Sunday, February 24, 2013

PALM SUNDAY: Children's Message Palm Cross

Borrowed from
Good, True, and Beautiful
On Palm Sunday there are always lots of kids for the processional.  That makes it a great time to have a cool children's message.  Why not tell the story of Jesus' life or Holy Week while creating this cool cross from a palm leaf?  It's as simple as tying a tie.  Afterward, during the Sunday School opening or for a special family Sunday School lesson the kids and their parents can learn how to make their own.

Look at this easy tutorial on a blog called Good, True, and Beautiful!  I borrowed their picture too.  I hope they don't mind.

You can also try this video on YouTube.

This one is a little blurry but is a different style.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

LENT/EASTER: Children's Easter Story Murals

If you're looking for a way kids can tell the story of Holy Week, try letting them tell it through murals.  Use large butcher paper (comes on big rolls) and have a simple drawing, perhaps taken from printable coloring pages, that can be put together. I took a bunch of different pieces of clip art and created a sample for Palm Sunday.  If you want to get really creative try to incorporate pictures of the kids faces within the group waving palm branches or in other places throughout the mural.

A smaller group of students can all participate together by making a different scene each week of Lent.  When they turn out really great you can display them in an area where all who come to worship will be able to witness Holy Week one mural at a time. 

A larger group of students can participate by having each grade level do a different scene the week before Palm Sunday. 

Younger kids will be so excited to tell the story as they pull their parents to each mural!  If you don't have access to white butcher paper see if there's a teacher in your church who might be able to help as nearly all schools have many rolls of butcher paper and I'm sure they will let you have some for a minor fee.

Let the kids try one (or many) of the following art techniques:

  • Draw the outline with a black marker and use Tempera or Finger Paint.
  • Draw the outline and let the kids tear construction paper for a mosaic effect.
  • Use fabrics or fabric scraps and other textural items.

Friday, February 22, 2013

EASTER: Journey to the Cross Experience

Want to do something a little different for families during Holy Week?  CPH has an event called Journey to the Cross that's a cool Holy Week experiential event and it comes with just about everything except people.  I've never done it but I know some others who have and really enjoyed the experience.  Check it out at CPH here.

Use it for...

  • Outreach - invite the congregation and the community.
  • Education - Scripture based activities encompass the joyous entry of Jesus on Palm Sunday, the disappointment of Judas' betrayal, the devastation of the crucifixion, and the triumphal resurrection.

Participants take a trip down the path Jesus walked by engaging in 9 to 13 different experiential activities.  They may wave palm branches, taste Passover foods and touch a crown of thorns.  The flexible planning guide has options for a single event, an event that can be spread across days or even weeks.

Monday, February 18, 2013

CONFIRMATION: The Bible Reading Challenge!

One of my priorities is to try to get kids to read the Bible more and to have a greater understanding of God's plan for His people than just cherry picking verses to fit their current emotional state.  To that end, I came up with the Bible Reading Challenge for confirmation students.

If you want them to think about certain things while they read you'll want to have some simple reading guides to go along with the reading or you can have a brief conversation with them to be sure they're actually reading and that they're understanding what they're reading.  The guides should be simple and/or short but are necessary because kids often read the Bible (and many other things) without actually understanding.  At this age kids don't always connect all the dots on their own or in the right order so the purpose of the guide is simply to make sure they "hear and connect" what they read.

How to choose what they'll read:

  • The Pastor can do it. I suggest they read the Old Testament historical books one year and the New Testament the other year. If they have to read all the boring or difficult to read parts that aren't linked to the story they will quit. For example, genealogies, Proverbs and the Psalms are important and necessary pieces of scripture but would not be necessary or great reading for kids nor would they help put the big picture together.
  • Use or adapt The 70 Most Important Events of the Bible.  These are quite short and it will be difficult for the kids to get a whole picture without discussion and/or guidance. The epistles aren't included in this and provide great wisdom and insight imparted to the people. Personally, I would have them read more than just these snippets and add the epistles, but it's a good place to start if you need one.
  • Use The Story for Teens and break the 31 chapters up into 2 years. I really like the way this is laid out and that it uses the NIV and isn't a total paraphrase. There is a curriculum with video but be aware that if done outside of class kids will watch the video and not read the book. That would be a mistake! The epistles aren't included in this either and personally, I would add them and remind the kids that they're letters and should be read as such.  This would be my choice.

Create a special award and choose a special day to present them to the kids for this great accomplishment at the end of each year.  Make it a real award they get during the confirmation ceremony for those who have completed the whole challenge.  You might also have a formal plaque and have names engraved on it or have a large framed certificate type poster with names added when kids complete the whole challenge.  Be sure to put glass over it!


Saturday, February 16, 2013

PARENTS: Positive Church Habits

Deuteronomy 6:6-8
These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.  Impress them on your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 

A Child's Book of Prayers
Prayers for Children
CPH & Amazon
We are a people who love ritual though we don't necessarily like the word ritual.  It sounds old fashioned and very formal. But what are rituals? They're habits. Parents work very hard to instill positive habits in their children because what becomes a habit is not a chore. They are things that become a part of us and our lives when we're not looking.

We also like traditions. We are steeped in holiday and family traditions. They're something we look forward to and we don't like it when somebody changes them. Ritual and traditions remind us who we are and where we come from and as we grow up they are what make great memories. Some of mine are the midnight Christmas worship with my high school friends, church picnics, and, believe it or not, when I visit a congregation that uses parts of the old liturgy from The Lutheran Hymnal, I feel like I'm at a family reunion.  I'm home.

Time to Pray - Daily Prayers for Youth
Prayers for Youth
Why am I saying this? Positive church and faith habits need to begin when kids are young and doing things over and over again instills them in the children's hearts, minds and souls. For something to truly become a part of our long-term memory it needs to be done many times, over time. Making something flashy and different all the time may make it fun but it doesn't necessarily become a part of somebody. The reason I remember the liturgy is because I sang/said it 5,000 times, I know the Lord's Prayer because I say it every week, people know Christmas Carols and hymns because they sing them over and over for years.  As we grow and mature these words of God are comforting. God created us. He knows us and that's why HE told us to speak of Him and His commandments over and over again to the children.

If you want church to be a part of their children's lives, provide resources for and encourage parents to:

  • Make daily prayer a ritual for their kids.
  • Have a weekly time of Bible reading and discussion.
  • Make attending worship a family tradition.
  • Become a part of Christian traditions in your church.
  • Start Christian rituals and traditions at home.

Don't just tell them to do it. Tell them WHY IT'S IMPORTANT!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

EDUCATION: Bible Character Masks

Find these on Amazon.
Wouldn't it be way more fun to tell (and talk about) Bible stories with kids using these cool masks?  You could even take them out of the story and ask the kids questions as that person.  Younger kids do much better with puppets than masks but older kids will have a lot of fun with them.  You might even have older kids tell stories to the younger kids. Tell the story and then let the kids do improvisation to repeat it.  If Goliath gets a little scary, don't forget that it's okay for the person behind the mask to remind the younger set that he's not real by peeking out from behind.  Every once in a while a little one will have a fantastic imagination and can get a little carried away.

These are on Amazon too.
I found these that are produced by Scholastic for David and Goliath at Amazon and there were others as well, including the stories of Joseph and Ruth and the Nativity at Oriental Trading, but they can be found at other places as well.  Once you have a few sets you can easily recreate more variations for other Bible characters until you have a great cast of characters from which to choose.  How fun!!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

LEADERSHIP: Why do we really lose the youth?

I've heard it said that 70% of kids in youth groups stop attending church during college and about half of those never go back.

Their Thoughts
I've read articles about why the youth leave the church and there are two basic schools of thought, one more conservative, the other more liberal about how we really reach the youth.  The way I see it we've tried just about everything.  We've thrown away the liturgy and turned worship into something similar to the fancy trappings of a rock concert, substituted meaningful hymns with uplifting and exciting contemporary music, we create amazing youth rooms to entice them, provide social activities, we teach them everything we can think of every way we can teach it, we give opportunities for service events, mission trips, indoor games, outdoor games, Bible studies, youth gatherings, and discipleship training.  We offer God's rules for a content life, have deep conversations about life choices, create opportunities for life-long friendships, and yet they're still searching and they're still leaving. Huh.

Laura's Thoughts
Sometimes we forget that even in high school kids are still kids.  They aren't as mature as they dress or want you to believe, they're smart but their hormones and feelings still often override their common sense.  They know what they want but not what they need and are willing to manipulate the situation to get it.  As wise as they may be on occasion, they still don't have real world experience.  They have their world experience and their world is primarily social and split between their friends and their family and they are extremely motivated by seeing their friends and interacting with the opposite sex.  Does faith grow in spite of that?  Thank God and the Holy Spirit, yes.

If you want to know why they don't continue to go to church during college it's probably as simple as because it's inconvenient and their friends aren't there.  They're still kids and it's the first time they're responsible for themselves and let's be honest, many of them didn't attend church to begin with.  They attended the youth group.  Does faith grow in spite of that?  Thank God and the Holy Spirit, yes.

If you want to know why they don't continue to go to church after college the answer is probably just as simple.  It's because their family (whatever it looks like) didn't instill that importance in them.  Think about it.  When you got the Sunday School award for attendance, had to learn how to sit still next to your parents week after week, had friends in Sunday School who went to confirmation class with you and now attend the youth group, know your pastor's name and he knows yours, grew up with your mom or dad singing in the choir, are told you can skip church if you don't feel well but then can't play with friends later because you're sick, sang the hymns and liturgy until you learned them by heart, it has a tendency to become a part of you... and a part of your life.

Keeping teenagers in church after their teenage years is a family commitment made long before their teenage years.  How often do we say that out loud to parents?

Monday, February 11, 2013

WOMEN: Fundraising, Fellowship, Outreach, BUNCO Parties!

I know a lot of ladies enjoy BUNKO or more commonly, BUNCO.  It's a fast paced dice game that makes people laugh out loud. Usually it's played once a month, people pay $5, bring a snack (sweet or savory) and friends are not only welcome but encouraged to come. Set up another table!  Proceeds can go to support women's ministry or to a particular charity or ministry inside or outside the congregation.  Goofy prizes are always the most fun but you can also pick up a bunch of things at the Dollar Store near you.  After all, the goal is fun and fellowship.  Don't forget to start with a devotion.

You can get the game for $15 at WalMart but it's really a simple game.  Here's what you need:
  • bell or noise maker of some kind for the head table
  • 3 dice per table of 4
  • Bunco score sheet for each player
  • Bunco table tally for each table (scratch paper will do)
  • pencil or pen for each player
  • numbers on the tables - the head table is #1
Playing is simple.  Four players sit around each table and one is the score keeper.  Players 1 and 3 are partners as are players 2 and 4 and partners are switched at the end of each round.  There are 6 rounds and the bell or noise maker signals the beginning and end of each round.  Each player rolls the dice and the goal is to roll the round number on the dice as many times as you can.  For example, in round 4 you want to roll 4's.  Every time you roll a 4 during round 4 you get a point.  If you roll three 4's you've got a BUNCO! which is worth 21 points. (You don't get the points if you don't yell BUNCO!)  If you role three of any other number you receive 5 points and get to keep rolling. As long as you're rolling at least one 4 it's your turn. When you bust (no 4's in a role) the dice are passed to the next player (clockwise).  Everyone keeps rolling until the head table reaches a score of 21.  After the head table reaches 21 and rings the bell each person rolling at other tables finishes their turn.  To break a tie have a role-off.  Each team roles until bust and the one with the most points wins.  Each individual player keeps track of their Buncos, wins, and losses.  After each round the winning team moves up to the next table, the team left at the table switches partners, and the losers at the head table are demoted to the last table.  If you're still not clear check out this site:  Dice Gamers Bunco Rules or Print Your Own Bunco.

A traveling object is chosen and during each round when a non-Bunco trio is rolled the player yells TRAVELING!  The object is tossed to that person to hold until the next time TRAVELING is yelled.

Have different people host each month who don't need to bring food but are responsible for the prizes.  They can be inexpensive and fun prizes like kitchen doodads or hand/body lotions or Christian books, plaques, etc.  Personally, I like to make the prizes fun and the person who gets the most wins might receive a large candy bar and a certificate that says, "The first will be last."  You can even invest in traveling prizes that move to the new winner each week.  Sometimes that's even more fun. Here are some ideas to get you started.
Most Buncos = Bunco Queen Tiara can be found at any craft/bridal store
Most Wins = Light Up Rock Star hat or Large Personalized Trophy
Most Losses = Giant "SUCKER!" or Propeller Beanie
Who Traveled Most or Who has the traveling icon at the end = Giant TSA Badge or inflatable globe
Make it fun.  Have theme nights!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

LEADERSHIP: Running a plan or running blind?

The mission statements of churches are very similar.  They involve learning, living, and sharing the Word of God and the love of Christ.  So what do you do with that?  MAKE A MINISTRY PLAN!  No matter how big or small a church is, they need a plan.  If you don't have one this year, put it on the calendar for next year.  A ministry plan provides direction, gives people the satisfaction of feeling a part of something, and encourages participation.  If you're a smaller congregation and don't want to go through a huge strategic planning process just take a few hours on a Saturday and keep it simple.

Who's on the TEAM?  The strategic planning team should include church board members, the pastor(s) and other church professionals, and specifically chosen members. A team that is too large will take too long to make decisions.  Get input from the congregation at large by creating a survey so they feel they have a voice.  If you use a Google Doc it will automatically compile the responses into a spreadsheet.  Be sure to ask questions to get responses regarding the strengths and weaknesses of current ministries and if there is a way the church might be helpful in assisting them with their personal ministries.  You may be surprised at the great ideas they have but never had a chance to share.

Where do we START?  Questions should be intended to gather honest information such as: 
  • What percentage of our people are involved in ministry?
  • What are we doing well? How do we know?
  • In which areas of ministry are we meeting the needs of the congregation?  The community?
  • Are there only a few members who seem to do everything?
  • Do people want to be more involved?  If so, how can we meet that need?  If not, are we doing something to send a negative message?
  • Do we deny opportunities for ministry?  If so, why?  Should we?
  • Do all of our ministries point to Jesus?
  • Do we provide enough opportunities for Christian education?  Life and service?  Missional opportunities?
  • What are our strengths as a congregation?  Weaknesses?
  • What are our opportunities outside the congregation?  (partnership with community organizations, schools)
  • What are our threats?  (internal conflict, societal beliefs, church or synod politics)
Don't let the discussion take over the meeting.  Be sure to have somebody who can keep things focused and if necessary, set a time limit.

Write the plan down and refer to it throughout the year.  Share the ministry plan with the congregation.  You may find you'd like to do more for the youth or the children, create a stronger relationship with your preschool, find and share more resources for parenting, create a stronger relationship with a nearby nursing home or retirement village, provide resources for single parents, etc.  There are SO many ways to meet the needs of the people and invite those in the community into the church to be cared for and about.

A lot of churches know what they want to do but don't write it down.  Write it down.  Revisit it periodically.  Change it if necessary.  What I know for sure is that if it isn't written down people will forget. Plan, just don't make it such a confining process that nobody wants to do it or follow it!

Friday, February 8, 2013

VBS: Choices, Ideas, and Variations

It's never too early to start thinking about VBS and people are doing tons of different things these days.  You don't have to use the very same format you've used for the last many years.  Switch it up and see what might work better.  The only way to know is to try something different and see how it goes.  Just remember to evaluate sooner than later after the program and keep notes for the next year or the next coordinator.  It can be a big job and previous experience always helps.

When thinking about how you want to do your VBS this year you may want to:

  • Have it at the traditional time, Monday through Thursday mornings.
  • Have it over a weekend on Saturday morning with a Sunday morning celebration.  
  • Have it from 6 - 8 pm for a few evenings.
  • Include adults!  See my earlier posting VBS for EVERYONE!.

If you're one of those churches that has the resources to have 200-300 kids from the community participate or if you have 20-30 kids from the community, remember that children from the community have parents who need a follow-up call.  Don't make it a big push to come to church but see if they have any prayer needs or sometimes, physical needs. If they say their kids had a good time invite them to Sunday School.  Perhaps you have a mom's or dad's group or a working/single mom's group you can tell them about where they can get emotional and spiritual support.  Give them a card on the last day that they can keep handy in case they need anything and invite them to contact YOU (because they now know you) if they have any needs.  It's about being the hands and feet of Jesus. 

You can always go straight to the publisher but...

Concordia Supply has a great chart of VBS programs.  It shows the different programs, their publishers, and themes.  Many of their starter kits are at a lower price than the publisher.  Check them out here.

You can also check out the kits at Christian Book.  Many are also at a lower price than the publisher.


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

H.S. YOUTH: Video - October Baby

When I talk to people about this movie I start crying.  It's about a girl, Hannah, who has some medical problems and is finally told by her parents that she's adopted.  She was the result of a failed abortion.  Yes, she survived but not without some complications.  The movie is about how she deals with this information and tries to find her birth mom to resolve some issues.  The scene where we hear the story of what happened as told by the nurse is not extremely graphic, though unforgettable.  The scene where she talks to a priest is all about carrying anger, self-hatred, and forgiveness.

The part of the dad is a little over-played and portraying that relationship over the relationship of Hannah and her mother seems odd to me but is easy to overlook.  If you want to have a discussion about the real issues surrounding abortion, watch this movie.  It is a VERY powerful story of forgiveness.  For this one, don't stop it for discussion.  Watch it all the way through and right before the credits you'll hear the story of the lady who plays the birth mother and you will see the guilt women feel after having an abortion.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

EASTER: He is Risen Indeed! Banner

Matthew 28:6
He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said.  Come, see the place where He was lying. 

Want a fun banner for the kids to put up at Easter?  Print the letters on card stock or glue them to cardboard and make it a part of your Easter celebration.

You can...
  • Hang them on the walls as a festive Easter decoration.  
  • Have the kids sing a song as they clip each letter to a rope during the Easter morning celebration.
  • Use them for a special Sunday School introduction.  
  • Attach them to short dowels or paint stirring sticks and have the kids carry them as they participate by themselves or with the adults in the Easter procession.  (This one is my favorite!)

Here are the individual letters for the He is Risen Indeed banner.

He is Risen Indeed!

Monday, February 4, 2013

LENT: Giving something up?

Many church denominations give something up for Lent.  A lot of kids do it because their friends do and they want to fit it in.  As Lutherans it's not required.  God does not ask us to do this.  As said by the The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod,  

Show Me the Way: Daily Lenten Readings"Lent is just around the corner. Are you planning on giving up something for Lent, as some denominations require? From the perspective of the LCMS, "giving something up for Lent" is entirely a matter of Christian freedom. It would be wrong, from our perspective, for the church to make some sort of "law" requiring its members to "give something up for Lent," since the Scriptures themselves do not require this. If, on the other hand, a Christian wants to give something up for Lent as a way of remembering and personalizing the great sacrifice that Christ made on the cross for our sins, then that Christian is certainly free to do so--as long as he or she does not "judge" or "look down on" other Christians who do not choose to do this."
I've been reading more and more about people suggesting there's no way giving up chocolate or beer can ever compare to the sacrifice of Christ and suggesting that the time might be better spent starting a new devotion and prayer habit.  Try to challenge your people to share with you in reading the same devotional for the 40 days of Lent.  Have them commit to setting aside time everyday for the 40 days to read a devotion and pray.  They can either keep a list of people or things they want to pray for or they can take the time to write their own prayer to speak to God from their heart everyday.  At the end of the 40 days check in with them and see how their lives or more likely their outlooks have changed.  This may be the beginning of a beautiful friendship with prayer time!

Followers of the Cross - Daily Devotions For Lent
You may find Lenten devotions online for free or written by somebody in your larger church body but sometimes there are people out there who are gifted at really making you think more deeply.  I can recommend Show Me the Way by Henri Nouwen.  Another one that has shorter entries but plenty to contemplate is Followers of the Cross by Martin Marty.  Or maybe you have one to suggest to me?  I would love it if you would share it!

If giving something up truly brings you closer to God then by all means, do that.  But if not, try something that will!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

PINTEREST: A bulletin board of ministry resources!

Pinterest is a simple and fantastic way to organize different resources I find around the web for The Carpenter's Toolbox.  There are things on my Pinterest boards for nearly every area of ministry from leadership to Christmas crafts for kids but I don't just pin randomly.  While I can't guarantee that you'll like every one of them, I pin resources that have been recommended by reliable sources or things I've used myself.  If you need ideas for crafts or resources (even curricula) for Sunday School, youth ministry, men's and women's ministry, outreach, marriage/relationships, parenting, etc. that's one place to look where they're all in one place.  If you have any great resources I haven't found yet, please let me know.

Click on the PINTEREST tab on this blog and you'll be taken right there.  Peruse to your heart's content!