Kids Choir Brings out the Family

One of the Christmas traditions of our church for a number of years has been our annual Christmas choir. We have a lady in our church is loves music and loves children. She announces the choir early in October. The local school even allows her to promote it through the school. Practices usually start right after Thanksgiving and go until the first weekend of December. Practices take place right after school so the children just wander over to the church as soon as they are out of class. The choir director takes time to also do a short Bible Study with the kids as part of each practice. There was one child that said he wanted to say Yes to Jesus!! A few helpers also make sure their is always a snack as well.

The Choir presentation usually takes place on the first Sunday of December. We do away with the regular service plan and schedule the presentation to take place at 10:30 Sunday morning in place of the regular service. We sing a few Carols together but then give most of the time to the choir performance. After the presentation we invite people to stay for some apple cider and Christmas cookies and other baking. This is a great way for guests to meet a few of our church family.

This past Sunday was our 2014 Carseland Kids Choir Presentation. There were 16 kids in the choir between the ages of 8-12. Two teenagers also did some readings. This year’s presentation was called “Get to the Manger”. Their were a few common carols and then a number of new Christmas songs. They did a great job.

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One thing that amazes me is who attends. I would expect that parents would come and cheer on their children, and they do. Out of the 16 choir members, only one is a regular attender in our church. So we had a number of families come who rarely attend church. But not only do the parents and siblings come. So do the grandparents. And even Aunts and Uncles come with their families! It’s a big deal to come and cheer on their child or their grandchild or their niece or nephew!

We had 119 people come out! Our regular attendance is about 50-55 people right now. We had more than double our regular Sunday attendance. It was a great way to connect with a number of community people. Now we will pray that some of them may come back.

We Need More Scoring Chances

I was listening to a local sports talk show the other day. They were analyzing what happened for the Calgary Flames in the last game. One commentator said, ” They didn’t have enough scoring chances.” I had been thinking about how few new believers we have had in our little church in the last couple of years, and so I immediately thought about how this fits with our desire to have our friends come to know Jesus.

We need more scoring chances! We need to find ways of setting things up for a conversation about Jesus. I don’t mean we treat people like projects or statistics. Nothing like that. But we do want people to surrender their lives to Jesus. After all, the Bible is clear that if they do not, they are headed to hell. So we want to have conversations with our friends where we introduce them to Jesus. We wan to be able to talk about the prayer Jesus recently answered. We want to talk about the peace we experience as we are in relationship with Jesus. We want to talk about how our life with Jesus gives us a purpose beyond just the endless rat race of life.

hall12So we need more scoring chances. These will come as we intentionally connect with our friends. And as we are playing Dominion with them, or as we enjoy ice cream at Dairy Queen. These opportunities to talk with them about Jesus will come as we hang out together over the years talking about our kids and our holidays, maybe even sharing holidays together! We will find times to talk about Jesus as we go through tragedy’s and joys together. Opportunities will come as we continue to pray for them and love them and care for them. Some of those opportunities might come as we invite them to events at church.

Jesus loves our friends even more than we do. Jesus wept over Jerusalem. He understands when we weep over our friends. And as we pray, Jesus has promised to send his Holy Spirit. Pray that the Father would draw our friends to Himself. Pray that the Spirit would open their eyes to the truth of Jesus. As we look for more opportunities to love our friends, the time will come where we can help them come to faith in Jesus!

VBS Still Draw Kids!

It has been a while since I actually helped with a Vacation Bible School even though our church has run one just about every summer, but it’s awesome! We have a great team and have had attendance that exceeded our expectations! Here are some of my thoughts about VBS.

It still draws kidsDSCN0168 DSCN0162

We have had more kids show up than we expected. In our small town of 650 with an attendance under 100 in our local elementary school, we thought we should plan for about 40. We had 34 show up the first day and new kids have come each day. We have now had close to 50, though not every kid has come every day! It still draws kids.

It’s worth doing

It’s worth doing. In a small town with not much happening, it offers something in town for the kids to do. I’m sure that part of why the parents send the kids is so they can have a few quiet hours at home. But it is worth doing because you can share the gospel with children, many of whom do not attend church regularly, if at all. It’s worth doing.

It’s worth doing well

Too often we do what we have always done and don’t take time to add in something new. I pushed our group to develop a team and to meet to plan things months in advance. It’s too easy to just expect things to work without putting in the effort. It’s worth doing well.

Make sure that it connects with the kids

Do your best to find a theme that connects with the kids. There are all kinds of great curriculum out there. Find something that will tell the salvation message but in a creative way. You want something that allows for great decorations and songs. Maybe your crafts and games can even tie into the theme. Make sure you connect with the kids.

Connect with the families

We have the privilege of meeting the parents or grandparents as they drop off their children. And we plan a Friday night Wrap Up Supper and Program specifically with the hopes that the parents will want to come see what their kids did all week and we will have the opportunity to meet them. Connect with the families.

Thank you ladies

Most VBS programs happen during the day. Most men work during the day. So thank you ladies. You are the ones who are leading VBS programs all across the country. If you have men in the church who can come and join in, do your best to get them involved. It’s great to have ladies, but the children benefit from seeing that the men are also part of the church activities. Thank you ladies.

It’s a great outreach

VBS still works in rural communities as a means of sharing the gospel message with the children of your church and community. The message come out in the songs and crafts as well as in the Bible stories. And the message can be shared briefly as part of the Wrap Up night so the parents hear it as well. It’s a great outreach.

Hey Church Guy!

What are you called? I don’t mean just your name, but what do people call you? I have a lot of labels. I’m Dad.  I’m Lion Andy (I’m part of the local Lions club). My pharmacist greets me, “Hi Henry”. The other day I was being introduced to a new neighbor just 3 houses down, when the lady from across the street – who doesn’t attend our church – yells across the street, “That’s our pastor!” I’m Pastor Andy. A boss I had when I worked at Zellers always called me Andrew. Henry is my first name but I go by my middle name, A100_0735ndrew, but that isn’t even quite right as I have always been called Andy.

The other day, one of the 4 yr. olds in church was trying to get my attention while I was talking with his mom so he said, “Hey Church Guy!” I like that. He wasn’t quite sure what to call me and only knew me as the guy at church, but he really wanted my attention.

People give us a label based on how they know us. So how do people know us? What is the name that people give you when you aren’t around and they are talking about you to someone else? Joe and Terry might call me neighbor. Rob might call me a friend. Gary might call me a fellow Lion.

My relationship with people determines what label they might give me. I guess Church Guy isn’t that bad. But I hope there are people in my circle of influence who see me as more than a church guy and more than a pastor and more than a fellow Lion but who see me as someone who loves them with the love of Jesus! Do I care for people? Do I take time to listen to what is going on in their life? They may not call be “Care-er”, but I would love it if they saw me as someone who cares. They may not call be “Confidant”, but I would hope they felt free to confide in me when they need someone. I don’t ever want them to call me “Jesus”, but wouldn’t it be great if they felt the love of Jesus through a friendship with me – or with you?

Transforming Church in Rural America: Breaking all the Rurals – Shannon O’Dell

I look for books that speak to the rural ministry context from the rural ministry context. These are few and far between, but I found a great book that I want to encourage you to read! This should be a “must – read” for every rural pastor.transforming-church-in-rural-america

Shannon O’Dell is writing from the experience of small church and small town. He knows of church with 40 people and about how rumors fly through a small community. He is writing from the American experience, but it is really not that much different than our Canadian rural context.

Here are a few quotes from the book:

“I realized I needed to be focusing on growing individual congregants, not a big congregation.” p. 39

“”MAKE US BELIEVE! Because when the Church does not believe, when the ‘us’ (the Church) is removed, guess what? I’ts just MAKE BELIEVE. See, many of us believe in Christ. We recite the Apostles Creed or Nicene Creed and confess that we believe in Him. But many of us have not jumped the hurdle of believing Christ. We believe in Him theologically (mentally), but we don’t believe in Him practically.” p. 63

“That day I learned that people say they want to reach the lost, until we start changing things they are familiar and comfortable with in order to do what it takes to really reach the lost.” p. 73

“Are you really called to rural America? If you are, you better pony up because it is going to be the greatest opportunity and also the biggest challenge you have ever experienced, particularly when people leave, because even though they leave your church, they are never, ever gone from your life.” p. 74

Okay, that’s enough. You need to get the book. In reading it, there were times I really identified with what was being said, there were times I was challenged, and most of all I was encouraged that there are still people with innovative and creative ideas called to rural church ministry.

 

 

Get Rid of the Baby!

Here’s my challenge to you this Christmas. Get rid of the baby Jesus. The little plastic one in your nativity set. Throw him in the garbage – or if that seems to harsh – put him back in the box. When you set up your nativity scene – don’t include the baby Jesus.

Why would I say that?

Don’t you think it’s kind of weird that when we celebrate Jesus’ birthday, we always think of him in the manger? We celebrate the empty tomb at Easter, why not the empty manger at Christmas?Star-of-Bethlehem

When you celebrate your birthday do you always pull out the pictures of you in your crib? Happy 4th birthday! And you have a picture of you in your crib. Happy 16th birthday! And you have a picture of you in your crib on the Dairy Queen cake. Happy 24th birthday! By now you might have a baby of your own. Do you put a picture of you in your crib on display at your Birthday party with your friends? Do you pull out a picture of you in your crib at your 65th birthday?

I know, there is something really neat about that nativity scene we put up every year. Even the parts that aren’t really in the story – but hey – its tradition!

But my concern is that we forget that that baby grew up. He was the one who was crucified, and rose from the dead. He is the one who ascended into heaven. He is the one who said he was going to prepare a place for those who love him. He is preparing heaven right now!

So…if your “baby Jesus” is getting in the way of you remembering the grown up, risen, ascended Savior Jesus – then maybe you need to get rid of the “baby” Jesus and really get to know Jesus.

Let’s celebrate our Saviour this Christmas. Happy Birthday Jesus!

What do you say on Remembrance Day?

Since I am the only pastor in town, I get asked to speak at the community Remembrance Day Service every year. It’s hard to find what to say so that I will bring scripture to people and yet also connect with the theme of remembering the sacrifice of our veterans. So I thought I’d post my “sermon” and if you can use it our part of it when you get called on to speak at a Remembrance Day service, great!remembrance poppyh

REMEMBRANCE DAY SERMON

What can one say on a day like today when one is not personally connected to what we are remembering?

I didn’t have any family members serve in the Great Wars – well maybe an uncle or two of my Moms whom I never met. In fact, I grew up in a tradition of pacifism. My Mennonite heritage included the idea that fighting was wrong. Most Mennonites were conscientious objectors, objecting to war.

So what do I say on a day like today?

I say “thank you”!

Thank you to the men and women who served and died. Thank you to those men and women who came back – scarred in so many ways. Thank you to those who are serving right now.

Today, we pause to say “thank you”.

Thank you for your willingness to put your life in danger in order to protect us at home.

In the Bible, in the Gospel of John, Jesus says in John 15: 13Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

My friend Kevin recently gave me this hat. He had just returned from Afghanistan where he was helping to train their police force. He is a member of the Canadian RCMP. He made a one year commitment to go and serve in this way.

Why am I saying this? Because when we come to Remembrance Day, we think of those who fought and gave their lives during the Great Wars. And then we think of others who fought and died in the wars since.

We think of those who have come home physically and emotionally damaged. We need to remember these as well.

Some are serving right now, in different parts of the world. Some in very dangerous situations. And some, like my friend Kevin, are serving by trying to help rebuild after the worst of the conflict has subsided.

He was willing to leave his family behind – he has a wife, two daughters, and a son. He was willing to leave them behind so he could – in some small way – help another country get back on its feet.

That says I love you.

Some of you have family who have served or given their lives. Some of you know people you care about who are serving right now. And some have been those waiting at home for their loved ones to return.

Thank you for your sacrifice.

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

How many of you have ever been told: “I love you?”

Of course you have! Sometimes people say “I love you.” They may write it on a card. They may say it in an email or a tweet. They may even write it in the sand or snow if they are really creative.

But love never means as much as when it is actually shown. You can tell if someone loves you by what they do, how they act, how they treat you. These actions may confirm what they have said to you, or even show their love when they haven’t yet had the boldness to tell you.

When women and men give their lives to serving in different conflicts around the world, they are showing their love. Their death by a bullet or an IED –or even a strategically placed mine – this says “I love you” to their country – to us! When men and women are injured or even maimed as a result of their service – that says “I love you”. And when my friend – and others like him – goes to Afghanistan as it is trying to recover after war in order to help them get back on their feet – that says, “I love you”.

And when the many families at home are willing to send their sons and daughters and brothers and sisters and moms and dads to serve  – that says, “I love you.”

Sure, some may go for the adventure and with the hope of seeing the world, but they know that they could lose their lives. Others signed up because they felt they had to. And many of them did have adventure. They saw new countries and experienced things they would never have experienced without the war.

And many gave their lives.

Even those who came home alive gave up years of their lives. While others were at family gatherings and community social events, they were living in tents, dealing with hardships every day. While others were going on with their lives, they were putting theirs on hold.

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Jesus knows what he is talking about as he makes this statement. The Bible tells us that Jesus was killed, not for what he had done wrong as a sacrifice to pay for the sins of all those who put their faith in him. He gave His life for us. He knows all about saying “I love you” with his life.

…And so we remember.

We pause from our regular activities to remember and say thank you.

Thank you for loving your country – us – enough to be willing to risk your life, enough to even give your life.

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Thank you to all the men and women who have served and who have given their lives for us.

Thank you – we remember.

Remembrance Prayer:

Our Father in heaven, we thank you today, for how you have made us. You have made us to want to protect our loved ones. You have made us with a desire to go out of our way to help the less fortunate.

And because of that, many Canadian women and men have served and are serving in different wars and conflicts on our behalf. Thank you for their sacrifice.

Thank you Jesus that you modelled what love is by dying on the cross for us. Thank you for your words that tell us that the greatest act of love is to give our lives for another. Thank you for the love that many have shown for us and our country.

God we thank you for our country. Thank you for the freedoms we have. We have the freedom to express ourselves and to meet together and to worship you. We are so blessed to be in a country like Canada.

Help us to remember those who have fought and died on our behalf. And help us to remember You.

In Jesus name we pray, Amen.

Chili Brings Them Out!

I like planning events that the church can use to invite friends to church. Our most recent Chili invite 2013 picone was this past Sunday – our third annual Open House Sunday & Chili Cook off. We have our service – pretty much the same as usual. We added in a Chili Trivia Quiz and took time to announce our programs for the fall. We had a shorter sermon than usual and dismissed our children and youth during that time to be introduced to their classes. And then we had chili!

In our posters and invitations we announced that people could enter a chili in the chili Cook off. We had 18 entries! And 4 of P1030472them were from people in the community who have never been to a church service before! One couple had been to our children’s choir presentation in December. We had all kinds of chili. The have to name their chili so we had names like Blazing Saddles, Divine Intervention, Chili Sundae, Hillbilly Chili, and even Chilly Chili which was a Chocolate pudding and marshmallow “dessert” chili. We planned for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place prize prizes – $100 to a nearby train car restaurant, $20 Tim Horton’s card, and a BIG chocolate bar. Everyone got to try all the chilies and then vote for their favorite.

It was a great morning. Our average attendance is around 60 and we had 92 people out. We had at least 20 new people! Everyone seemed to have a lot of fun! During the service, the gospel was presented as one young man shared his testimony and also through the sermon.

And now the people who came are promoting our church and our event to others! One ladies writes a blog and she posted a very favorable entry about the whole event.

Our desire is that these events will do two things: 1. help people to invite their unsaved family and friends, and 2. that the event will help all who come take one step closer to Jesus. Many people today want to Belong before they come to Believe. We think this morning helped to make people feel welcomed. We’ll see what God does with this one fun event.

Plan It Well!

Our church does a few annual “Big Days” or special events.

We begin the fall season with an “Open House Sunday & Chili Cook-Off”. This is our “kickoff” to the new season. We invite our friends and family and announce the event 6510028_origeverywhere we can. People can take special invitations to give out with all the details on them. This is the Sunday we announce our Care Groups and begin our Children’s Ministry. People prepare their favorite chili’s and people get to try all of them and vote on the one they like the best. A silly prize is given out.

Christmas Eve is one of the common ones among many of us. We usually have a full house as we celebrate with the Christmas story and carols. We’ve had hot apple cider for after which has gone over very well.

We always try to make the Sunday before Family Day a big event. We again prepare invitations for people to hand out. The day begins with a pancake breakfast – actually this year it was waffles and sausages. And we always have some kind of fun activity to do together. We have played “Name that Tune”. This last time we moved chairs to the side and played some “Sunday School Picnic” type of games before we had an abbreviated service.

3943719_orig 2040929_origOur Easter Eggstravaganza takes place at the community hall. This has been a big hit for our community. We have had up to 250 people and we usually average 60 at our regular services! Again, we give out invitations, have a few fun activities, offer free family pictures by a local photographer, and have activities on the tables. We do a breakfast, an Easter service, and then the Easter Egg hunt for the kids.

While we do other things, these are a couple of our big ones. And we try our best to plan them well!! I’ve developed a checklist template that guides our planning.

How to plan a Big Day well:

  • Special Day Details: Event ____________/ Date _____________/ Time ______________
  • Purpose: Why are we doing this? We need to be clear of why we are doing the event and what we are hoping to accomplish.
  • Food: Food – usually there is food. What will it be? Who will prepare it? Who will buy it? Will it be served? etc.
  • Service: What will the church service look like? Will kids be part of it? Will the sermon address a related theme to the special day? Will there be testimonies? What about special music or scripture readings? Any video clips? How will the Gospel be presented? How will a “decision” be asked for? How will people be invited back to regular services or church activities?
  • Activity Details: What will the activity be with this Big Day? Who will plan it? Who will run it? Where can we do it? Is there any special planning needed?
  • Promotion/ Publicity: Are posters being printed? Where will they go? Who will put them up? Are invitations being printed? Will they be ready at least 3 Sundays before the event so they can be handed out to the congregation for them to use? Any advertising in the local paper? What about a sandwich board in front of the church? Can we send some papers home through the local school?
  • Set up/Take down: What tables and chairs need to be put up? Who will do that? Who will put them away? Are there decorations to put up? Who can do that?
  • Take Home: What will people take home? It’s always good to send people home with something. A Bible? A little gift? A Jesus DVD?
  • Contact Information: How will we gather information from new people who attend? One thing that we have used quite often has been a Connection Card where we ask them to fill out their information and leave it on the tables. Or you can have a “Guess how many Jelly Beans” Jar and ask them to fill out their information along with their guess as to how many candies in the jar. Remember to give the candies out to the closest guess.
  • Prayer Plan: How will the church be praying for this event? What prayer reminder can you give people? I’m thinking of giving everyone a Chili Bean in September to remind them to pray for our Open House and Chili Cook-off event.
  • Photography: Is anyone going to take pictures for later? Who? How will they be stored? Who will get them onto the church website and Facebook page?
  • Budget: It’s a good idea to build a little budget before the event so you can plan your spending. Remember that you can always bring some money back in through charging a little – if appropriate – or through asking for church or community sponsors. We’ve had different opportunities to partner with community groups who like certain events we are doing and they are willing to help support them
  • Celebrate: How will you thank your people afterward for all their prayer and invitations and hard work? How will you let people know what actually took place? How many new people? How many new conversions?

I hope you have many great events, events that are fun, that bring friends out, and invite those present into a relationship with Jesus!

Are We Ready for Harvest?

As part of my role in the Rural Church Pastors Network I was in Rosetown, Saskatchewan last week. What caught my eye was this perfectly lined up row – long row – of John Deere DSCN5527combines along one side of the highway. And there were more on the other side! These guys are ready for harvest.

The funny thing is – the farmers hadn’t even finished seeding yet. As I passed many open fields, I could tell that some were still too wet to seed. In others I passed farmers in their machinery just putting the seed in.

Seeding isn’t even done and they are ready for harvest!

Are we ready? I think that often in a small church and small community we get so used to not having people come to Christ regularly that we don’t really expect it at all. We do a good job of “feeding the saints” and keeping them busy. We may even do a number of good community events to connect with family and friends who don’t yet know Jesus, but do we really expect them to come to Christ?

Are we ready for the harvest? Do we even know what we would do if we had 2 or 3 individuals come to Christ? Would we know how to connect them to the Bible? Would we have a Bible we could give them? Would we have a small group or Sunday School class they could join in? Would we have people ready to come alongside of them? Do we have a class prepared we could teach them on Baptism and the basics of the faith? Do we have an online Bible Study we could walk them through? Would we have someone ready who could answer their questions? Would our church be seen as a safe place for their children? Would we know how to introduce them to members of the church? Or would we expect them to just somehow fit in?

The John Deere dealers are ready for the Harvest. I hope that your church is too.