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Children's ministry roundtables create connections

Children's ministry roundtables create connections

Church Vitality

After a large church uses its Vacation Bible School literature, decorations and music, those and other resources could sit on a shelf in a dark closet.

Or they could be put back to work, shining the light of Christ on children at other churches that have fewer resources.

For about two years, leaders of children's ministries from churches throughout the Florida Conference have held quarterly roundtable meetings to create connections and help churches get the support they need.

It is estimated there are more than 400 children's ministers and directors in the Florida Conference. One of the goals of the roundtable discussions includes sharing ideas for community outreach.

“The children's ministry roundtables have been essential in helping me keep my fingers on the pulse of what is happening in the local church and how we at the LEC can better serve our conference churches,” said Melissa Cooper, who is in charge of program ministry at the Life Enrichment Center in Fruitland Park.

Before they connect, children's ministry leaders need to find the dots. To that end, roundtable attendees used their Nov. 3 meeting at the conference center in Lakeland to generate a list of every Methodist children's ministry director in the state of Florida.

It's estimated that there are more than 400 children's ministers and directors in the Florida Conference's 650 Methodist churches.

When the list is complete, Annette Johnson, director of children's ministries and preschool supervisor at First United Methodist Church in Gainesville, says the hope is to better connect people who are geographically close together.

The idea is to get them in the same room talking about what is working and not working in their respective churches, she said. They will also talk about sharing resources and costs.

“Putting those people in connection with each other so that they can plan ahead…is creating less waste,” Johnson said. “It's being better stewards of the money that's being given to us by our churches.”

One challenge is helping churches to incorporate worship and programming that is more intergenerational. Events like Dad and Me Weekend are held by the Life Enrichment Center and LECFamily.

We talk about ways that we can help one another with our curriculum, recruiting volunteers, the types of resources we need for our programs,” said Betsy Mae Wilson, director of family ministries at Morrison United Methodist Church in Leesburg. As a result of her attending the roundtables, her church has started taking part in Rooted, a conference youth ministry training event.

Wilson said Morrison UMC has shared Deep Blue Sunday school curriculum with Newberry United Methodist—two churches located more than 80 miles apart.

“It's awesome to be able to help another church,” she said. “We're able to reach out and share God's love with other children and other programs, so they have access to it if they can't afford it.”

The roundtables also provide an opportunity for children's ministers to discuss their unique professional challenges and frustrations. Church leaders hope being in touch with one another will create more sustainable ministries.

At a more recent meeting, held Feb. 2, discussion continued with a plan to focus on mission and vision for the team. With the idea to work together more in the future, an additional roundtable has already been scheduled April 20.

The Life Enrichment Center includes LECFamily, the intergenerational ministry arm. Cooper stated that because of the relationships she has formed with others at the roundtable, she has "been able to create even more meaningful experiences for families at our various events” like Mom and Me Weekend and Dad and Me Weekend. Cooper has been able to reach out and help churches think in more intergenerational ways about how they do worship and programming within their congregations, as well.

Wilson said she hopes the roundtables lead to the sharing of more community outreach ideas that work. For example, once a month, Morrison UMC hosts a Friday Night Special event in which 50-70 children—preschool students, young church members and their friends from the Leesburg community—come for an evening of fun and spiritual growth that includes games, dinner, Bible story time and crafts.

It's a program Wilson wants to share with her peers at the roundtable.

--Ed Scott is a freelance writer based in Venice.

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