contributed by Melinda Shunk, Children’s Ministry Coordinator
Connecting parents with each other is vital to sustaining a children’s ministry that does NOT revolve around the children’s minister! A way to accomplish that as the Children’s Minister is to have caring get-to-know-you kind of conversations with each parent in the hallway, out for coffee, during a new birth visit, or after worship. You use the knowledge they share with you to help them connect with other members in your church when you have events like the Couples Cookie Exchange.
You must remember that you cannot be and should not be parents only tied to the church. Sure, they should know you, but you can’t possibly “be there” for each person. You need to connect and equip them to be that for each other. Preferably not forcing it but letting the Holy Spirit work within a ministry opportunity you help create.
How it works:
- Setting the date for the first Sunday or Monday evening after Thanksgiving increases attendance. It is before parties happen, gets people’s attention while they have time to make cookies, and stocks everyone who attends with their first round of Christmas Cookies.
- The first time, you may need to do personal invites to couples. Don’t just lay it out there in a bulletin announcement. Over time it will become an expected tradition, but for the first exchange, people may need a personal invite.
- Hold it at the church and offer childcare. If your program is really big, you may want to have two Couples Cookie Exchanges based on kids’ age ranges.
- In my sample invite, you will see they bring three dozen and an extra tray. Have a table that is large and that all can stand around. You may need to put tables together. Greet the guest and as they arrive, place their full tray of cookies on the table and send them to get appetizers and beverages. A little Christmas music playing low helps set the festive mood. Make sure ALL have name tags. Set candles on the cookie table as centerpieces.
- As they mill around one another, you will see some go to the friends they know; this is natural. Take the information you already know about the families and introduce them to someone they are not talking to. For example, “you all have two little boys, you all need to meet the Smith’s and compare notes on parenting 5-year-old boys!” Continue to offer introductions until they are visiting in a large group and you can’t tell where one conversation starts and another ends.
- After about 40 minutes or an hour has passed, announce that they need to bring one tray per couple to the table and stand around the outside of the table. Once everyone is around the table, ask them to “introduce their cookie tray.” Why did you pick those cookies? Is it a family recipe? Does the cookie spark a childhood memory? Each couple can share their stories. This is really important because it gives everyone a chance to disclose something more about themselves even if it is “I bought them because we both work 50 hours a week.” Introducing cookies helps further conversation after the cookie march.
- The cookie march is when you or one person in the couple holds the tray while the other picks one cookie from the tray. You keep going around the table until they are gone. Don’t try to do the math because not everyone likes all cookies, so they won’t always put one each on the tray.
- Outreach opportunity. If you know of a family that wanted to come but couldn’t for a number of reasons, use your tray/s and fill for them. At the end of the night, ask one of the couples if they would mind dropping the tray off to the family on their way home. Be sure to have the address handy. You should not deliver the cookies. Having another family drop it by allows for another connection to be made!
I have done this ministry outreach for many years resulting in great connections between families in the church. You will see it become a tradition that allows people to invite their friends outside of the church walls as well.