Are Church “Fall Festivals” Actually Counter-Productive?

Last year I wrote a post that caused a lot of discussion.  I thought I would revisit the subject since this blog has grown by over 1,000 readers since then, and many of you were not able to be a part of the discussion.

For my first twenty years in Children’s Ministry, I planned and hosted a “Fall Festival” (a.k.a. “Harvest Party”, “Hallelujah Night”, “Fall Fest”, “Family Fun Fest”, “Trunk or Treat”, etc.) at the church where I was serving.  These events generally were seen as a fun Family Event that served as an “alternative to trick-or-treating and Halloween.”

The typical “Fall Festival” usually looks a bit like this:

  • It is a family-oriented celebration/party.
  • It may have costumes.
  • Games are played.
  • Contests are held.
  • Food abounds.
  • Music blares.
  • Everyone enjoys themselves.

Certainly there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with a Fall Festival on its face.  I love dressing up in funny costumes.  I love seeing what crazy costumes the kids will come up with.  I love games, fun, and candy.  All of that is awesome!!!

However, several years ago, I began to ask the question:  “Is our Fall Festival actually counter productive?” Could it be that this event actually works against what our mission is as the church:  “to know Christ, make Him known, and reach the lost people in our city and around the world?”

Now, before I go any further – I want to assure you that I am not indicting anyone who does Fall Festivals.  As I said, I have done one for the last twenty years.  But, as I and our pastoral team put more thought into it we had several questions come up.

1)  Why do we feel the need to do an “alternative event” for our families on Halloween?  We don’t do an “alternative event” for Mardis Gras, St. Patrick’s Day, Earth Day, or other random holidays.

2)  Are we really “connecting” with the lost people who come?  We consider it a “bridge event” (connecting the lost of our community to the church in a non-threatening way).    Do they end up just stopping by to play a game, win a bag of candy, and move right along to the next church that’s throwing a Harvest Party?

3)  What about the people in our neighborhoods?  I have been most frustrated by the fact that on the darkest night of the year, it seems the Church has gathered all of the “light” together in one place (the church) in order to “escape the darkness” – and there is absolutely no light represented in our neighborhoods.  For the last twenty years, the very people I MOST want to reach, my neighbors, have been out on Halloween going door-to-door.  On a night when they are voluntarily coming to MY house, giving me an opportunity to speak to them and show God’s love – my house is dark with no light on because…the pastor is at his church throwing an alternative party, mostly for other Christians.

I welcome your thoughts in the Comments Section.  I posted this as a means to initiate discussion and provoke thought on this subject.  I invite disagreement and diversity of opinion.  Would love to hear what you think.

How The Internet Has Changed Kids Ministry

I ran across this family video (originally released on VHS tape – remember those?) the other day. It was produced in 1997 and was intended to teach kids who to use the internet. From this video, you would assume the only purpose the internet was to give kids a hands-on education. Of course, we realize just how much the internet has evolved since 1997.

Very little was mentioned about internet safety. In this piece that spans over 25 minutes, a mere 12 seconds was dedicated to teaching kids internet safety. My, how things have changed.

I certainly did my fair share of laughing at the styles, lack of high-res graphics, and the hokey theme song. It also got me thinking. How much has the internet changed Kids Ministry in the last 15 years? In 1997, a Children’s Ministry wouldn’t even have thought of having their own site for kids to come interact and learn about God’s Word.

What are the different ways that YOUR ministry is using the internet to minister to kids? Share some of your best ideas in the comments section. We owe it to each other to help each other learn!

Should Kids Pastors Talk To Their Groups About “Gay Marriage”?

With the news yesterday of the Supreme Court striking down the “Defense Of Marriage Act”, the topic of “Gay Marriage” is once again a major story in the news.  No doubt, our kids are hearing all about this topic both on the TV and, many times, on the playground.  It’s hard for a Christian parent to control the context in which their child may have conversations regarding this important topic.

I received a question yesterday from a fellow Kids Pastor asking my opinion on whether or not he should “address” his Kids Ministry on the topic of Gay Marriage and/or Homosexuality in general.  I gave him my opinion, so I thought I would share it with you here – in case there were others who were wrestling with this same question.

In short, my answer is, “No.”

I think you have to be careful what issues you are addressing “as a group.”  So many children are at different parts of the journey regarding both mental and emotional maturity.  When you address something as serious as homosexuality and gay marriage to a large group of kids, it is very difficult to do so in a way that is appropriate for EVERY child.

In addition, many parents (as they should) want to be THE ones to discuss topics such as this with their kids.  I understand, many parents DON’T ever discuss it with their kids.  That’s unfortunate.  However, you don’t want to undercut parents by addressing it publicly in a large group of kids.  This should be something that parents include in their general talks about “sexuality” with their kids.

Of course, if a child asks you a direct question about it – treat that just like you do any other question about sex or sexuality.  Answer with, “I would be happy to share my thoughts with you about this subject.  Let’s talk to Mom or Dad when they come to pick you up.  Perhaps together, we can answer your questions in a healthy way.”  Then, follow the cues of the parent.  If they do not wish to discuss it right then and there, follow their lead.  Allow them to do so on their own terms and in their own timing.

An alternative to discussing this with the large group is to offer a special class or “discussion” in which you allow parents to sign their kids up to attend.  Allow parents to attend with their children if they wish.  Rather than coming at the topic in a negative manner (i.e. “We are AGAINST gay marriage”, etc.), discuss the topic within the overall umbrella of God’s plan for our sexuality (“God created male and female to complement one another.  Marriage is the life-long commitment between one man and one woman.”).

The topic of “gay marriage” and “homosexuality” is a difficult one.  It is polarizing.  While we don’t ever shy away from the truth, we also must be wise and careful when dealing with the youngest among us.  We want clarity, not confusion.

Do you agree?  Disagree?  Do you plan to address it as a larger group?  In small group time?  I welcome your thoughts.

3 Tips To Help You Be The WORST Leader You Can Be

There are so many posts and books about “How To Be A Better Leader.”  I’ve written a few and have read even more.  So, I thought I would take a different route and give you a couple of tips on how to be a bad leader – in fact, the WORST leader you can be!

1)  Be Unpredictable

If you want to be a bad leader, make it hard for your team to know what you want, what you think, or what mood you will be in.  Volunteers hate it when they have to guess what you feel is the right way to handle things.  Unpredictability is one of the worst characteristics of a bad leader.

2)  Give Most Of Your Attention To The “Squeaky Wheels”

Bad leaders fail to honor, praise, or sometimes even recognize those on their team who are faithful, hard-working team players.  Bad leaders tend to only respond to those who are whiny and critical.  So, if you want to be a bad leader, definitely make plans to ignore your “A-Team” and spend all your time trying to please the critics and whiners.

3)  Play It Safe – Always!

If you want to be the worst leader you can be, then you need to NEVER take risks.  Don’t place someone in an area of ministry until they have proved themselves to “be a star.”  Don’t give younger volunteers opportunities to step up the plate – because, what if they fail?  And, definitely DON’T raise the bar for those who are serving.  Make entry easy and serving even easier.  Asking too much of a volunteer might make them want to quit.  After all, “nobody wants to be challenged!”

So, there you have it: “Three Tips To Help you Be The WORST Leader You Can Be!”  Do you agree?  Disagree?  Leave a comment and let me know!

Are You Missing The Trees?

We have all heard the phrase, “They can’t see the forest for the trees.”  This usually refers to someone who is so totally focused on the individual problems, issues, or difficulties of life that they fail to see the BIG picture.  While this can often happen in the life of a Kidmin Pastor/Leader, I believe there is a VISION failure that can be even more devastating.

Sometimes, as leaders, we are missing the TREES for the forest.  We become focused on the BIG picture (the forest) and we lose sight of the trees (individuals).  Ministry is not ONLY about the BIG picture, it is also – and most specifically –  about the individual.

When Jesus gave the GREAT COMMISSION to His followers just before He ascended to Heaven, He said, “go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.  And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19,20)

Often, we focus a lot on the global aspect of the GREAT COMMISSION:  “all the nations.”  We like to think of big groups, large crowds, huge attendance.  We are trained that way – especially in the American mindset.  Everything becomes about the group, rather than the individual.  The larger our ministry group gets, the easier it is to start looking at it as a forest, rather than a group of individual trees.

We must never forget the individual aspect of the GREAT COMMISSION: “disciples.”  Disciples are not created in herds.  Disciples are created as individuals.  Jesus said, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”  Baptism is a personal and individual experience.  Oh, sure, you might put a lot of people under at once, but the experience is one of individual outward display of inward change.  “Teaching them to obey all the commands I have given you.”  Oh sure, you might be able to teach a lesson to a large group, but the only way you will know if they are “obeying” is by knowing each of them individually, personally, deeply.

I had a God-moment this morning while praying and studying.  The Lord challenged me to take a step further into knowing each of the children in my ministry deeply.  He challenged me to stop looking at them as a herd, but to see them as individual sheep.  I committed to do just that.

How about you?  Are you seeing ministry as a “group exercise” or “individual life change?”  Share your thoughts in the comments section.

How Do You Say “Goodbye” To Your Kids?

It happens once a year.  All of our 5th graders move up to Student Ministry.  The Kids Ministry Staff and I have poured our heart and soul into each one of them for most of their lives, and then we send them on.

Promotion Day is a bittersweet moment for most Kidmin Leaders.  It is difficult to say, “Goodbye” to the children we love.  I have seen some Kids Pastors and leaders handle Promotion Day pretty poorly.  They turn it into a “cry fest” and begin to mourn the loss of those who are “moving up”, and the entire process becomes a sad event.

I once heard a Kidmin Leader tell his outgoing kids, “Don’t leave me!  You’re gonna be sad you’re not in Kids Ministry anymore.  You’re gonna miss me so much you will hate Student Ministry.”  I don’t think that Kidmin Leader realized just how insecure this made him look.  It was all about him.

We need to make the transition from Elementary Ministry into Student Ministry a positive and exciting experience for our kids.  This past Sunday, we said, “Goodbye” to almost 100 5th graders that were promoting.  We sent them out like missionaries to the mission field of Middle School.  We brought them to the front, lay hands on them, and prayed a commissioning prayer over them.

I told each of them, “I can’t wait to hear what incredible things for God you will do in Student Ministry!  Don’t wait until you are one of the oldest in the group to be an example.  Instead, from day one, be a leader in worship, prayer, energy, and passion for God!”  It was an incredible experience!

How about you?  How do you handle the “last service” for your graduating kids?  Is it a sad experience?  Or is it an incredible, moving experience that launches kids into Student Ministry?  Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Ten Rules For Dealing With Others

I am sure most of you have heard of Dr. Norman Vincent Peale.  He is one of the more famous authors and motivational speakers of the 20th Century.  He had “10 Rules” that he operated under when dealing with others.  I thought it would be interesting to see how many of these you are practicing on a daily basis in ministry:

1.  Learn to remember people’s names.  People’s names are important to them.  Forgetting a person’s nameis often taken as a sign you are not interested in them.

2.  Relax and be a comfortable person to be with.  Make sure it is not a tense situation being around you.  No one enjoys being around uptight people.

3.  Learn to be an easy-going person.  Take things in stride.  Don’t let little things bother you.

4.  Don’t be egotistical or give the impression you know everything.  Work at learning from those around you.  Learn to respect other people’s opinions.

5.  Be an interesting person.  Be open to new things.  Take on new challenges.

6.  Smooth our your rough spots.  Learn to be gracious, polite, and tactful.

7.  Be a peacemaker.  Forgive.  Honestly try to correct every misunderstanding you are involved in.

8.  Overlook people’s faults.  Work at choosing to like others until you learn to do it naturally.

9.  Boost other people.  Encourage them, support them, congratulate them, and tell them WHY you appreciate them.

10.  Develop spiritual depth so you have something to pass on to others.  Learn to share this strength with people you meet.

So, how are you doing with Dr. Peale’s “Ten Rules”?  How many have you mastered?  Which don’t come naturally for you?