Use this win-win game plan to build community with kids, parents, and volunteers in your children’s ministry.
One of my favorite things about football games in the fall is the instant community I share with total strangers. As I spot another loyal fan sporting my team’s jersey or waving colored pom-poms in the air on any given Sunday, I have an immediate and strangely loyal connection to these people. Yet, sadly, I can enter another favorite venue on any given Sunday — church — and lack that same connection to those around me.
Building community is a winning aspect of your ministry game plan each week. Without relational connections, loyalty is a short-lived value. So to create connection and loyalty on your team, use these ideas with your key players — kids, parents, and volunteers.
Build Community: Hellos & Goodbyes
Never underestimate the power of a simple greeting or farewell.
Hello to Kids
Train your team members to engage kids within 30 seconds of the time they enter your ministry area by inviting children to join in a conversation, game, or other activity. Also, train your regular kids to make connections with new kids by being their buddies for the entire time. Start each week by having all kids introduce themselves and share something about their week.
Hello to Parents
As parents drop off their kids, train your team members to let Mom and Dad know what kids will learn. Also, have team members personally give parents any take-home materials at drop-off rather than placing them in an impersonal “out” box or door folder. This provides eye-to-eye contact with every parent.
Hello to Volunteers
When I started a new children’s ministry director position, a seasoned volunteer asked me whether she’d see me on Sunday mornings. After laughing out loud, I realized she was absolutely serious. She said she’d been volunteering for nearly a year and had never spoken with the previous director after her first day on the job. Instead of disappearing, have your volunteers meet for a morning huddle before kids arrive to touch base, hear announcements, share prayer concerns, and pray together. Not only will this give leaders face time with volunteers, but it’ll also allow your team members to chat and build relationships.
Build Community: Common Purposes
Nothing brings people together more quickly than working toward a common purpose.
Purpose With Kids
Have kids work on a project together such as sponsoring a child in a Third World country or creating snacks for a neighboring small group. Offer opportunities for kids to work together each week. Extend this opportunity into the school week by giving kids a weekly challenge such as looking for ways to show God’s love on the playground or searching the Bible for a verse relating to forgiveness. When kids return to your ministry the following weekend, let all kids share their discoveries.
Purpose With Parents
The one thing you know all parents have in common is that they have kids. Begin by offering parenting classes, small groups, or play groups so parents can connect. Then look for ways to purposefully add on to and strengthen these connections, such as creating a parent group on Facebook or setting a standing “coffee shop date.” Connect parents with kids of similar ages so they can share the joys and challenges of parenting as well as glean advice from each other.
Purpose With Volunteers
These folks already have a common purpose: helping children get to know Jesus. Regular contact with your volunteers is critical to renewing your ministry’s vision and purpose. But many leaders of volunteers forget that encouraging volunteers to form bonds outside of ministry service — whether a softball team, book club, social networking group, or Habitat for Humanity team — will strengthen those ties and provide a sense of camaraderie that comes only from friendly, casual interaction. Being together away from a service commitment will build your team’s community and, as a result, their commitment to ministry.
Build Community: Relational Environments
Building community involves designing spaces that promote and encourage budding relationships.
Environments With Kids
Kids naturally gather together around a game or craft table and will sit and be silly together on a couch. Plan your environment with this in mind. Purchase toys and manipulatives designed for two or more kids. Place bean bags around a kid-friendly coffee table to invite conversation. When kids enter your ministry area have a visual prompt on a video screen or white board that gets them talking such as, “Find someone who watched Hannah Montana this week and ask what that person’s favorite part of the show was” or “Ask at least three kids who they want to win the football game this afternoon.”
Environments With Parents
Spatial environments are just as important for parents as they are for kids. Create open spaces where parents can gather with their kids after weekend services. Set up an inviting display with information on family activities, parenting classes, and resources. Also strategically place round tables, multi-age toys, and snacks in the area. Go a step further and place conversation starter “tents” on the tables to get families talking. For a downloadable conversation starter tent you can customize each week, click here.
Environments With Volunteers
Communicate that you genuinely care for your volunteers by creating a place for them. Offer a room where volunteers can gather before and after the worship service for coffee, healthy breakfast food items, and conversation. Provide resources in this area, such as copies of this issue’s “Teacher Telegram” on page 119, discipline tips, icebreakers to use with kids, and so on. Also, post encouraging posters or messages on the wall, and hang a whiteboard where volunteers can share a “God Sighting” each week (some way they’ve seen God at work).
Build Community: Being Heard
Give all the key players in your ministry a voice and let them know you’re listening.
If teachers lecture the entire time, kids won’t feel connected to God, the teacher, or each other. Let kids have a say in what they want to learn and how they want to learn it. As much as possible, give them choices: “Would you like to play this high-energy game or do this quiet activity next?” When kids have input, they’ll realize they play an important role in your ministry.
What topics would parents like to learn about related to their children, your ministry, or faith? What concerns do they share with you? Regularly ask parents for input on how they feel your ministry is impacting kids’ faith. Welcome parents’ suggestions and ideas-and always respond to let them know you’ve listened.
Regularly ask your volunteers how things are going. What are their needs, concerns, or praises? Set up a Facebook page to connect all volunteers-weekend, midweek, nursery, or preteen-so they can share information.
Build Community: Celebrations
Celebrations inject joy and community into your ministry.
Celebrate With Kids
Encourage teachers to celebrate accomplishments with kids each week. If anyone had an exciting thing happen that’s worth a cheer, such as passing a test, losing a tooth, or learning to ride a bike, celebrate. And don’t forget the big celebrations-those that call for food, fun, and music-such as birthdays, faith milestones, and holidays.
Celebrate With Parents
Let families know you care about their big days. Send a card from your ministry to recognize marriage anniversaries or church membership anniversaries. Celebrate big family moments in style: a new baby calls for a special celebration, as does a child’s confirmation, dedication, or baptism. Don’t overlook important moments when you can celebrate big occasions with families and cement your bond.
Celebrate With Volunteers
Your team does so much in ministry each week, so you have a lot to celebrate with them. Make your volunteer parties easy to attend by offering them immediately after your services and inviting your volunteers’ families to join the fun. Celebrate your volunteers’ accomplishments and dedication, and the big things happening in their families lives as well.
Building community means building team spirit. Follow this game plan, and you’ll experience growing community and connection with all the key players in your ministry.
Carmen Kamrath has been a children’s minister for 20 years. She’s the former associate editor for Children’s Ministry Magazine.
Looking for more teaching tips? Check out these ideas!