The following is a guest post by Lacey Melinder of Bethel Bible Church in Tyler, TX. Their average attendance is 80 children (Kindergarten- 5th grade). They use TGP for two identical Sunday morning services; the skit portion of the worship curriculum for a 25 minute large group and then break into grade-level small groups for the remaining 30 minutes. We contacted Lacey after Bethel Kids tweeted some awesome theme-related set pictures to us.
December 3, 2011. The Saturday night before the first Sunday in December and I was in way over my head. My dreams of a Christmas wonderland had turned into a frenzy of glitter in my hair and dozens and dozens of cardboard boxes surrounding me, still waiting to be gift wrapped. I finally left the church at 10:30 not “holly jolly” and certainly not emotionally ready for church the next morning. “Never again,” I muttered as swung through Taco Bell for a near 11 pm drive-through dinner. “NEVER again.”
Surely I’m alone in this, right? You’ve probably never been there.
Right then, I realized that man should not theme alone.
But first, why do you theme? We theme to create an environment that is out of the norm and captures our kids. When they walk into large group, is our space set-apart and different or does it feel like just another typical Sunday morning? We have a small window of opportunity to get our kids to listen with different ears when they come on Sunday. The truth our group teaches from “Covenant Campground” is the exact same truth that would be taught if I simply sat on the stage with a microphone and my bible. But how do our kids hear it? Why not engage them with the visual environment if it helps them hear?
While I love dreaming big and watching an idea come to life on a stage, I (and you) need help. When we first started using The Gospel Project, I was thrilled to see that it had a very clear theme for each unit and including some great staging ideas. I could keep it simple and put a few props onstage that lend themselves to the theme or go as big as my mind could imagine and change the whole environment. Usually I land somewhere in the middle.
Theming can be overwhelming. Here’s a few things we do at Bethel Kids to make a big impact manageable for a small team.
Look for the potential in your church body.
Theming for the current unit, “The Covenant Renewed” began with a living room meeting to brainstorm with a very creative and talented friend of mine who is also a member at my church. Two weeks prior I sent her the blurb from The Gospel Project curriculum about the news station theme and asked if she would think on it and spend an hour talking about her ideas. She’s a graphic designer turned stay-at-home-mom who loves to think creatively and dream about what “could be.” Time with another creative mind got me excited about this project and made it fun rather than another daunting task. Who at your church could help you begin thinking creatively?
Ask. What’s the worst that could happen?
After our brainstorming meeting, I had lot of ideas and about a week or so to execute. We decided that in the time available I could create a skyline to hang up behind a news desk and make a prop TV studio camera out of cardboard boxes. Great!
Then I got sick. Life happens sometimes and your plans have to change. There was no way I could create all of these pieces from scratch on my own. So I asked for help. The local news station gave us permission to borrow one of their old studio cameras from 1973. That monster weighed a TON so I was not moving it by myself but a few of our staff guys took time out of their day and hauled it for me. Camera? Check. Skyline? We are blessed to have a great relationship with Pine Cove Christian Camps, and they let me borrow a backdrop that was once used for a superhero skit. The professional backdrop looked so much cooler and took way less effort than anything I could make.
I just asked. They could’ve said no, and I would have been in the same place I was before asking. Props can be found anywhere with enough advance notice. Is there a local community theater, high school, community college or other church you can borrow from? You may just have to ask.
Always look for ideas.
For “Covenant Campground” we kept things pretty simple. We pitched a tent that I borrowed from the Pre-K director’s husband, made a fire out of brown paper bags and tissue paper and hung up a few stars. The brown paper fire circle was idea that I saw on Pinterest. It wasn’t elaborate, but communicated the general idea. The internet is at your fingertips. I follow a good number of blogs and Pinterest boards from creative teachers, theater departments and event planners. Even if I never plan to throw a Dora the Explorer party, I may need tips on how to create a paper forest or mountain. I have no shame in saving those ideas.
Are you following any event blogs? Pinterest boards? Parenting magazines? Don’t get overwhelmed by keeping it all filed, just see it and let it come back to you when you need it.
Keep it simple.
A tent, a fire circle and stars. That’s all we needed to convey the idea that we were NOT at Bethel Kids anymore. The kids walked in that morning in a frenzy. “What is going on? Ms. Lacey, what are you doing? Why is there a tent onstage? This is awesome! Are we doing something fun today???”
I’m so glad you asked. Yes, we are doing something fun today.
Christmas is coming. I know that on December 1 I’m going to need to tear down the whole news station set and recreate the Christmas wonderland. Remember how I said I would never do it alone again? I have a solution this year. Youth volunteers, pizza and Elf.
I love spending time with my youth volunteers and always wish I could hang with them outside of the Sunday morning chaos but there hasn’t really been a good reason for it to happen. Until now. On that Saturday we’re going to order pizza, have Elf playing on the big screens in the large group room and have a massive decorating party.
Things might not get done exactly the way I want them done. I can guarantee you that some of my goof-ball guys will hide ridiculous things in the Christmas tree and have oversized candy cane sword fights. That’s fine with me – they’ll be the ones climbing into the attic this year. At the end of the day I will not have been at the church for 12 hours (win for me) and those youth volunteers will be pumped about coming the next day to see the kids’ reaction (win for everyone).
After Christmas is archaeology. My brainstorming buddy suggested that I take advantage of after-Halloween sales to buy bone props to turn into fossils. After that… camel tour guide. Camel tour guide??? That one’s got me stumped. But I know it’s coming and so does my brainstorming friend.
That’s enough of a head start for me.