Let me set up the videos above. As in, if you watch them first, you’ll be watching them out of context.
For those of you unfamiliar with video curriculum, many ministries in the last decade have moved to leveraging multimedia when it comes to the Sunday school arena. Video curriculum gives you lots of options – many even come with pre-packaged worship sets that you and your kids can sing along with… no music skills required. A little over 4 years ago, that was an attractive selling point to our church – a church in a leadership transition with a history of good kids’ programs. So, imagine you’re a 4th grade boy visiting our church for the first time on a Sunday because your friend invited you. You walk into the large group space a few minutes late and see a bunch of kids staring at a giant screen in a dark room and the above video is going.
Now… go ahead, watch the videos.
There are churches that have a group of kids’ ministry leaders who can pull off singing along to songs like what you see above. The team sells it, they teach the songs beforehand to the kids and they pull it off. We didn’t have that team of leaders.
And so… our kids sat there. Staring at the screen while my heart was breaking.
If you’ve been following along with this series, you know that a few years ago, the kids in the elementary ministry programs at our church were having a hard time engaging in the time of the morning we would spend singing songs. So, we killed singing on Sunday mornings in an effort to re-teach our kids about worship.
It wasn’t a popular move, but sometimes deciding to do nothing is better than just doing something out of habit.
Now, fast-forward a bunch of months and you’d find us at a point where I was ready to bring music back to the kids on Sundays… I just had to figure out where to start.
Worship should be joyful
The first thing I felt like we needed to teach the kids at our church was that singing songs at church can be fun. For many, this isn’t a new concept. But, for kids who had experienced karaoke worship to songs that they had never heard before, making worship a joyful experience was a priority. Understanding that there’s a difference between joyful songs and silly songs was an important thing for our team to understand during this transition.
Having only served in ministry on the West Coast, I can’t make an assumption about kids in the rest of the country… but, I can tell you this – if I would have stood in front of our kids and started singing “Father Abraham”, “He’s got the whole world”, or “Kumbaya” on a Sunday morning, my kids would have stormed the stage and punched me in the throat. We’re talking about 4th and 5th graders who already think that singing at church is lame – if I reinforce the stereotype, we’re doomed. In the same way, if I simply found a “better” video curriculum to sing along with, our kids might have flashbacks to the experiences I was trying to distance them from. Again, this isn’t to say that certain songs are bad or that video curriculum is deficient – we just needed to go a different direction.
Doing what isn’t easy
While I was on staff at Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena, CA, I worked with a guy named Tim Scheidler. The way I lead large group teaching is a result of working alongside Tim for years. I remember a Sunday sometime around Thanksgiving that Tim was out of town and it was my job to lead worship for the morning. I bombed. It was then and there that I decided that I needed to learn an instrument well enough to lead worship. However, I didn’t put the time and effort in until years later when I realized that the ministry I was leading needed to make a shift in worship and that I was going to need to lead our team through it.
(If I could go back and coach myself on one thing, this might be the thing that I’d make myself work on… having the ability to play an instrument in your ministry tool belt is pretty invaluable)
So, I learned how to play a guitar. I wasn’t great overnight – it took a ton of time to figure out what I was doing. But, I decided to put in the effort to do what was important for the future of our ministry. Down the road, I fully planned on passing off worship leading to others in our ministry. But, at the time, I felt like I needed to be able to model for them where we were going.
So, the Sunday came when I was ready to bring music back. We were beginning a series on the Fruit of the Spirit (I used the natural transition of a series to introduce something “new”) and I wanted to pick a sort of “theme song” that would carry us through the next 5 weeks. I also wanted to pick a song that was joyful and that was newish to the majority of our kids (remember, I wanted to distance myself from the idea that music at church was a) only for little kids and/or b) lame).
So, I picked this song… or at least my own version of it that I picked up from my buddy, Tim, while at Lake Ave.
The Fruit of the Spirit song is goofy enough to be fun, interactive (we let the kids “pick” the next fruit we’re going to sing about… and we only do 3 fruits to keep the song shortish), our kids didn’t already know it, it elevated the main teaching during the series, and it’s a song that I could play on my guitar. I had slides on the big screen that listed out the words and, because I wasn’t singing along to a recording, I could take pauses to teach kids the next part of the song before we just threw it at them.
After that series, I began to work a second song into the morning. I tried to choose one song that would elevate the morning’s message and another song that would be fun to rock out to (think “Every Move I Make” or my buddy Eric Shouse’s version of “Superhero“.
We did a whole year of just two songs, reinforcing the idea that worship in song can be a joyful experience. Tomorrow’s post will catch us up to speed with where we’re at today, with Friday’s post wrapping things up with some thoughts on where we’re heading.
During this blog series, I continue to receive comments, facebook messages, DMs on twitter and emails from others in kids’ ministry who have found themselves in similar situations. Part of why I wanted to blog this transition is because I think a lot of us have faced this very problem – especially in terms of elementary programs and ministries.
I’m also hearing that the ideas behind our transition are bigger than just kids’ worship on Sunday mornings. I totally agree! If your ministry has been through transitions that you’ve written about, feel free to post links in the comments section. We only learn from each other when we stop lurking in the shadows of blogs and start actually sharing ideas and dreams with each other.