Think Strategically

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Six years ago, I was waiting to begin my second interview to
become the director of children’s ministries for a growing suburban
church near Minneapolis, when I thought, “I don’t want this job!”
At the moment, I was looking at a wall of large binders, which held
the registrations for 850 children. And I must admit, I felt a bit
overwhelmed.

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The interview went well, and that job must’ve been in God’s
plans. Today, I’m still at this church, and we now have 1,200
children in our programs. It has been an exciting learning
experience, to say the least.

A critical thing I’ve learned is the importance of planning.
Whether you’re leading a children’s ministry program of 12, 120, or
1,200 children, the need for planning is the same. The same basic
approach to planning can work for programs of any size and at any
stage — whether the program is growing, leveling off, or
declining. And effective planning can be the jump-start your
program needs to leap over any hurdles to growth.

The five-year planning approach I’ve outlined in this article is
one that has worked well for our program. It has helped us address
immediate needs and define long-term goals to stay on track.

Step A: Prepare To Plan

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Before you start putting a plan on paper, there are a number of
questions you first need to ask that’ll help you lay the groundwork
for your plan. This is perhaps the most crucial step because if you
gloss over it, you’re creating a plan out of thin air — a plan
that’s an educated guess at best. Addressing the following key
issues will help you know what needs to be done, who’ll do it, and
how long it’ll take.

Know your goals in relation to God’s. The goal
of all Christian education is to help people develop a relationship
with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and to facilitate growth in
that relationship. What do you believe the Bible reveals as God’s
will for your children’s ministry? What special leading or calling
— if any — has your church experienced in children’s ministry?
What do you believe God is calling your children’s ministry to do
and be?

Know your congregation. In God’s sovereignty,
you are in a certain kind of church. Whether it’s denominational or
nondenominational, your church has its own special flavor in
theology and practices. Where is your congregation in its spiritual
growth? Is prayer an integral part? What particular denominational
values do you need to keep in mind for your children’s
ministry?

Know yourself. Where do you fit into the
program? What are your strengths, weaknesses, and passions? Are you
a great organizer, motivator, storyteller, or song leader? Do you
have a passion for world missions, prayer, or some other aspect of
Christian education? God has put these things in you for a reason.
And don’t discount your weaknesses. Perhaps you’re shy,
disorganized, or in over your head — at times I’ve been all three.
Jesus told Paul, “My power is made perfect in weakness” (2
Corinthians 12:9). Tell God your weaknesses, and he will provide an
answer in other people, in your personal growth, or in some way
that only God knows.

Know your staff. I work with a wonderful,
servant-hearted ministry staff, but I’ve heard of churches where
there’s a lot of stress because servanthood is not a focus among
the paid staff. You need to know how much help you’ll receive from
your pastor or other staff members. Is your pastor overloaded or
available? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the staff
around you, including support staff and custodians? What spiritual
gifts do staff members have? How busy are they? Are there
personality conflicts? Are they servant-hearted people, or do you
need to encourage them to be servants? What are staff complaints
about the program or working conditions?

When I started my job, one of the first things my boss told me
was, “Oh, and by the way, I think the two people you’ll be working
with are burned out.” I knew immediately that I needed to take care
of their needs first.

Know the parents and volunteers. What are the
parents and volunteers like? How involved are they? What are their
needs? What are their complaints? Knowing what to expect from
parents and volunteers and what they need will be crucial in
putting together an effective plan.

Know the children. What are the children like?
Are they reserved, bold, or, as in most cases, a combination of
both? Where are they in their spiritual growth? Have they been
taught the basics — prayer, Scripture, praise, forgiveness, joy,
outreach? What do they need to learn?

Know your program. List your program’s
strengths and weaknesses. If you’re new to a program, take several
of your most active volunteers out for lunch one at a time to get a
realistic view. Are there curriculum problems, discipline issues,
or space concerns? What are the areas of frustration? What are the
strengths? What have people always dreamed of doing in the
children’s ministry?

Step B: Pray For The Plan

When you’ve answered these and any other questions God brings to
mind, pray. Relying on your skills alone to create a plan isn’t the
best way to go about it. This is a big responsibility and an
important undertaking, and your attitude in prayer will make all
the difference. First, pray for yourself. I often find myself
praying, “Lord, I’ve got this problem, and I thank you for the
answer that I know you’ll provide.” Pray that you’ll stay connected
to God’s plan and that God will help you prioritize. Pray that
you’ll focus on solutions, not on problems. Second, pray for your
family. God doesn’t intend for your job to interfere with what you
must do for your family. Third, pray for the children. Pray that
God will work through you to help children and their families grow
in their faith. God wants children to learn even more than we want
them to, so it’s easy and important to trust that good things will
happen.

Step C: Work The Plan

You’re now ready to begin your five-year plan for your
children’s ministry. Every church’s situation is different, with
varied challenges and strengths. You may address only a few needs
or solve only a few problems in the first year and then carry over
the rest to the next year. After all, you can solve only so many
problems at a time. Or you may move quickly through the first two
years and start tackling your long-term goals. Typically, though,
you’ll follow this year-by-year progression.

First Two Years — In the first two years,
focus on addressing needs or challenges that arose in your answers
to questions in Step A. You may have great ideas for new
activities, but solve problems first. It may be difficult to
address some areas, but God can make a way where there seems to be
no way. I’ve faced challenges that’ve had me at my wits’ end, and
it’s just about that time that I find a solution or help I’d never
considered.

Third Year — In your third year, go back to
Steps A and B to re-evaluate and pray. Things change, and it’s
always good to question and pray again.

This year take a good look at your team — paid staff and
volunteers. Observe how people are doing with their jobs. Do you
have enough help, or are people getting burned out? If your church
is growing, rejoice! However, prepare to meet the challenges that
growth brings.

Our church was growing at a predictable rate, so I could project
new staff needs five years out. I presented a hiring plan to our
senior pastor that could be implemented incrementally over the
five-year period. I’ve gotten to the point where I can tell which
activities require a paid staff member, but I had to learn that the
hard way — through a series of burned-out volunteers. If you have
qualified people in your church, consider contracting with them for
paid part-time help during fall start-up or vacation Bible school.
A part-time staff member can also help with short-term projects
such as writing a Thanksgiving lesson or speaking at a
workshop.

If volunteers must always be used because you can’t afford
staff, you may still be burning them out. Consider restructuring an
activity and the volunteer’s job with job sharing or team teaching.
Keep volunteer jobs reasonable. There may be times when God says no
in certain situations for the sake of the volunteers.

Fourth Year — Go back to Steps A and B to
re-evaluate and pray. Once you have basic challenges solved and
staff and volunteer situations stabilized, you can set specific
goals for expansion of your programs. Consider things such as
tutoring programs, after-school programs, and social activities. We
expanded our children’s program into two age-specific groups:
KidVenture for first- and second-graders and K.I.C.K. (Kids In
Christ’s Kingdom) for third- through fifth-graders. Of course, we
hired new staff for this expansion. We started a Good News Bearers
program that brings third- through fifth-graders together to act
out Bible stories in a fun way. And our year ends with a huge Bible
trivia game that shows how much children learn when they act out
the stories. Our parents were amazed! We also started a Read the
Good Book program using charts of Bible storybooks to encourage
children to read. There are so many great ideas for helping
children to learn about God. Check out more than 10 years’ worth of
ideas online at www.cmmag.com.

Fifth Year — Return to Steps A and B to
re-evaluate and pray. When you have a well-developed program, it’s
time to place greater emphasis on encouraging parents to share
their faith with their children. Parents are children’s main
teachers, and most of them need to be helped. While adult education
classes are great for helping parents grow in their faith,
sometimes they alone don’t give parents the necessary tools to
share faith with their children. We’ve developed a program called
Not 2 Young for 2-year-olds and their parents to help get parents
started in the basics of praying, reading Bible stories, and
talking about God with their children. We also added a Home Faith
Connection position on our church staff to better help parents
become aware of ideas and resources.

• • •

Of course what you do with your five years depends on what has
already been done and what is yet to be done. So pray about your
plan. Pray for a good attitude and an open heart. Be flexible for
God’s sake so he can use you. Be inflexible about the message of
the gospel — it doesn’t change. And be thankful! God wants your
program to be the best — even more than you want it to be. You can
trust that God will be there for you.

Facing Challenges

Here are common challenges and suggested solutions, but don’t
forget that God is your greatest resource for help.

Creating Positive Attitudes — If your staff or
volunteers aren’t servant-hearted people, then lead by example.
It’s so important that the attitude of servanthood is pervasive. Be
willing to help volunteers with the little things. If a teacher
can’t find extra pencils and has been told three times where they
are, cheerfully show the teacher again if she asks. Are parents
registering late? God wants their kids there, and if God is
flexible, we can be too. Leading by example may take awhile, but
the joy of being a servant is contagious.

Attracting Volunteers — The key to getting
volunteers is to make volunteering as easy as you can. We need over
225 teachers each year; that’s no small challenge. However, it has
gotten easier to get volunteers as word has spread that we make
volunteering easy.

How do we make it easy? We have resource people who get
everything ready for a lesson for each grade level. If a teacher
needs 10 red hearts for a lesson, we call on a group of volunteers
who don’t want to teach but are willing to prepare lesson
materials, making less work for the teachers. The teachers know
we’ll prepare whatever materials they need. We put their materials
in a specific place so teachers can quickly pick them up when they
get to church. It’s a lot of work for our staff, but it’s worth
it.

We also give teachers a break once in a while. We have a Prayer
Day in the fall that teachers don’t have to prepare for; they just
have to be with their classes. We prepare large-group activities
and then provide a few simple activities and discussion questions
for teachers to lead in their classrooms. On the first Sunday after
Christmas break, we have a half-hour video for the younger children
and a Christian, moral-based video for the older children. Again,
our staff prepares activities and discussion questions. We also
have a Soul Olympics Day in February. Our staff prepares five Bible
games for teachers and children to play. I’ve received many notes
of appreciation from teachers who say they like the breaks.

Addressing a Space Crunch — There are two ways
to handle this. You can find more space or find creative ways to
use what you have. When I started at the church in Minneapolis, we
had 11 small classrooms and 850 kids. We had seven ministry
sessions every week — three on Wednesday night, one on Saturday
night, and three on Sunday morning. On Wednesday evening we used
the sanctuary, moving chairs around to make eight small group
spaces, and divided the fellowship hall with room dividers to make
eight more spaces. We’ve since added new children’s ministry space,
but with our continued growth we still need seven hours to make it
work. If you’re crunched for space, put your creativity muscles to
work.

In all the challenges you face, be thankful. Thank God for any
needs you’ve met or problems you’ve solved — and for having laid a
foundation for the future.


Lois Lindberg is a director of children’s ministry in
Minneapolis, Minnesota. Please keep in mind that phone numbers,
addresses, and prices are subject to change.

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