Creative ways to get people off the bench and into your children’s ministry.
“Play ball!” When the umpire calls out this familiar refrain, everyone’s in his or her place! The front office is providing support, spectators have settled in for a good show, raving fans are ready to cheer, and coaches are eager to execute their game plan.
If you think about your ministry as a sporting event, you’ve got all these people in their places, too. How do you play your game in a way that shows appreciation to all these people and involves them in ministry at their level?
Say it again…”Let’s play ball!”
Front office people are often the first contact newcomers have with your church. The front office often fields questions about children’s ministry before people contact your actual children’s ministry. Applaud your church secretaries and office assistants for representing your children’s ministry well.
“More often than not, this group is the most overworked and underacknowledged,” says Jennifer Ward, a children’s minister from Chester, Virginia “Because they often handle responsibilities for other areas of the church besides children’s ministry, they can be forgotten as a part of the team. Treat them the same as your children’s ministry team members.”
• Explain why. They need to know why those mailings, phone calls, copies, and more that they work on are so important. Involve them in the process of whatever you’re asking them to do rather than handing over a “to do” list with due dates.
Encourage, encourage, encourage! Invite them to a team meeting or team event so they can meet and get to know the people with whom they’re serving. Communicate how people are touched by their help.
• Explain what. Spend time talking to the front office about children’s ministry. Spark their interest in all that God is doing in and through your ministry. Share success stories. This will cause them to get behind you and support what you’re doing.
“Relevant information is the key to involving the front office,” explains Eric Echols, a children’s minister from Lawrenceville, Georgia. “If they know what’s happening in the children’s ministry, they’ll be better equipped to field initial questions. Provide email updates, relevant promotional pieces, and brochures and handouts that communicate the vision and values of your children’s ministry in a comprehensive and concise way.”
• Off-the-Bench Ideas-Why not send flowers to the front office or at least always have reserved seating for them and their family at the special functions they’re promoting so often?
To say thanks and win continued support, provide a free babysitting evening for them after they’ve helped in a big way for one of your events.
God bless the spectators! These are the faithful parents, grandparents, and others who — although not directly involved in your ministry — week in and week out bring their kids. These folks are also the ones who always donate supplies you need. And they’re the faithful ones in the seats at special events.
• Check your attitude. Children’s ministers can slip into a resentful attitude toward spectator parents. If you feel this way, that’ll kill your relationship with these folks. Never stop saying thank you to them. And never simply expect that they’ll come through for you. Their level of involvement is a gift to your ministry.
• Just ask. Ask the spectators their opinion of the children’s ministries at your church. They’ve watched how you all work together, so they’ve seen things your team members are unaware of. These spectators will feel honored that you asked — and their input will strengthen your ministry.
• Pump them up. Bring on the cheerleaders (raving fans) to interact with any spectators who aren’t so thrilled. Give them something to be excited about by having your raving fans share great things God is doing.
• Off-the-Bench Ideas-“We use first-serve opportunities to get people off the bench and into the game,” says Echols. “We ask people to sign up for a ‘one-time’ serve, then we give them four Sundays to sign up for an area of ministry to participate in for one week. They can choose nursery, preschool, or elementary ministries. We had over 550 people sign up for a one-time serve.”
Raving fans are on your team, and they’re with you through thick and thin. Thank them for their faithfulness through the difficult seasons and congratulate them during the times of huge success.
“Thank them for their support…they may not realize what an encouragement they are to you,” advises Ward. “Ask them for their opinion on new ideas or just in general to help assess your ministry’s strengths and weaknesses. Everyone has an opinion and is usually thrilled that someone asked for it.”
• Give credit where it’s due. Energy is vital to the continued momentum of a team. If that energy level plummets, watch out! So keep your raving fans raving about your team.
Children’s minister Rhonda Haslett from Indianapolis, says, “To say thanks for their help, I give them credit for areas where improvements are made. They love this! I attempt to tap into their wealth of knowledge…or at least talk via email regularly.”
• Call them into greater leadership. Get raving fans involved in more complexities of your ministry. Allow them to give their input on ways to improve the team. Involve them in the planning stages of the ministry.
• Give them pompoms. In other words, give them the props they need to promote your ministry: T-shirts, key chains, bumper stickers, posters, lapel pins, buttons, and more. These can be inexpensive ways to help them show support for their favorite team!
• Give them a voice. Let the parent who loves your children’s ministry share from the pulpit a way that your team has met a need for his or her family. Better yet, capture that story on camera to be used at teacher trainings or at a booth that promotes your team.
• Off-the-Bench Ideas-Intentionally involve raving fans in the game that’ll be most exciting for them. Answer these questions: Is this individual enjoying or really struggling in ministry? Does the person’s ministry have results?
“We help our key volunteers discover what they’re passionate about and help them serve in their passion,” says Echols. “If a leader’s passion is teaching, then teaching becomes the focus. If it’s crafts, the focus is crafts. If people’s giftedness is worship, then they lead worship. We empower our raving fans to serve in their passion so they can hit the ball out of the park every time they step up to serve.”
Coaches are in the game. They’re already serving, so reiterate that a healthy heart is a serving heart. We need to tell them they’re making a difference in others, and God is making a difference in them.
• Cast vision. Your team members can become champions for children’s ministry if they know and understand your vision for children’s ministry. First of all, align your vision and values with the overall church’s vision and values. Then keep your vision before your team. Share success stories about how your team is fulfilling the vision and values.
• Retreat with them. These coaches are already planning plays to help children win. Why not plan an event for them? Create a time and place for intentional team building and vision casting-even if it’s just going out for ice cream after an event.
• Unite your coaches. Give your coaches opportunities to network and encourage one another. Some coaches are more than committed; they’re the influencers who desire to equip other raving fans to be better fans. Your coaches need to be around each other.
• Off-the-Bench Ideas-Your coaches thrive on making a difference for God, so share with them often the stories of how they’ve impacted kids, parents, staff, and yourself. Also, share with your congregation the incredible difference coaches are making by featuring a different coach in your bulletin or newsletter each time. Tell how God is using each incredible coach to help kids win in their relationship with Christ.
If these people never come to anything, why bother with them? First, because you owe them for the contributions they’ve made to your ministry to make it possible–both financial and political. Also, you want these people to continue to feel good about your ministry so they’ll continue giving and supporting. Nonattending church members give three things to your ministry indirectly: faithful attendance at church, financial support, and a political vote for your ministry.
• Say thanks. Applaud these folks for attending church services on a regular basis. Through newsletters, emphasis from the pulpit, and promotional material, show the importance of children’s ministry to these people.
“Even if they’re not directly involved in your ministry, you couldn’t run your ministry without your congregation’s gifts and tithes,” says Haslett. “So say ‘thank you’ regularly for people’s continued generosity. Nor could you have the programs you do without the church’s continued support. Never take this for granted.”
• Ask for their input. “When they look at you bewildered because they’ve never even set foot down the children’s hallway,” says Ward, “explain that’s exactly why you asked them!” It’s very useful to find out what these nonattendees know about your children’s ministry — positive or negative.
• Off-the-Bench Ideas-Special events are a great way to get these people involved. Invite them to participate in churchwide events, such as a Super Bowl party, picnic, or any other “out of the ordinary” event.
Christine Yount Jones is executive editor for Children’s Ministry Magazine.