Friday, January 27, 2023

2022 Family Ministries Report

Family Ministries Report
(Part of the 2022 Annual Report for Lanse Evangelical Free Church. Submitted by Pastor Matt with contributions from Keith Hurley and Holly Crumrine.)

Undoubtably, 2022 was a pivotal year for our ministry to the children and youth of our church and community. As the year began and we started to more fully emerge from the era of pandemic disruptions, we convened a “Custom Rebuild Team” as a temporary task force to re-think, re-imagine, and re-tool our ministries to the next generation. And we called upon the whole church family to pray for their work.

I had the privilege to serve as the leader of that team and as the interim Coordinator of Children’s Ministries in 2022. Leading and developing these ministries was a significant portion of my work as your pastor last year, and I’m grateful for the strong progress we made together. We have come so far!

The task force was made up of a diverse group of volunteers including several parents of younger children, a few parents of older children and teens, some teachers, and folks who have served in child discipleship ministry for many years. They invested a substantial amount of time, meeting in person and participating in a steady flow of electronic messages in between meetings. Early in the year, Cody Crumrine, the elder overseeing children’s ministries, stepped up as a co-leader to facilitate many of the brainstorming sessions and to spearhead some of the initiatives.

While the basic intent of the team was to review our ministries and make recommendations, this group was also itching to try out new things and get things started. They didn’t want to just focus on structures, systems, and programs, so the group also functioned as a planning and leadership team for the many strategies we experimented with in 2022.

In the first part of the year, we focused on (1) the rich history of our church’s ministries to children and youth (2) the many assets and strengths our church has for this kind of ministry, (3) the trends and problems we’ve encountered in recent years, and (4) the challenges facing families in today’s cultural moment.

Parents are Key!

Very early in the process, the Lord impressed upon our team the importance of parents in the equation. Parents are called to be the primary discipling influence on the children in their homes. We came to the conviction that the central focus of all of our discipling ministries should be to come alongside the parents (and those, such as grandparents, who sometimes step in to serve in the parental role) to support them in their efforts to make disciples of their children. This ministry is about the whole family growing in their followership of Christ.
To clearly reflect that central focus and new emphasis, we renamed our task force “The Family Discipleship Vision Team,” and included ministry to and through parents in all the things we worked on for the rest of the year. I preached a special message about it, “Impress Them On Your Children.” The FDVT also began to survey LEFC parents to understand their needs, desires, interests, ideas, and concerns. We discovered that we were regularly serving at least 29 families with 54 children (newborn to age 18) in our congregation.

Starting Small / Dreaming Big

We knew that, no matter how much we wanted to, we couldn’t do everything and that we didn’t currently have the means and leadership to create a large-scale ongoing whole-church program. So, instead, at each meeting, in addition to working on our overarching recommendations, the FDVT tackled little parts of the problem and tried small, sustainable experiments in ministry to the whole family: children, youth, and parents.

- Ark Park Meet ‘n Play

For example, we created a weekly gathering at the Ark Park geared towards moms and their little ones. Jordyn Skacel and other leaders showed up to visit with any mothers and their tykes who were free every Wednesday morning all summer for a play-date on the playground. The church provided restrooms, juice bags, and some new toddler play equipment, and moms enjoyed many good conversations.

- Family Fellowship Events

Discipleship happens best in community. Several of the parents suggested in the surveys that we get families together for fellowship, especially after the disconnection of covid. So one of the first things the FDVT organized was a families’ outing to an Altoona Curve game. Then, in the autumn, we planned a Harvest Party for LEFC Families that attracted around 50 kids and adults.

- Outreach to Families at West Branch

Most of the families in our area are vitally connected to the West Branch School, and the school’s administration has invited us to partner with them and have more of a presence at their events. In June, we sent a family ministry team to participate in the West Branch Jubilee for their summer kick-off. Our team did face-painting, handed out water bottles and flyers for Family Bible Week, and invited folks to take a spiritual interest survey. At the Jubilee, one of the kids told me, “You are the pastor from the Church at the Ark Park!” In October, we sent 800 glo-sticks as gifts for the safe trick-or-treat event on campus reminding the WB kids that they are loved and that Jesus is the light of the world.

- Family Bible Week 2022

I wasn’t sure if we were going to have a Family Bible Week this year. I approached seven different leaders to see if any were interested in serving as the FBW director, and they all said that they would be glad to help but didn’t feel able to lead the whole thing this year. So I volunteered to do it myself, and the Elders (and Heather!) approved the use of my time for directing it this year. I thoroughly enjoyed the process. We have a wonderful army of joyful volunteers (12 people just on the teaching team, not counting all of the folks who help with the food, decorations, music, games and everything else!), and we had a terrific year. The theme centered on creativity with Mary Beth Moslak as our FBW Artistic Director. Together we experienced a little taste of the creativeness that God has instilled in all of us as His living artwork!

- New Nursery Coordinator

This year, Becky Schiefer agreed to assume leadership of our Nursery Ministry (birth through age 2) and held a meeting to re-organize and refresh that vital ministry of loving babies and toddlers while their parents are listening to the Sunday message. Thank you to all who serve in that critical ministry!

- New Worldview Training Class for Youth

Keith Hurley came to FDVT meetings with a burden for teaching teens about a Christian worldview. We helped him develop his idea and launch the “Ideas Have Consequences” Worldview Training Class in the Fall with a small team of volunteers (Heather Hurley, Laura Michaels, Joan Page, and myself). Here is the central idea in Keith’s own words:
On September 11, 2022 Youth Group began meeting regularly again for the first time since March 2020. Due the curriculum being my own creation and my work schedule, the time for Youth has been moved from Wednesday to Sunday nights every other week.

Over the course of the fall, we covered what a worldview is. Our subjects have been, Truth, God, the Bible, and Jesus. I have attempted to give two "Whys" for every "What".  For each subject, we discussed who/what the subject material is (What is truth? Who is God?), why we as Christians believe in said subject, and why it matters in this day and age. We have looked at some of the evidence for each subject such as the philosophical reasons to believe that God exists and the historical reasons to believe that Jesus actually rose from the dead.

This spring, we will be covering how to share our beliefs with others, by studying Gregory Koukl's “Tactics” video series. My hopes for this whole year of Youth Group has been to demonstrate to the youth that there are rational reasons to believe in a Christian world view and to show the youth how to engage those around them in discussion about those beliefs.
The class continues in 2023, every other Sunday evening. Parents are always welcome!

- Expanding Children’s Church

Over the last few years, Children’s Church has become our central Bible-teaching ministry for kids. Because more students were coming, we decided in the spring to once again divide the one class into two. We now have “Little Learners” (age 3 through kindergarten) and “Bible Explorers” (grades 1 through 3) that meet during the Sunday sermon time. To serve the two classes well, we also doubled the number of teachers and helpers (and picked up a regular substitute teacher)! We now have 17 teachers and helpers regularly in rotation for that ministry.

- “This Week in Children’s Church” 

Our Children's Church ministry uses The Gospel Project as our Bible study curriculum. The Gospel Project is really excellent. It takes our young students chronologically through the whole Bible over the course of three years while always focusing on Jesus as the center of the big story. 

Parents can use The Gospel Project, too! This year, we added a section in the bulletin each Sunday that introduces this week’s lesson and refers parents to more discipleship resources that we provide (Big Picture Story Cards and Take-Home Sheets) to reinforce the gospel truths the students are learning in class.

- The Gospel Project At Home

We also gained access to “The Gospel Project At Home” which is a free online family devotional guide centered around the same lesson all of the kids are studying in Children’s Church. Each devotional guide includes Scripture to discuss with a recap video of the Bible story, memory verses, a song to sing together, prayer prompts, and family activities that correspond to the lesson. I think this resource can be especially helpful if a child has to miss a week of Children’s Church, and I’m hoping that our families increasingly take advantage of it.

- “The Family Table” Email Newsletter

To increase communication directly with parents, we created “The Family Table” email newsletter which goes out every Sunday at noon. This email contains the weekly link to the Gospel Project at Home, short reminders of items of note for families, and one big recommendation of things for parents and kids to read, listen to, or watch to set the table for great family discipleship conversations in their homes.

Thank you, Holly Crumrine, for designing the snazzy TFT logo! Grandparents, guardians, care-givers and other adults who want to make disciples of the next generation are also invited to sign up to receive “The Family Table.” We’re hoping that this new resource serves to feed the faith of our LEFC Families. 

- Christmas Caroling and Christmas Sunday Presentation

For the second year in a row, I organized a Christmas Caroling ministry team for LEFC families to visit and encourage the homebound and older folks in our church family. We had 10 different families participate this year (more younger families than ever before) making 12 different stops over three hours! It’s encouraging to see families serve together. On Christmas Sunday, Emigh Modzel taught a special lesson on how candy canes can tell us what is really important about Jesus’ birth.  

Six Big Recommendations 

In August, the Family Discipleship Vision Team presented six formal recommendations for the Elders and church family to prayerfully consider. These included grouping the church’s various ministries to children, youth, and parents together under the name, “Family Ministries,” adopting a a new purpose statement for LEFC Family Ministries, reorganizing the leadership structure for family ministry, and asking a new Family Ministries Team to continue the work of evaluating all of our family ministries, policies, and procedures for effectiveness while developing new ministry ideas for the future. We’re in the process of implementing these recommendations over time.

Among the FDVT’s bigger recommendations was to employ a Director of Family Ministry, a part-time paid staff position hired to lead LEFC Families ministries. This person would potentially carry on and extend the work that I had been doing all last year. While we have many willing volunteers among our members, we do not currently have many people who feel able to lead the leaders and develop the whole big picture. In December, the church family discussed the desirability, possibility, and feasibility of this idea and then unanimously decided to prayerfully consider it for three months and revisit it at our next quarterly meeting. 

Difficult but Rewarding

The process of developing family ministry this year has been challenging. One of the hardest parts has been to decide together to not restart beloved ministries which had been effective in the past such as Children’s Sunday School, Family Bible Night, ABC Kids, Kids for Christ, and MOPS.  I miss those programs and am grateful for their long-term impact.

But the process has also been very rewarding. I’m encouraged to see so many things come together and be developed, and I’m hopeful for the future. Thank you for praying for this ministry all year long and for freeing me to invest my time and attention to the work.

Vision for 2023

The Family Discipleship Vision Team was disbanded at the end of 2022. Thank you to all who served on that temporary task force! 

Holly Crumrine has agreed to serve as the last elected Children’s Ministries Coordinator and help us transition to the new approach in 2023. In January, she led a well-attended planning meeting that has gotten a number of terrific new things in the works already. They may be small, but they are significant, and they build on last year’s efforts.

New Ministries

It looks like the next new family ministry will be an after-church sermon-interaction time on Sundays called "Snack and Yack" designed for older kids in grades 3-7 (perhaps too mature for children’s church and not quite ready for the youth class). More on that soon!  

New Leaders

Vicky Albert will assume the role of Children’s Church Coordinator in March. See her if you want to get involved. We are always looking to develop new teachers and helpers for that key ministry. 

Holly has agreed to direct the 2023 Family Bible Week, and people are already signing up to help organize it. See her to add your name to the growing list.

New Purpose

At the first planning meeting for family ministries in 2023, Holly reminded the group of our new purpose statement: Helping Families Thrive in Christ. LEFC Family Ministries exist to bring families into a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ through ministries to the children, youth, and parents of our church and community.

May the Lord fulfill that purpose in us in small and big ways this year and beyond!

Creating art together!