Jan 19, 2018

Multi-Generational Family Ministry

When we think of family ministry, we normally think of partnering with parents.

But it may be time to re-think what family ministry means.  Here's why.

The number of people living in multi-generational households — homes in which two or more adult generations live together, or those that include both grandparents and grandchildren — is been on the rise in the United States.  

Look at the trend...
  • 1980 - 12% of population lived in multi-generational households
  • 2009 - 17% of population lived in multi-generational households
  • 2012 - 18% of population lived in multi-generational households
  • 2014 - (the latest data) 19% of population lives in multi-generational households
19% represents 60.6 million people.  Statistically, that means that 1 in every 5 children in your ministry lives with both their parents and grandparents.

The most common type of multi-generational family household is headed by grandparents and includes their children and grandchildren.  The next most common is a household headed by the middle generation and includes their children and parents. 

Some of this has been attributed to the recession we went through, but D'Vera Cohn, a senior editor and writer at Pew Research says, "The striking thing is that this really persisted after the recession.  Perhaps this trend is here to stay."

What causes families to adopt a multi-generational model?  Here are the 3 big reasons why.

Financial Reasons - As I mentioned above about the recession, many people form multi-generational households due to financial reasons.  This includes factors like the high cost of living, high housing costs, expenses for child care and elder care.  Younger family members may also need to pay off student debt and older family members may outlive their retirement.

Situational Reasons - This includes situations like unemployment, divorce, military deployment or being a single mother.  Welfare reform legislation in 1996 requires that teenage mothers live with a responsible adult to receive benefits.  Death of a spouse can also cause this due to a widow or widower who is unable to live alone or is lonely and wants companionship. 

Cultural - In many cultures, families believe in living with multiple generations and practice it.  This comes from a desire to stay connected to roots and share rituals, holidays, special events, etc.

Interesting enough, Millennials are the most likely to live in multi-generational households.  Look at these stats from 2014:
  • 32.1% of 18 to 34-year-olds live in multi-generational households. 
  • 23% of 55 to 64 year-olds live in multi-generational households.
  • 21% of adults 65 and older live in multi-generational households.
  • 20% of all women live in multi-generational households. 
  • 18% of all men live in multi-generational households.
As I stated at the beginning of this article, this has implications for how we do family ministry.  Based on the findings, almost 1-in-5 of the families in your ministry are multi-generational households.  Think about this...

Grandparents can be a great spiritual influence in the lives of children.  Many of the children in your ministry are under the care of their grandparents while their parents are at work.  How can you encourage not only parents, but grandparents to have spiritual conversations with children?  What discipleship tools can you place in the hands of grandparents to help lead their grandchildren spiritually? 
We know when we partner with parents, we double the spiritual impact in the lives of children.  But if we take it to the next level by partnering with parents and grandparents, we can triple the spiritual impact in the lives of children.
Involve multiple generations in serving in family ministry at church.  Yes, we should have Millennials serving in our family ministry.  Millennial students, young adults and parents can infuse your ministry with energy, excitement and fresh ideas.

But don't write off senior adults.  They bring time, resources and most importantly, wisdom, to the table.  You can read more about how to involve senior adults in serving in your family ministry in this article.

Offer multi-generational experiences in your ministry.  Here are a few examples:
  • Baby Dedication - offer families the opportunity for not only the parents, but also the grandparents to be part of the process and experience.
  • Baptism - offer families the opportunity for the parents and grandparents to pray a blessing over the child at their baptism.
  • High school graduation - offer families the opportunities for parents and grandparents to be part of the recognition.
  • Make take home papers, text updates, discipleship tools, etc. for not only parents, but grandparents as well. 
  • Have family events such as cookouts, worship experiences, seminars, etc. that target multi-generational families. 
  • Offer not only parenting classes, but grand-parenting classes as well. 
I am thankful for the spiritual investment that not only my parents have made in my life, but my grandparents as well.  My grandmother is now 93-years-old and lives in a retirement home.  I often go and spend time with her.  Recently, we gathered around her and sang some of her favorite hymns.  As she sang "Amazing Grace," I had tears in my eyes and a heart full of gratitude for the faithful example she has been for me over the decades.  What an impact she has made in my life. 
You see, multi-generational family ministry is Biblical.  Throughout Scripture, there are examples of generations making an impact in the lives of their children and grandchildren.  A great example is Timothy.  Look what it says in 2 Timothy 1:5.
I remember your genuine faith, for you share the faith that first filled your grandmother Lois and your mother, Eunice. And I know that same faith continues strong in you.
If we will begin to focus on multi-generational family ministry, we will begin to see kids' lives impacted at a whole new level.  
Your turn.  The floor is yours.  What are your thoughts about multi-generational family ministry?  What are you doing now for this?  What ideas do you have?  Share your thoughts with us in the comment section below.

Jan 16, 2018

Why Kids Should Not Sit Still at Church

In many churches, you will hear this in the children's ministry areas.

"Ssssshhhhhh..."

"Okay...everyone....let's get quiet..."

"Please stop squirming in your chair..."

"Slow down...don't run in the hallway..." 

"Sit still..."  

"I'm not going to continue until everyone gets their eyes up front and listens..."

Sound familiar?

And if you sit in on a volunteer meeting, you may hear this...

"I can't get the kids to listen..."

"The kids in my class are so hyper..."

"I have one little boy that disrupts the entire class..."

"Wow...kids' attention spans are so short now-a-days..."

"I'm having a really hard time keeping my class under control..."

Sound familiar again?

If so, don't be discouraged.  It's probably not your teaching ability....more than likely it's your teaching methods. 

More and more evidence is proving that kids are more attentive and learn better when they are allowed to move.   Let's look at some recent data from leading experts.
We need to recognize that children are movement-based.  In schools, (and churches) we sometimes are pushing against human nature in asking them to sit still and be quiet all the time."  Brian Gatens, Superintendent of Schools, Emerson, New Jersey
 A 2013 report from the Institute of Medicine concluded that when children are more active, they show greater attention, have faster cognitive processing speed and perform better on tests. 
We fall into this trap that if kids are at their desks with their heads down and are silent and writing, we think they are learning.  But what we have found is that the active time used to energize your brain makes all those still moments better or more productive. 
Brian Gatens, Superintendent of schools, Emerson, New Jersey
And a study by Lund University shows that students, especially boys, who have daily physical education, do much better in school.
Daily physical activity is an opportunity for the average school to become a high-performing school.  Jesper Fritz, physician at Skane University Hospital in Malmo
Professor James F. Sallis of the University of California says "Activity helps the brain in so many ways.  Activity stimulates more blood vessels in the brain to support more brain cells.  Active kids do better on tests and pay more attention in school."

Professer John Ratey from Harvard Medical School says, "Movement activates all the brain cells kids are using to learn, it wakes up the brain.  Plus, it makes kids want to come to school more - it's fun to do these activities."
Kids aren't meant to sit still all day and take in information.  Adults aren't wired that way either. Steve Boyle, Co-Founder of National Association of Physical Literacy
Lindsay DiStefano, professor at the University of Connecticut, says the country is due for a major shift toward appreciating the benefits of physical activity in the classroom. 

It's obviously important for kids to be able to move in a classroom or even worship experience.

I believe if churches will take this to heart and make some changes in how they teach kids God's Word, we can see behavior problems basically disappear.  I believe most "behavior problems" are simply "lack of movement" problems.  

Take a look at your lesson plans.  How much are you allowing kids to move?  Are you expecting them to sit still and be quiet while you talk for 20-30 minutes?  Even if you do get them to sit still, they are probably enduring it more than they are enjoying it.

I believe the more kids move, the more they learn.  I believe the more kids move, the more they enjoy coming to church.  I believe the more kids move, the better they will retain what you've taught them.

Here are some questions to think through with this in mind...
  • What are some ways I can give the kids more opportunities to move during class?
  • How can I get the kids involved in the lesson rather than just listening the lesson?
  • What is stopping me from letting kids move more?  Am I afraid I'll lose control of the class?  Am I uncomfortable with trying a different approach?  Am I equating stillness with learning and engagement?
Here are some ideas to get kids moving...
  • Give kids the freedom to move, jump and praise God with all their energy during worship.  Remember...David danced before the Lord. 
  • Have kids act out the Bible story while you are telling it.  Example - if you're telling them about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, divide them up in groups and act it out.  One person could be Lazarus by the other kids wrapping him or her in toilet paper.  Two kids could make the tomb entrance by holding their arms out.  One person could be Jesus.  Other kids could be the disciples, etc.  Another example is the story of the walls of Jericho falling.  Have the kids get up and march around the room 7 times.
  • Have kids make up motions for Bible verses you want them to memorize.
  • Use active review games that let kids move rather than just sitting and saying answers. 
  • Don't make kids sit down for more than 5 minutes at a time.
  • Have pre-service activities that allows kids to move. 
Does this mean there shouldn't be any quiet, still time during a class or worship experience?  No.  I believe there is great value in kids spending some time in quiet prayer and contemplation.  But it should be a short period of time and should be guided.

Here's an example.  I love taking 1-2 minutes each class for elementary kids to spend time with Jesus in quiet prayer.  For the first 30 seconds to 1 minute, I will give them some things to talk to God about.  Then, for the last  30 seconds to 1 minute, I will have them simply listen to what God is saying to them through the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit. 

And here's what I've found.  The moving, active times greatly enhance the quiet times of prayer and worship.  It makes it even more special and impactful.

Ever have trouble getting adults to volunteer?  Maybe it's because we told them when they were children to sit still and be quiet in church.  And so that's what they did then...and now.  We trained them that way. 

It's time we allow kids to be kids and worship God with all the passion of their youthful energy. 

Your turn.  The floor is yours.  Do you think it's important for kids to move at church?  What are some things you do to get kids moving in your ministry?  How do you balance movement with the quiet times?  Share your thoughts, insights and ideas in the comment section below.

Jan 15, 2018

Why Ministry is 24/7/365

Recently, during my devotion time, I was reading Luke 2.
I read a verse I've read dozens of times before, but something stood out to me, that I hadn't noticed or thought about before.  It's in verse 8.

"And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks AT NIGHT."

Didn't these shepherds ever get a break?  Here they are on-the-job at night.  I can see them working during the daytime, feeding the sheep, taking the sheep to fresh water, guarding against any wolves or predators that might attack and tending to any wounds or injuries the sheep might have.  

But apparently, their work didn't fall into the perimeter of a set 9 to 5 time schedule.  Even at night, they had to be attentive to the needs of the sheep.  Ready to protect the sheep against predators that might quietly approach in the darkness.  Ready to help any sheep that might become sick in the middle of the night.  Ready to assist any mother sheep who might give birth in the wee hours of the morning.  

Apparently, it was a 24/7/365 task. 

If you are in ministry, does this sound familiar?

Does it seem the responsibility of shepherding is always on your shoulders?  Do you chuckle when someone asks "What do you do all week?  Don't you just work on Sundays?"  

Do you sometimes find yourself going to the hospital in the middle of the night to pray with a family in the emergency room?  Do you sometimes wake up in the morning with a heavy heart for a volunteer that is struggling?  Have you ever gotten a phone call during your vacation that immediately pulled your mind back into everything you have going on at church?  Have you ever had to cut a meal with your family short so you can help someone in need?  Have you ever dwelt all day on the ministry while pretending you were enjoying your day off?  

Seems like you have a lot in common with the shepherds of old.  The work of shepherding is always with you.  It's not something you can just cut off at 5 pm each day.  It's not something you can drop on Sunday afternoon and forget about until the next Sunday.  

I get it and understand.  You are a shepherd because God has called you to this role.  And He has placed a passion deep inside you to care for the sheep.  He has infused your DNA with compassion and empathy for the sheep.  You work your tail off to make sure predators never get near those in your care.  You are ready, 24/7/365 to help them grow, meet their needs and protect them. 

But in your heart of hearts, you are tired.  This 24/7/365 schedule is draining you.  You don't really enjoy your day off.  You spend it thinking about the sheep, answering emails about the sheep and answering phone calls about the sheep.  Even on vacation, your mind drifts back to the sheep and your spouse or friends have to pull you back.  

Being a shepherd is becoming a drudgery.  You even find bitterness creeping in because of the times the sheep have taken your time and attention away from your family.  You wonder what it would feel like to walk away from the sheep and let someone else watch them.  

You question if the sheep even care about what you do for them.  Even with all the time and attention you give them, they still bite at you, sometimes shun the food you provide them and even run away on occasion.  You ponder if being a shepherd is really worth it.  You sometimes find yourself wanting to hand in your shepherding tools and swap your shepherding schedule for something easier.

I've been there.  Felt that.  Wanted to do that.  

Have you?  If so, there's a passage that has helped me and I believe it will encourage you as well as you shepherd. 

Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God.  Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example.  And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor.  1 Peter 5

Here are some important, helpful things we learn about shepherding in these verses...

You are a shepherd because of God's call on your life.  

"care for the flock that God has entrusted to you..."

When I get tired.  When I get discouraged.  When I feel like 24/7/365 is closing in on me,  I must go back to why I am doing the work of a shepherd.  It is because I was chosen, ordained and anointed for the job by God.

Stay focused on God's call on your life to shepherd.  It will carry you through the storms, trials, late nights, early mornings, tiring events, long weekends and sleepless nights.

We must shepherd in a way that helps us maintain a good attitude.  

"...watch over it willingly, not grudgingly..."

When I have no margin in my life as a shepherd, my attitude goes south.  When I run on empty as a shepherd, the work of shepherding becomes drudgery.  When I don't come apart, I begin to come apart as a shepherd.  When I get bit by a sheep, I lash back in anger.  When a sheep goes astray, I am too weary to go after them.  

My attitude about shepherding is in direct correlation to how I shepherd.  And how I shepherd is controlled by how much margin I build into my life, how I take care of myself physically and emotionally and how I prioritize my life.

We should be shepherding for the outcome rather than the income. 

"not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God..."

If you are in a paid ministry position, you're probably not in it for the income.  You could be making more money in the business world or another field.  

But you can fall into the trap of coveting the things you could have if you made more money.  Perhaps you have looked at the magnificent house of a church member and wished you had went a different route that paid more money.  Or you walked past an expensive car in the church parking lot and wondered if you could be driving it, if you weren't giving so much of your time and effort to shepherding.  Or when a volunteer tells you they are going on an exclusive vacation, you secretly wish you could afford to go there. 

Yes, we must provide for our families and have a livable wage.  But we must also remember that we didn't get into shepherding for the money.  We got into it to make a difference for eternity.  The income may not put you on a Forbes' list, but the outcome is priceless.
 
When I first shepherd myself well, I am then able to shepherd others well.

"...don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example..."

The most important person I shepherd is myself.  The hardest person I shepherd is the person I look at in the mirror.  When I shepherd myself well, it enables me to be a good shepherd for the sheep in my care.  

This means I have to find a way to often pull away during the 24/7/365 craziness and find rest.  This means I must guard my heart as a shepherd.  This means I must spend time with Jesus.  This means I must first shepherd my own family well.  This means I must give from the overflow of what God is pouring into my life.

I am not the Chief Shepherd. 

...and when the Chief Shepherd appears...

I am not the Chief Shepherd.  I simply work for Him.  This means I don't have to carry the weight of shepherding.  That's not my job.  When I realize this, I can enter the light burden and easy yoke of the Chief Shepherd.  

I can't change anyone's life, only the Chief Shepherd can do that.

I can't answer a volunteer's prayers, only the Chief Shepherd can do that. 
  
I must remember that I am responsible to people but not for people.  

As shepherds, we are to do our very best, while remembering that ultimately it's the Chief Shepherd who does the work through us.

We can't completely see it now, but one day we will know that it was worth it all.

"And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor."

One day, I will be in the presence of the Chief Shepherd and the time I spent shepherding will be worth it all.  One day in heaven,  I'll get to see the full impact I made in the lives of the sheep God allowed me to shepherd and my heart will leap for joy.  

One day, I'll take the crown I receive and will cast it at Jesus' feet and thank Him for using my life for His glory.  The 24/7/365 will fade away into a wonderful, timeless eternity. 

So...if you're a little tired and weary of watching your "sheep by night," I pray you will be encouraged.  Thank you for your heart for the sheep God has entrusted you with.  May your shepherd's heart be refreshed and refilled today.

Shepherd on my friend! 

Jan 12, 2018

The Biggest Need of Every Children's Ministry

Ask any children's ministry in the country what their biggest need is and 9 times out of 10 you'll hear...

VOLUNTEERS.

From smaller, rural churches to larger, urban churches, ministries never seem to have enough volunteers.

No matter how many volunteers you have, you're going to always need more.  Especially if you want to grow and reach more kids.  And it's also crucial if you want to effectively disciple kids, since discipleship happens through relationships.  Proper ratios are essential to kids being able to establish a relationship with a caring volunteer.

If volunteers is your ministry's biggest need, then it should be your biggest focus, right?  This means building your volunteer team week in and week out.  This means setting your volunteers up for success by giving them the training and tools they need.  This means caring for and shepherding your volunteers well.

This means the biggest priority on your calendar should be volunteers.  This means the biggest percentage of your time should be spent on volunteers.  Volunteers...
volunteers...volunteers is what it's about. 

Why is volunteers the biggest need for most ministries?  Because it's not easy.  Building a volunteer team is hard work.  It takes tenacity.  It takes consistency.  It takes being strategic.  But it can be done.

Over the years, I've learned how to build a volunteer team by first learning how to not build a volunteer team.  I've made about every mistake you can make in this.  But the good news is this.  Because of all the trial and error, I've been able to come up with a formula that really works.

In my most recent local church ministry, we were able to build our volunteer team from 300 to over 2,600 in 8 years by using this formula.

I'd like to share that formula with you and help you succeed in building your team.  That's why I wrote "The Formula for Building Great Volunteer Teams."

In this book, I share...
  • Enlist Your Team:  How to bring new volunteers on your team on a weekly basis.
  • Equip Your Team:  Create a solid process for on-boarding new volunteers and then continue equipping them with on-going training. 
  • Engage Your Team:  Building solid relationships with your volunteers so they stay long-term.
  • Endorse Your Team:  How to show your volunteers you value them by helping them discover and maximize the gifts and talents they have been given by God.
  • Encourage Your Team: How to show your volunteers you appreciate them and keep them motivated. 
  • Empower: How to invest in your volunteers and empower them to own the ministry as leaders.  
This book has helped ministries across the country build a strong volunteer team.  If you haven't gotten the opportunity to go through it yet, I want to encourage you to do so.

So, from today through Sunday, I'm going to discount the book from the normal price of $12 down to $10 and the ebook version from $7 to $5.  All you have to do is go to this link and enter the coupon code VOLUNTEERS for the discount. 

The best thing you can do for your children's ministry this year is build up your volunteer team.  When you do this, you'll see the ministry thrive at a whole new level.  Let's partner together to make it happen.