8 critical steps to take when you’re the new staff person at a church.
Good morning. Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to oversee a creative ministry to children from birth through sixth grade, while reaching out to the community, touching the lives of parents, and providing TLC to the teachers and other volunteers who staff the myriad of ministries. All this must be done with a limited budget, certain time constraints, and a too-small facility. If you do well, congratulations. If not, we will disavow all knowledge of you and your position.
So, you’re a new children’s minister? Maybe this is the first staff position you’ve ever tackled. Or maybe you’ve been in ministry for a long time and are finding yourself in a new position. No matter your experience or title, you now have to pull yourself together, take stock of your situation, and start plugging away. But where do you start?
We’ve all found ourselves in positions where we’re excited and scared at the same time. No doubt, to a children’s minister in a new position, these feelings run at least as deep and as strong as ever before. You may even be wondering, “Why did I ever say yes to this?”
Now, take a deep breath and relax! Things will start looking up. If they don’t, I know someone who teaches a course on creative blaming.
Just kidding. Of course, you won’t need that. You have a good head on your shoulders and a wealth of resources available for ideas. You also have a copy of Children’s Ministry Magazine in your hands. This is a powerful tool to have right now. If you do just a small percentage of what you find in this issue, you’ll be well on your way to an effective ministry.
What to Do Personally
To get you started on the right path, follow these suggestions.
1. Network. You’ve heard the old adage, “There’s safety in numbers.” It couldn’t be truer in children’s ministry. Find a mentor or a group of children’s ministers in your city to meet and talk with on a regular basis. You may want to find someone in a church situation that’s similar to your own. At the same time, there’s wisdom in finding people in churches larger than yours who’ve been in ministry for a long time. More than likely, they’ve found new and innovative ways to meet ministry challenges. While their programs may be bigger than yours, their successes, both large and small, will help get your creative juices flowing.
As you meet and pray with these people, remember another old saying I’ve appropriately borrowed from somewhere — “Nothing in the world is original…it’s adjusted, borrowed, or stolen — and adapted to fit a need!”
2. Learn. Don’t try to do ministry without periodically stimulating your brain cells. Find conferences, conventions, or seminars somewhere — and go! Learning from others who’ve been in the trenches is like learning from Yoda! (“Be successful, you will,” as Yoda would say.) After returning from a national conference one year, my wife asked, “How was your time away with the gurus?” She couldn’t have been more on track. I had spent quality time with hundreds of children’s ministry gurus from all over the country, in churches of every size and flavor, and I’d been refilled and infused. With literally hundreds, if not thousands, of combined years of experience at these national and regional think tanks, we’re all miles ahead if we take advantage of the ideas and advice open to us.
3. Build relationships. Perhaps the most important part of building a children’s ministry is building relationships with the adults who serve with you. After all, without them your job would be impossible! Making friends and keeping them should be a required course for everyone in any area of ministry. Make this a high priority. Never put relationship-building on autopilot.
Ministry is all about people — we know that. What we sometimes forget is that children’s ministry isn’t simply ministry to children. It’s also ministry to those who minister to children. The present and future of children’s ministry must include ministry to families. Include the parents in your planning, relationship-building, and ministry. Equip adults to serve, train children, and help parents do their jobs of raising these all-important little ones.
4. Start small, think big. You don’t have to pull a rabbit out of the hat right away. In most cases, the people who place us in a children’s ministry position trust us and our abilities. They’ll be patient and sympathetic with what we need to accomplish. If they really do expect something big right away, see “Starting With a Bang!” (below).
What to Do in Ministry
Part of starting small and thinking big is just being realistic. There may be a lot to do, but being strategic about your approach to ministry will pay big dividends in the end. Recognize that your work may need to take place in stages. These four organizational stages should keep you busy, productive, and on track.
1. Stabilize current ministries. Take a long, hard look at the ministries you’ve inherited. These programs and opportunities are what your congregation, children, and community are used to. Your volunteers have labored to bring these ministries to where they are. Don’t just throw them away and start over. That might very well invalidate your volunteers’ hard work, and that’s simply not good politics.
Use the first several weeks and months to stabilize and freshen up the current offerings and outreach — without fundamentally changing them. Take time to validate, love, and appreciate the workers for what they’ve accomplished. Provide teacher training, start a small group for your volunteers in your home, have people over for dinner, or hold a retreat. Remember that relationship-building is one of your most important tools in ministry.
2. Implement manageable delegation. Princess Leia had Han Solo, Chewbacca, Luke Skywalker, and the robots. Jean Luc Picard had #1, Worf, and Mr. Data. Captain Kirk had Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, and Scotty. And you need your lieutenants too! As you’re stabilizing your church’s ministry to children, look for people who exhibit creativity, perseverance, hard work, and a team attitude. Then grab ’em! You need people to serve with you in key leadership roles.
One of my guiding philosophies of ministry is this — I have to work to put myself out of a job. If I try to do it all myself, it’ll never be done. If I have people I’m training to take my place, and as they serve, they too work to find people to take their places, then we’ll all succeed.
Ephesians 4 tells us that we’re to equip people for service. That means giving them the tools, training, privilege, and responsibility of ministry. Football teams need “depth” — more than one player who can play the same position. If there’s an injury or illness, there’s someone to take the missing player’s place. Without depth, one injury may mean defeat. We need depth in our children’s ministry leadership too. That means putting leaders in place, and letting them succeed-or fail.
3. Enhance your ministry. You’ve stabilized the ministry and placed good people in charge of areas, age groups, or departments. Now you have the time and luxury of enhancing and improving the ministries you offer to the church and community. Maybe it’s time to change curriculum or build a new theme for the age-old Wednesday night program. This is the time to add music to your Sunday school. You might want to consider adding visits from special costumed characters for Sunday mornings and weeknight activities. Now’s the time to change the names of events and activities, and to move and add leadership as needed.
The depth that’s needed in leadership is also needed in the classrooms and other ministries. Find a co-teacher for every teacher, then find a classroom assistant. Set up a quarterly parent rotation through each of the classrooms. Make your volunteers’ lives easier by establishing a resource room where they can gather needed materials and teaching aids. In short, make what you have even better by fine-tuning and tweaking every aspect of the ministry.
4. Create new ministries. Things should be humming right along once these first stages are well in hand. Now you can start up those new and exciting ministries you’ve been dreaming of. This is your chance to dream as big and creatively as you can. As you add new ministries, you can carefully retire older, outdated, or worn-out ministries from bygone days. Remember to validate and appreciate the founders and volunteers as you retire these old programs.
This is an exciting time in your life. Have fun and relish the opportunity to be in God’s service, influencing the lives of his precious little children. Avoid the tendency to be a Lone Ranger, and you’ll find the joy of serving on a team of friends who share your love for children and families. Spread your wings, try new things, dare to dream big dreams, pray hard, and trust God. This is an adventure-never lose sight of that!?
Dr. Martin Johnson has been in full-time ministry for nearly 30 years, serving in churches ranging in size from church plant to mega-church in both Kansas and Ohio. His ministry positions have included ministry with youth, children, and families and currently as the lead pastor in the greater Toledo metro-plex. As both a pastor and a seminary professor, Martin finds ministering to children and families to be the most rewarding work of his ministry career.
STARTING WITH A BANG!
If you’re in a situation where you have to do something big to capture the attention of your church and community, do something new in one of these existing programs. Then scale back or return to a more strategic and carefully planned schedule.
•Sunday School Electives-Have teachers choose a course they’d like to teach. Set up enough of these courses to accommodate all your children. Rotate the children through the various course offerings at the rate of one class every two to four weeks. Do this for one quarter to build interest and reinvigorate the Sunday school program and the teachers.
•VBS-Style Sunday School–Using a quality vacation Bible school program as your theme and resource, create a new and temporary look for your Sunday school program. This will inspire your children, families, and teachers. It’ll also provide a great outreach to the community. Do it up big.
•Wednesday Night Children’s Church-This will bring new excitement to an otherwise drab weeknight club or choir program.
•Kids’ Night Out–Open the church gym for organized games and free play for third- through sixth-graders each Friday night for three months. This serves as an interest-builder and outreach program. After a ton of games, provide a snack and quickie lesson followed by a cool-down video.
•Sunday Morning Children’s Sermon-It’s a simple addition but very effective. Read or tell a story, do an object lesson, or dress in a costume. Whatever you do, make it appropriate for children yet meaningful for the adults. If you capture the children’s attention, you’ll be sure to have the adults’ attention as well.