent because it's faceless.  ABC Family has a great movie called Cyberbully.  The best age to watch the movie is middle school and high school (grades 6-12).  It's a good movie because it not only talks about telling somebody you're being bullied (cyber or otherwise) but it shows what happens when a victim chooses to no longer be a victim.

Bullies pick on kids who are weak and let them.  The greatest gift you can give a child is to empower him/her to know who s/he is in Christ and walk with confidence.  Most anti-bullying programs try address the issue by having lessons in not hurting other people's feelings, sympathy, empathy, or martial arts.  They are trying to teach a bully to be nice but with teenagers kids are bullies because they get an emotional reward from it.  They feel better about themselves when they put somebody else down. 

In the movie you will notice that the most effective prevention happens not by trying to teach the bully to be nicer, more sympathetic, or empathetic, but by the victim choosing to no longer be a victim.  Teach the kids in your church:
  • to walk with the confidence that they are never alone with Jesus.
  • to be able to say loud and clear, "Stop it!"  Give them other phrases or words they can use and have them practice saying them.
  • to choose their online friends carefully.  You don't HAVE to accept every friend request on Facebook.
  • not to give their phone number or email address to just anyone. 
  • that when somebody tries to bully you through email, text, or social media to save the evidence and tell them you are saving it.
  • to understand that social media is NOT PRIVATE! 
  • to pray for the courage and confidence to stand up for themselves.

It doesn't matter how busy parents are, they need to be aware of the security settings on Facebook and be "friends" with their child so they can easily check what's on their timeline often and without the child knowing when they will do it; follow them on Twitter to know what they're tweeting.  If their kids are putting something on the internet for the world to see, it's not private so do not worry about them telling you you're not respecting their privacy.  If the world can see it, so can the parent.  Know who your kids follow on Twitter!  BE AWARE of what's going on in the cyber-social lives of your children!!

Watch the movie.  Have the conversation.  Empower the kids!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

CONFIRMATION: Memory Challenge Pick-a-Card

Another version of the MEMORY CHALLENGE is to put the memory work on cards and have the kids "Pick a card - any card!"  Don't forget to have a good reward and praise them to high heaven.

CONFIRMATION: Memory Challenge Sticks

In order to keep kids remembering their previous memory work, try putting it on jumbo craft sticks.  Keep them in a tall cup or small bag.  Every week ask a student if they want to take the "Memory Challenge" and randomly pull a stick out.  If they can recite the work they get a food prize (be aware of food allergies).  If confirmation is taught late afternoons on Wednesday or after dinner, you can give them a candy bar, peanut butter crackers, pack of fruit snacks, etc.  It's middle school.  They'll be hungry.  They're always hungry!

Monday, September 17, 2012

EDUCATION: Movies! Movies! Movies!

If you like to show movies as an activity, please choose them carefully and not those that are just popular and/or have trendy values without consequences.  I've listed a few you might want to try.  They bring up a number of discussable topics.  If you check on the Focus on the Family Plugged In website you can see a review and commentary that will help guide your discussion and if you're not familiar with a movie the kids would like to see you can check it out here first.  Some of these movies have study guides that go with them.  If you do a search for the name of the movie and "discussion guide" or "discussion questions" you'll find a number you can choose from.  You can find study guides to a lot of other movies as well at Christianity Today's website.  Don't forget the popcorn!

Facing the Giants (about a football coach whose life isn't going the way he'd like it to go and what he does to change it)
Luther (obviously about Martin Luther)
The Nativity Story (obviously about the Christmas Story)
One Night with the King (the story of Esther)
To Save a Life (about a student who commits suicide and how his friend reacts)
Courageous (about a man is a polic officer who is disconnected from his family and chooses to make a change in his life)
Soul Surfer (about a young girl surfer who loses her arm to a tiger shark and her experience with God's emotional and physical healing)
Sarah's Choice (about a 20-something woman who finds herself pregnant and considering an abortion)
Bruce Almighty (funny but a LOT of untruths and misconceptions about God and Christianity - for me it would require in-depth discussion)
The Ultimate Gift (about a young man who expects to inherit a lot of money to continue his shallow lifestyle but his grandfather has some lessons for him first)
Evan Almighty (this one is funnier than Bruce Almighty and a lot less crude)
The Grace Card (about a man whose son has been killed and his trip to forgiving both the man who killed him and himself)
Escape (this is a new one and there's no review by Focus on the Family yet but there is a YouTube trailer - it's about a doctor and his wife who decide to help people and get caught up in human trafficking and have to learn to trust God)
Amish Grace (this is also not on the Focus on the Family website but there's a YouTube trailer - it's about the real life incident of the murder of an Amish girl in her Amish school house)

If you know of a great movie you've shown, please share it in the comments! 
Again, the link for Focus on the Family is: and it reviews movies, videos, music, tv, and games. 
One link for some study guides at Christianity Today is here:

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

H.S. YOUTH: What's in a youth room?

I've seen some amazing youth rooms.  Some really large churches go all out and have special video game areas, booths that make it look like a restaurant; which is fitting because they have a coffee shop or cafe where kids can get food at a reasonable price.  They have pool tables, large screen tvs with surround sound, and even a stage.  Cool, huh?  When I asked about it I was told that they hoped the kids would come hang out there more often.  Hmmm...  I'd love it if kids hung out at church too but I'm not sure you need all those bells and whistles. 

I've also seen youth rooms that were really small, creatively painted by the youth with Christian murals, had old couches, tiled floors with large pieces of mismatched carpet over them, and were very comfortable.  They didn't have a stage or a coffee shop but kids brought coffee (if they drank it) and somebody usually brought food if they were hungry.  There was a small fridge and a snack cupboard that congregation members would keep stocked.  They might have a tv or a source of music and maybe an old pool or ping-pong table. 

My point is that there is no better or worse youth room.  Would the youth program without the big fancy youth room survive without it?  Yep.  If they're about building relationships they will.  The purpose of a youth room is to provide the kids with a place in the church where they can ponder faith and life issues comfortably.  Music is super important in the life of a teenager so the only really necessary element is a way for them to play and listen to music.  These days that might look like an iPod docking station of some kind. 
It is not the cool youth room that brings kids into the youth group.  It's the cool people!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

H.S. YOUTH: Open Church - Open Choice Nights

As a teacher I always have games and activities to keep my students busy.  We have to plan their time, right?  WRONG!  When I would ask them if they'd rather play a game or just talk, they'd always robustly respond, "TALK!"  It's great to have games and activities and all kinds of fun stuff for kids to do but these days teenagers are totally over scheduled.  Sometimes what they want is just hang-time.  Developmentally they need hang-time... a chance to relax, just be themselves, and ponder life together. 

I grew up in a youth group that wasn't DCE driven.  Every week we had Friday Open Church and that meant we could all come to the church and hang out.  Sometimes we planned special activities but sometimes smaller groups might play volleyball or throw a softball around, a few might shoot baskets, play cards, or just hang out.  These days I wouldn't do that every week but it's certainly something worth talking about with the kids to see if they're interested.  There could be a variety of unplanned options but they decide what they are and it has to be ok not to do any of them.

Don't get me wrong.  Special activities like a night of Minute-to-Win-It games, progressive dinners, local scavenger hunts, live Clue, Messy Olympics, organized game nights, etc. are always a good time but they make some kids uncomfortable.  Every conversation youth have doesn't have to be structured and as leaders it gives us a chance to honestly hang out with them too.  Valuable conversations!!

Monday, September 10, 2012

REACH OUT: 2 Essential Questions

In my opinion, from 7th grade on members of any congregation should be able to answer two essential questions:

1.  What do you believe and WHY?
2.  What do Lutherans believe and WHY?

This may seem obvious but I've spoken to MANY teenagers and adults and asked them, "If a friend asked you what you believe, what would you say?"  Most of the time they can give the most obvious and easiest answer that "Jesus died for my sins and yes, I'm going to be in heaven when I die."  That's important to know and believe but it's not really what that friend is looking for when they ask that question.  They want to know what you believe about Jesus, what you believe about God, and they want to know WHY you believe it!  When they ask what Lutherans believe they want to know why you are Lutheran and not anything else?  Why not be non-denominational?  They want to know where your faith comes from.

How many people can actually have that conversation?  Can they tell somebody using their own thoughts and words what they believe and why they're LC-MS Lutheran?  Do they have the information?  Have they been given the chance to practice saying it until they're comfortable with it?  We believe some very unpopular things, do they know why?  Maybe it's time for a catechism revival!! 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

FAMILY: Baptism = New Parent Ministry

Somebody once asked me, "What kind of ministry is available for infants after they've been baptized?" Hmmm... that one took me by surprise. They're babies. Her concern was that sometimes people come to have their babies baptized and then don't come back. Well, that's a ministry for the parents, not the babies. I have a few suggestions along those lines.
    • Along with the traditional candle and banner, give each family a baby Bible or a Bible storybook.
    • Write (or have the pastor) a prayer for the parents to say together every night for their newly baptized child.  Print it on attractive paper or frame it.
    • If the parents aren't members, give them a member mentor who will pray for them and call periodically (maybe once a month for a year) to see if there's anything with which they can help.
    • If you have a number of new parents, start a new mom's group.
    • Give the parents a list of babysitters (from the congregation) that they can trust.  Be sure to update it regularly.  It'll give you a chance to get in touch with the families again.
    • Give the parents a list of "support parents" they can call if they need help with something.  Ask for a year commitment and update regularly.
    Some things may simply be a matter of having people volunteer to be available, if necessary.  They may never be contacted.  But if somebody brings a child to be baptized, it's a beautiful opportunity to show them they too have been brought into our community of care.

    Saturday, September 8, 2012

    RALLY SUNDAY: 100 Day Challenge!

    Rally Sunday is fast approaching for many churches and it's the perfect time to introduce a 100 Day Challenge.  (January is a good time to renew it!)  Challenge your congregation to change their lives in ONE way for 100 days.  You can either choose what you'd like them to focus on or you can let each one choose their own, according to their personal needs.  Either way there is no losing choice here!  As with everything, there needs to be some follow through and a bit of accountability so don't forget to do some bulletin, newsletter, or email reminders.

    Try 100 Days of...
    • Thanking God - Say a special prayer of thanks every day.  "Dear Heavenly Father, creator of all things and keeper of my soul, I am so thankful for everything you give me each day including..." and list 5-10 things.  Don't just thank God for everything, don't just list your kids and spouse.  List the gifts God has given, right down to the flowers on your porch and the beauty of fall!  And don't list the same things everyday!
    • Trusting God - Is there something in particular in your life that gives you stress?  Choose something that only God can change in you and give it to Him and see what He does with it.  Every morning... "Dear Heavenly Father, I am struggling with... please give me the strength and courage to give it to you for only You know what is truly best for me."
    • Learning about God - Read the Bible!  It takes less than 5 minutes to read one chapter in one book.  Do it in the morning, in the evening, or even on break at work.  You can easily find a Bible online.  My personal favorite is Bible Gateway.  Don't put any pressure on yourself about where or when or what your mind set should be.  Just read it!
    • Listening to edifying music - There's nothing wrong with popular music, but if you're going through a tough time put the local Christian station on your car radio and listen to that as you drive.
    • Letting God have your Day - When you wake up, say out loud, "What can I do for you today, Lord?  I am at your service!" 
    • Changing how you Pray - We often have a tendency to pray for ourselves first.  If that is you, try thanking God first, then praying for others, and asking for yourself last.
    • Reaching Out - Maybe you're one of those people who really loves God but just has a bit of fear about announcing it to the world.  This is the perfect challenge for you to say something about your faith to somebody.  If you have colleagues that don't know you attend church, mention it.  Challenge yourself to talk to somebody outside the believing community.  If you've been hesitant, you could get really crazy and post something Christian on Facebook!
    Encourage your congregation to use your Rally Sunday to kickoff real change in their lives.  The Holy Spirit is just waiting around to be of service!!

    Friday, September 7, 2012

    CHRISTMAS: What's your program?

    Sometimes in smaller congregations it can be hard to come up with a Christmas program that fits your population.  In the past I've had some interesting programs because we had only early elementary and high school kids, less than 15 early elementary kids with the majority of them under 7, only about 12 kids total at varying ages, and small groups who weren't singers or instrumentalists. 

    Most published programs seem to be musicals geared toward large churches with a large population of elementary kids.  They have a number of roles and a large chorus and they all have cute names like Christmas comes to Sonland Ranch or something similar.  That's cute but not exactly a retelling of the original.  My philosophy is that when it comes to the Christmas story, more creative is not necessarily better.  The big question is how can you have a meaningful program that celebrates the birth of Chirst with any age or size group? 

    After many years of being frustrated, I finally had to write something myself that could easily be adjusted and was an honest retelling of the birth of Christ.  My goal was that it be authentic, bring in the prophecy, included realistic dialogue that might show the drama of the situation (I mean really, what happens when a girl has to tell her parents and finace that she's pregnant by God?), add music that I didn't have to write, and involve any number of people of any age.  WOW!!  It's a whole congregational approach!

    There are a LOT of options for this retelling of the birth of Jesus: 
    • People of many ages can be included.
    • Scripture readings (blue text) and spoken dialogue (red text) can either be read in front of the church or off-stage. 
    • Young children can be dressed as angels and can sing before and/or after the service.
    • Small groups of children can recite parts of scripture.
    • Teenagers or adults can read dialogue or play parts in costume.
    • A full costume drama can be done.
    • Suggested traditional carols or contemporary music is included.
    • Choir anthems and/or special music can be added or swapped throughout.
    • There are opportunities for solos or CD music can be played.
    • Beautiful art can be included as slides.
    • Candles can be used during the final song.
    (If you'd like to see what I put together to adjust to your congregational needs, please feel free to look here.  This is not a sales pitch.  It's free!  There's a poster sample too.)

    Thursday, September 6, 2012

    FUNDRAISING: What's your philosophy?

    There are two basic philosophies regarding keeping track of funds for fundraising.  Some like individual accounts and others like group accounts.  Major fundraising is usually done for mission trips, youth gathering trips, or community building trips like campouts, etc.  Minor fundraising is usually something that builds the fund balance for general use such as food or decorations for simple youth events, mission donations, etc.  Some smaller congregations do not have the money to support the youth at all and their fund may be needed for song books, curriculum, sports equipment, etc.  How that money is spent should be based on a vote of the members of the group and adult guidance.

    Individual Fundraising "Accounts"
    This is basically the philosophy that every youth has their own account within the youth fund and they work for the good of themselves.  Somebody keeps track of what money each individual raises and it can be put toward any event they choose, shared with somebody else, etc.  People like this because it can cause fewer agruments about who attended which fundraising event, how hard they worked, and how much they earned.  This philosophy is good if you have a large group and a lot of different major events kids may choose to attend.  Kids can use their money to go on the mission trip of not go and save their money for another event.  They have a youth group savings account.  When they graduate and leave the group their saved funds transfer into the general youth account.

    Group Fundraising Account
    This is basically the philosophy that everyone works for the good of the whole and money is equally divided.  This philosophy is good if you have a small group that comes to everything, works well together, and everybody pitches in for each other.  It is about building and supporting the community as a whole.  It may seem much simpler but there may be arguments if there are people who don't pull their weight and still get the same amount of money the others do.  The response to that argument may be the Parable of the Prodigal Son or the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. 

    The Combo Plan
    Personally, as a church professional, I believe that we do what is right before we do what is popular or convenient.  It is not Biblical to work toward the benefit of ourselves.  Fairness is not a Biblical teaching.  Given that, I understand the problems of money and suggest a combination of both.

    Money earned as a group should be divided evenly among the group members and money earned as individuals can be considered individual earnings.  If the group has a garage/yard/rummage sale, the money is distributed evenly.  If kids go out into their community to sell bedding plants and one person sells $4000 worth and another only $250, that should be taken into account. 

    Remember that trips and fundraising and everything else done with and for youth is not only about giving them experiences but also teaching them.  If one or two kids aren't pulling their weight in participating in fundraising the answer is not a financial penalty.   It's a conversation.  Adults don't have individual accounts at church and kids shouldn't either.  Families that give more than others do not receive more than others and those that give less are not penalized.  We do not tell people they didn't bring enough food for the potluck so they can't eat dessert.  For Biblical references please turn to Matthew 20:1-16 and Luke 15:11-32.

    Wednesday, September 5, 2012

    FUNDRAISING: Some Online Resources

    Fundraising is very community dependent.  You have to know what your community will buy.  REMEMBER that when you are soliciting funds from members of your church, depending on local laws, you may not be allowed to sell things at a specific price, but can have a suggested donation

    There are two ways to raise money:  through the church and through the community.  When I was helping a small congregation raise funds for a trip to the LC-MS National Youth Gathering I had to be very careful about how often I went to the congregation for money because people have limited funds and I didn't want youth fundraising for this event to hurt other ministries of the church.  I had to find ways the kids could reach out to people outside the congregation as much as possible.

    I also wanted to make sure we were getting the maximum profit for our output.  You don't want to have to have a lot of fundraisiers that only earn a small amount because people get tired of fundraisers.  You also don't want to sell 1 pizza to a family for a suggested donation that brings a profit of $5 if they'll buy 5 sandwiches with a suggested donation that would bring a profit of $3 each or $15.  Be sure you DO THE MATH!!

    That being said, there are a number of online resources you might find helpful.  Here are a few:

    This site has ideas of fundraising events you can host at your church:

    This site has many items or categories of items to sell for fundraising:

    This site has a lot of Do-It-Yourself ideas you might be able to adapt to your group:

    Our best fundraiser was selling bedding plants in the spring because EVERYBODY buys plants, the kids earn individual money for individual sales, and they can sell to people outside the congregation.  Make sure the local nursery you use has good quality plants.  We used Gerten's because they had great quality and many choices:

    Selling fireworks may not be legal in every state but I've heard some groups make a nice profit in a short time.

    Tuesday, September 4, 2012

    FAMILY: Parents are lifetime faith builders!

    Parents are the greatest influence in a child's life... their WHOLE life.  While most parents think during the adolescent years kids may be throwing away what their parents believe and have taught them, research shows that not necessarily to be the case.  They try new things and may explore other beliefs but are actually looking for confirmation of what they've been taught.  If parents leave everything to the church, kids learn that their faith belongs in the church.  If parents actively live and speak of their faith, kids learn that their faith is a part of their lives.  How, then, do we equip parents to teach faith to their kids? 

    The key is intentionality.  If it's not something that comes naturally in the family, parents need to make the effort to intentionally talk about their faith.  If your children ask what you believe, do you know what you would tell them?
    • Family devotions after dinner.  It's ALWAYS a good idea to read scripture!  You can read a devotional book appropriate for the age of your children or just read the Bible and pause every so often to paraphrase what you're reading so they understand.  There are some exciting things in there!
    • Praying before meals.  Simple thanks for the day, for food, and for everything God provides... EVERYTHING!
    • Eating dinner together and discussing life.  Turn off the tv and talking about your day can be very enlightening.  Kids say things to each other that give you insight into their lives and an opportunity for you to model and discuss appropriate behaviors, attitudes, and how Christ is a part of the journey.
    • Make parents a part of confirmation instruction.  Some programs include parents as small group leaders or like them present during class to help with behavior issues.  The benefit, however, is that parents have the opportunity to rediscover things they probably haven't thought about in a long time.
    • Moments for meaningful discussion.  After church every Sunday you can either consider it over or take it a step further and help kids think more about it.  Churches can provide simple discussion questions in the Sunday bulletins or have them printed for/emailed to homes after Sunday School.  They can be about what was discussed and can either provide interesting dinner conversation starters or would be great while you have kids trapped in your car while driving places.
    • Family prayers.  A lot of people don't pray out loud in front of their children but it's a lot easier for parents to teach their children to be comfortable praying in public than for it to happen in church.  Teach and model for your children how to pray/talk to God.
    • Actions speak louder than words.  They really do.  Tell your kids what you believe but show them even louder. 
    • Encourage questions.  If your kids ask questions you can't answer, tell them you'll find out and call the pastor.  When you bring it up again later they'll see that it was important enough for you not to forget.

    Monday, September 3, 2012

    SUNDAY SCHOOL: Tips for Teaching Sixth Graders

    Sixth graders are stunning!  Keep in mind that people grow and develop at different rates so nobody will be in the same place at the same time.  Sixth graders are about to step into the wonderful world of adolescence and may be preoccupied with physical and emotional changes.

    Sixth Graders (11 year olds)...
    • Have growing and changing bodies.  Females grow more quickly than males.
    • Are curious about the opposite sex.
    • May be impulsive and/or rude without realizing it.
    • May be uncomfortable about people noticing any physical changes.
    • Begin to have more of a need for personal hygiene.
    • Need to make some choices for themselves.
    • Rarely think of the future.
    • Are looking for role models.
    • Begin to be concerned with their appearance.
    • Begin to want more independence without the responsibility.
    • Are developing stronger intellectual skills.
    • Are very self-absorbed, thinking nobody has ever been through what they are going through.
    • Can increasingly think of the world from different perspectives.
    • Still enjoy hands-on activities but are developing abstract abilities.
    For Sunday School teachers of sixth graders this means students are beginning to develop greater abstract thought and beginning to wonder about their own moral standards.  This is a great time to start talking about why people believe what they do and why they do what they do.  Try some moral or ethical dilemmas and when discussing the Bible, try looking at stories or beliefs from different perspectives and allow them to struggle with them and come up with their own conclusions... with your guidance.

    SUNDAY SCHOOL: Tips for Teaching Fifth Graders

    Fifth graders are fantastic!!  Keep in mind that people don't grow and develop at the same rate so nobody will be in the same place at the same time.  Kids in the fifth grade are generally happy.  They've learned that it pays to be truthful and are able to resolve issues of fairness.  Arguments will occur but students usually resolve them quickly.

    Fifth Graders (10 year olds)...
    • Enjoy cooperative and competitive games.
    • Are good at memorizing facts.
    • Like to explain things.
    • Enjoy logic.
    • Take pride in learning new things.
    • Are increasingly able to think abstractly.
    • Are expressive.
    • Like encouragement.
    • Enjoy talking and discussion.
    • Enjoy dramatic reading, choral reading, and performing skits/plays.
    For Sunday School teachers of fifth graders this means you should encourage them to verbalize their thinking when you talk about life issues, doctrine, and Biblical teachings.  This is the time to start getting them to sort things out in their minds so it's good to provide projects that allow them to develop conflict resolution and logic.  Provide opportunities for them to practice memory skills.  Fifth graders are beginning the move from more concrete to abstract thought and many are involved in classes for Holy Communion.

    Sunday, September 2, 2012

    SUNDAY SCHOOL: Tips for Teaching Fourth Graders

    Fourth graders are fabulous!  Keep in mind that people don't grow and develop at the same rate so nobody will be at the same place at the same time.  Kids in fourth grade can be very competitive and critical.  Be aware that they may say hurtful things to their peers without thinking.  This is a good time to do team building activities!

    Fourth Graders (9 year olds)...
    • Still can't sit still for very long.
    • May complain about physical aches and pains.
    • Are still really concrete but also curious.
    • Are beginning to see the world as a bigger place.
    • Enjoy jokes, riddles, silly songs, and/or word games.
    • Can be wounded by sarcasm.
    • May become easily overwhelmed.
    • Need lots of encouragement.
    • Enjoy language and words.
    • Enjoy partner work over groups.
    • Now learn from reading.
    • Enjoy discussions of right/wrong.
    • May say what they think without thinking first.  They enjoy commenting on what's going on.
    • Can be playful and have a good sense of humor.
    For Sunday School teachers of fourth graders this means you might want to keep direct instruction time short and provide more opportunities for group work, discussion, and projects.  Use lame jokes or puns to cajole the kids into better behavior when necessary.  Let them use dramatic reading when possible.  This is a good time to bring the Bible alive by not only introducing Bible characters but also their personalities.  Fourth grade is the perfect age for the silliness of Veggie Tales.

    SUNDAY SCHOOL: Tips for Teaching Third Graders

    Third graders are terrific!  They're starting to understand teamwork and learning to cope with change and problem solving and will be very enthusiastic about team projects.  Be ready for them to begin challenging fair and unfair behaviors.

    Third Graders (8 year olds)...
    • Are full of energy and often seem in a hurry.
    • Enjoy working in groups, usually within their own gender.
    • Adjust well to change.
    • Have learned to recover from mistakes.
    • Are very concerned with fairness.
    • Can focus for short periods but need attention breaks.
    • Do better with shorter assignments than longer ones.
    • Can use things easier than words to explain themselves.
    • Become even more interested in organizing things logically and finding out how they work.
    • Enjoy handwriting, drawing, and crafts.
    • Listen well.
    • Tend to exaggerate.
    • Have a lot of ideas.
    For Sunday School teachers of third graders this means you should find more ways to let them work with mixed gender groups.  Let them tell each other what they thought of a story or idea.  When reading the Bible, use their developing sense of logic to make sense of the story.  Perhaps break the parts of the story apart in strips and and have them logically put the pieces together.  Allow them to draw pictures or make posters of their thinking.  They find learning about other people interesting so talk not only about the characters of the Bible but also of their cultures.

    Saturday, September 1, 2012

    SUNDAY SCHOOL: Tips for Teaching Second Graders

    Second graders are super!  Along with a few of the traits of first graders, second graders like routine and want to finish what they start.  If you're going to move from one thing to another, give them a warning before switching.  Keep in mind that kids grow and develop at different rates so they won't all be in the same place at the same time. 

    Second Graders (7 year olds)...
    • Are more serious and less impulsive than first graders.
    • Like to complete their assignments correctly.
    • Like security and structure and want to check-in with the teacher.
    • May change friendships quickly and enjoy working with a variety of partners.
    • Don't like to make mistakes and want their work to be perfect.
    • Like to work more slowly and alone or with one partner.
    • Like to collect, sort, and organize things.
    • Learn better using manipulatives.
    • Like to know how things work.
    • Like taking things apart and learning how they work.
    • Enjoy class projects that include puzzles, games, and manipulatives.
    • Are becoming interested in the meanings of words.
    • Enjoy being read to.
    • Enjoy one-on-one conversations with adults.
    What this means for Sunday School teachers of second graders is that assignments or projects where they work individually or with one partner work best.  Having them retell stories using puppets or felt/paper characters as manipulatives might be helpful.  Since they like word meanings, make sure you explain words with which they may not be familiar or use word games or word puzzles into activities.