Friday, October 29, 2010

What does that say to your community?

I'm excited about Sunday night. It's Halloween and I get to eat cotton candy! But I'm more excited that several years ago we made a change. We used to have the "harvest party" that targeted our church kids and not the community. The event was inward focused. It was our attempt at a safe alternative to trick or treating for our kids. We would have said it was for the community but the attendance proved the opposite.

How do we take an event in the community and use it? We decided that we would do Trunk or Treat. First of all Trunk or Treat required us to move our little "party" out of the safety of the four walls of the church building and into the parking lot where the public could see and not just see but attend. The first year attendance was rather low but was better attended than the harvest party.

Over the years Trunk or Treat has grown. This year we will see thousands come onto our church's property for the event. Hundreds will even funnel into our building for the free food and for their children to play games. Sitting in my office are 1600 gospel tracts to place in the kids' candy bags.

The harvest party catered to the church. Trunk or Treat is for the whole community. The approach on how we treat October 31st changed. NHC took it's eyes off "self" and looked out beyond the four walls.

I've gotten wind of churches who usually have an event "for the community" on October 31st canceling this year because it falls on Sunday. What does that say to the community? I think it is a shame and speaks volumes to the community. Too often we forget that church is not for us, we are the church and the church is for those that need the love of Jesus Christ.

Some churches choose to do nothing on halloween or to continue to do their harvest parties. That's OK. That is up to each individual church. I'm glad that NHC sees this as an opportunity to get the word out to the community through our actions that we love them and care for them and we do so because Jesus loves them and cares for them.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Prepared for What You Expect? Part 2

Situation #2

A family is looking for a church to connect with. They are new to the community and are looking for a church family to grow with as they raise their children. They arrive on Sunday morning. After parking they get out of the car and there is no one to greet them or any signage to point them in the right direction. They see what appears to be the main entrance for the church so they head that direction. When entering the lobby it is obvious the children stay in the worship with their parents as they see children scurrying around the auditorium.

The family receives their bulletin and heads in to find a pew to sit in. It takes a few minutes to find a seat because the church seating is at around 85% capacity. After getting comfortable they look around and assess that there are a lot of children in this church. They are excited about that but also wondering if there a worship service for the children.

Soon the music starts. There is a struggle a time or two as the parents try to keep their kids from bouncing off the pew because they bored. As the worship in music ends the pastor approaches the podium and announces that all the children can go with Miss Nancy to children’s church. The majority of the children stand up and head out of the auditorium with “Miss Nancy”*. Their children want to go but the parents don’t allow them because they don’t know where the children are going and who is working with them.

Worship in an atmosphere with limited distractions is important to this family, as is worship for their children at their children’s level. The music came to a great point for the pastor to deliver the message and then the whole “mood”, if you will, is broken by the interruption and waiting for the children to exit.

At the end of a service where the parents didn’t hear the message the pastor preached because they were trying to keep squirmy active children entertained quietly the parents decide as they leave that this isn’t the church for them. As they exit the building they see the children running around the church lawn and parking lot without adult supervision.

This church wants to reach young families but they are not prepared to do handle what they expect.

Some thoughts to help this church in this situation:

>Have someone in the parking lot pointing parents with small children in the direction they should go with their kids. Have helpful directional signs around the building(s).

>Have a secure check in system so every child is accounted for. Use nametags and have a corresponding security tag for the parents. Even for the regular attendee’s so the guests don’t feel “pointed out”.

>Have parents drop off their child at the door of children’s worship and have parents pick their child up at the same place.

>Train a team of adults to rotate every other Sunday in leading a children’s worship time from start to finish. A place where children go and worship while there parents are in “big church”. This will keep Miss Nancy* from missing the sermon every week. Shoot for a ratio of one adult per six children.

>Go with a “plug and play” curriculum. If reaching families is important to the church then there has to be a financial investment. No “cheap” fixes. Most adults don’t want to lead children’s church because they don’t want to teach or they don’t have the time to prepare the lesson each week. Let’s face it in order to communicate with children and keep their attention you have to be good, really good. Most of us are not at that the level of “really” good. Many with the gift of teaching are more attracted to lecture style, which won’t hold a child’s attention. Children need interaction. The last thing you want is someone who glances at the lesson over their Sunday morning coffee and that is the extent of their prep time. At NHC we use Kidmo and Lil’ K and it works great at teaching Biblical truth to children while holding their attention.

>Do away with the parade. The parade of children leaving the auditorium is for the benefit of the older folks who like to look and smile at all the little children that are in their church. Meanwhile mom and dad would love a break where they can focus their hearts on worship, a time to focus on their own spiritual nourishment so they can be spiritually healthy in leading their family. Maybe even a few minute break before the service begins to have coffee with some other parents. Ask the parents; my bet is they would love to see their children engaged in a worship service that targets their child’s comprehension level. If the older folks want to see all the little children they get in on leading children’s worship or provide a Parent’s Night Out so mom and dad can have a date and invest in their marriage.

The result of these simple changes would speak volumes to the families checking their church out.

Imagine parents dropping their kids off in a kid friendly environment where children are playing games, singing, learning a lesson about God.

Imagine groups of parents standing around before the service with a cup of coffee and talking together and building those important relationships that act as a glue to keep them connected to their church.

Imagine mom and dad sitting in the auditorium worshipping without distraction. Their hearts and minds focused on praising and worshipping God and learning from His Word.

Imagine mom and dad picking up their children and receiving a worksheet to do at home with their child during the week equipping/resourcing mom and dad to be the discipler of their child.

Imagine the distractions removed from the corporate worship.

Imagine the extra seats the church now has in their pews to fill with more guests as they reach their community. This church would go from 85% capacity to 60%, plenty of seats for new folks.

What does your church expect in children's ministry and in reaching families and are you prepared for it?

*Miss Nancy is a fictional character any similarities to Miss Nancy and this church are coincidental. (Well almost coincidental)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Last Night At Contagious

Last night we had a great time at Contagious. I'm not sure what the game is called but the students started some sort of slap the person next to you hand game. They were having fun playing this "elimination" game during Hang Time. Other students and leaders were out on the parking lot playing football while inside there was some ping pong and Apples to Apples going on. Hang Time is one of my favorite times in our youth ministry. It gives us, the youth leaders, a chance to sit around and talk with students and build relationships.

Our lesson last night was "You are not Alone". We played the "I've never..." game where a student stands in the middle and says, "I have never _______" and whoever has _______ must get up and switch seats. The last one standing then goes to the center and says, "I have never _______" and it repeats over and over. We then did a debrief and asked those in the middle how they felt. Some of the answers were, "everyone was looking at me", "alone", "not connected with those in the circle", etc. Sometimes in life we have those feelings and so do many others around us.

We then watched a movie clip from To Save a Life. You can watch it here, click on "I feel so alone."

Following the video clip we pretended the middle of the auditorium represented the river of life's pains. I then asked students to remain silent and if I read a statement that applied to them to walk across the "river". "If you are stressed out" cross the river, almost the entire group crossed. "If your parents are divorced cross the river" and more than a third crossed. We kept repeating different struggles and pains that we face in life. Interestingly enough no one ever crossed the river alone. The point was made, we are never alone and others are going through struggles just like you and I.

In their POD time students and their leaders debriefed the "Cross the River" exercise. From where I sat there were some good conversation going on. Students were opening up and leaders were caring. I think that's huge.

I then shared how we, as humans, tend to value some more than others. Some are twenty dollar bills and others we view as pennies. Jesus, the creator, the Son of God, came as a humble servant. If anyone deserved to have a high value, a crisp brand new one hundred dollar bill, it was Jesus yet he considered himself a servant. He came as a scuffed up penny. This puts life into perspective. We are all pennies. Our value is found in Jesus Christ's love for us. He loved us enough to die for us and that makes us valuable to God.

We took a look at Philippians 2:5-8

It has been 3 weeks since our "reboot". If my math skills are correct our youth group has grown 19% in attendance from the previous month. Students are memorizing scripture and attending Sunday morning worship. Last night our group was comprised of 65% regular Contagious students and 35% guests and MIA's who have come back. I think the "reboot" has been a good thing. My prayer is that God continues to work in Contagious Youth and that our students keep reaching out to their peers.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Prepared for What You Expect? Part 1

Something that in recent years that has really impacted my view of ministry is the fact that sometimes we aren't prepared for what we expect.

Let's say I'm a first time guest to a church. I'm looking for answers and help in life. I'm looking to connect with God. My family is important to me. So I start checking out churches in my community.

We decide to check out church #1 on the list. We arrive and there is no signage or direction on where we should take our baby. We finally figure out on our own where the nursery is. The nursery is one room with a boat load of babies from tiny infant to probably three years of age. There was adequate staffing but they were all in one big room and the church has several usable rooms. There was no check-in, name tags or security system at all to make sure the right kids went home with their parents. Pick up time was a bit chaotic as parents just crowded the doorway to the nursery nursery workers were opening the door to let parents in and keep babies from escaping.

More than likely if I had been a first time guest I would not have returned and would have looked elsewhere for a church home. Why? I want my kids to be safe. I want to be given a sense of "these folks have it together" instead of "we are just winging it". Parents want a sense of comfort when leaving their babies in a nursery.

Church #1 is expecting to reach families. Are they prepared for what they expect? A few simple "tweaks" of what is already in place could make a huge change and impact first time guests:
1. Age divide the nursery into at least two groups according to age or milestones.
2. Post nursery staff's names outside the doors.
3. A simple sign in sheet where parents write their name and the name of their child(ren)
4. Order some two part lables for the babies to wear that identifies the baby as well as their need and also has a corresponding security number that matches the label the parent has.
5. Set up a flow of traffic for parents after the service is over.
6. Place a gate across the door and not allow parents or non nursery staff in. Parents hand their babies over the gate and at pick up time the babies are handed back over the gate.

These "tweaks" could be made with a very minimal financial investment and a little organization/administration and a little "training" of the parents.

If we expect to reach young families what are we prepared for that expectation?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Last Night At Contagious

We had a great time last night at Contagious! Hang Time is always fun just hanging out and building relationships. Apparently Bananagrams was the hit game last night. We partook of some very healthy Doritos, Cheetos and cake. I got energized by the red Kool Aid, the red one always seems to give me a little extra zip!

Contagious (the band) led us in worship in music. It was great to see some new students in the band doing their thing, using the shape God has given them to serve. Some new techies are being trained to use the sound board and Mac. It will be cool to watch our new ministry teams grow and become and integral part of our youth gathering each week.

We are currently doing the study series, To Save a Life. The series is all about discovering God's love and sharing His love with others. Last night we took a look at Ephesians 1:3-6. This passage took on a whole new look for me this past week as I studied.

At the time Paul wrote this to the church in Ephesus he was writing to a hodge podge of folks that made up this church. Many were slaves and prostitutes. In the Hellenized culture that was bumped up a notch by the Romans the unwanted babies, due to some type of deformity or imperfection or blemish or parents wanted a boy and got a girl, would be taken to a certain mountain side and left to die. Then people would take advantage and go collect these babies to raise them to be slaves or prostitutes for financial gain.

So all their lives they grew up with this idea that they were unloved and not wanted. They were brainwashed to think their only worth to society was the services they provided and nothing to do with who they are. I would encourage you to read this section of scripture from the viewpoint of these "unwanted" people. Think about how they must have felt when they heard that before they were even born God loved them and created them just the way they were blemishes and all.

The point last night was to help students realize that we can't share the love of God with the hurting and lonely until we discover just how much God loves them.

We also viewed a clip from the movie To Save a Life, a scene that showed how some kids aren't accepted because they aren't "cool enough".

Monday, October 11, 2010

10 Years at Nags Head Church

Yesterday marked my 10 year anniversary here at Nags Head Church. I'm always caught by surprise by the day. I'm not good at dates, I know the month is October, but the date isn't embedded in my brain. Perhaps now I can accept the fact that I’m above average. The average stay of a youth pastor is 3.9 years. Some say it is 18 months but either way I’m above average.

I reflected some on “10 years”. With so many youth pastors lasting a short time why have I lasted at NHC? (The following are not in any certain order)

1. NHC is very patient with me
2. NHC is the church I would plug into if I lived here and were not on staff
3. NHC is where God wants me
4. NHC is a serving church with well over 90% of our partners involved on a ministry team
5. NHC has a leadership structure that brings balance
6. NHC knows her purpose and builds all she does around that purpose
7. NHC is a match for me
8. NHC has taken care of me and my family’s needs
9. NHC loves my family
10. NHC’s Youth Ministry Team is fantastic

How much longer do I plan to be at NHC? As long as I’m effective at youth ministry. I just hope I get to stay around NHC for a long time.

Thanks NHC for being the church God has called you to be. Thanks NHC’s leadership for having the guts to go with God and His direction.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Sunday Night at Contagious (the Reboot)

I didn't post yesterday because I was wading through the hundreds of e-mails that accumulated during my holiday.

Sunday night we kicked off the evening with a lovely and moving video from Edwin's Corner. We followed Edwin up with some giveaways from the movie To Save a Life. If that wasn't exciting enough we threw in a race game. The students were divided into three teams and cheered on their team's racing rhino as they raced across the big screen. I would say that by the amount of screaming and cheering the race game was a hit.

We talked about Reboot. If you own a PC (mac owners please excuse me a moment) you know those three magic keys to reboot your computer when it is stuck. It is easy in the Christian life to get "stuck". We talked about Rebooting our time with God in Bible reading and prayer, sharing our faith with our friends, getting involved in ministry and confession.

Part of Reboot revealed that the way we live out our faith has a direct impact on the rest of the group. Each part (tying in with NHC's Body Part series) influences the other parts. The focus was on the personal responsibility for the areas mentioned above.

We had several guests on Sunday night which is always fantastic! Much "fellowship" happened during Hang Time. More on Reboot and next Sunday night to come later this week.

Made the Top 40 Youth Ministry Blogs

My blog made #30 out of the top 40 youth ministry blogs according to I don't know what that means but "thanks!&quo...