Wednesday, October 31, 2012

THANKSGIVING: Kids are thankful too! Video

It's so easy to create videos these days that I thought it would be fun to create a "Kids are thankful too!" video to play before or after the Thanksgiving service.  The concept is simple.  Ask as many kids as you can what they're thankful for and only record their answers.  Now, you have to remember that young children (3 to maybe 5 years old) are being taught to say "thank you" but don't really understand the concept of thankfulness so if you're not getting an appropriate answer you might want to ask the question differently.  Try... "What (or who) do you love most?"  "What (or who) makes you happy?"

If you ask adults you'll get the same answers...  Jesus, my faith, my family, my friends, my job.  All good answers and I hope they're in that order but it's not nearly as cute as those little kidlets.  Don't expect them all to say Jesus.  Some responses will be very serious, some funny, but all good.  Sometimes they say the last thing on their mind in the moment and it might be what they had for lunch.  Give it a try and see what you get!  If it turns out good put it on your church website...

Friday, October 26, 2012

REFORMATION: Luther's Seal Mosaic

I was looking for different activities for Reformation and came up with a few interesting ideas about Luther's Seal.  It's something Luther came up with himself and each part has specific meaning (see the explanation below).

There are a few ways to recreate the seal in a mosaic so a number of people can be involved.  First, make a template of it and section it off so that each group is responsible for one section.  (The image itself is in the public domain and can be recreated freely.)  When it's done everyone can put their sections together and it'll look fabulous!  Try any one of these mosaic options:
  • Tissue paper for more of a stained glass look
  • Melting beads (the ones you iron and they melt)
  • Construction paper for a regular mosaic look
  • The coolest thing I found was this great video recreating it with Legos. Check it out!



Explanation of Luther's Rose by Luther in a letter to Lazarus Spengler in 1530
"Grace and peace from the Lord. As you desire to know whether my painted seal, which you sent to me, has hit the mark, I shall answer most amiably and tell you my original thoughts and reason about why my seal is a symbol of my theology.

The first should be a black cross in a heart, which retains its natural color, so that I myself would be reminded that faith in the Crucified saves us. For one who believes from the heart will be justified" (Rom. 10:10).

Although it is indeed a black cross, which mortifies and which should also cause pain, it leaves the heart in its natural color. It does not corrupt nature, that is, it does not kill but keeps alive. "The just shall live by faith" (Rom. 1:17) but by faith in the crucified.

Such a heart should stand in the middle of a white rose, to show that faith gives joy, comfort, and peace. In other words, it places the believer into a white, joyous rose, for this faith does not give peace and joy like the world gives (John 14:27). That is why the rose should be white and not red, for white is the color of the spirits and the angels (cf. Matthew 28:3; John 20:12).

Such a rose should stand in a sky-blue field, symbolizing that such joy in spirit and faith is a beginning of the heavenly future joy, which begins already, but is grasped in hope, not yet revealed.

And around this field is a golden ring, symbolizing that such blessedness in Heaven lasts forever and has no end. Such blessedness is exquisite, beyond all joy and goods, just as gold is the most valuable, most precious and best metal.

This is my compendium theoligae. I have wanted to show it to you in good friendship, hoping for your appreciation.

May Christ, our beloved Lord, be with your spirit until the life hereafter. Amen." 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

EDUCATION: Church-Year Posters

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, ...  Ecclesiastes 3:1-3...

One of the things kids don't seem to remember is the church year.  It's just not talked about enough for it to stick.  So, here's an answer.  You'd be surprised at what kids learn from posters!  If you put them around the room, when they get bored they look at them... over and over again.  You can buy some that look pretty complex but here are some easy ones that I created.  They can be printed on 8 1/2" x 11" paper or enlarged and there are seven (7).  If you put them in order they'll make sense.  The first one is kind of an overall view and then the smaller ones have more information.  Below I put a few samples. 



Wednesday, October 24, 2012

SERVICE: Those in the Armed Forces

Do you have congregational friends in the service?  Do you send them gift boxes?  You should!  Did you know that Concordia Publishing House has an Armed Forces Devotional Book for about $5?  It's really cool!  It has appropriate scripture, hymns, prayers, and other things.  What a great gift to give someone who is separated from their church family to help support their faith! 

So, get your people together and when you send a gift box out to those in the service (and you should!) make sure this book is in it.  If possible, have members of the congregation sign it and add a positive comment. 
 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

H.S. YOUTH: Tradition!!



Tradition is WONDERFUL!!  It brings people together and gives them something to look forward to.  It's because of certain traditions that young kids see the teenagers in the youth group do in and around the congregation that they look forward to being a part of the group.  What are your congregational traditions?  If you think about it you can see those.  They might be a certain version of Silent Night at the Christmas worship, or a holiday church decorating "party" with a potluck lunch, a Thanksgiving Eve Pie Social, what is done for your Easter Egg Hunt, or maybe you have a special way you clean up the church every spring or a traditional summer outdoor worship service. 

No matter what your congregational traditions are, try to have some for the youth too.  They might be something like...
Possible Scene from The Life of Christ
  • A short easter drama about the tomb being empty that begins the Easter service.
  • A toy round-up every Christmas.
  • A Christmas party for the younger kids planned and organized by the youth.
  • A holiday party that includes area youth groups.
  • A traditional Jewish Seder meal every Maundy Thursday.
  • Put on the drama The Life of Christ in the church yard every summer.
The most important tradition is the one that incorporates new members of the group.  Make it something the young kids look forward to!! 

Monday, October 22, 2012

LEADERSHIP: Prayer Garden or Prayer Walk

Today somebody told me she knows a pastor who loved to garden so much that he took the church property and created a prayer garden.  What a great idea!!  It could be created so that people could take a prayer walk or a garden where they could sit and meditate.  If there's enough room you could do both!  There should be engraved rocks or stepping stones that are prayerfully inspirational.  You don't need a huge place and depending on where your church is situated on the property it could also draw people in the community who need a quiet place closer to the church.  Put small plaques within the landscaping around the building using some nice plaques that have specific prayers or simple suggestions such as, "Here among the roses we give a prayer of thanks for the sacrifice Jesus made for us."  Or even more simply, "Thanksgiving Prayer," "Pray for those who need healing," etc.  I LOVE this idea!!
Look at this one from the First United Methodist Church in Dalton, GA.

 


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

CHRISTMAS: Musical anyone?

Luke 2:8-9
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

I know Christmas musicals are popular, especially when you have a number of kids who need to participate.  I'm not a huge fan of programs that don't just tell the original story well.  I don't love Christmas at Sonshine Ranch or How Jimmy Learned the REAL meaning of Christmas.  For me it's about remembering Jesus' birth and nothing else.  The problem is that there aren't a lot of musicals out there that do that well.  We miss the drama of the real thing and we water down the message for kids. 

That being said, this blog is not necessarily about what I want or like, it's about what you want and if you want a musical I've got some resources for you.  I can't guarantee any of these "shows" as good or bad, funny or boring.  Some shows are cute and some are just dumb but even a dumb show can be made better if you've got a few creative people working on it.  So here you go....

Group Publishing
Little Big Stuff
The Skit Guys
Christianbook.com
Dramatix - an archive of about 1300 scripts

Merry Christ's Birth!!

Monday, October 15, 2012

FUNDRAISING: Christmas Cookies - Cottages or Churches



So many people don't have the time to make Christmas cookies or candies that they end up buying them.  Ick!! Why not have the youth help them out by making and selling them by the dozen or the pound (certain candies). We found that people loved having special or seasonal cookies made for them. It was a pretty good fundraiser too but I did learn a bit from the experience.


Also, ever want to make a Gingerbread House?  They're not as easy as they look, by far, and sometimes they're not even great to eat because gingerbread gets hard, as does the icing.  It's great for dunking into coffee but not always great for kids.  So, try making the basic house out of cereal treats instead of gingerbread. They can be decorated with almond bark (chocolate or vanilla) or chocolate chips to hold candies onto them.  You can be creative with the decorating and even make them small churches!!  How cute!!  I think these would be a great addition to a Christmas baking fundraiser.  Depending on the size of the church, the kids could make 50 of them and sell them for $10 each. Not a bad profit!

A few tips for a Christmas Cookie or Candy sale:
  • Limit the types of cookies you'll sell.  If you sell too many different types the kids will be making cookies all the time and they'll get frustrated.
  • Let the kids choose what they want to make but encourage them no to make cookies that are too complicated.  Bar cookies are clearly easiest!
  • Have a weekly sign-up sheet.
  • Be careful of your price point!  Tiny but expensive cookies may not be worth it but don't sell yourself or the baking time short.

Friday, October 12, 2012

OUTREACH: Sunshine Notes!


A sunshine note is a very simple way to make somebody smile by bringing a little sonshine into their lives.  You can put any message you want on a business card and give them to members of the congregation to share with perfect strangers.  Yep!  Perfect strangers!!  No words except those on the card are necessary.  As they go through the day, if they see someone they think might need a little sunshine just give them the card.  Have limited church info on it because the goal is not to get them to your church, it's to give them a little piece of Jesus and you might just be surprised where Jesus leads a few of them...


Simple business cards are very inexpensive. You can get 500 for under $10!  And it's a great idea to have the youth design some they might be willing to share with their friends when they have a bad day too.  Let the rays of Jesus fall down on everyone!


Thursday, October 11, 2012

HALLOWEEN: A Trunk-or-Treat Alternative


There's nothing inherently evil about kids dressing up and walking from house to house begging for candy, nor is saying the words "Trick-or-Treat" worshipping a pagan god.  After all, there was a time in history that pine and/or evergreen trees were not used to celebrate the birth of Jesus but were used to keep away ghosts and evil spirits as well as to remind people that the sun god would return with summer.

Try this one.  Think about having a group of children or youth meet at church to go trick-or-treating.  I know it may sound crazy to some of you but it's no different than having a trunk-or-treat except that the kids get exercise walking around the neighborhood.  You can ban gruesome costumes, witches, and vampires and the girls may NOT dress up as sexy cats or anything similar.  We will not celebrate death in that way as we believe in eternal life through Christ and we will not celebrate dressing "sexy" as even on Halloween we do not throw our morals out the window.  This way you can start with prayer, safely go around the neighborhood, return to the church for snack and end in a short devotion about Halloween being the eve before All Saints, pray again, and depart in peace. 

Why?  Because this way the kids get the candy (which is all they really want) and you get to have that important conversation about Halloween that they may not hear anywhere else. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

LEADERSHIP: Need to organize by address?

Want to map out a progressive dinner?  See where all your youth live?  Organize small groups by proximity?

I just came across a really cool resource that might help!  It's called MapAList and it works with Google spreadsheets.  You can upload any Excel spreadsheet into a Google spreadsheet but if there's a lot of excess information I recommend you pare it down to just the information you need:  Name (for label), Address (including city, state, zip).

A resource like this can be great for:
  • organizing small groups
  • looking at where your membership lives
  • looking at where your youth live
  • organizing pick up/drop off of kids
  • organizing shut-in visits
  • looking at all the churches in your town
  • and many other things!

Monday, October 8, 2012

EDUCATION: The Truth about Object Lessons

The truth is that the majority of children's object lessons aren't for the kids if the kids are under 8 years old.  In the early elementary years faith takes the form of story or drama which means the young kids who come up to the front of the church for your object lesson, lamb's lesson, or children's message, don't have the ability to connect the object to your intended concept.  It's a higher order thinking skill.  Their little brains just can't get it.

Cognitive Development of Kids 3rd Grade and Below (Ages 3-8)
  • Little ability to think in terms of general principles (kindness, goodness, etc.) 
  • Little ability to think about non-physical entities (God, heaven, etc.)  God the father is a really big dad.  Heaven is a literal place like the library or a big park.
  • Visual symbols do not initially have symbolic meaning -- children must be taught what the cross stands for, for example and it will stand for the church or Jesus but not death that pays for sin.
  • Cannot relate one fact to another, for example, the heart being like the inside of a tootsie pop that was hardened on the outside by sin.  No way.
  • Cannot make generalizations like what happens to a Sunday school class when the word of God is shared.  Super no way.
  • Religious stories are classified as any other stories.  There is none more or less important.  Jonah and Pinocchio are on the same level of truth or make-believe.
  • The stories of miracles are primarily perceived as fairy tales.  They cannot understand them as real.
  • The older they get the more they can determine the difference between real and make believe but that's different than taking something that sounds like it can't be real (coming back from the dead) and assuming it's real.
What Should You Do?

If the majority of the kids who come up during your children's lesson are younger than 8 or 9 there are things you can do if you want the message to be for them.  If it's really something for the adults then please give the kids candy when you're done for being willing to come up front.  Just because they don't understand the larger concept of love, sin, or that Jesus loved them enough to die for their sin they do need to be introduced to the words and the older elementary kids are very interested in meanings of words. The younger ones will most likely equate sin to being mean and cannot transfer that to other actions and certainly not thoughts.  They understand what they experience.
  • Tell stories that are close to the emotions of the child. Stories telling of human characteristics such as loving, sharing, and caring are excellent at this stage. The child will accept these with awe and wonder and will relate them to itself.
  • Use poems, riddles, and songs.
  • Use props, pictures, voices, puppets, and/or volunteer actors to tell stories. 
  • If you have an abstract moral they won't get it but they can answer simple questions like, "What happened when I...?"  "What happened when (the puppet) hit the other one?"  "What would happen if you...?"  The information needs to be relevant to their experiences, which are very egocentric.
  • Show pictures and have kids answer questions about the picture.  "What's happening in this picture?"
  • Teach them what Christian symbols stand for.

Friday, October 5, 2012

ADVENT: Hymn Sing


At the church where I grew up people used to always complain that they didn't have a chance to sing all the Advent and Christmas songs before the Christmas season was over.  The answer to that was that before every Advent service they would have a 15 minute hymn-sing.  People could raise their hands and pick a hymn or they could put in a request for the next week.  It has turned into a most loved tradition!

VOLUNTEERS: Social Media!!

Sometimes in smaller congregations the pastor gets really busy doing tasks that other people can do and sometime a few end up dropping through the cracks.  One of those is utilizing social media.  Time to get a volunteer!  People can spend a LOT of time keeping up with social media, especially Facebook, and there's somebody in your congregation that's really great at stuff like this.  You want someone who will...
  • be on regularly to see what's going on
  • post/create events for church activities
  • post interesting quotes on the page that people will share
  • post previews of the sermon title
  • create pages for different church groups that they or others can update to keep people informed
Use them to your best advantage to get the word out.  Jesus stood on a hill - we're using Facebook!!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

ACTIVITY: Giant Puzzle Bible Scavenger Hunt

One activity that can involve people of many different ages is to have a Bible verse scavenger hunt.  A family or group is given a starting verse that has some kind of physical location or item that's in your church, for example:

So she let them down by a rope through the window, for the house she lived in was part of the city wall.  Joshua 2:15

There is a window in the church with the next clue.  Which one is it?

The portico was twenty cubits wide, and twelve cubits from front to back. It was reached by a flight of stairs, and there were pillars on each side of the jambs.  Ezekiel 40:49

Be as creative as possible.  You could have a verse containing Jesus as the clue and tape it behind a painting or statue of Jesus, where the choir practices, in the kitchen where food is prepared, or even in a hymnal where we find songs of praise, etc.  Some will be easier and the kids will get them and others will be more difficult for the adults.

When they find that place in the church there's a large puzzle piece with another clue on back.  On the front of the puzzle piece is a portion of a theme verse they'll have to put together.  

Make the giant puzzle by taking a large piece of poster board, writing the theme verse on it and cutting it into puzzle pieces.  If you need help artistically find puzzle pieces online and project them on the poster board taped (with painter's tape) to the wall.

Variation:
If all your participants are of a certain age you can make the clues more complicated than just window or flight of stairs.  Go to the topical Bible and find a bunch of verses that lean toward a specific topic.  As they collect the puzzle pieces they need to figure out the topic.  The final puzzle is the theme verse for the night's devotion.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

CONFIRMATION: Catechism Scavenger Hunt

For new confirmands, the small catechism is a pretty boring book.  Reading it is like reading a reference book so it helps to have a way for students to become more familiar with it in a friendly way.  Try a scavenger hunt through the book.  Here is one that I wrote but you can certainly create your own.  Download mine here.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

CONFIRMATION: Reflection Journals

One of the main goals in confirmation should be to find out what the students think about what they've been taught.  The higher order of Bloom's Taxonomy of action verbs expects students to be able to apply their knowledge to situations, to break down ideas and find support for them, to take ideas and come up with or propose new conclusions, and to defend judgments based on evidence.  You want students to be able to develop, argue, explain, illustrate, compare/contrast, infer, summarize, justify, and even criticize. 

A confirmation journal is a great way to have students practice those things as long as the requirements are appropriate.  If you have students simply tell you what they learned in one paragraph, you need to have them write another applying it to their lives.  Be sure to require them to write it using their own words, complete sentences and correct capitalization and punctuation.  And by all means, remind them that it's ok to disagree as long as they tell you why, it's ok to be unsure about things, and it's definitely ok for them to be honest about what they think

Specific Weekly Journal

Sample questions: 
  • What life lessons have you learned about the Parable of the Sower?  How would you explain that parable to a friend?
  • Write the meaning of the first petition of the Lord's Prayer in your own words.  Many of your friends (and perhaps you yourself) do not honor this petition.  Give at least three reasons why you think the world has such little reverence for God's name.
  • Let's imagine for a minute that you were created by an all-powerful being who is so pure that anything the least bit dirty is immediately destroyed if it gets too close to him.  You know that it's only a matter of time before you will face him.  You know there's a book out there that gives you the secret to survival.  What do you do?  What are the requirements for survival and can you survive?
  • What do you find most confusing about the sacrament of the altar or Holy Communion?  A lot of churches believe different things than we do.  What are some of them?  Explain why it matters.
  • Give an example of a situation when somebody might not be baptized but can be saved and give an example of a situation when somebody might be baptized and may not be saved.
General Weekly Journal

If you want them to do a general reflection every week have some guidelines:
  1. List one thing that you found interesting, surprising, or that you disagree with or have questions about.  Tell me why that was your choice.
  2. Tell me how it changed your thinking.
  3. Tell me how it should change your life or the lives of others.
Be sure you collect them and read them from time to time and make positive comments!  I would bet it won't be long before these become the highlight of your week.


Monday, October 1, 2012

HALLOWEEN: If you're going to Trunk-or-Treat...


If you want to do a Trunk-or-Treat... there are a few things to think about.

It can be a small gathering of simply decorated cars that hand out candy to kids or a huge carnival type outreach festival.  Either way, it's something that takes place in the church parking lot and/or yard and people decorate their cars or truck beds and dress up to hand out candy to the kids.  Some churches make it their annual outreach festival and put a lot of money toward it in renting bounce houses, inviting special entertainers, having carnival games, lots of food, etc.  But the truth is, you don't need a whole lot of money if you have a little creativity.  While it's not necessary for everyone to dress up as Bible characters, remember that it's not a Halloween party at church and don't forget that it's also Reformation and All Saints days.

Here are a few options to consider for your congregation: 
  • A festival can turn out to be a HUGE event. Decide up front what your goal is and how big an event you want. Is it to replace Halloween and/or provide an alternative for trick-or-treating (smaller event) or is it an outreach festival to bring the community to the church (bigger event)? 
  • Call it the Trunk-or-Treat Fall Festival and have it on Halloween between 6 and 9 pm.  Be conscious of lighting. OR Call it a Reformation Fall Festival and have it the Sunday afternoon or evening before or after Halloween.
  • Do you expect to make money, cover expenses, or is it a free community outreach event?
  • If it's your first year don't expect a lot of attendance as people may already have Halloween traditions.  It takes a while to start a new tradition and some will come to your event and still go trick-or-treating.
  • The idea of giving candy out of your car trunk can be... interesting.  Maybe make them more like trunk-booths and instead of just handing candy to the kids, give it as a reward for a silly game or trivia question or simple carnival game of some kind.  Perhaps two families can go in on one trunk-booth or if possible use a truck bed.
  • If you're using the parking lot, where will people park? 
  • Have a method of getting contact information from community visitors so you can follow up and thank them for coming.
Small Event
  • Promote it within the congregation and the local neighborhood with flyers, on Facebook, a church banner, or yard sign(s).
  • Have up-beat music playing. 
  • Simple Trunk-Booth ideas: Martin Luther Booth (pin the 95 theses on the door), Face Painting, mini-pumpkin painting, scarecrow hat toss, pumpkin bead bag toss or any other regular carnival type games/booths you choose.
  • Have free popcorn available. 
Big Event
  • The key to any annual outreach event is to make sure the community knows about it. Promote! Promote! Promote! Use the local newspaper, Facebook, Twitter, yard signs, large church street banner, word of mouth, etc.
  • Use any local talent available. 
  • Include a silent auction.
  • Have a pumpkin carving contest. 
  • Let people "bob" for apples with chopsticks. 
  • Instead of a hay maze, collect cardboard boxes and create a tunnel for young kids to travel through.
  • Have a cupcake walk.
  • Have a square dance.
  • If you're a rural church have hayrides.
  • Food booths:  pumpkin or apple pie, hotdogs, popcorn, etc.
There is an endless number of carnival games or fall festival ideas online.  Remember that the first year may not be the greatest success.  Keep the enthusiasm for reaching out to the community going and don't give up!  Every year you do it more people will come.  DON'T FORGET TO HAND OUT CHURCH INFORMATION!!