The Amazing Interns of 2018

katelyn-elyseElyse Devries and Katelyn Rahn were amazing examples of service and love this summer. They jumped into Vacation Bible School planning the moment they arrived. They prepared crafts, studied for lessons, and help decorated the church. During their summer office hours, they study intently to prepare for ABC Kids and for children’s church, seeking to reach our kids through relatable stories, fun crafts, and helpful object lessons. They happily took on each and every other task or need that came their way. They planned trips to the WARF, Fun Land, and Skye Zone. They bought groceries, read six books, ran power point, researched child-safety protocols, babysat so April and I could counsel, sang in the choir, lead special music, and wrote notes. And of course, they took a pie to the face! Kids ministry 101!

Their work ethic was only surpassed by their love for the Lord and by the love for others. Elyse and Katelyn got excited when they started to discuss the Word and ministry. Their highlight of the summer was hearing a child say, “I finally understand the gospel.” And they loved others. All summer long, I heard little voices asking, “Are Mrs. Elyse and Mrs. Katelyn going to here tonight?” The kids shared stories with Elyse and Katelyn, showed them tricks, and wrote them cards. The kids knew they were loved and responded in kind. And we as parents were blessed to see others taking a loving interest in our kids.

When this summer began, I did not know what to expect. Over a period of a month, ABC had gone from having one intern, to no interns, to half an intern, to two interns, to one, and back to two. Neither Elyse, nor Katelyn, nor I knew what to expect. Most every aspect of the program as new for one if not all of us. Yet despite the uncertainty, ABC had an amazing summer filled with gospel teaching, laughter, and fun. Elyse and Katelyn were a blessing to both ABC and to my family. God sent ABC the perfect interns for the summer of 2018.

I eagerly look forward to seeing how God works through Awana which kicks off on September 16. Yet, I know ABC will miss Elyse and Katelyn. You guys embraced our ABC, loved us well, and have undoubtedly left a happiest of marks on our church family. We are sad to see you guys go but are very excited to see what God has planned for you.

Thank you guys for an amazing summer! God bless!

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VBS 2017: The Rest of The Story

vbs-2017-rest-of-the-storyYou watched cars pour into the parking lot. You saw pictures of kids whacking each other with pool noodles on Facebook. And, you have heard some cute stories about kids singing, “Operation Arctic.” But do you really know all that happened at FBCE’s 2017 VBS?

If you can spare a few minutes, I will happily to tell you the “rest of the story” (as Paul Harvey used to say). Let’s get ready!

WHAT THE NUMBERS SAID:

VBS Average class attendance 2017

We did not know what to expect when we opened the doors to the Children’s Ministry Center (CMC) on Monday, June 5.  Over the last three years, FBCE’s VBS average  attendance has dropped after reaching a high of 254 kids per night in 2014. I was bracing for that negative to trend to continue.

Thankful my expectations were off base! I am excited to report that our average attendance per day shot up from 166 kids in 2016 to 218 kids in 2017. Our average attendance grew by more than thirty-one percent this year! And more than 50 of those kids  were coming to VBS via our bus ministry.

The largest growth took place in the middle school and upper elementary classes. The 7th and 8th grade class grew by forty-seven percent, the 6th grade class grew by seventy-one percent, and the 5th grade class grew by sixty-one percent. I loved seeing so many older kids excited about the gospel!

vbs classes by size

Though most of the numbers were unbelievably good, our kindergarten, 1st grade, and second grade classes all shrunk this year. This year may have been an anomaly. But those numbers are worth watching as we go forward. The lower elementary grades and the preschool classes often give us a glimpse of what our future ministry will look like.

Though we had far more kids than anticipated, FBCE’s VBS team meet the challenge with unparalleled poise. Kids were checked in easily (at least after Monday). Snacks came in and out of the rooms in the blink of an eye. Games were fun. Music was exciting. And, the crafts were engaging. Before the kids could blink, the two hours of Bible teaching and activities were over. I truly think organizationally and functionally, VBS 2017 was FBCE’s best VBS that I have experienced!

Our attendance reached a peak of 245 kids Wednesday night, June 7. But our Vacation Bible school was so well organized and run, you would have thought only 100 kids were in the building.

VBS attendance by day 2017It’s undeniable. God blessed the FBCE with a great team of VBS workers. Over 110 people cooked, drove buses, organized crafts, taught song motions, lead games, and shared the Scriptures during the week of June 5-9. And because our adults sacrificed their time and energy, FBCE was able to share Christ with over 250 kids throughout the week.

Though everyone is worthy of a mention, I only have to space to mention two people. I wish to thank Christy Wynn and Summer Sheffield for spending hours recruiting volunteers, problem solving, and answering questions. They kept VBS from being an tangled mess and freed me and others up talk to parents, to address sinful children, and to teach. Thank you guys! And thank you FBCE!

THE GOOD NEWS

And now for the real good news.

VBS is ultimately not all about attendance, numbers, and stats. (Though I do like them a bunch!)  VBS should be about the gospel! To have a successful VBS, a church must preach the gospel!

vbs 2017 2FBCE presented the gospel with gusto all week long! All of our teachers did an excellent job teaching the Bible and pointing kids to Christ. We loved using the Answer In Genesis Operation Arctic Curriculum as it equipped our teachers to teach the word. , FBCE’s VBS was a resounding success!

But the gospel was not just preached. God used it to transform lives!

We challenged our kids to raise $650 for missions at the beginning of the week. I thought the kids would fall short of their goal, lacking earthly incentives to give. (Yeppers, I did not want to take another pie in the face.) We asked the kids to give from a sincere heart. At the end of Thursday night, my dire expectations were almost our reality. The children had only given a little over $270. But then with time running out,

vbs missions

God did the amazing! By the time the last song ended on Sunday night, our kids gave $846.83 to missions! WOW! God is good!

The surest sign of God’s blessing this year was the outpouring of his spirit. Ten children made professions of faith during the week of VBS after hearing the gospel preached. We taught and they voluntarily responded! Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

I think FBCE has mastered VBS! We licked our last major logistical challenges. By having snacks delivered to each class, by shortening the evening from a 2.5 hrs. time frame to a 2 hrs. time frame, and by having all the kids dropped off in the CMC, we did away with the free-time that fostered conflicts and eliminated the confusion that greeted families when they first arrived.

vbs 2017We also did a better job of connecting with kids’ parents. By moving our celebration to Sunday tonight, we had more than 300 people worship with us as the gospel was preached. We exceeded our Friday night celebration attendance by more than a 100 people. I believe we have found our VBS sweet spot.

Going forward, we do not need to make any major structural changes. But, I think we may need to spend some time reflecting on the purpose of VBS.

If VBS exists to expose churched kids to the gospel in an intense and fun environment, then having VBS when summer first begins at church for 2 hrs. during evening makes sense.

But if our purpose is to reach the lost (i.e. VBS is truly an evangelistic event) then we may need answer some probing questions: Should we move VBS to the end of the summer so that we can use VBS as a bridge into our Wednesday night kids’ program? Or should we leave the church building and have VBS in homes and neighborhoods across Eastman? If VBS is supposed to be about outreach, shouldn’t we go out?

I am not sure how to answer all of these questions. I invite you to ponder them with me as we prepare for 2018.

Enough from me. Now it’s your turn! I would love to hear your VBS stories, highlights and reflections! Please post them below in the comment section.

Why The Numbers Don’t Add Up

numbers-blogNumbers, numbers, numbers. Much of the kids’ ministry conversation is framed within the context of numbers. To get idea of how to understand someone’s ministry, we ask, “How many kids come on Sunday morning?” And we keep going. We talk about the number of baptisms, how many kids attend VBS, and how many new babies are being born. Everything from staffing ratios to the number of sippy cups in our building has a numerical value that can be discussed.

I am very thankful for numbers. Statistics offer all kinds of insights into kids’ ministry. They reveal strengths and weakness; they help us predict trends; and they help us plan for the future. I for one have spent a good deal of time expanding the amount of data that FBCE’s children’s ministry collects for these reasons and more. Numbers are great.

But numbers can also be deadly. They can shift our focus from eternity to our own immediacy. Anytime we get a group of kids’ ministry staffer and volunteers together, we will almost always get into a conversation about evangelism. Someone will start talking about how 50 kids got saved at their VBS. And as they praise God, we begin to wonder why only one kid got saved at our church this past summer. We question our methods and skills, wondering if more music or if better crafts would lead to more conversions. We begin to make evangelism about on numbers instead of the gospel.

At the end of the day, this is a huge problem. Focusing on numbers will not lead to more conversions, because we cannot save anyone. We do not lead people to Christ with just the right blend of music, crafts, and timely themed gospel messages. As the great preacher J.I. Packer said,

Can you or I by our earnest talking break the power of Satan over a man’s life? No. Can you or I give life to the spiritually dead? No. Can we hope to convince sinners of the truth of the gospel by patient explanation? No. Can we hope to move men to obey the gospel by any words of entreaty that we may utter? No. Our approach to evangelism is not realistic till we have faced this shattering face and let it make its proper impact on us. – p106.

Evangelism cannot succeed apart from God. As the Scriptures say, ‘“Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18). Salvation is work of God. We must never forget this central and fundemental truth.

Our job is not to save. Our job is to faithfully introduce kids to the wonders of the Scriptures. To do this well, we will have to teach hard truths starting with Genesis and ending with revelation. And, we will have to love our kids for more than a week here or there. We will have to spend time with them. We will have to play on the playground with them; we will have to listen to their concerns, and we will have to pray with them.

“The right to talk to another person about the Lord Jesus Christ has to be earned, and you earn it by convincing him that you are his friend, and that you really care about him” – p81.

We will have to invest time and energy into our kids ministry if we want to see kids saved.

Are their shortcuts? Yes. For example, we can have everyone bow their heads and then have those ‘interested in the gospel’ raise their hands. After telling them that Jesus will ‘save you from their sins’ we can then pray a prayer of repentance for the kids and pronounce them saved. Our numbers will look great. \

But, they will not add up. Because these kids have not understood the gravity of their sin and the beauty of Jesus, they have not embraced Jesus. If anything they have simply been brainwashed and can be easily convinced to leave the faith by the next well-spoken person they meet.

At the end of the day, we cannot hop over the wall of graces and save others with our human efforts. Though we all long for numbers, we must not let the success of one church lead us into a panic. That church has not excelled not at our expense.

Rather, we should praise God for working, realizing that that work did not happen over night. And then, we must redouble our commitment to the gospel. After all, evangelism “is a work in which quick results are not promised; it is a work, therefore, in which the non-appearance of quick results is no sign of failure; but it is a work in which we cannot hope for success unless we are prepared to persevere with people.”