I do a lot of large group events. I’m always on the lookout for games that are fun and easy for huge crowds. When people come together in large groups, there is a lot of potential energy that can be tapped in the form of socialization, laughter, competition, and shared human experiences.
So here are some of the resources I have found to be particularly helpful in leading fun experiences for crowds of people:
This organization creates and sells (at super affordable rates) crowd games that you can run on your computer and then project on the big screen. Browse around at all they have to offer – http://crowdcontrolgames.com/
How about crowd thumb wrestling?! Invented by monochrom and officially called “massive Multiplayer Thumb-Wrestling.” Here is that game led by a game designer on the TED stage….
You can also lead your crowd in making the sounds of a thunderstorm. This video shows a choir on stage doing it. But you can just as easily lead an audience of any size in the same exercise:
I have also compiled a blog post category of group games over the years on this blog. There are over twenty entries and growing, so read through all these great crowd game ideas such as “Heads or Tails” and “Bring Me This.” Click here.
My wife and I had a debate a few nights ago over the meaning of the Christmas Tree. What ensued was a discussion about the “why” behind traditions that we often just take for granted. She doesn’t want to do things just because “we’ve always done it that way.” She likes to know the meaning and purpose in things. And she wants that meaning to be important. So she decided to go ahead and start a new tradition in our house – a tradition with meaning. She made a Thanksgiving Tree.
I did not know this was a thing. But apparently it is. And Sarah made her own version of it. She asked me to find some sticks and branches outside. So I fetched some and put them in a jar. Then she and Kezzie cut leaf shapes out of fall-colored construction paper (orange, brown, etc.). Finally, everyone wrote something they were thankful for on the leaf cut-outs and hung it on the tree.
We had so much fun and it gave us a chance to remember all the things we are so thankful for. It also looks good in our foyer. I guess we’ve started a bit of a tradition in our house.
Last night, I had the priviledge of seeing Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony-award winning musical Hamilton in it’s Chicago iteration. I have been familiar with the soundtrack for months and I will say that the opportunity to view the show live adds several dimensions to the show that will not let “Hamilfans” down.
If you are not familiar with Hamilton: An American Musical, I would suggest you take a listen and find out for yourself what all the hype is about. Miranda slays it with poetic lyricism not seen in musical theater since Sondheim. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his work, among plenty of other accolades. Where else can you find someone who rhymes “abolitionist” with “show me where the ammunition is“? Or take this lyric from “Guns and Ships”:
How does a ragtag volunteer army in need of a shower
Somehow defeat a global superpower?
How do we emerge victorious from the quagmire
Leave the battlefield waving Betsy Ross’s flag higher?
Miranda is not only a brilliant lyricist, but he crafted an entire show (along with director Thomas Kail, choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, and orchestrator Alex Lacamoire) that merges today’s pop culture lingua franca of Hip-Hop with a lesser-known but incredibly fascinating story in American history. It is a story of a poor orphan from the Caribbean who fights and writes his way up to Founding-Father status during the birth of our nation. His success story then turns into tragedy and the audience is left pondering life’s deep concepts such as the seemingly indiscriminate nature of love, life, death, war, and “who tells your story.” There is comedy, espionage, adultery, forgiveness, and of course, multiple pistol duels. One of the most evident things about the show is the ethnic diversity of the cast. Instead of casting all-white Founding Fathers like the now decades-old musical 1776, Miranda casts the players to represent what America is today – a colorful mix of heritages that show how far we’ve come since the late 18th Century. It is at the same time a well-played subversive move in the performing arts, indicating that we still have a long way to go in many respects in terms of Jefferson’s ideals of equality and liberty in our nation.
Regarding the Chicago show, I recently read an interview with Lin-Manuel Miranda in the Delta Sky Magazine. In it, he says that “the kid is off to college,” which essentially means that Hamilton has now matured to the point that it can thrive without his direct nightly participation. He was right. In the opening song, I will admit that I felt slightly betrayed because the voices and actors on stage were not the original Broadway cast (which I knew going into this). But it took only a matter of minutes to hear these new voices come into their own and rock the stage in the their own right.
Ari Afsar, who plays Eliza Hamilton, was one of the highlights of the show. Flanked by the experienced Karen Olivio (Angelica) and Samanthan Marie Ware (“and Peggy” :), Ari anchored the strong and beautiful harmony of the Schulyer sisters. Their powerful performances in “The Schuyler Sisters”, “Helpless”, and “Satisfied” takes your breath away. Later in the show, when Afsar sings the slow-burn lament aptly named “Burn,” you are caught in a trance as she plays with real fire on stage and nails the deep sense of betrayal in both her vocals and acting.
An unexpected standout performer was Chris De’Sean Lee. He just finished his Junior year at Belmont University and is now Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson in this Hamilton Chricago show. I love Daveed Diggs in the Broadway cast for this role and you would think that he could never be upstaged. But in my opinion, Lee did just as good or better. His French accent was way more believable than Diggs’. And though I never saw Diggs on stage, Lee filled every last bit of the role you would expect in terms of his flair, animated personality, stage presence, and “working the crowd.”
Miguel Cervantes fills the tough shoes of Miranda’s Hamilton extremely well. He shows you that he is just like his country: “young, scrappy, and hungry” with his commanding vocals and articulate rapping (which is necessary if the audience wants to understand all the creative words in the songs). Equally strong was Joshua Henry, who played a convincing Aaron Burr – probably the most difficult character to portray because of his ongoing internal struggle for meaning and external fight for notoriety.
The lighting design was a pleasant treat that one can only experience in the live show. For example, when Angelica sings about Benjamin Franklin’s eureka moment with his key, kite, and “light,” the upper stage flashes a set of lights right on cue with the words. The lights also work in some shadow magic when Washington makes the Biblical reference to sitting under his own vine. But the best lighting of all comes in Hamilton’s song, “Hurricane.” And I’ll just say that you have to see the show yourself to see what the lighting does in that song because you’re already spoiled with the fact that Burr shoots Hamilton. I don’t want to spoil everything for you 🙂
Another dimension one can only see live is the choreography. The ensemble rocked it with a nearly three-hour aerobic display of “all-in” modern and and Hip-Hop dance to tell the story. They were not merely eye candy to fill the stage. While the lead characters told the story in song and acting, the ensemble displayed the narrative by dancing (and singing) the transcendental world of emotions, feelings, consciousness, and even conscience of the characters. Of all the aspects of the show, that was the dimension that surprised me the most and the one that will stick with me the longest as I reflect on the depth of this work of art.
Finally, I cannot review the show without mentioning the brilliant comic relief performance by Alexander Gemignani, who plays King George. His subtle mannerisms and pious patronizing were perfect in the role of a nihilistic monarch who sings the blues of losing America like a pouty ex-boyfriend singing a break-up song.
In summary, go listen to the soundtrack. Then find out when the tour comes to your city. And get on the ticket-seller e-mail notification list, because you’ll have about a two-hour window to secure your ticket for a show eight months ahead before the rest of your city snatches a ticket. You will want to be in the room where it happens.
Note: Since this blog focuses on topics surrounding kids and families, I’ll add an addendum here that I suggest that parents pre-screen the lyrics and thematic elements of the show before playing it and/or attending the show with their children (the album has explicit warnings). There is language, violence, and adult themes such as the adulterous affair between Alexander Hamilton and Maria Reynolds.
I went on a camping trip with some friends this past weekend at a local state park. We went on a hike through the woods and at one point we came into a clearing where about five acres of large-growth pines and other trees had been bulldozed – on state park property. It was quite an eyesore on such a tranquil hike, so one of my friends asked the park ranger about the clearing.
He said that every so often, the trees can grow so old and tall that they suffocate any new and fresh growth that is needed for a diverse and healthy ecosystem. So there comes a time where it is better to get rid of the old in order to make space for the new, fresh, and diverse growth.
And here is the profound point here: the new, fresh growth cannot come unless the old growth is torn down. You can’t have both.
That got me thinking about life and even the show that I perform. Are there things in my life or in my show that are “old growth”? Maybe something that I have worked on for years and am very proud of, but I over-value it and thus prevent myself from growing in new and exciting areas of my life and my show.
At one of my shows several years ago, I flew into Mississippi and my luggage (with all my show props) did not arrive in time for my show. That was only the second time it has ever happened to me in over a decade of full-time traveling and performing. What did I do? I had to get creative and perform for my waiting audience with whatever I could find nearby in the town of the event or at the venue. I grabbed chairs and ladders from the local church, fruit from the local grocery store (after paying for it, of course :). When I did my show, people loved it and nobody knew that I had performed without my “old growth” props. That show taught me something: that I do not NEED those tride and true items that I think are so necessary. In fact, it got me out of my box and forced me to get creative and come up with new tricks and ideas on the spot for a waiting audience. I have taken that attitude ever since – and my show has been more diverse and evolving than it has ever been before.
The old adage, “necessity is the mother of invention” is so true here. But in order for us to find new and exiting paths in our lives, we need to place ourselves in situations that force necessity upon us. I know that requires taking risks, but that is the only way we can grow. That might mean traveling, spending time with people you normally don’t spend time with, or removing a particular “sacred cow” in your life. Trust me, it will be worth it.
Mega-bank Wells Fargo recently put out an advertisement for their upcoming “Teen Day.” In it, the wording appears to suggest that the sciences are a higher calling in life than the arts. Many celebrities in the arts took to Twitter to make the case that we should not send a message to teens that makes them think STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) is necessarily superior to the arts.
The ad could be perceived to be saying that the young woman and man were once artists (ballerina and actor, respectively), but then chose a more meaningful path in life such as one of an engineer or botanist. Celebrity Donna Lynn Champlin pointed out that the highest salary of an actor for 2016 is $64,000,000 versus the highest-paid botanist: just over $165,000. She asked Wells Fargo, “u sure ur a bank?”
In their defense, Wells Fargo apologized for the misunderstanding and removed the ad campaign.
As someone whose full-time vocation is in the arts and humanities (juggling, entertainment, and education), I have to say that I have no regrets in life for choosing the arts over the sciences. Do I think that one is more important than the other? No. In fact, I don’t think we should create such a dichotomy between the two. Life is both an art and a science. Have you ever seen great architecture? That is the blending of the arts and the sciences. In fact, what I do (juggling), is taking the physics of motion and materializing it in the form of a movement art.
But if someone (especially an aspiring teen) is dreaming of a life in the arts, we do them a disservice by trying to make them think that being a botanist is a better use of their life. The same can be said in the opposite direction. If a child wants to grow up and be a chemist, by all means we should not tell them that it would be better for them to join the circus.
I’ve been studying philosophy for a class recently and read that Aristotle made the case that though many vocations in life are clearly useful for a productive society (such as the sciences), there are other disciplines that seem less utilitarian but are just as important and “should be valued for their own sake,” such as music (the arts). Why? He said that “leisure” was a vital part of the human existence and argued that it was “noble” and contributed to the wholeness of life. He said, “To be always seeking after the useful does not become free and exalted souls” (Ozmon, Howard A. and Samuel M. Craver. Philosophical foundations of education. Eighth edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall. 2008, pp. 73-74).
I’m not anti-STEM. I am simply bothered when people think that STEM is all there is in life and education (or that it is inherently better than the arts and humanities). Life is both STEM and Art. We need both. And we should expose our children towards both and communicate to them the importance of both. And as they grow, they will each discover the unique blend of science and art that may exist in their life calling and career.
EIGHT TO TEN YEARS
Adventures in Odyssey.
Produced by Focus on the Family, Adventures in Odyssey is a long-running radio program that is set in the fictional mid-American town of Odyssey. Whit is the wise elder statesman of the community who helps kids figure out solutions to life’s problems through a Christian and Biblical perspective. This often happens at his soda fountain shop called “Whit’s End.” He also has a time machine called the “Imagination Station,” which allows characters to travel back in time – whether to the battle of Fort McHenry at Baltimore or to the stables in Bethlehem with Mary and Joseph. Originally in cassette tape format and then compact disc (CD), Adventures in Odyssey episodes can be downloaded online nowadays (http://www.whitsend.org/).
The Bible App for Kids (https://www.bible.com/kids).
An app for devices that allows children to interact with Bible stories through animated visuals. Thiscan be helpful in allowing kids to engage with Scripture through the technology of their generation. Like all electronic devices, parents and leaders should monitor the amount of time spent on the device.
Hastings, Selina. Illustrated by Eric Thomas. The Children’s Illustrated Bible. New York: Dorling Kindersley, 1994.
A very comprehensive collection of Bible stories with colorful and detailed visuals aids such as pictures, maps, diagrams, and artwork. It includes introductions to the Bible as a whole, the Old Testament, and the New Testament. It also has a glossary of names and a useful index oftopics. Each Bible story is retold in a way that a parent could read to their child while the child looks at the pictures. Many of the visual aids provide the cultural and historical background information relevant to each particular story (http://www.amazon.com/Childrens-Illustrated-Bible-Selina-Hastings/dp/1564584720).
Jacob’s Ladder (Toy).
This traditional wooden toy is a set of small wooden squares linked by a ribbon. The ribbon weaves in and out of the blocks so that when you hold the toy a certain way, the blocks fold down on one another and givethe illusion of a falling ladder. The toy can also be configured into various positions to imitate everything from a table to a dog. The name of the toy (Jacob’s Ladder) opens up a conversation the parent or ministry leader can have with the child(ren) about Jacob’s dream at Bethel (Genesis 28:10-19). In the same way that the toy has a mesmerizing appeal to it, so also God mesmerized Jacob in a dream about a ladder. That ladder represented a portal to heaven (as angels went up and down on it). It was through this gate/portal that God spoke to Jacob and declared the covenant promise that had been given to Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham (Gen 28:13-15). Later, in the New Testament, Jesus alluded to this ladder when he told Nathaniel that he would see “the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:51). This was Jesus’ declaration that he himself was the ladder (the portal between heaven and earth) to God the Father. Here are someinstructions on how to make an oversized version (http://www.sermons4kids.com/instructions-ladder-toy.pdf). It can also be purchased here: (http://www.amazon.com/Toysmith-6195-Jacobs-Ladder/dp/ B000RAEBL2/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1454428925&sr=8-2&keywords=jacob%27s+ladder).
Johnson, Andy. Lantern Music. Multiple music albums (http://www.lanternmusic.org/).
Andy Johnson serves as a worship leader for the Children’s Ministry program at Valley Church in West Des Moines, IA. He has compiled three albums of original worship songs where the lyrics are Scripture verses. Johnson uses simple sounds from the guitar, keyboard, and drums. The musical style could be considered modern folk pop (like Jason Mraz). The tunes are catchy and memorable so that the kids can memorize Scripture in a way that is engaging on their level.
The Lads (http://www.theladsband.com/).
This is a music band of young men who hail from New Zealand. They have since based themselves in the Nashville, TN area and they tour the country performing shows that communicate Biblical truths through upbeat kid-friendly music styles. They have CD’s of their music as well as a few television show episodes that feature their music and storytelling with a Christian message.
Mauss, Doug ed. Illustrated by Sergio Cariello. The Action Bible. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook. 2010.
This is another comic-book style Bible (similar to the The Picture Bible mentioned above). This one has a lot of bright colors and high-energy action depictions. It is drawn to resemble an action-packed graphic novel or superhero comic series. It is very visually stimulating. Parents and teachers could read through stories with the children and appreciate the artistic medium. I would suggest balancing something like this with time and space for quiet reflection and prayer away from the images. See more at the home website for the product: (http://www.theactionbible.com/).
Meiklejohn, Julie ed. Amazing Science Devotions for Children’s Ministry. Loveland, CO: Group Publishing. 1999.
This book is a collection of 41 science-based object lessons that teach Biblical truths. For example, there is a lesson that teaches kids how to make a rainbow using everyday household supplies (a cup of water, tape, scissors, a piece of paper, and sunlight). The teacher or parent can lead the child in the science project and then discuss the Biblical connection (in this case, the beauty of God’s creation and the promise he gave Noah never to judge the earth again with a global flood). Children learn the God-authored beauty of science as well as a particular Biblical truth alongside the science. There is an introduction and an index of Scriptures and topics (https://www.group.com/product/9780764421051-amazing-science-devotions-for-children-s-ministry.do).
Noah’s Ark 504-piece puzzle: Christian Brands RC717 Noah’s Ark Jigsaw Puzzle by Gifts of Faith, 2013.
Puzzles are a great way for a family to come together around an “unplugged” activity that helps people slow down in this media-driven society. When the subject matter of the jigsaw puzzle is a Biblical scene, it allows the family to discuss the Bible story in organic and meaningful ways. Certain details that may be missed in a quick glance at a picture suddenly become relevant as everyone looks for a certain piece of the puzzle. Aside from the subject matter of the puzzle, there is a valuable payout in terms of family togetherness, cooperation, patience, and working together towards a goal. This 504-piece puzzle is appropriate for older elementary children through adults.
Worship Response Stations.
For centuries, Christians have developed creative ways to respond to God. From the sacrament of communion to the lighting of prayer candles, Christians throughout history have practiced a wide variety of worship response methods. While many liturgical churches have response experiences and stations often built into their liturgy or curriculum, non-liturgical contemporary churches often lack the same variety and scope of response opportunities. For example, many churches today view the “altar call” as their definition of a response to a worship service. I like to challenge that thinking and attempt to create what I call “worship response stations” in order to expand our perspectives on how we can creatively respond to God in worship. I have found this idea to be especially helpful in children’s ministry because children enjoy variety and interactive experiences. Here is my pinterest board with worship response station ideas from many different people: (https://www.pinterest.com/jessejoyner/worship-response-stations/).
Here is an exceprt from my blog post about worship response stations from August 7th, 2014 (http://jessejoyner.com/worship-response-stations/):
I speak at many camps each summer, but this one stuck out because of the format they asked me to follow. First of all, there were two chapel services each day for the kids – one in the morning and one in the evening. The morning service was designed to be the “main” service of the day (in terms of worship music and teaching time) with the evening service being more of a “review and respond” service.
So in the evenings, I taught for about 10 minutes, just reviewing the points we learned about in the morning. Then, for the remainder of the service (another 45 minutes to an hour), we spent responding to God’s Word through the format of worship stations.The camp told me this ahead of time. So I wrote up some station ideas that went along with my lessons each day. The leadership at the camp then took all my ideas and turned them into reality by getting the supplies, setting up the stations, and manning them each night.
The results were amazing. We realized that kids learn and respond in a variety of ways, depending on their learning languages. Some kids respond well with hands-on and interactive activities while others are fine being still or reading. Most kids have a variety of learning styles inside of them anyway, so it’s good to have the different stations so they can move around freely as they like. I’d like to take a few posts to share the ideas and pictures from the worship response stations.
Here is a quick rundown of the stations. I will go into more details with each one in subsequent posts.
- Prayer Counseling – This is the traditional idea of having prayer counselors on hand if a kid or adult needs prayer for anything. This is usually the only “station” people offer as a way of response at camp or in church. We still used it, but it was only one of many ways to respond.
- Question Cards – If the kids had a question about God or the Bible, they wrote them down on a 3×5 card and handed it to an adult. The adult would then attempt to find the answer in the Bible and answer the question. If they couldn’t find it, then they would say “I don’t know” or “I’ll look it up later and get back with you.” This was a surprisingly popular station for the kids.
- World Prayer Map – There was a map on the wall and the kids would go up and place a sticker star on a country, city, or location of a people group and pray for them.
- Slime Buckets – One night, we taught about Jonah. In order to explore the idea of what it may have felt like to be inside the belly of a great fish, the kids put their hands in slime. This was obviously very popular.
- Blindfolded Prayer – Also along the story of Jonah (who prayed in pitch darkness inside the belly of the fish), we had the kids put on a blindfold and then sit or kneel and pray. One leader said this station was the first time he had seen one of his boys pray. Sometimes it takes some creative way that really connects with a particular kid to open them up to things like prayer and worship.
- Kids Pray for Adults – I will devote an entire post to this station, as it was my favorite of all the stations. Kids were on hand to pray for adults who wanted prayer. It was humbling for adults and exciting for kids. More on this one later.
- The Wooden Cross – This is another traditional station that many groups have used for years. I believe it is still very powerful in form and function. The large wooden cross reminds us of what Jesus did for us and we have the chance to lay prayers and confessions at the cross by writing them on a piece of paper and nailing them to the cross.
- Prayer Journaling/Drawing – This was also a very popular one. We had stacks of paper and boxes of crayons, markers, and pencils on hand. The kids would simply grab some paper and something to write/draw with and freely journal or draw pictures as prayers, thanksgivings to God, and other worship thoughts on their minds.
- Finger Painting – On the day when we learned about Creation, the kids got to draw pictures of things that God made on a large white poster using finger paints. This was extremely popular and looked very pretty when it was all done.
- Other Stations – There were also stations with bead bracelets, mouse traps, clay and play-do, bowls of fruit, a white board with a dry erase marker, and Scripture reading. I will discuss each one in subsequent posts.
*This list comes directly from a paper I wrote for a class at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL in March 2016. The class was ES 7524 (Education and Ministry Experiences for Children) taught by Dr. Magdalene Larson.
My daughter was making a zoo with blocks and her little plastic animals. I figured, “Why don’t we just make a Noah’s Ark since we have all these animals?” I’m not the most crafty person in the world, but I know how to cut cardboard boxes. So I started cutting up an Amazon shipping box. Her imagination did the rest! She proudly drew the windows. She loves it!
The great thing about crafts with kids is that it doesn’t have to be a masterpiece! It’s clearly a rectangular box and is not the stylish boat shape you see in great art. But five year olds don’t care! They just want to play with friends and family and use their God-given imaginations. We adults could learn a thing or two from that.
Payoff: Fun, stimulated imaginations, opportunity to share a faith story and its meaning with my daughter.
When I spoke at Mt. Lebanon Camp last summer, I got to meet someone who brought a very creative presentation to the campers on an evening in the middle of the week. After our worship service was over, we had a special program for the campers where they could wave glow sticks and wear glow-in-the-dark accessories in the worship center as we turned out the lights and played loud music. They loved it.
Towards the end, a thousand campers watched as a glow-man figure emerged onto the stage and danced a bit to a Michael Tate song. Then the man on stage pulled out a canvas and some paint and started painting very quickly. The campers were now quiet and mesmerized.
His painted picture was confusing and did not resemble anything but chaotic splatters of color….until he flipped it over.
Then we saw the face of Christ. It was very moving. The point was clear – life is messy, confusing, and chaotic. We look for God and don’t see Him or don’t find Him. Then, in His perfect timing, He flips our world upside down, changes our mess into beauty, and shows us His radiant face.
The painter’s name is Lance Brown. Lance did not ask me to write this profile. I wanted to share with you about a person who loves Jesus and loves to paint. And he has a creative way to share it with the world. Check out his website here if you’re interested in what he does or want to have him at your event.
Enjoy this video of Lance Brown: Speed Painter…..
Godly Play is a teaching system used by many churches around the world to educate children about God, the Bible, and also invite them into the Christian narrative. Jerome Berryman developed the curriculum and he was influenced by the educational theories of Maria Montessori.
I observed Godly Play in action once when I was in seminary. My professor, Dr. Catherine Stonehouse, ministered with children at her church in Wilmore, KY using Godly Play. As a class, we watched as she sat down at the level of the children and told them the story of Abraham and Sarah using small generic wooden figures and a pile of sand for the Middle Eastern desert. It was very quiet and the children were mesmerized. The whole feel of Godly Play is quite the opposite of many Children’s Ministries, which are full of electronic screens, loud rock band music, video games, and resemble the “Let’s Make a Deal” show.
Godly Play uses symbols, rituals, manipulatives, and storytelling to join children in the spiritual pilgrimage of knowing God. Children are not just receptors of information, but rather natural learners as well as teachers themselves. It is all done with an attitude of holy-awe and unplugged simplicity.
Here are some resources that explain more about Godly Play. Check them out and let me know what you think!
I ordered some silicone molds that make perfect ice spheres about the size of a baseball. I put them in the freezer and out came the ice balls for juggling. I went outside and tried them out.
I was able to do it – and of course my hands got very cold! The balls began to melt and in turn got slippery. But I could still maintain the juggle for about a minute or so. Maybe my next trick should involve some sort of mix of juggling these with fire torches. The fire and ice show. What do you think?
I can see some good teaching opportunities here too, such as the nature of water and how it can take on different properties. And how the hands are very warm and have the potential to melt ice fairly quickly.