FREE V.B.S. Graphics

We know the time is upon us to start preparing for Vacation Bible School. There are many wonderful VBS resources out there for purchase, but we know some congregations either can’t afford the packages or simply like to prepare their own materials. We here at SPU decided to help you out with some FREE graphics we created just for such an occasion.

We’ve included all the basic graphics you need to help promote your VBS such as PowerPoint Slides, name tags, graphics, and VistaPrint-ready customizable postcards. You’ll need a graphic editor such as Photoshop or Gimp to customize, but we’ve also included JPG and PDF forms for those who want a less custom feel. 

We chose the theme “Out of This World” for our graphics. You can use whatever Bible themes you’d like with this. We used this theme several years ago at a VBS and we did Out of This World Bible stories and chose some of the more amazing stories in the Bible, but there are many directions you could go. Once again this material is free to use and distribute as you see fit. All we ask is that you help us share it on social media! Enjoy the files and have a great VBS!

Why Your Congregation Should Use Facebook Ads

We live in a social media-dominated society. Love it or hate it, it’s the reality of our presence. It’s been my observation that, though churches have come leaps and bounds in their ability to actively use this to their advantage, many have not fully invested in such. If your congregation spends any money at all on advertising events, meetings, etc. consider spending some of that on Facebook ads. Before I tell you the benefits of doing this, I’m making an assumption that your congregation has a dedicated Facebook Page. If it doesn’t, stop reading this right now and go create one. Here are some benefits to paying for Facebook ads:

  1. They’re budget friendly. As as small business owner, this factor was the most important to me when I first began my business. You set what you want to spend; anywhere from $5-$5000+ can get you started on an ad.
  2. They’re target specific. This, perhaps, is the most beautiful aspect of Facebook ads for churches. The targeting demographics you can use are nearly limitless. For example, say you’re having a Ladies event coming up that you’d like your county and other surrounding counties to know about. With Facebook ads, you can create an ad targeted towards females age X-X, in the location(s) of your choosing, and who are interested in Christianity, Christian Values, etc. It’s an unbelievably effective way to reach exactly who you want to reach!
  3. They’re far reaching. I can tell you from experience with my business that you get an unbelievable value from a small investment as people begin sharing and commenting on your ad. Recently, one of my businesses ran a targeted ad for $100 over the course of 7 days and reached 60,000 customers, all with vested interest in our product.
  4. They’re easy to create. Seriously, a nice ad is easily created without any fuss, or even moving from your computer. A well written header, a nice picture, and a few clicks selecting your audience and it’s done.

At this point, I’m sure some of you are asking why you would pay for advertising when you can post to Facebook for free. You are correct about this, you can post to Facebook for free and rely on others to share it. The problem is that with Facebook’s algorithm, (how they determine who sees what) even the people who like your page might not see it. Is this deliberately designed to make you use Facebook ads to get your stuff seen? Of course! Don’t forget that Facebook is a business first and foremost. They WANT to make money, it’s their job. I realize this rubs some groups the wrong way, but don’t let it bother you; take advantage of it! You’re missing out on a huge reach opportunity if you only use the free aspect.

Here are some ways you can use Facebook ads for you congregations:

  • Make a fun video promoting VBS
  • Advertise your gospel meeting
  • Gather questions that you can answer at a later date
  • Promote a service event in your community
  • Promote your page to gain more followers and interaction
  • Promote your website and guide users to specific areas of your website
  • Promote correspondence courses

The possibilities of how it can be used are endless!

Before you use your first ad let me give you a couple tips:

  1. Not every post needs an ad.  As I’ve said, Facebook ads are great, but don’t feel pressure to use them every time you post something. Use them when you’re trying to reach a greater audience than normal or have a specific group you’d like reach.
  2. Be Prepared For Comments. Everybody on the internet has an opinion and sometimes those opinions are nasty. It comes with the territory of using social media. Stay on top and respond to all of the comments that you can. Don’t allow arguments or negativity to take over your comments post! Don’t be afraid to delete comments that are hostile, inflammatory, or abusive. Also, don’t delete a comment just because it’s negative, rather offer to discuss the issue privately in person or through your pages messenger app.

 

Facebook ads are a fantastic, effective way to reach people in our modern world! If you haven’t tried it, give it a shot.

 

 

 

 

Planning Your Preaching

When I was first drafted into a full-time pulpit I was a youth minister asked to serve as interim preacher. I recall my wife asking if I was worried or nervous about taking on this task. I told her my one worry was, “I just don’t know if I can come up with that many lessons each week!”

Talking with other preachers over the years, I have found that I am not the only one to ever think along those lines. Having to come up with anywhere from 3 to 6 lessons a week, plus devotionals and articles can be a daunting task for any preacher. Many know that anxiety that comes round each Monday because they have no idea what they are going to preach about next Sunday.

Those first years of full-time preaching were a tremendous learning experience. My delivery improved, as well as other areas of my ministry, but I felt like that the hodgepodge manner in which I continued to throw lessons together was far from acceptable. So, although I am not a “planner” by nature, I decided to plan my preaching a year in advance. Now, almost a decade later I am still making these yearly plans.

While I am neither the most experienced nor the most accomplished preacher out there, I do appreciate the opportunity to share my two cents. I recommend that every preacher make out a sketch of his year in preaching. He will discover, as I have, planning ahead removes stress and provides the satisfaction of having a clear view of where you are leading the congregation. It will assist you in faithfully proclaiming the whole counsel of God and add depth to your Bible study.

1. Put in the Time – Like anything worthwhile, sermon planning takes time (this is probably why many preachers never attempt it). I would argue that never having to scramble and find a sermon to preach is time well spent. Preachers approach this process in different ways. Some I know of start this process around September, another says he makes use of Thanksgiving holiday, and another says he usually does this planning on summer vacation with his family. Personally prefer to begin my initial planning in August. I have found this allows me to already have a preaching direction in mind by the time I go to Polishing the Pulpit. This provides me with an opportunity to look for materials and books that will assist me all year. The point is set aside time and start planning. If you wait too long in the year the effort becomes the stressful scramble you are trying to avoid.

 2. Get out Your Calendar – The first place to start is to make note of specific dates. These would include:

  • Days you will not be speaking. Vacation days, days you will be gone for meetings, dates when guest speakers will be speaking, etc. Remember to talk to your Elders about any guest speakers they may not have shared with you, like visiting missionaries.
  • Congregational dates. Vacation Bible School, Gospel Meetings, Friends and Family Days, etc. These may not only affect the immediate dates, but may affect your preaching leading up to these events.
  • Secular holidays (Mother’s day, etc), Historic dates (12/7, 9/11, etc), and Religious days (Yom Kippur, Passover, etc). I do not believe we always have to preach Mother’s Day sermons and the like, but these dates often do provide unique opportunities for preaching.

3.    Think about a Theme – Many congregations have yearly themes, but members in those same congregations rarely know the theme after January. A theme can serve as a tool in sermon planning; a way of tying the year together.

  • Pick a theme that doesn’t back you in a corner. A friend of mine lamented the fact that his elders had picked Psalm 133, a three-verse psalm, as their theme. By the fall of the year he was hard pressed to find another sermon to preach from that text.
  • Pick a theme that you are excited about. It is hard to preach boldly an idea you haven’t fully bought into.
  • Think outside the box. I started out preaching our yearly theme at the beginning of each month, like I had seen other preachers do. That made twelve lessons in my yearly plan. Then I began to see the theme as a springboard for all my lessons that year. So the theme of “If I be lifted up” (John 12:32) became a challenge to really lift up Christ before the congregation that entire year. It turned into a plan where almost every sermon and class revolved around Jesus’ life, character, example, and teaching. The congregation loved the focus and the continuity.

4.    Brainstorm – Get out your pencil and paper and write down every sermon and class idea that comes into your head. Think expository, topical, textual, and narrative. Think doctrinal, inspirational, devotional, and practical. Think about books you’ve read, books of the Bible you are excited about, the needs of the congregation, and things that have not been preached on in a while. Think about Christian evidences, word studies, favorite passages, and commonly misunderstood passages. As you brainstorm you will find you will have too many ideas for just one year of preaching!  One activity I enjoy is reading titles. Much inspiration can be found in titles alone. Survey bookstore catalogs, lectureship books, book chapter headings, and magazine articles and make note of ideas that will preach. Keep a brainstorming file and whenever you find a good title or sermon thought put it in the file for next year’s planning session.

5.    Strive for BalanceBalance is always the goal when it comes to preaching. Balance is sacrificed when no thought is given to sermon planning. A yearly plan gives a bird’s eye view of your preaching and reveals what is being over emphasized and what is being neglected. It reveals patterns and enables you to give the congregation a more balanced diet. Look at you plan and ask questions like:

  • How often do I preach out of the Old Testament? New Testament?
  • Have I been riding a hobby horse lately?
  • Am I preaching enough first principles?
  • Do I tend to be more topical or expository?

 6.    Utilize Series – Don’t just do a series to fill in slots. Be purposeful. Make sure each series compliments your plan. A good series of lessons can be a way to build excitement throughout the year. Don’t let a series feel blah. Come up with a good title, then create an ad for the bulletin, .PPT announcements, website, and Facebook. Use your series to create buzz at different points throughout the year.

7.    Involve Others – Don’t try to do it alone.

  • Involve God. James teaches that wisdom comes from above and that we must pray for wisdom. Let us not forget to pray for wisdom in our preaching and planning.
  • Involve Elders. They have valuable insights into the congregation and may be aware of needs of which the preacher has no knowledge.
  • Involve Deacons. Certain ministries may call for certain sermons.
  • Involve members. Survey the congregation to solicit questions and topics.

8.    Finalize a Master Schedule – Once you have written a rough draft in your calendar, take it a step further and create a spreadsheet of the year with all the dates and lessons. This is far more practical than having to flip through an actual calendar. It also that serves as a master record of your plan, which is easy to print and edit. Throughout the year I continually edit this document to reflect any changes to my plan.

 9.    Be Flexible – Issues and needs will arise that are not in your plan. There will be national news, congregational crises, and unexpected events that arise and need to be addressed from the pulpit. Sometimes it’s just that the topic you had planned isn’t appropriate at the moment. Be flexible and be creative. Often you can make these unexpected adjustments fit a plan or a theme with just a little creativity.

 10.     Share your plan – I do not suggest that you hand out the entire plan, but it is good practice to let the congregation know what is coming up. Provide a monthly sketch on the first Sunday of each month, list “Next Sunday’s Sermons” in the bulletin, or advertise next week’s sermon titles on the church sign outside. Sharing your preaching vision lets people see the thought and effort you put into your preaching.

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Josh AllenJosh Allen is the minister for the Main Street Church of Christ in Pikeville, Kentucky.

8 Tips For A Great Mission Trip

I went on my first short-term mission trip when I was 7 years old. Since then I’ve been on roughly 25 campaigns in several countries. I lived in the country of Panama for three years. To say that I’ve seen a thing or two in the mission field would be fair. There is NO substitute for experience and I’ve got that part down. But this article is not about me, it’s about you. If you are considering going on your first mission trip, or are duct tapping your passport together from overuse, here are 8 things that you need to remember for any mission trip.

Spend less time trying to learn the language and more time trying to learn how conduct a Bible study. 

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say, “Our group has been taking language classes for the past 6 months!” To be honest, it makes me cringe inside (just a little). I know there is a great desire to be able to communicate in a foreign country. But what use is it to be able to order pancakes in 5 different languages if you can effectively teach the plan of salvation in one language? It should be the goal of EVERY team member to conduct at least one Bible study while on a campaign. Even if it is short… Even if you need help to get through it… Use this opportunity to stretch your skills. You’re already out of your comfort zone anyway!!! It will not be in vain. The bible says in Isaiah 55:11, “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

Bring less candy/toys and bring more hugs. 

For some reason we think that we have to bribe kids to come play with us. I have met very few children who would rather have a toy than have the attention of an adult that cares about them. Realize that kids are the same no matter if they are from Nicaragua or Nebraska, from Peru or Paris, TN, Costa Rica or California. If you love kids, then love them. Your ability to love them has NOTHING to do with how much you can give them. We think it will bring us together because we are giving them things that they could never get on their own. And it comes from a good place. We all want to share our nice things. But it doesn’t work. Why? Because at the root of it is materialism. If we think we can make them better or happier by giving them things that they can not afford, we create division. There is a silent lesson being taught. “I have ‘things’ and these ‘things’ make me better and happier. You do not have as many ‘things,’ therefore, you can only get better and happier if you get more ‘things.’ AND if I give my ‘things’ to you it makes me an even better person because I have ‘things’ AND I’m compassionate. I feel good about me.”

Control your need to know everything (especially those of you who feel the need to know everything BEFORE everyone else). 

Things don’t work the same in foreign countries. They do things differently. That difference is not good or bad, just different. Your need to know and understand everything will only frustrate you. Besides, what difference does to make what hotel you are staying at? Even if you could find it on the internet, they will have doctored the pictures to make you believe you are staying in a resort hotel. Get used to the unknown, because things will happen that no one would be able to anticipate.

Share good ideas, constructive criticism and complaints ONLY with the team leader. 

There is a scene in the movie Saving Private Ryan when they are talking about the validity of their mission. Why risk the lives of all these men to save the life of one man? When they ask the Captain his opinion of the mission, he reaffirms his commitment to the mission. He says that even if he did disagree with the mission he would never tell his subordinates because complaints go UP the chain of command. Always up, never down! Stress can be a great motivator or a great distraction. Zeal can ALSO be a great motivator or a great distraction. Sharing both your Zeal and your Stress with the team is the best way to focus that energy into a positive outcome.

Make “Yes” your favorite. 

Warning, another movie quote coming up…
In the movie Elf (a holiday classic if there ever was one), Buddy gets a job (sort of) at the department store, Gimbel’s.

Buddy: Wow, what’s this?
Gimbel’s Manager: This is the North Pole.
Buddy: No, it’s not.
Gimbel’s Manager: Yes, it is.
Buddy: No, it’s not.
Gimbel’s Manager: Yes, it is.
Buddy: No, it isn’t.
Gimbel’s Manager: Yes, it is.
Buddy: No, it’s not. Where’s the snow? [smiles]
Gimbel’s Manager: Why are you smiling like that?
Buddy: I just like smiling; smiling’s my favorite.
Gimbel’s Manager: [pause] Make work your favorite, okay? Work is your new favorite.

I encourage as much smiling on a campaign as possible. However, the best thing to do on a campaign is to be willing to say “Yes!” If a team leader comes to you to ask you to do a task or step into a needed roll, it’s because he believes you can do it. Do it without complaining for bonus points!!!

Stay with the group.

Even if you’ve been to 100 different countries and speak 7 languages, ALWAYS STAY WITH THE GROUP!!!!! Your team leader is responsible for your whole group. The quickest way to add stress to an already stressful job, is for you to go unaccounted for. It is not a matter of your ability to move around in a foreign country, it is a matter of accountability. Your leader is accountable for your health and safety. Don’t make that job harder than it already is.

Learn the difference between trying something new and doing something stupid. 

Being in a foreign country brings a certain amount of adventure. New foods, new activities, new people, new world. It is part of the draw of mission work. Don’t let your excitement over a new experience cloud your judgement. You will NOT have access to the care and services that you are accustomed to if you are injured, sick, or arrested! Things that might be ok in one country might be illegal in others. Don’t let the adventure interfere with the purpose of your trip, saving souls.

Don’t lose your passport. 

Just don’t! It’s a REALLY big hassle and it will cost you a small fortune.

BONUS: Don’t be a missionary hypocrite.

If you are willing to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to go to a foreign or domestic mission site to share the gospel, do it at home, too!!! If you are willing to dedicate your time and energy to the cause of Christ 1000’s of miles away from home, do the same on your own block where you live. I challenge you, at the very minimum, spend as much time and money sharing the gospel in your own home town as you do going on a mission trip! If you can do it there, you better do it here!

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johnfarberJohn Farber is a missionary for Latin American Missions.