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The Party's Over

Children's Ministry Magazine

by Patricia Meyers

One program ends and you're already working on the next one, right?

Stop! Don't go any further until you debrief!

What is debriefing? It's the step you must get in the habit of taking after every single event you sponsor. Not just the biggies-every single one. What it is, technically, is reviewing an event to determine what went well and what needs work; what to remember and what to never forget. To debrief any event, take these simple, proven steps.

1. First, evaluate on your own.

Make notes about the event, using the questions in the "Debriefing Questions" sidebar. Go through every aspect of the event and leave room in your notes for future thoughts and input. Be thorough.

2. Invite key leaders to a debriefing meeting.

If you get too many people involved, it can become a dramatic, finger-pointing meeting. If there was a huge problem with or at the event, deal personally with the people who were involved. Debriefing is for the purpose of event improvement. Keep things focused on the event, not the people involved.

3. Begin on a positive note.

Start the meeting with a statement such as this: "We're here to perhaps laugh at our bumps and lumps along the way. No event is perfect. We aren't striving for perfection, just excellence in all we do. We want to improve each year; that's our goal. We want to identify if there are things we can do better next time."

4. Evaluate every aspect of the event.

Begin where the event started and follow the event to the end. Topics may include:

  • Initial brainstorming
  • Planning
  • Publicity
  • Parking
  • Greeting
  • Foot traffic flow-in
  • Restroom accessibility and cleanliness
  • Opener
  • Skits
  • Lessons
  • Closing
  • Foot traffic flow-out
  • Parking lot
  • Follow-up

Fill in your event's parts; some events may only have two parts, while others may have 20. I've debriefed everything-from my Easter message in children's church to my community children's crusades. Each debriefing has been very different.

Debriefing Questions

Use these questions in every debriefing session.

  1. What went well?
  2. What went not-so-well?
  3. What did the kids love? Dislike?
  4. How was the event effective? Ineffective?
  5. Was this event useful or necessary?
  6. Do we want to do it again? If so, why? If not, why not?

Through the debriefing process, you may discover you spent a lot of time, effort, and money on something that no one really enjoyed or even noticed. You may find out what you thought was going to be a highlight wasn't. And you may find out something you thought was a little thing ended up carrying a huge punch. As you review the points with each event, you'll get better acquainted with what your kids enjoy and what's really necessary.

For example, during one of my Kids' Crusades I asked a particular sound man to help out. The first year we just concentrated on getting through the event! The second year I planned a little interaction between us; he argued about a song choice and I overruled him. The kids thought that was hilarious. Later in the night he begged for one of the kids' favorite puppet songs and I gave in; the kids went wild. Now, we would've done that song anyway, but the kids felt like they had an ally in the back of the room. They loved it.

As the years went by, we included the sound man a little more each time. We were careful to not overdo it, so the kids loved it every year. One year he even formed a coup d'etat and had me hauled off on a dolly by a maintenance guy. As I was wheeled by, he swiped my hat and ran the event from the back for a few minutes. When I came back, he got in trouble and had to do a stunt. It was all in fun and the kids just loved it.

I would never have guessed this was going to develop from asking him to argue with me one year. If we hadn't debriefed and really thought through every step, we could've missed that one thing years back that seemed to really excite them-and it was a free bit!

Debriefing Guidelines

Follow these guidelines for the most effective information-gathering possible.

  • Review-If you had trouble staying in budget, figure out why. Be brutally honest with yourself about everything. Where did you get off track? Did you let things slip up? Were you afraid to say no to someone? If you had trouble staying in your timeframe, why? Be truthful. Were you gabby? Did the games/storyteller/singing group stay in the slot you gave them? Were you clear on how much time was slotted to each? Are you hanging on to a part of the event that no one likes but you? If you're hanging on to something tightly, why? Be honest; it's rule #1.
  • Reflect-Think about each segment almost independently of the rest. Did the kids like each segment? Were they impacted? Why or why not? Were they bored, confused, or captivated? Was the content over their heads? Was it relevant? What would you change?
  • Revisit-Before you plan your next event, read your notes from the last one or two events to see if there's anything that applies. Every few events, review the notes from those events all at one time to see if there's a pattern of issues to address.

5. File your report.

Type your notes, and place the event name and date clearly at the top of every page. Put your notes in two places: in the file for that event and in a master debriefing notes file. The master file enables you to benefit from notes you make from your Easter event when you're planning your Harvest Party and so on. Simply file these chronologically with the most recent one in the front. Theoretically the most recent debriefing notes offer you the most help because you've addressed challenges from the previous ones.

Just imagine reading through a stack of debriefing notes some day. You'll see how much you and your ministry have grown, how much more efficient your team has become, and perhaps some things you overlooked when in the throes of planning. Debriefing is a great use of time, doesn't have to be done too often, and leads to easier planning in the future.

Patricia Meyers is the founder of www.childrenschurchstuff.com.


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