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Fall Kickoff

15 new ideas to help you start a winning season of ministry to children.

Before you know it, school will be kicking back into gear. If you're a children's ministry director, you'll need to have your team recruited, trained, organized, and excited about all that God is going to do in the lives of children this year.

If you're a teacher, program leader, or small group leader, most likely you're realizing that you need to get your space organized and decorated before you even say hello to the first child in your class.
So much to do...so little time.

And so many ideas! We've packed 15 reader-tested ideas into this special section to help you start a phenomenally faith-enriching year for children and their families. In the next pages, you'll find everything from organizing crafts for lessons to making creative meeting reminders to staging a carnival for families.

Don't let this school year sneak up on you! Get in gear today so you can kick off a great year this fall.

REVAMPED ROLL CALL

Accurate attendance and follow-up can be difficult for teachers with all they have to do during class time. So we solved this problem by putting one person in charge of attendance for each service. This person takes a clipboard with attendance lists for each class. She goes to each room to take attendance and fill out visitor information cards for new children.

After all the attendance is taken, she checks the list for kids who've been absent for more than one week in a row. She then addresses and stamps a postcard for each absent child and gives it to the appropriate teacher at the end of the service. The teachers then write personal notes to the missing children and mail the cards that week. This has worked tremendously well and has been a real improvement in our organization.

Amy McMunn
Lambertville, Michigan

PHOTO POSTERS

Why decorate with store-bought posters when you can make your own that'll thrill children?

Simply take color or black and white photos of the children in your class. It's helpful to take these outdoors where the light is good. In your photos, use props such as park benches, playground slides, or swings. Include two or three children in each photo.

After developing your photos, choose a few to enlarge. You can have photos blown up to poster size at copy shops or at kiosks in stores such as Wal-Mart. To help your posters last, laminate them, affix them to foam core with spray adhesive, or frame them.

Hang these posters in your classroom, hallway, or other visible place in your building. Posters of your children will create a sense of belonging for the children, parents, and teachers. These posters will also foster self-esteem, look great, and create smiles.

Sarah Hockenbrocht
Fort Worth, Texas

RESOURCE CLOSET

Our church members have been very generous in offering craft items, such as paper towel rolls, fabric remnants, and egg cartons, to use with the children. So we needed a place to store and organize all the stuff to maximize its usefulness. We cleaned out and painted an unused room, put in plastic shelving, and bought plastic baskets from a dollar store. We organized the resources so like items were together. Then we let our teachers and volunteers know about the room. This has been quite useful all year-and especially at vacation Bible school time.

Annie Yelton
Charlotte, North Carolina

INFORMATION BINDER

To help me get to know kids better, I've created a class notebook.

First of all, I help each first-grade girl fill out a get-to-know-you sheet with questions about her address, phone, family, interests, and more. I put all these forms in a three-ring binder.

Behind each girl's information sheet, I put a few sheets of lined paper to record when I call or send notes or cards to the child. I try to write or call each girl at least every other week. When I send a note, I send along the week's memory verse, and I also tell something fun we'll be doing the following week in class. Or I comment on something the girl told me in class or on an upcoming event in her life. This makes the girls feel very special.

In my binder, I also keep my class's attendance record, notepads in fun colors, stickers to put on the outside of envelopes, and bookmarks to surprise the girls.

Amy Szlapak
Columbus, Ohio

MYSTERY PERSON

Our children's church averages 40 to 45 children each week, but many individuals don't attend every week. To encourage a family feeling even though kids are in and out, we feature a Mystery Person each Sunday.

The kids each fill out Mystery Person forms that tell us their favorite colors, foods, school subjects, and more. Each week, we choose the form of a child who's present that day. As we read the clues one by one, the kids try to guess who the Mystery Person is.

We review the rules each week:

1. No saying "yuck!" to the Mystery Person's favorites.
2. Only one guess per child.
3. When you realize you're the Mystery Person, keep cool. Even guess somebody else.
4. Everyone gets a piece of candy, and the Mystery Person and the one who identifies the Mystery Person each get two pieces.

Our children look forward to this every week. We all benefit from getting to know each other better, and we've found out some amazing things about our children. We've even asked our senior pastor and the children of our missionaries to fill out forms for us so we can feature each of them as our Mystery Person at different times.

Debbie Rowley
Santa Ana, California

CHILDREN'S RALLY

Right before school starts each year, we hold a Children's Rally. We serve a free spaghetti dinner with all of the fixings and invite neighborhood families, our day-care families, and folks within our church body. We have a team of people who love to cook, so they volunteer their time to prepare and serve the meal. They make homemade spaghetti, tossed salad with dressing and croutons, garlic bread, and brownies.

We set up tables at one end of our fellowship hall for our meal and tables at the other end that serve as booths. Ministry leaders run the booths, and booths have information on all the programs we offer to minister to children, our partnerships with area elementary schools, upcoming events, parenting classes, and family fun nights. At each booth, kids get candy, balloons, and informational handouts. Parents can also sign up to receive additional information or to help out in each area of ministry.

We make sure this is the only event scheduled so we have plenty of room. We also open up Sunday school classrooms and ask teachers to be present, so our Children's Rally is an open house too.

Because we provide a meal and child care, parents are willing to invest time in this event. It's a huge success, and we plan to do it each year to kick off our ministry season and to promote how we love God's kids!

Brenda Stearns
Anchorage, Alaska

F.R.O.G. CARNIVAL

We kick off our new Sunday school year with a Kickoff Carnival. After an opening ceremony, children meet their teachers and then travel to game stations with their teachers. One year we built our carnival around a F.R.O.G. (Fully Rely On God) theme to tie in with Proverbs 3:5-6 -- our Scripture for the year.

We rented some carnival games and created others. Many traditional carnival-style games were easily adapted to the F.R.O.G. theme. For example, we had children take turns catching rubber frogs floating in a pond, and the number on the bottom of each frog determined which mini Bible storybook the child got for a prize. Another game was a penny toss we made with verses about giving scattered across a large laminated playing space. Each child tossed a penny. If it landed on a verse, the child read the verse and then put the penny in an offering box that we used to start our fall collection. Children who missed got to try again, while those whose pennies landed on a lily pad got to keep their pennies.

Great prizes for this event include things that connect to kids' classrooms, such as boxes of offering envelopes, class supplies, special name tags, welcome notes from teachers, or Bible bookmarks.

Our teachers played get-to-know-you games with children while traveling to games or during any short wait they had at any particular stop. This event was easy to easy to staff and a fun way for everyone to get to know one another while kicking off a new year.

Sarah Storvick
Woodbury, Minnesota

PARENTS NIGHT

To help parents learn what we do in our classes, we hold a Parents Night. During summer Sunday school, the children make invitations for their parents to attend this special kickoff event.

During our Parents Night, we have our regular classes with our theme, motto, and pledges done by the children. We have the parents go through everything with us, and then the games begin.

Parents are the players for all our games and activities, and the children cheer on and encourage their parents. The parents have so much fun that we've even been able to recruit some of them as helpers. We have snacks at the end, and we also give parents bubble gum for being great sports. The whole night is a great success, and everyone talks about it for weeks.

Deb Harrell
Warsaw, Indiana

BOOK CLUB

When making goals for the new ministry year, I often include a few goals for my professional growth. Countless times I've made it my aim to read books that I know will be of great benefit to my growth as a children's minister. But much to my disappointment, 365 days fly by, and I've barely opened a book. Well, not this year!

In the St. Louis area, I'm starting a children's ministers book club. During the course of the year, we'll read four to six books together. Our first selection is Joining Children on the Spiritual Journey by Catherine Stonehouse. We'll follow that with Focus on the Family's Parents' Guide to the Spiritual Growth of Children.

We'll meet every other month to have lunch and discuss ways we can implement what we've read. That'll give us 50 to 60 days to read each book. Our club will most likely run with the school year since most children's ministers' summer schedules are so busy.

Here's a sample outline we'll follow for our discussions:

• What was your overall impression of this book?
• What are the most valuable insights you gleaned from reading this book?
• What did you learn that you want to apply to your ministry?
• What challenged you the most?
• Are there any points at which you disagree with the author?
• Is there anything you didn't understand?
If you want to start a book club, call a few colleagues in your area and make yourself accountable to reading in the new school year!

Lori Salomo
Ballwin, Missouri

SAMUEL MINISTRIES

To encourage children to serve and to train them to be leaders, we invite children to team up with mentor teachers in the kindergarten department. Each mentor teacher works with a child, builds a relationship with the child, and provides an opportunity for the child to actually teach the mentor teacher's small group during class time. We give the children special name tags to set them apart from the younger children. And we give them special recognition at our annual volunteer appreciation event.

Samme Rousopoulos
Indianapolis, Indiana

CRAFT PARENTS

If you're not looking forward to all the crafts you'll need to coordinate for the upcoming school year's lessons, get some help. Ask a few parents of children in your class to periodically help prepare crafts for your lessons.

Make a list of future lessons and corresponding crafts. Assign each parent a different craft to prepare, gather supplies for, and teach to the children. Encourage parents to come up with new crafts if they don't like the crafts in their lessons.

This brings fresh ideas to your class. And children love having their parents in class. It also encourages parents who might want to help but aren't sure how to get started.

Post a sign-up sheet so you give teenagers and college students the chance to sign up too. And remember to send thank you notes to all helpers and volunteers.

Here's another idea: Parents who don't do crafts (like many dads) may want to plan and lead games instead.

Deedra Mettlen
Liberty, Texas

PHOTO RECRUITING

We discovered a great way to impact our church members during recruiting time for our new church year. Because most people don't see all our children together at one time, we decided to show people what a great group of preschoolers we have.

Using our church's digital camera, I took a photo of each of our 145 preschoolers. We then downloaded the photos to the computer and enlarged each one to an 8¥10 print. We mounted each photo on a brightly colored sheet of paper and laminated the mounted photos.

Near our front entrance, we made a display using all the photos with the slogan "Here are 145 good reasons to serve in children's ministry! Get the picture?"

This display was a hit! I heard many people say, "I didn't realize we had that many preschoolers!"

Janet Butler
Independence, Missouri

REMINDERS THAT STICK

Part of our volunteer recruitment each year includes preparing a written job description for every position in children's ministry. In each job description, we list the mission of the job, the responsibilities, the preparation needed, and the training events that are part of the commitment.

Letting people know at the beginning about training sessions is very important to us. So this year in addition to listing the training dates on the job descriptions, we've also made little stickers for volunteers to put on their calendars that'll remind them of the training dates.

We don't have a large budget, so we just use mailing labels and Microsoft Publisher software to make the labels. Each label contains the name of the event, the date, and the time. We give a set of stickers to each volunteer. All volunteers have to do is cut them apart and stick them on their calendars. This is our way of informing our staff well in advance, and it helps volunteers fulfill their commitments with excellence.

Lori Salomo
Ballwin, Missouri

WHOSE POLICY IS IT, ANYWAY?

Here's a fun way to get your volunteers to become experts in your ministry's policies and procedures.

You'll need:

• Several copies of your volunteer handbook.

• One hat or bowl with several slips of paper, each containing a challenge that your handbook addresses, such as "You're out of construction paper," "Two children get in a fight, and one gets a bloody nose," or "A parent tells you Johnny is deathly allergic to peanut oil."

• One hat or bowl containing slips of paper listing movie and TV genres, such as soap opera, low-budget action movie, western, or infomercial.

Form groups of four. Have each group draw one slip of paper from each hat or bowl. Instruct groups to first find the solutions to their ministry challenges in their ministry handbooks. Once group members find the solution, their next job is to create a skit to present their findings using the movie or TV genre they drew.

Give the groups 10 minutes to prepare. Then have groups present their skits one at a time. After each skit, provide any other pertinent information that may've been missed in the drama. Your volunteers will have a blast and will actually read their handbooks.

Note: Some policy matters shouldn't be explored using this exercise. Avoid discussing your child abuse reporting policies and other sensitive subjects with this activity.

Larry Shallenberger
Erie, Pennsylvania

HOOK, LINE, AND SINKER

Throughout each year, we use a theme from that year's recruitment time. This year we're using a fishing theme. The following are just a few ideas we're using to carry out this fun theme.

• Affirmations-We have a fishbowl with a sign that says "Fill Our Tank" at our children's ministry information table for parents and children to write positive comments about teachers or other workers.

• Training-We're promoting teacher-training events as Fish for New Ideas sessions. We'll encourage our volunteers to have the patience of fishermen, to know the fish they're trying to catch, and to have their tackle clean and ready.

• Decorating-We'll decorate with obvious fishing items and use fishing Scriptures, such as the paraphrased Matthew 4:19: "I will make you fishers of people."

• Outreach and Discipleship-We'll "cast our nets on the waters" in outreach, and for discipleship, we'll "go to deeper waters."

Shelly Atkins
Roanoke, Virginia








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