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The handcuffs clicked tight, we shuffled into the small cell, and the locked door slammed behind us. That was the night our whole children’s ministry staff ended up in jail.

Ok, that’s a little dramatic and definitely not what you think. While the handcuffs were real (and too tight), we weren’t really in jail. We were taking on the challenge of “C-Block,” an escape room from Escape Experience in Nashville, TN.

If you’ve never done an escape room, you’re basically locked inside a small room and forced to gather clues, solve puzzles, and channel your inner MacGyver to escape the room before the clock runs out. It’s intense and challenging, but tons of fun. It advertises itself to be a great team building exercise, so we put that to the test.

Over the last 12 months, our staff team has had multiple transitions. We saw a few staff members change roles in the church and five new staff members join our team. Along with the staff changes, we also changed curriculum and much of our Sunday morning schedule.

Here’s the crazy part: Things are going great! Even with all that change and certainly despite my distracted leadership, our team was more unified in our work and our attitude. By God’s grace, our team was thriving in a season of change. As we prepared to attend the ETCH Conference in Nashville, TN (which I highly recommend and will blog about later), I prayed that God would do something to unify our team even more.

The conference gave us training and more encouragement for our ministry roles, but God did something extra special through handcuffs and the intense pressure of a ticking clock.  Here’s why it was so good to be handcuffed in a jail cell with the Children’s Ministry staff:

It Created a Lasting Memory

After we escaped the jail cell—with 14:41 to spare—the entire team immediately began to recall the experience. We laughed about funny moments. We wondered how we missed clues and found others. And for the next 48 hours, we pretended like every random sign, locked door, or manhole contained a clue to help us escape! I imagine that this experience will be something that we all talk about for years to come because it was such a unique and lasting memory.

It Gave Everyone a Chance to Use Their Skills

Only 42% of groups escape “C-Block” in the allotted time, While the experience was fun, it was also very challenging.  It took the whole team working together and using their unique skills to piece together the clues. There was problem solving, data processing, listening, communicating, dexterity (which I proved was not my strength). Each team member had a chance to contribute and shine as they used their skills.

It Confirmed that We are Better Together

As I watched the team work together so fluidly and effectively inside the jail cell, I caught a glimpse of how God is using our team as a TEAM to proclaim the Gospel to kids. I realized how God is building this team so that each piece compliments the other pieces and at the same time needs the other pieces. There’s no way we would’ve made it out of that escape room if we had been missing even just one person. We are better together, and my prayer is that God will be glorified as this team works together to reach kids and families with the Gospel.

I’m not sure when, but I’m certain that we’ll be back in an escape room. This experience gave me so many ideas for injecting energy into our meetings, working together to solve problems, and just having similar fun to build a stronger team. If you lead a team of volunteers, employees, or a discipleship group, I encourage you to check out your closest escape game and have some fun growing together.

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It’s 9:00 pm Saturday night and Bill is frantically searching his email for the lesson that was emailed to him earlier in the week. When he finally finds it and prints it off, it’s 10:00 pm. He glances at it (not really to read it but just to make sure it all printed), and then shoves it in his Bible so he’ll have it when he leads his small group on Sunday morning.

Is this how your volunteers prepare to lead a small group? In the busyness of your life and theirs, how can you help them prepare to lead their small group well?

To help our small group leaders, I included a page in our training manual called “How to Prepare for Sunday Morning in 15 Minutes or Less.” The idea was to give them a practical way to be well prepared for Sunday by spending a little bit of time with the lesson each day. Here is what we included:

I adapted this schedule from an example found in Wholly Kids from Lifeway:Kids. This is an amazing resource on how kids learn, how to design engaging environments, and how to lead volunteers.

 HOW TO PREPARE FOR SUNDAY MORNING (in 15 minutes or less!)

Monday

  • Read the Fifty6 Team Email and print a copy of this week’s lesson
  • Read the Scripture passage for this week’s lesson from your Bible

Time: 5 minutes

Tuesday

  • Read the Scripture passage for this week’s lesson from your Bible
  • Read the Large Group teaching time

Time: 10-15 minutes

Wednesday

  • Read the Scripture passage for this week’s lesson from your Bible
  • Read the Small Group portion of the lesson—Think, Discuss, & React

Time: 15 minutes

Thursday

  • Read the Scripture passage for this week’s lesson from your Bible
  • Write down your responses/answers to the Small Group discussion questions

Time: 15 minutes

Friday

  • Read the Scripture passage for this week’s lesson from your Bible
  • Pray for the students in your group by name

Time: 10 minutes

Saturday

  • Read the Scripture passage for this week’s lesson from your Bible
  • Write down some fun or engaging questions to use during Huddle Time
  • Review the lesson and rest!

Time: 10 minutes

design23Yesterday, I got the opportunity to have a meeting with a future volunteer for our preteen ministry. His name is Sujay. Sujay communicated an interest in serving through our church-wide recruitment, we talked a few times via email, and then we set up a meeting to chat on Sunday morning.

My goal for the conversation was to get a feel for Sujay’s skills and work experience because he had signed up to work in a tech support role. As we talked, we got onto the topic of why he wanted to serve. His answer was amazing.

He shared with me about how he was growing and maturing in his faith while attending our church. He was so excited about everything that he was learning and applying to his life. He decided to serve because he wanted to have another way to worship God. Let me repeat that. He wanted to serve as an act of worshiping God.

This guy has “IT.”  I was ready to sign him up for a lifetime commitment. And just when I thought the conversation couldn’t get any better, Sujay floored me.

He wrapped up our conversation by asking about our plan for training young leaders. He shared his desire to take what he has learned and pass it on to the next generation!

We’re less than a month away from the launch of a new ministry year. I’m so excited to see what God does through an amazing group of leaders just like Sujay.

A while back, I learned about a very cool website from Jim Kast-Keat. Jim is extremely creative, and he is always introducing new methods for educating and inspiring others.

The site Jim taught me about was Xtranormal. The site allows you to create your own script and bring it to life in a movie. It takes a little practice to get the hang of the controls, but once you do it’s amazing!

I was first using the site just to make funny videos for my daughter, and then I had an idea. We were getting ready to revamp our entire preteen ministry. New identity, new physical space, new curriculum…everything new!

There was a lot of “info” to cover, but we first wanted to just start a buzz among our leaders about the exciting changes. So, I decided to create a short video that would announce the news to our leaders. Enjoy the video!