Practical help for pastors and lay leaders in selecting the best outreach program
Vacation Bible School (VBS) has come a long way since 1923 when Standard Publishing produced the first printed faith-based curriculum for children, which was designed as a five-week course. Today, VBS has morphed and expanded into the largest church outreach program of the year for kids, though it only lasts a few days of their summer.
Churches nationwide gear up during the winter and spring months for the summer event by investing precious time, money and resources for a number of reasons. The most obvious one is the opportunity to reach out to the local community with the love of Christ and the message of hope. VBS is a non-threatening way for families to walk onto a church campus and experience firsthand a church’s commitment to loving and ministering to people.
VBS also creates a great opportunity for the entire congregation to support and highlight its children’s ministry. VBS should always be a big deal. The exposure it creates for children’s ministry is invaluable.
12 ways to make your church ‘middle school friendly’
Parents can do a great job of being the primary spiritual nurturers of their children, but they can be much more effective if the church is supporting them in the endeavor. Here are 12 suggestions for how you can help families with kids in middle school, ages 11 to 14.
1. Encourage families to participate in activities with their teenagers. Plan church family activities for everyone. Make sure single parents know they’re welcome. Invite singles to help plan and organize so they, too, feel part of the church family.
2. Make your church middle school friendly.This is the age so many kids drop out of church. Make your teenagers feel wanted and needed and a valuable part of your church.
3. Choose your teachers and ministry leaders wisely. Middle schoolers especially need adults in their lives who will teach God’s Word in a gentle manner—not preaching or judging, but relating to, respecting and encouraging them.
4. Develop a resource library for parents to help them teach a biblical response to abortion, homosexuality, racism, premarital sex, drugs, etc. Sometimes parents who desire to teach their kids about difficult subjects don’t know how to do it or have so little knowledge about the subject that they hesitate.
5. Offer a purity seminar. Make it optional for those families that prefer to teach this at home. A thought: Even if parents teach purity at home, having their teenagers attend the class will support what they’ve been taught. Teenagers will also recognize that they’re in this together—with their friends. Remember, peer pressure isn’t always bad.
6. Make a DVD of a Bible character who has a sense of destiny in doing God’s will.Students will learn about the person in a way that they will remember for years to come.
7. Encourage teamwork. Instead of asking one teenager to set up the Sunday school room, ask two or three. Instead of having an individual Bible memory contest, divide into teams.
8. Stock the church library with books and DVDs for this age group. Supply books about creation/evolution, devotionals, fiction, missionary biographies, etc.
9. Involve middle schoolers in a mission project. They need to meet ordinary people doing extraordinary service for the Lord. Focus on missionaries who occasionally visit the church (so the teenagers can get to know them). Choose tangible mission projects such as saving money for a specific need.
10. Plan a middle school Sunday. Allow your middle schoolers to do as much of the service as possible.
11. Write letters or send e-mails to your teenagers. Communicate to each middle schooler how much she’s appreciated as part of the church family. Make each letter different (because they will compare) and mention specific circumstances.
12. Appreciate them. When a group of kids was surveyed as to how they thought the adults perceived them, they answered: “They don’t like us.” I had a young teenager tell me: “They can’t find a Sunday school teacher for our class because adults are afraid of us.”
Change the perception of middle schoolers in your church. Get to know them by name. Ask how they’re doing. What are their interests? You might be surprised at the maturity some of them possess.
Linda Massey Weddle has published more than 2,000 articles and short stories. She develops Bible-based curriculum for young people and has been involved in children’s and youth ministry for the last 40 years. ©2009 Cook Communications Ministries. How to Raise a Modern-Day Joseph by Linda Massey Weddle. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.
How can your church become a child’s favorite place to go?
A few months ago I conducted a water baptism interview in my office with a 10-year-old girl. We talked about all the reasons that Christians should be baptized, and I walked her through how and why we immerse kids and adults into the “big bath tub” and what it means.
The interview continued, and then she asked if she could share something with me. While in chapel at school a few days earlier, she said, a teacher asked the students where their favorite place was to go. One of the kids in the front of the room raised his hand and exclaimed, “Church!” Enthusiastically, the little girl in my office added, “Church is my favorite place too!”
How is your church helping parents who are running on empty?Almost all parents feel at times like a person who’s run out of gas—they’re going on empty. Desperately they look around to find “parent fuel” that fills them and gives them confidence in raising their kids.
Parents look to the church as the gas station for the parent fuel they need. But often even the best churches have little to offer. How can your church fuel parents so they can move down the road toward God’s parenting destination?
Begin by looking candidly at the parent fuel your church provides—or doesn’t provide. Ask the hard question: Why are your parents out of gas? Picture them on the side of the road staring at an empty tank. Could they have filled up at your gas station when they drove by?
Church leaders often complain about uncommitted parents dropping off their kids at church, yet they continue with the usual superficial fare: A yearly family sermon series. A meeting for parents to get them excited about upcoming activities. A pleading announcement for help in the children/youth ministry. A seminar on the evils of culture, music and the Internet.
What about your church? Does the pastor meet with and mentor younger generation leaders? Do youth pastors cycle through every year or two? Do younger generation volunteers relationally disciple kids? Does antagonism exist between parents and youth/children’s leaders? If your church is not yet a “full-service gas station,” answering these questions is the first step toward offering the fuel your parents need.
Next, envision a refueling place for parents. Imagine your church as that place—a ministry environment that equips parents to max out their influence with their kids.
Begin by acknowledging this fact: Parents are the No. 1 youth leaders in the world! Parents, beyond all others, have the most dramatic personal influence on their children. George Barna confirms this truth in his book Revolutionary Parenting, in which he reports that an AP-MTV Youth Happiness Poll found two-thirds of 1,280 teenagers surveyed listed parents as their greatest heroes, and 47 percent of teens say that their parents have the greatest influence on their spiritual development.
However, most parents lack the fuel to max out their influence. Barna goes on to say that parents are “desperate ... parenting by default, lacking self-confidence ... turning over their parenting responsibilities to others. This crisis is seriously undermining the potential of our next generation to become spiritual champions.”
Envision the solution to this dilemma by holding one hand over your head and one hand out from your side. Imagine every parent reaching with one hand to connect with God and reaching with the other hand to connect with their kids. Through parents, kids connect to God.
You can turn this vision into reality with:
• A process that focuses parents on pursuing their relationship with Jesus and on fulfilling God’s parenting purpose.
• A Spirit-led experience with other parents to pray over and discuss their kids’ issues.
• A set of relationship and discipleship-building tools that connects parents with their kids’ hearts. (For specific direction for fueling your parents, go to parentfuel.org.)
Imagine your church’s influence when the No. 1 youth leaders in the world fill up on fuel that leads their kids to follow Jesus!