Planning Ahead for Advent and Christmas

Intermediate Lesson Plan

From Carolyn Brown’s facebook post – worshiping with children

In the Topical Index on the Worshiping with Children blog there is a list of 15 posts about everything from Christmas stories that work in the sanctuary to how to include children in singing carols when they sing them only at church to a plan for a Christmas Eve family service and more. Follow the links under “Advent, Christmas, Epiphany” at… to find grist for your December mill.

Because Christmas falls on Sunday this year, look at both Christmas Eve/Day for 2015 (…/year-c-christm… ) and Christmas Eve/Day for 2013 (…/year-christmas… ). The former is the most recent post for the Christmas texts which are the same in years A, B and C and so offers most of the cumulative ideas. The latter however offers separate ideas for both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day that may prove useful this year.

And, rejoice there is still time for bigger projects – Chrismon trees, homemade crèche, even child-created star-studded Advent paraments for the sanctuary – maybe made during VBS or during fellowship hours after worship? Go to…/at-this-point-… for the star banner directions.

So, it might not be too early to start thinking about Christmas. BTW, I find that when I do that in June or July, the process is helped by making and eating one favorite Christmas food – gumdrop cookies for me.


Teachable Moments – Don’t Just Sing the Hymns

Reposted from Carolyn Brown’s Worshiping With Children blog

Often in worship the congregation sings songs/hymns with only a brief instrumental introduction. It feels “smoother” that way to the worship planners. The assumption is that every worshiper either knows the song or can read the words and music. Unfortunately, for children, and also for other worshipers, the assumption does not hold. A key question to ask ourselves is where the non-choir children learn the songs we sing frequently in worship. School? Not anymore. Sunday School? Don’t count on it. Home? Not for most families. That makes the times we sing in worship important opportunities for worship education. This is not rocket science. In a couple of sentences of introduction or a children’s time right before a hymn do one of the following:

• Tell why we are singing this song at this point in worship today.
• Tell the backstory about who wrote the hymn and when.
• Invite worshipers to follow along in their hymnals as you read through the words of the hymn with brief commentary – maybe as part of the sermon.
• Instruct worshipers for whom or for what situation to sing the song today.
• Introduce and practice a repeated word or phrase so non-readers can sing at least that phrase.
• Let the format of the song determine who sings which parts, i.e.
– choir or soloist sings verses, congregation sings choruses
– men/boys and women/girls sing different verses
– sides of the congregation sing different verses
– (with some hymns) the words suggest who sings when, 
e.g. the watchman and questioner in “Watchman Tell Us of the Night”
• Give children song sheets 
– Print the words in a format that is easy for early readers. 
– Highlight key words/phrases by printing them in contrasting colors.
– Add small illustrations around the words.
– Provide space (and markers) for children to create their 
own illustrations or notes about the song

Not every song sung in a service needs such intentional introduction, but if one song each week or so were introduced in one of these ways, the children (and the whole congregation) would build an internal library of music with which to speak to and about God. It is worth the effort. So, watch for the hymn introducing ideas in my posts for each Sunday. Adapt them to other hymns and songs. Also add other suggestions for hymn introductions in the comments below.

Go to…/dont-just-sing… to find this post on the blog.

A Strange Book of Books – A Theocademy Presentation

Are you looking for a summer study for adults?

The Theocademy web site has two new series for us to explore. The STRANGE BOOK OF BOOKS opens the door to a new way of approaching the Bible by providing 10 short video presentations by Aric Clark.

The problem with the Bible is that we think we already know what it says. But do we, really? Do we really understand that the Bible has its origins in a collection of stories that were told out loud? Do we really understand how the Bible compares to other stories in other cultures? Do we really understand the deeply political agenda of many of the Bible’s texts?

Watch the series online for free or purchase the DVD.  A study guide can also be purchased and downloaded for $5.00.

Join host Aric Clark as he introduces us, again, to the Bible. Explore this new Theocademy 10-video series to become reacquainted with this “Strange Book of Books”.

Spiritual Fun with Dry Erase Markers

Reposted from Building Faith – by Renee Keen on June 20th, 2016

Dry Erase Marker God

“On an average day, I’ll come in and find verses, pictures of crosses, stories of faith, prayers, and even questions they have for God.”


Creativity and Faith
I have always been struck by creativity in church families. Throughout my adult life I’ve lived in three major cities and have discovered that churches who let congregations express their faith creatively are the ones that have helped me grow the most in my faith.

I currently serve as Director of Children and Family ministries at a PCUSA church just outside of Madison, WI. As a way to encourage our kids and youth to be creative in their faith, we hand out dry erase markers and let them write verses on mirrors. We also leave out markers and chalk on tables with plastic table cloths in one of our rooms. On an average day, I’ll come in and find verses, pictures of crosses, stories of faith, prayers, and even questions they have for God. Our students are allowed to express doubts, fears, joys and anything else their hearts desire.

Table before

Table After

Dry Erase Marker God


Mirrors & Markers
The idea of forming faith with dry erase markers started a few years ago, while I was living with two extraordinary women of faith in Chicago. When we moved in I bought dry erase markers for our household calendar. A week or two into living together, I began using them to write scripture on our bathroom mirror, as I was usually the first one awake in the morning. I never thought of it as a big deal; the Bible verses were just a fun thing to do each day. Then one of my roommates mentioned how encouraging it was, and we soon made it a tradition in our apartment.

Mirror Bible Verse


When I started at this church I brought the idea with me. I encourage families with kids and teens to write Bible verses as a fun activity at home. You might be surprised by how much excitement it sparks in kids when they are able to write scripture or a message on a mirror when they first wake up. It’s fascinating to see what they remember from past sermons, Sunday School or the Children’s moment. Finally, this practice also giving teachers and family members a great way to understand when kids or teens are experiencing doubts or working through hard questions.

Little Ideas Strengthen Faith
The idea of writing a verse on a bathroom mirror seemed like a simple idea, yet it had a lasting impact. Consider the people in your congregation and how ideas like this can help them on their spiritual journeys.

Students leaving for college

Kids and teens

New members


Often times it’s the simple ideas that help us in forming Christian faith. Give kids and teens dry erase markers and let them express their faith, no matter where they are in their journey. Provide families with dry erase markers and a note encouraging them to get creative with their faith. It may just move mountains for you and your congregation!

Never doubt your ideas, even if they seem simple to you at first. I often wonder if the churches I attended growing up have any idea the impact they had on me and my faith. My prayer is that, for the kids at our church, I can provide even half that impact, as we move through our faith journeys together.


Renee Keen is the Director of Children and Family Ministries at First Presbyterian Church in Waunakee, Wisconsin where she shares in ministering to over 200 children through Vacation Bible School, Christmas programs, Sunday School, and Kingdom Kids. Renee has worked in arts management while participating in ministry programs such as GRIP Outreach for Youth, Chicago Hopes and World Relief. 

Visioning Tools for Children, Youth, & Intergenerational Ministry

Use GenOn Ministries’ Visioning Tools to take a picture of your ministry and create a plan for ministries in the future.

Our free tools are available in 3 areas:

  • intergenerational ministry,
  • ministry with children,
  • ministry with youth.

Complete instructions are included on page 1 of each tool. Complete the process on your own or ask GenOn Ministries’ staff to guide your leaders through the process and help you create your visioning plan.


Training Teens for VBS: 16 Things They Need to Hear

Reposted from by Lisa Brown

Teenager girl love

“In asking teens to lead others, faith formation is magnified for our youth in ways that I never could have imagined.”Re


VBS needs Teens; and Teens need VBS
At our church in Pittsburgh we invite many teens to help with Vacation Bible School. With our teen and tween helpers  – always with adults for safety and oversight – we’ve created a wonderful multi-age program that fosters a sense of ownership and connection among young people. Best yet, in asking teens to lead others, faith formation is magnified for our youth in ways that I never could have imagined.

Basic Directions for Volunteers
Safety is always the first priority when hosting VBS, both for our campers and for our volunteers. It is essential that we review safety policies and procedures not only for teens, but often for adults as well. For teens and tweens, helping at VBS often precedes being allowed to care of younger children on their own; adults need the reminder because providing programming for groups of children is different than tending to your own children.  Certainly the safety protocols we teach will serve them well.

Each state has its own guidelines for background checks (which may or may not be required for volunteers under 18); and each diocese has guidelines for who is required to complete Safeguarding God’s Children. In addition to that training, I repeat safety basics every day:

1. Leaders are never alone with a child
If a child needs to leave the group for any reason, another child should accompany them as a buddy.

2. Follow the schedule
Everyone needs to stick to the schedule and be in their assigned location. If there is a need to go elsewhere – weather forces a group inside, for example – then I need to be informed. If an individual needs to go someplace (a child left a backpack behind, for example) then the group leader needs to let the other leaders know they are taking that child (and a buddy!) to retrieve it.

3. How to help a child use the bathroom
If children need supervision when in the restroom, the doorway “straddle” is a way to keep an eye on the proceedings without being alone with a child. A helper literally stands in the hall door leading into the restroom (assuming a multi-stall restroom). They are not alone in the restroom with the child but can supervise. If there is a need to more intimately assist a child in the restroom, then the teens are instructed to get an adult (who also need to follow the safety protocol of having another adult present).

4. Call for first aid
Everyone needs to know who is the designated first aid responder and where that person can be located at all times. It is important to regularly talk through first aid protocol, including what kinds of injuries should not be moved, and how one leader should run for the first aid responder while another stays with the victim (and yet another makes sure the rest of the group is safe and out of the way).

4. No horseplay or carrying
We specify no horseplay, no piggyback rides, no carrying younger children – all actions teens are likely to engage in at the request of young campers. My standard line is “You are all big kids and can all walk on your own two feet.”

5. Set boundaries
If younger children become physically aggressive – climbing on teen helpers, for example – the teens need to give the child clear instructions to stop or get an adult to help redirect. Teens often need help learning to set boundaries – which is a good life skill.

6. Give positive directions
Directions to children should be given in the affirmative, not the negative. “Keep your feet on the sidewalk” is better than “Don’t go in the street.” In other words, helpers must make it clear what they want the child to do.

7. Use the phrase “I need you to…”
If a child needs to be told to stop doing something or to modify their behavior, “I need you to…” is a good way to give the direction.

8. How to call a child
To effectively communicate with a child, the helper needs to go to the child rather than yell from a distance.

9. Allergy issues
Reminding everyone who is a helper of allergies or medical issues is essential. The best protocols are repetitive and layered – allergies should be clearly highlighted on rosters and attendance sheets. Make some sort of mark on name tags of children with allergies. On a snack schedule given to kitchen helpers, flag groups which have members who have allergies.

10. Respect the space, and clean up
Everyone is expected to show respect for each other and for the materials – i.e., to clean up after themselves at snack, to assist in organizing craft materials, etc. Teen helpers are not there to pick up after children but rather to direct children to pick up after themselves.

11. Serve all the children
Remind teens that although they will no doubt have favorites, that they are to serve all children equally in a way that is inclusive, inviting, and welcoming to all of the campers.

12. Role models = Rock Stars
Remind teens that they are role models, better yet, that they are ROCK STARS in the eyes of younger kids. As such, they are expected to be intentional in how they interact with children. Sarcasm, teasing and certain kinds of language are not to be used.

13. Focus on the campers, not your friends
Remind teens that their focus needs to be on the campers rather than interacting with one another. Some friends (or siblings) work well together and some are best given different assignments so they are not distracted.

14. Put cell phones away
Helpers need to keep their cell phones out of sight (other than to keep track of the time).

15. No drinks or snacks in front of campers
Helpers are not to eat or drink anything other than the snacks campers are eating. This means not carrying around soda or coffee, and not snacking in front of the children.

16. Rules for posting pictures
Helpers do not have permission to post images of campers on personal social media. Permission to post campers’ images to social media is only given to church accounts (and should be spelled out on the permission and/or registration forms). Teens may, however, post pictures and tag each other if they are already active on social media.

More VBS Planning Wisdom
Lisa Brown has previously written for Building Faith about staffing VBS and using teen volunteers to the benefit of the group and teens.


Lisa Brown is the Director of Children’s Ministry at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh, PA. She is also a coordinator for the Children’s Ministry Team of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. An active member of Forma and multi-troop Girl Scout leader, Lisa is passionate about creatively engaging, enlightening, and enriching the spiritual lives of young people.