This past weekend I was honored to be invited as they keynote speaker at a conference hosted by Spiritual Formation Ministry of the Wesleyan Church. (see www.wesleyankids.org) It was called The Huddle, and while there was several these Huddles around the country, I was at the Shenandoah district hosted by Parkway Wesleyan Church in Roanoke, Virginia.
Marty Martin, a Kidology CP Team member, invited me over a year ago and knew to lure me with pictures of the mountains that surround the church. I highly recommend installing mountains around your church!
The church is located on the top of it’s own mountain with a beautiful winding road leading up to it and has a spectacular view of the entire city.
Marty and his wife Patsy posing in a brisk cold wind in front of the church. They are an awesome team. Patsy leads the children’s worship as well helps with many other behind-the-scenes things. There joy of serving the Lord together was so evident.
It was obvious right away that this was a church that understands children. From the wind tunnel dude greeting visitors to the playground, granted, it was too cold to be filled wit children on Sunday!
Parkview has done a lot to communicate to parents that the church values children, and to make kids feel right at home.
When I got to the sign in desk there was a mom working with two adorable girls. As soon as I got my camera out and asked them to pose for a picture they vanished! (Oh, well) But they had a great security system. Every parents checks in and a two part tag is taken for each child with one half going to the child and the other to the parent to pick them up at the end. No one is allowed in the children’s ministry areas without either a Volunteer Badge (I know, I got stopped!) or a Parent Tag. And before an adult can leave with a child the two tags must be matched. There was a volunteer stationed at every door to the children’s ministry areas serving as a security guard. What a way to let parents know that the church takes the safety of their children very seriously. But seriousness if for adults, the kids are looking for FUN!
And a FUN children’s ministry it is! It is known as “The Kove,” and has a beach and underwater theme.
Aside from fun signs, surf boards, and fish nets, the rooms are amazingly decorated.
The preschool worship center is an underwater theme with an island for teaching, complete with a fountain with real water pouring:
And for the walls, instead of just painting fish, they had the children make hand prints on the walls that they then painted to make into fish, here are just just a few samples:
They let me know that they aren’t done yet, and still have some more to do, but I was impressed with what I saw!
The preschoolers each have their own rooms by age, but came together for a very lively and interactive time of singing and a group activity. This week they hunted the Kove for “lost sheep.” (cleverly disguised as cotton balls)
Marty contemplating the deeper mysteries of children’s ministry with the talking tree in the hallway. The building is filled with fun activities for children:
The games are all available for the kids who come early, as well as for a 10-15 minute segment during Sunday School. For the younger children (1st and 2nd grade), they get a play break in the middle of the Sunday School hour while the older kids have their play time either at the beginning or end. It provides a nice break for them and, of course, provides another reason for kids to want to come to church. However, Parkway offers a special class for combined 2-5th grade for students who want to go deeper into Bible study. This is provided for the more solidly grounded kids from strong Christian homes. I dropped in as they were doing a study through the book of Genesis. I like the option that is offered to parents.
I especially liked that despite the busyness of a Sunday morning, Marty still had time to meet with a boy and his parents who had accepted Christ and to give him a special book to remember the occasion. (It was a neat book where the child puts a picture of themself in the back and then their face is in the story on every page because of a cut out. He gave me a copy for my little boy.)
Finally, it was time for Kid’s Church, my favorite part of Sunday!
I love how much they use kids to serve! Above you see the Judah Dancers (who performed at the conference on Saturday) who performed a special number for Kid’s Church.
Marty has put the “Kids” back in “Kids Church!” There were kids leading worship, running the tech booth, and serving as ushers. The kids sign up in the hallway for weeks ahead of time and then each week it is posted who is serving where this week.
And even aside from advance serving positions, throughout the service, if there was anything a kid could do, a kid did do!
Here is a girl working the prize store that opens after church where the kids can spend the paper money they can earn during the service by answering questions, being well behaved, etc.
But the service wasn’t only about fun and decor – there was a great message for kids too! Here is Marty dressed in one of their many regular characters that visit. Their current unit is “Dirty Jobs of the Bible” and the topic was Fishing, so a hilly billy guy (I forgot his name!) came out and talked about how dirty fishing is. Marty also had a video of him going to a fish market and learning to gut a fish. Yes! He showed a fish getting de-capitated and gutted in children’s church! The kids loved it, especially when he broke open a clam and ate the raw meat inside. (Yuck!)
It’s obvious that Marty knows the power of humor, drama and story telling to capture the attention and then the hearts and minds of kids!
Then he went through several facts about fishing and how they relate to our Christian life. It was a great lesson and all the different creative elements came together so appropriately for the lesson. It was fun, but it was fun with a defined purpose in focus.
Marty asked me to come on Sunday as a consultant to provide some evaluation and input on ways they can improve as a ministry, and while I was able to come up with a few ideas and suggestions, it was almost a stretch. They have a few things they can improve (don’t we all) but overall, they are dong a FANTASTIC job at Parkway Wesleyan Church.
I didn’t want to post pictures of everything they have done, but I thought it was a great idea to have these classic funny mirrors in the hallway for the kids. I even had some fun with them:
I think what I liked best about the children’s ministry at Pastor Marty’s church can’t be captured in pictures. When I visit churches there are always lots of pictures to take and post and the unintended message can be that facilities are what is most important or was the highlight. Far from it. As addressed head on in the Kidology Online Training Lab Kid-Focused Ministry Foundations, fun is important, but only as a means to an end, not as the end itself.
What I loved the most at Parkway is hard to describe, but the easiest way to say it is that kids are allowed to be kids. There was no attempt to get kids to somehow act like well behaved mini-adults. They were allowed to play, to laugh, to wiggle, and to be more than just a little noisy at times. They were never out of control, but they were never completely under control either – the way I like it – the way it should be when dealing with a large group of children. There was a healthy release from trying to manage and control every child. They were in a secure environment, and had a focus and purpose for why they were there, but within the safe area and collective purpose, they were allowed to be wired as God wired them, and that isn’t to sit still and listen the entire time. They got to laugh and play and watch and listen and respond and sing and at times, not even pay attention – but they learned and engaged. It was a masterfully orchestrated service that understood how kids are made. I was very impressed.
One of the things I liked the best is what they call their helpers who are out among the children during the service, they are called the Love Patrol. I love that! Patsy, Marty’s wife, explained why she calls them that when I asked later. “Our first job is to love the kids, so that is why the helpers are there. But the kids do need some patroling too, so we call them Love Patrol so they don’t forget that their #1 job is to love on the kids, even as they correct behavior or guide them back toward the stage.” (not an exact quote, my summary!)
But the secret to their ability to love on and teach kids without feeling like they have to be in constant absolute strict control every momment probably stems from the fact that their home is filled with five boys!
It was pretty obvious that the secret to Pastor Marty’s success as a children’s pastor lies in his success as a dad of two boys, two adopted boys and a being a foster parent as well. (And his home partner is his ministry partner as well!) Marty and Patsy have a children’s ministry at church and at home. When Jesus said, “If you love me, feed my sheep” the Martins took that quite literally! (I know, I had spaghetti dinner at their house!)
See more pictures from the trip in my online gallery:
BONUS: See me eating a snake on Marty’s blog!