20141114080106-LandingImagesIGG_05

I love using techy shortcuts. One of my favorite apps is IFTTT and I love my NEST thermostat. These tecky tools just makes life easier by expanding my reach and removing steps. I just found a super cool tool called flic on the crowdsourcing site Indegogo. Flic is a wireless button that creates a shortcut to favorite actions on your SmartPhone. They are surprisingly affordable at $27 for one or $99 for a bundle of 6 (while supplies last). Watch the video below to see all that flic can do and click over to their site to see their sweet design.

This is the final one, friends. If you read 1 a day starting the 18th, it should be the 22nd. OK, I’ll give you Sunday off, so maybe its the 23rd. You can still do this! Maybe not everything I listed in the previous four posts, but I bet you can do a lot of it. Get people involved and excited. Share your vision for Christmas Eve. Remind your people, “Its not about us. Its about them and Him.”

Tip #5 – The First/Last 5 Minutes of the Service

Every Broadway show writer knows this principle: You’ve got 5 minutes to engage them or they’ll check out even while sitting there. Worship leaders and pastors, make the first 5 minutes of the service count. Start off with something great and powerful. Don’t gear up from 0 to 60; start out strong.

Ideas:

1) Even the reading of the Luke story can be an attention grabber when done in an unexpected way: lights out, a spotlight on the manger and a really good reader can accomplish that. Same with an amazing song or video clip.

2) DO NOT open with announcements! Its not the time for business details.

3) Pastors: DO introduce yourself (some people won’t know you)…just don’t do it first. Start with a power moment, go straight into singing a rousing Christmas carol. Then when everyone’s seated again, slow it down a little by welcoming everyone with a smile. No need to go over minutiae. Just share the joy and help people feel comfortable.

4) The last 5 minutes of the service will leave an impression as well. Again, NO ANNOUNCEMENTS! If you’re a “light candles and sing Silent Night” church, this is enough. Give them Jesus and usher them out with a song on their heart.

5) Want to knock that last impression right outta the park? Give your worshippers one more surprise: as they leave the building and head towards their cars, have a live Nativity scene out on the lawn, something that wasn’t there when they came in. Nothing needs to be said; it will take their breath away. (I remember doing this with my group in Spring Hill, FL. Only the worship planning team knew. We kept it low key so the prep of it didn’t detract. Youth just slipped out of the service, got into their costumes and hit their marks. Especially surprising, even to me, was the year Erin, dressed as the Angel, climbed on top of the stable with her arms spread wide. It was STUNNING…and dangerous, which is why they didn’t tell me they were doing it.)

OK, church friends – go out there armed with the Word Made Flesh and win one for the Kingdom.

Stephanie

 



(And all sing) “On the 4th day of great tips for churches Christmas Eve…” (You can go back the past three days for the first three verses.)

Tip #4: Making a Great First Impression

Just like the parking lot tips, this is where a little church member/regulars education has to happen. Everyone wants families, right? They’re not flocking through our doors like the “good ol’ days,” right? So some savvy sacrifice has to happen to make Christmas Eve guests’ arrival experience memorably positive.

Ideas:

1) Remind church members that they talk to each other every week so challenge them to go out of their way to welcome
EVERYONE and have conversation with people they don’t know so well. This has to be more than the “turn and greet one another handshake” (which I’m not a fan of, by the way). Intentional well-wishes and welcome, especially to the stranger. Give better than Jesus got His first Christmas Eve.

2) Clean up the church entrance ways. Get rid of junk; put away “business” stuff (offering envelopes, calendars, devotional books, flyers, etc.) for one night. Make sure that surfaces are neat, clean and orderly.

3) Do an “ambiance check” in the entrances: soft table lamp lighting and a poinsettia or nativity set here and there creates a lovely effect. Candle arrangements in the entrances or windows say, “warmth and welcome.” Of course, a Christmas tree with candy canes for the kids is a welcome delight, signaling that kids have been considered.

4) Make sure extra hangers for coat racks are available. In fact, why not put a few people near the racks to take people’s coats for them?

5) Front door greeters: They’re only as helpful as much as they greet. I went to a friend’s church once where the greeter didn’t say a word, just handed me a bulletin (which is not the place to hand out the bulletin. Spend time before the service with the greeters making sure they know what to tell guests about a family’s needs (bathrooms, nursery, changing table, coat racks, etc.

Feels like I’m forgetting something. Chip in here; what have I missed?

S

 

OK, friends – you’re rounding the corner. There’s 3 days to make this Christmas Eve THE most impactful ever and capture those illusive once a year attenders. You CAN do this!! (If you’re just catching this series, part 1 & 2 were the past two days. Go enjoy and then, come back and join us.)

Tip #3 – Parking Lot Impressions

Here’s where you may start stepping on members’ toes. This is the point where they have to put their money where their mouth is, so to speak. “We need more families! We need more children and youth!” Well, small church – the time is now and it means you arrive earlier and park further away. Make your guests’ visit with your church the easiest as it can be. Remember that many families have gone through great sacrifice (crying kids, lost Santa gifts, etc) to get there close to on time. Don’t make their arrival experience one more reason they wished they’d stayed home.

Ideas:

1) Spread the word to church members to park farther away. It might mean helping a few of the older members to the front with a golf cart or valet service, but its worth it.

2) Have friendly members in the parking light with flashlights and a happy greeting to help point families to where they need to go.

3) Ask a few students to lend a hand if families need help getting all their stuff inside (stroller, car seat, diaper bag, a present for Grandma, etc.)

4) Make sure a few people can help older guests walk, navigate the stairs, etc.

5) Talk to people! Say “Merry Christmas. We’re glad you’re here!” Believe me, it makes a difference. I recently visited Epworth UMC in Franklin, TN and 6 people said “hello” to me before I ever reached the sidewalk. I was impressed.

Tomorrow’s tips: Creating a winsome first impression once they’re at the door.

S



What’s up Youth Ministry Friends?!

Simply Youth Ministry TOOLS has some sweet new features to help make all the tasks associated with youth ministry easier and more efficient. Specifically, the COMMUNICATE and the TEAM tools have been improved and added to for the best experience yet. A couple new features to be excited about include:

New in COMMUNICATE:
- Unlimited messaging
- Enhanced mobile experience
- New interface for browser experience

New in TEAM:
- Custom questionnaire
- New workflow step

Try it out along with other new features TOOLS has to offer with a free trial. Call Jake with questions at 1-866-9-SIMPLY or visit tools.simplyyouthministry.com.

tools-launch-728x90

145244798
This time of year we hear a lot about all the ways the Lord has “blessed” so many around us with answered prayers. Sometimes they are silly: “Wow, I was asking God to find me a good parking place, and here I am up front at the mall.” Other times desperate nonprofits trying to meet end of the year budgets say, “Thank you Lord for answering our prayers and allowing us to continue on in our work!” They run the spectrum and are all over Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram feeds. Inevitably, there are some among us whose prayers aren’t answered for Christmas or the New Year.

  • What about my friend who lost her grandmother and father two weeks apart right before this joyous season?
  • What about the student whose parents are either getting a divorce or not getting back together?
  • What about those who are sick, hurting, desperate, struggling, losing loved ones or stuck in a bad situation?

NO MATTER HOW MUCH THEY HAVE PRAYED.

I can’t tell you how many times I have had this conversations with students: “I have tried to pray. God just doesn’t hear me or answer my prayers. He is silent and forgets me.”

It is one of the most difficult conversations to have with youth. Sure there are times when they have “selfish” prayers. These are the ones where they ask for an “A” on a test when they didn’t study, or want a blessing on their life for something that is living outside God’s plan. A laugh gets stuck in my throat admittedly in conversations when a youth is blatantly ignoring the Lord and then says, “Why won’t He do what I want Him to do?” We all know He isn’t Santa, a Genie or a Vending Machine. Yet, the heart-wrenching conversations are the ones without an answer. Why would the Lord choose to take care of one family’s finances miraculously while another can’t get dinner for their table?

There are times when we don’t know how to answer this question. We say things like, “God’s thoughts are bigger than our thoughts.” or “His ways are unexplainable.” That is really our way of saying, “I don’t know.” Honestly, I think it paints God as a tyrant when we allude to the fact that it might be God’s will that someone die of cancer.

This question is a challenge because sometimes if we are really honest we adults have the same one. We feel ashamed admitting we doubt sometimes too. As an older person aren’t we supposed to have this figured out?

Here is where we start:

Take It Seriously

I think what is REALLY important when this question comes along is to treat it with weight. What I mean is let’s not throw out “platitudes” and move on. When I was a teen someone told me, “If you just had more faith then this (situation) would change.” I felt so much pressure to figure out what “more faith” looked like practically. I also felt like I couldn’t ever get it right and that God just wanted to manipulate me. Instead, when someone said, “Let’s pray until we know for sure what God is saying,” that changed everything. Don’t sweep it under the rug, this is one of those thoughts that makes or breaks pursuing God.

Be Honest:

Never be afraid to say, “I don’t claim to understand.” I always tell students I will never comprehend how sin fully effects our day to day lives. Yes, there is sinning against each other, but what about disease and natural disasters? Remind them that while we are each individually “saved,” we still are living in a fallen world with fallen people. It doesn’t make sense to us. What does make sense is that God wants more for us than this. We don’t always have to have the perfect thing to say.

Focus On God’s Character:

Another person said to me once, “Everything that happens comes through God’s filter.” Again, this is a concept I don’t understand. I would think, “I hear all of these stories of disabled people being healed, why doesn’t He heal my sister who has so many disorders?” It made me feel like my prayers were never good enough for God to hear them. Other people must “pray better,” and that’s why theirs were answered. Then I started to seek the Lord with my whole heart. I sought Him and learned a lot about Him. His nature is one that genuinely will do whatever it takes to show us how much He loves us. Trusting this is true is up to us and it takes us getting to know Him.

Prayer is hard. There are times when it does indeed feel like God is silent. Maybe He is, maybe we aren’t listening. Isaiah announced the coming of the Messiah almost 700 years before His arrival here on earth. Then He didn’t come as the hoped for king on a physical throne, but as a baby. He was more concerned for our souls and lives than for our power position. Simeon and Anna had been promised to see this Savior with their eyes before they passed. They waited their WHOLE lives and then saw Him not as the Resurrected one, but as a regular infant. It wasn’t until the end they saw Him. I think you are seeing my point. We are not the only ones who have prayed for something and it didn’t happen the way we would like. The point of prayer is connection and hope. This is why we pray. It isn’t about what we “get” at all but who we are spending time with.

Tell them that as this new year begins, just to keep praying and see just how God shows up. He isn’t a lunatic or liar and when you seek Him with your whole heart…. well you get to know Him better and you trust He is Lord.

How do you talk with students about prayers?

- Leneita / @leneitafix



Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 11.06.32 AMIn my previous post, we talked about potential areas of awkwardness for students when they come home for the holidays. I gave you one idea to bless them. Here I want to give you five thoughts to keep in mind as you have conversations with these students. 

  1. Be aware of their potential discomfort. Any time you have been away from something for a few months, it is going to be a little bit odd to reengage with it. This could be anything from a job to relationship with a neighbor, parents, friends…or you. You may be excited to see each other, but it doesn’t mean the relationship isn’t a bit awkward at this point. There is a lot that happened in your lives apart from each other that, well, is simply impossible to share over one cup of coffee. For students to try to articulate everything they went through emotionally, physically and psychologically is daunting, to say the least. That to say, I would recommend intentionally keeping this in mind and embrace the reality that you are going to leave this meeting not knowing everything…but that doesn’t mean it is not meaningful.
  2. Ask direct/specific questions. Asking an open ended question like, “So, how was your semester?” can be overwhelming and lead to them feeling like they can’t connect with you. To think through and articulate everything in that short of time is too much, and your students can leave feeling like their life is too separated from you. I’ve found it’s much better to ask specifically about their roommate, favorite class, closest friend at school, involvement on campus ministry (or lack of), favorite or most frustrating class, or even if it’s a bit awkward for them to come back home…things like that. These types of direct and specific questions allows you to really connect, on at least some levels.
  3. Share about your personal life. You pursuing your students for a time of coffee or lunch will likely be great, but it can come across as formal – or maybe even an “accountability time” from their perspective. This can be okay, but I’ve found it’s MUCH better if you take the “pastor” hat off and share about yourself. Now is the time to intentionally begin to treat them like a friend, especially if they were in your high school ministry. This can really bridge any separation and kill any awkwardness they may be feeling about their “home church.” Sharing about your own struggles, doubts, family life, etcetera can be a great next step for your relationship – as long as you don’t dominate the conversation!
  4. Ask for prayer request. At the end of your conversation specifically ask them for ONE thing you can pray for them about. This let’s them know they don’t leave your mind as soon as they leave, and let’s them know your relationship means more to you than just being a part of your job! Periodically over the next few months make sure you send them a text message or six letting them know you’re still praying.
  5. Ask them if they’re being encouraged. You could get a whole spectrum of answers on this one, but it’s a great question to ask. Some might break into tears, while others will simply be encouraged you asked. Either way, I’ve found it to be a great question to ask. It can also give you insight into areas where you can personally encourage them. Some will be more open about this than others, but you may want to ask them specifically how their relationship is with their parents, an ex, their best friend they had in high school, etc.

- Chuck / @chuckbomar

So go back and read my post from yesterday to catch up, but the main gist is this. Christmas Eve is a big deal for small churches: guests come that don’t come at any other time and they just might give your church a chance. Or not. You’ve got four days left to make this happen so get going!

Tip #2: PROVIDE A NURSERY!

Whatever it cost to get 2+ people to staff the nursery – pay it (with background checked people, of course). $75-$100 each for two nursery workers is worth it! Better money spent than any other advertising you spend all year. Have a back up plan for a 3rd person if the numbers go over 10-12 kids.

1) Staff it properly with kind, good first impression-type people. These people will be letting parents know that this is a love-one-another type place. Make sure its not staffed solely with youth (I’m sorry, students; I love ya, but there has to be an adult there, too.)

2) Review safety procedures with the nursery workers so that when reluctant parents think they might leave their child in your church’s care, you look like you know what you’re doing.

3) Have a sign in and out procedure because believe me – parents notice. Provide a name tag for each child where any special little reminder can also go.

4) Determine how you’ll find the parents in case of an emergency – which there won’t be. Maybe its sitting in a special spot, texting them (on silent), taking their picture so the usher can find them, a small scroll on the screen, or maybe you’re lucky enough to be a small church and still have those fancy light up things the big church has. Whatever works.

5) Don’t waste the opportunity! What I mean is this: its the birth of a baby and many of these kids will understand the concept. Tell the story in the nursery. Have a Nativity set (or more than one) for toddlers to play with. Crafts that reinforce the lesson wouldn’t hurt either. Spread the good news!

All for now. You can do this! This is not a chore; this is an opportunity to serve a family that needs Jesus…and a moment’s peace and quiet. Check back in tomorrow for the third tip: The Parking Lot Experience.

 

S