If you want to be an effective recruiter who retains volunteers from year to year, you must give them vision for your ministry.
There are two kinds of streams: one that meanders indifferently and another that splashes along briskly without being slowed by anything. While the first kind is non-threatening and placid, the other kind seems harder to control.
But the second stream is going somewhere — today!
There are also two kinds of children’s ministries. Some are uncertain of their destination while others move swiftly with a strong sense of purpose. Just as both streams move water, both kinds of children’s ministries serve children and have loving, dedicated teachers. Both ministries also have a strong desire to make a contribution to the lives of their students, but there’s a big difference that affects children greatly. That difference is found in the ministry’s vision — and how well the teachers live and breathe it.
THE WHITEWATER QUIZ
Does your children’s ministry have a clear vision? Take this quiz to find out.
1. We assertively seek to bring in those who haven’t heard the message of God’s love. yes no
2. We are genuinely loving to anyone who comes to our church, but we have no active programs to reach out to our community. yes no
3. We have intentional programs to bring in new people so they can sample the community of our church. yes no
4. Visitor attendance is low in our church and is usually limited to visiting relatives rather than community members. yes no
5. We follow up all visitors to let them know they’re welcome and wanted back at our church. yes no
6. Children rarely invite guests to our church. yes no
7. Learning experiences are designed to meet learners’ needs. yes no
8. Programs are primarily selected for price, appearance, and convenience. yes no
9. Teachers excitedly learn right along with the children in our program. yes no
10. Getting teachers to regularly teach and attend worship services is a continuing struggle. yes no
Now, take a look at your answers. Tally how many yes answers you had for the even-numbered questions and how many for the odd-numbered questions. If you had more odd-numbered yes answers, your children’s ministry is probably more like the raging stream headed somewhere. If you had more even-numbered yes answers, your children’s ministry may be going somewhere, but it rarely excites the children and volunteers who ride its puny rapids.
But don’t be discouraged! There’s hope right around the next bend. You can reshape the path of your stream.
THE BIG DIFFERENCE
Vision-driven children’s ministries develop learning experiences that meet their learners’ needs. Sessions are characterized by active involvement of all learners-even the teachers. Because each person brings a dynamic experience with God, the classes reflect a wealth of learning potential. The teachers dive in with the children, enjoying new discoveries that help their faith grow, too.
These vision-driven ministries know that learning is not the end product of their program. They constantly work to empower their learners to reach others with the good news. Children hear the faith stories of their teachers and practice finding the words to express their own stories. In essence, these ministries help learners gain the skills and confidence to take on the mission of sharing their faith with their family, friends, and neighbors.
Those children’s ministries that do not clearly articulate their vision reach those who come, instead of bringing in the community. While there’s nothing wrong with having tradition, ministries that are not vision-driven tend to rely upon tradition to focus their efforts, instead of focusing on meeting people’s needs.
The lack of vision in a children’s ministry means it must use “learner power” to maintain the program. This is when some ministries haul out the rewards. Some offer treats for doing things simply to keep the program going. Others get very creative — giving awards for things other than attendance, such as bringing a Bible or a guest. In the end, the unnamed outcome is the same: Learners supply what the ministry needs to exist, instead of the ministry existing to supply what the learners need.
If vision is so important, what can a children’s ministry do to develop vision power? Try these three steps to increase your volunteers’ vision and add new enthusiasm to your children’s ministry.
1. Pray for vision; discuss mission. Ask for God’s help as you take a look at your community, not just your congregation. Where do children spend their time? What activities could be more conducive to building their relationship with God? What gifts has God given your congregation? Besides looking at people with teaching gifts, consider those who are good listeners or have gifts to encourage and empower children to build confidence in their gifts. Musicians, actors, writers, and athletes can help children’s ministries with plays or sports events.
God has given your congregation all the gifts you need to bring the good news to your area. Trust God to help you discover and put those gifts to use as you identify ways your ministry can make a communitywide difference for children. Make two lists: a list with five to 10 needs children have in your community, and a list of 10 to 20 gifts God has given your congregation. Use colored markers to connect the needs and gifts as you determine the top five areas your children’s ministry will address in the next year.
2. Put it in writing. Use a few sentences to clearly tell what your children’s ministry’s vision is. Remember, you can’t do everything — but if you don’t set out to do something, you’ll probably end up doing nothing. One group’s vision statement included a rationale and three goals: So that children may know, love, and serve Jesus Christ, our children’s ministry programs will affirm children’s involvement in the faith community, equip them with a strong foundation in the biblical story, and empower them to confidently serve others.
This statement focuses on efforts and provides a filter for deciding which activities the ministry does. When faced with two quality activities, the leaders consider which one will most closely address the vision and choose that one. To keep that focus, post the vision statement in classrooms and halls, and put it in every ministry newsletter. Encourage leaders to make it part of their daily lives.
3. Walk the talk. Make concrete plans with specific steps to address the ministry vision. Assign implementation dates to the steps, and evaluate them regularly. Realize that you may have to make some adjustments to better serve your growing ministry population — it might change as your ministry becomes more vision-driven and reaches people who’ve walked by your church but are now coming inside!
Is your children’s ministry going somewhere — or barely going? As you empower your volunteers with vision, you’ll be amazed at the powerful difference.
Chip Borgstadt is a youth minister in Nebraska.