Check out these 8 steps on how to make a children’s ministry handbook to make your ministry the strongest it can be.
Odds are that your ministry has policies and procedures. As many churches do, you hang them in your children’s ministry hallways and post them on your classroom walls, using colored paper or specially designed signage to attract attention. You’ve probably scheduled meetings with your teams to implement new policies and procedures. You’ve discussed the relevancy of long-standing ones. And you’ve most likely made copies of copies to distribute to countless parents over the years. You find yourself repeating the same information over and over again to volunteers and parents, and pointing them to the information posted or distributed.
All of this was my experience for the first four years of my ministry as director of Discovery Island children’s ministry at Northridge Church in Plymouth, Michigan. I knew there had to be a better way to communicate essential information to the volunteers and families.
I found the motivation for my handbook while attending a conference at another church. Their inspirational booklet was clean and professional—something you wouldn’t mind leaving out on an office desk or a coffee table. Although it was a great booklet, I envisioned something different that would better suit Northridge Church and Discovery Island. When I arrived home, I was on a mission to create the best volunteer guide possible! Read on to discover the steps it took for our handbook to go from concept to creation.
1. Find your inspirational piece.
You can find inspiration by contacting other churches and requesting a copy of their handbooks. Research church websites or organizations that have high-level volunteers such as the Red Cross, major hospitals, or mission organizations. Once you’ve done your research, identify what you like from each piece and what attracted you to the material in the first place.
2. Form a task force.
I knew I couldn’t do this alone—so I planned a team of no more than four people. The vision was there but I needed to find others who had a flair for writing and research. I made a short list of people I knew would enjoy investing in this project. One of the key volunteers I recruited had experience as a customer service agent and was particularly skilled at writing apology letters. Another team member was an engineer, currently a stay-at-home mom, who loved research. My final invitation went to a creative writer who had a flair for humor. My role was to keep the team on schedule and assign different aspects of the project to each team member.
I scheduled a weekly 2-hour meeting, recurring for 10 weeks. Prior to the first meeting, I located every written policy, procedure, rule, and guideline we currently had. Then I provided a copy for each team member to take home, review, and rewrite for common language and consistency. At our first meeting, I shared the vision for our handbook and identified our target audience. We discussed how our handbook would be used, and we developed a timeline and distribution target date.
3. Identify the tone.
Our task force returned the following week with their suggested updates for evaluation by the team. I then assigned one team member to review meeting notes and standardize the policies, procedures, guidelines, and rules for the following meeting’s review. At this meeting, we also determined the underlying tone we wanted our handbook to take. Northridge Church places a high value on honoring God through excellent communication that maintains a positive perspective. We modified all documents to reflect a friendly tone, not harsh or demanding. Then we rewrote every document with a positive point of view. We also made the names of the policies more interesting and attention-grabbing. For example, we went from “Health Policy” to “What’s Hot and What’s Not.” This was a fun exercise where each person contributed.
4. Arrange the documents in a logical order.
We organized each piece in various categories such as vision, purpose, values, safety information, infants, preschool, elementary, general audience, and ministry roles. Then we determined the order for a logical flow and easy reference.
At this point we took a critical look, eliminating duplicate information and nonessential verbiage. Keep it simple, concise, clear, and clean. We dropped several pages of information that wasn’t essential, to keep it short and easy to read. Then we developed a feature page for easy reference and use.
Have other people review your project and give feedback. We asked people who were outside of our ministry to comment, and we found that some of the things that seemed clear to us were vague or confusing to them. This step provides excitement and momentum. This is also the time to have several people review your handbook for spelling or grammatical errors.
5. Storyboard your handbook.
We began to lay out the handbook and determined how we wanted it to look. We were able to hire a graphic artist; however, you may have a church member talented in this area who would be a great resource for a rough copy layout. Another option is to contact a local community college or university to find a student willing to help as a class project for no cost. This was our opportunity to be creative and make it fun by using puns and funny statements or facts. We searched for pictures or images that would highlight our ministry and dress up the handbook. We determined to use stock pictures available to purchase at a minimal fee, for quality and consistency. If you’re using pictures of children in your ministry, you must obtain parental permission in writing before moving to the next step.
6. Solicit church leadership endorsement.
With a working draft in hand, I met with our senior pastor to discuss the vision, purpose, and value of our handbook. Leadership buy-in was essential in the process and provided an opportunity to showcase the Discovery Island ministry in a positive manner. This handbook was a marketing piece for our church and ministry and, as such, would raise the bar for all future church communications.
7. Negotiate for the best deal.
A key component to your plan is a budget for printing costs. We discovered the larger the printing order the less per-copy cost, and we adjusted our order to provide a projected number of copies for the next two years. We solicited three bids from graphic artists and local printers. Many churches have a relationship with local printers where printing is done at a discounted rate for the church. If you have limited funds, you may need to print your handbook on your church copy machine. In that case, upgrade the weight and quality of the paper.
8. Unveil your ministry handbook first to your team.
Because we value our Discovery Island volunteers, we wanted to include them in the promotion of our Volunteer Guide. The first edition was targeted for volunteers’ use and training. Due to the interest and enthusiasm our Volunteer Guide produced, we developed a Parent Guide the following year. Edition 3 was an updated version of the Volunteer Guide, and for Edition 4 we determined that both guides were similar and combined them into one publication—The Parent & Volunteer Guide.
Today our guide is a great source of information for parents as well as a unifying encouragement to the volunteer team that equips and empowers them to serve. It has raised the level of communication, added excitement and value, and increased ministry trust for each volunteer role. Stay tuned, as we find ourselves in the process once again, of designing Edition 5.
Anita Weldon is director of Discovery Island at Northridge Church in Plymouth, Michigan.
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