Gone Fishing

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How to get kids who bite at your special events to get
totally hooked on your ministry

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When I was young, my dad thought fishing was a must-learn skill.
He’d lived through the Depression and believed strongly that
fishing was a skill all eight of his kids should master — just in
case we ever fell on hard times. And despite the fact that for
supper we all preferred Mom’s fish sticks baked straight from the
box, we did eventually learn to fish pretty well.

Similarly, many churches and children’s ministries have also
learned to fish well. It takes knowledge, understanding, the proper
techniques and tools, and enduring motivation when the fish aren’t
biting. We in children’s ministry passionately seek to be “fishers
of men, women, and children.” As a children’s minister, knowing how
to fish well is much more than something to fall back on during
hard times; it’s a crucial aspect of your ministry.

Special events are wonderful, effective “bait.” They draw your
community’s interest and attract people to what your church has to
offer — Jesus. But if you’ve ever lost sleep worrying about how to
bring new kids and families into your ministry after the event,
you’re not alone. That’s because even after you’ve successfully
managed to attract a child or family to a special event, your real
work is just beginning. You have the bigger question to tackle: How
do you turn them into regulars in your ministry?

What works? Grab your rod and tackle box — let’s find a nice,
sunny bank and learn what it takes to become an effective fisher in
children’s ministry.

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Communicate and stay visible

Is your ministry visible in your community? Is your information
updated, professional, and accessible for people who want to learn
more? Do you communicate what your ministry is doing — inside and
outside your church — well and often? Make your ministry known in
your community for its dedication to kids and families through
concrete actions and excellent communication.

TACKLE BOX: Visibility and Communication

• Presence – Never miss an opportunity to set
up information booths at community and church functions.

• Updates – Keep your Web sites, brochures,
and bulletin boards up to date.

• Media – Take advantage of free local
community news updates.

• Contact – Include your ministry name, phone
number, and Web site on everything you hand out, including
give-a-ways such as pencils, pens, and treats.

• Accessibility – Host events that bring the
community into your ministry space — this lets you show it off and
gives you the opportunity to treat community members as your
treasured guests.

• Mail – Kids love getting mail. Cards,
birthday greetings, invitations to church, or email messages all
make kids feel special.

• Parents – Contact parents. A phone call,
email, or direct mail will remind them of your ministry and show
them you care about their children.

• Programs – Highlight what your ministry
offers. Send families information about other entry points or
services at your church — MOPS, sports camps, divorce care,
seminars, special needs programs, food pantry, and your regular
services.

• Invitations – Continually encourage your
regulars to invite their friends to your programs and services.

• Touches – A good rule of thumb is to “touch”
families seven times, or to find seven ways to communicate and
invite them into your ministry following their initial visit.

Publicize the benefits

Recently my church sent out a community mailer invitation to
check out our church. To encourage parents to bring their children
to our children’s ministry, I wrote an article pointing out the
benefits of our ministry, highlighting our commitment to partnering
with parents and to growing their children into loving, caring
people. Even parents disinterested in God and church typically
recognize these universal values for their children. As a result of
the mailer and article, we had many families accept our invitation
to visit on behalf of their children.

Ask yourself why kids and families would choose to add your
ministry to their already packed calendars. Then communicate
clearly to parents what their children will learn and how it’ll
impact them.

Pray with and for your guests

Suncrest Church in St. John, Indiana, offers a regular prayer
update for church members and guests through its Web site.
Regulars, children, and guests can share their requests and report
updates by submitting them online. Everyone who opts in gets an
e-update with the latest prayer news and requests. It’s also proven
a great access point for parents and kids who’ve attended a special
event.

“Asking parents if they’d like to be added to our e-updates
opens the door for some great conversations,” says Sue Hertzfeldt,
the children’s ministry director who manages Suncrest’s prayer
program.

Recruit a follow-up team

Sometimes children’s ministers invest all their energy and
volunteers into making sure the special event is perfect — and
then they’re too exhausted to take on the follow-up. Before any
special event, recruit a follow-up team to take over after the
event. This team of fresh volunteers brings new energy and
dedication to connecting with kids. Plus, it allows families and
kids to experience yet another positive aspect of your ministry –
kind and approachable people serving as supports for your ministry.
Remember, if the same team responsible for the event is also in
charge of follow-up, exhaustion can set in. Scale back. Pass the
fishing rod to a refreshed, enthusiastic fisher.

TACKLE BOX: Follow Up

• Survey – Call and survey families about
their experience at your event. They’ll give input on how your
event and ministry team served them — and they’ll feel valued.

• Updates – Ask parents for permission to add
them to your mailing and email lists for updates and ministry
information.

• Mail – Send a packet of information about
your ministry, special events, and programs along with a
handwritten invitation to attend.

• Returns – Track kids’ and families’ guest
attendance, and follow up at regular intervals.

Hook parents and kids by giving them good reasons to
stay

Part of effective fishing in ministry is dangling compelling
reasons to return. That means you promote what’s big, what’s next,
and what’s unique. Create a “Whatever you do, don’t miss what
happens next week” atmosphere.

Prepare ahead to make a good impression

When families take the step from visiting for special events to
actually attending a service, they’ll very quickly decide whether
to come back. So be a good host! Don’t announce from the pulpit
that a cry room is available when it’s actually locked and the
lights are out. Do a walk-through from a guest’s perspective. Is it
clear where to go? Are your safety precautions up to standards?
What would you think — honestly — if you were a first-time
guest?

TACKLE BOX: First Impressions

• Peers – Provide child greeters as well as
adult greeters. Children enjoy being warmly greeted by their
peers.

• Information – Assign knowledgeable
volunteers to give tours, answer questions, give directions,
explain security procedures, and provide refreshments and
information packets to new parents.

• Welcome – New children love getting a
special treat as a welcome gift. We let kids select a gift from a
basket, which also holds the registration cards. We ask parents to
fill out a card and tell them we’ll mail them an information packet
and CD for their child when they return it.

• Gift – Some churches provide a gift bag for
parents as well. With one of these gift bags in hand, your other
congregation members can recognize new visitors and welcome
them.

• Recognition – Get down and speak directly to
children at their level the first time you meet them. This
demonstrates to parents that your church is a place where children
are valued and welcomed.Help families reclaim family time

Families know that spending time together creates a sense of
security and strengthens their bonds. Sponsor family nights to
provide opportunities to strengthen, honor, and encourage families
in your church or community. As new families meet your other
families, connections grow.

TACKLE BOX: Family Time

• Games – Host game nights with
refreshments.

• Service – Provide opportunities for families
to do service projects together.

• Fun – Host a family fun event. Community
Bible Church in Cedar Lake, Indiana, hosts what’s become a favorite
community event in a local park each summer — Family Flicks and
Franks. This free event lets families watch a family friendly movie
on a big outdoor screen while the church serves hot dogs. “This
event is our gift to families in the community,” says the
children’s director Sue Wells, “and it reminds the community that
we’re here.”

Help kids build meaningful relationships

I can’t emphasize this point enough: Relationships are the key
to retention. Children need to have friends in your ministry if
they’re going to get and stay involved. They also need to connect
with their adult leaders as they grow in their relationship with
Jesus. A major filter in all your ministry endeavors should be
relationships, relationships, relationships!

TACKLE BOX: Relationships

• Names – Get to know kids by name. Play name
games to encourage kids to learn each other’s names.

• Play-Dates – Tap your top parents to reach
out to new parents by inviting their children over for
play-dates.

• Buddies – Assign peer buddies for new
children. A buddy’s purpose is to guide new kids through your
ministry while getting to know them. It’s a new environment. Match
children with common interests, schools, or situations.

• Friends – Kids feel safety in numbers, so
encourage them to bring their friends from outside your church.

• Extensions – Provide fun connection
activities outside of your ministry that let new kids link with
regulars to socialize and have fun. For example, a group of
suburban churches plans an annual overnighter for their combined
groups of fourth- and fifth-graders. By planning it together and
pooling their resources, they do it up big. They encourage kids to
invite friends, making follow-up much easier. Because the new kids
have already had an awesome experience and already have friends who
attend, they’re more apt to try the children’s ministry after an
invitation.

Make kids feel special

“In my experience, many special event attenders attend simply
because the event is special and makes them in turn feel special,”
says Sheila Halasz, a children’s ministry expert and writer. When
children feel special, they’ll keep coming back.

“When a regular Sunday allows kids to still feel special and
loved,” says Halasz, “kids are happy to come to not only the big
events but also the smaller everyday events. When we have a larger
event, we always take pictures. I email kids their pictures the
next day with a special note thanking them for attending and
inviting them to the next regular event.”

Take notice of kids. Learn who they are. Be generous with your
time, and encourage your team to do the same. Personal contact and
invitations are essential connection points.

Give kids a taste of Jesus

Rhonda Haslett of Lakeview Church in Indianapolis, Indiana,
challenges children’s ministers to mingle with kids and listen to
their ideas — while acting as an extension of Jesus.

“Be Jesus with skin on,” advises Haslett. “Even at fun events,
kids notice real people having a real life with God.” cm


Debra Vos is a coordinator of curriculum and teaching at
Crossroads Community Church in Schererville, Indiana.

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