If you’re looking for wins in your ministry, here’s how to team up, gear up, and get ready to play.
Church services are game days for ministry. We’re playing to win souls. The consequences of a good game day in children’s ministry are eternal. Every week, God counts on us to reach the boys and girls in our churches, our outreach programs, our classes, and our events. It’s up to us to play as though it’s for the championship trophy and not just backyard batting practice. Here are key factors in building a ministry team that’s equipped to win.
Game Day Strategy #1: Win With a Function Team
Often when we think of the “important part” of Sunday programming, we think of the lesson. But the lesson portion of any children’s ministry class is really only part of the big game. What’s happening when kids first arrive, get ready for class, transition, and depart is just as important as what’s happening when the lesson is underway.
It’s been said that more learning is caught than taught, and there’s a lot of truth to that. The non-teaching times in kids church play a critical role in how appealing and relational your overall ministry is to families—and you need a team that understands this and is ready to gear up every Sunday.
Take time to evaluate your environment as well as your team using the following questions. If you have no answer or an unsatisfactory answer for any of these, then you know where to begin working.
- Who greets families in the parking lot as they arrive?
- What happens when a first-time guest arrives?
- Who escorts families and kids to the correct room?
- Are age-appropriate activities available for kids when they arrive?
- Are rooms clean right now? Are they cleaned and tidied regularly between services and weekends?
- Do team members greet kids and parents by name when they arrive?
- When everyone leaves at the end of the service, whose role is it to clean up the room, sort toys, and put away supplies?
- Who sets up the rooms for next week?
- Who prepares the crafts, activities, stages, or props for next week?
- Who follows up with guests during the week?
- If someone new signed up to serve on your team next week, how would you train the person and where would you place him or her?
Opening activities (self-directed or leader-led) for kids are a great way to relationally connect team members with kids. Having a variety of things ready for kids to do helps them transition into class time more readily and also provides a way for social interaction to occur naturally between kids and adults. Active games, table activities, and learning centers that relate to the lesson or theme also help kids retain the information you’re teaching. The more adults you can invite into your opening activities, the more opportunities you have to make relational connections with kids.
Game Day Strategy #2: Win With the Right Equipment
Your team needs the right equipment to win on game days. You must ensure children’s safety while providing for their spiritual training and teaching in an environment that attracts kids and families, and that requires investment and resources.
Forward-thinking churches know that the single greatest investment they’ll make each and every week is in their children’s and youth programs. After all, we’re handing off the baton of our faith to kids, relying on them to carry it forward to the next generations. Kids who don’t like attending church services, who feel forced to go, or who remain unconnected emotionally and spiritually with the volunteers will grow into adults who don’t attend church. A church’s investment into quality, relationships, programs, equipment, and events for children and families is an investment in spiritual growth and church attendance decades from now.
Flourishing and growing churches have many things that are different about each one of them. But one common thread remains the same: They all invest financially in their children’s ministry. They don’t ask the children’s team members to buy their own supplies or do their own fundraising. Healthy church- es know they must set budgets, and they prioritize what and where funds are spent. One of the foremost goals of any church that loves kids is to ensure that the children’s ministry is supported financially and has the tools, equipment, and resources needed to succeed. Big or small, lavish or tight budget—smart churches recognize that unless they provide the equipment and resources needed for kids, they won’t be equipped to play.
A great team with the wrong equipment loses.
A bad team with the right equipment loses.
A great team with great equipment can win.
Game Day Strategy #3: Win With a Game Plan
A game plan is your organized vision for what happens during classes. The game plan includes lesson plans, but it’s not limited to the lesson plan. The lesson plan is what you’re teaching on a specific day; it’s a piece (though an important one) of the bigger picture. A game plan is a document that maps out the entire day from the first volunteer’s arrival to the last child’s exit. Game plans fill in the details and logistics, assign all the volunteers, and provide a methodical approach that builds toward growth and sustainability over time.
Talent isn’t a substitute for a game plan. Oftentimes, churches seeking a children’s ministry leader will look for someone with talent. That talent might be as an entertainer, a clown, a puppeteer, or even a super-talented communicator. But talent alone simply can’t replace having a game plan that has details pinned down for the day. One organized and mapped-out day leads to another, which leads to another, which leads to a master plan designed for growth and sustainability.
Game Day Strategy #4: Win With Consistent Practice
It takes consistent practice with everyone on your team participating to build a championship team.
John Maxwell says it this way: “A team is only as strong as its weakest link.” So how do you build strong teams? You train them, and they must practice as a team. Your team members must get to know each other. They need to know one another’s strengths and talents. And as a leader, it’s important to learn more about the people on your team and what resources and gifts they bring. This only happens when teams get together outside regular services to meet, plan, and socialize.
It’s hard, however, to get volunteers to show up for meetings. People have busy schedules, they’re already giving their time in the ministry, and often they have other meetings or obligations. So how do you find ways to meet and train? How do you get volunteers there?
The best way is to get creative in planning meetings so people want to show up. While it takes planning, preparation, and more work for leaders, the payoff is well worth it. Having strong, healthy team members who are happy to help and happy to attend meetings because they enjoy them is worth the extra time it takes to pull off creative, fun meeting times. Studies show that the vast majority of the population is socially motivated. We often take part in things simply because other people are taking part and it sounds like fun.
Throw in good food, and you’ll attract the rest.
One creative idea to spice up your team trainings is to blow out a theme. Center the food, décor, and training points around that theme. A Mexican fiesta is way more inviting than a teacher meeting. Instead of a holiday planning session, why not try a Christmas in July party instead? The investment in time and resources will pay off in better attendance.
Champions Centre Church in Seattle hosts a tailgate party every August for its children’s ministry team. The event became so popular that other departments started joining in on the same day. The key to success is in setting an agenda that’s fun, allows lots of social interaction, and also gives you a platform and time to share the vision and what you need to communicate to the team as a group.
This church plans the first hour of training for the teams to eat, hang out, and socialize. During the second hour, all church teams gather for a motivational experience and a recognition time to honor individuals. The last half hour is devoted to ministry teams breaking away for specific communication and meeting times. It’s viewed as a can’t-miss, super-fun training party by attendees, who look forward to it every year.
Get Out of the Church
Another way to grow training attendance is to have meetings somewhere other than at church. Family time is important to everyone, so find a pizza parlor or family-friendly venue and book it for your next meeting. Invite spouses and kids to come along. You can still communicate to your team, and you’ll give every- one a chance to get to know the families of those they serve with. Plan your agenda, communicate whatever you can in writing, and use your actual meeting time for only the most important discussion topics.
One valuable piece of advice a volunteer gave me many years ago was this: “Announcements can be made on paper. Don’t use our meeting time to make announcements. Use meeting time for stuff I can’t read about. I’m a busy guy.” While it stung a bit at the time, that comment always stuck with me. A good handout includes a calendar, announcements, upcoming events, team assignments, and more.
If you have a team member who consistently won’t show up for training or meetings, be aware that you have a weak link. Make a personal connection to find out why the person isn’t attending.
Game Day Strategy #5: Win By Keeping Score
How do you win on game day? First, you have to define what a win is for your ministry and your team. For some, a win might be having the classes open on time. For others, a win may be based upon how many first-time faith commitments happen. For still others, a win might be having one of the new families decide to make the church their home church. Another church might define a win as happy kids.
You’re the one who can define what a win looks like for your ministry. Talk with your senior pastor, church leaders, and parents to find out what the wins are for your church, and then decide how you’ll measure the outcomes.
Keeping score is essential. How will you know if you’re succeeding if you don’t have measurable outcomes and goals to assess things? Each week, healthy churches chart their growth and measure their failures. They aren’t afraid to confront issues and say, “This isn’t working. It’s not achieving what our definition of success is in this ministry. What do we need to change?”
Don’t be afraid to honestly evaluate and score your team, programs, lessons, everything. This assessment is the platform from which you’re starting and from which you’ll measure all future progress and growth.
Get Out There and Play to Win!
The three most important words before any game are “Play to win!”
There are things we do in children’s ministry that are just for fun. Kids like to have fun, and so do adults. It’s okay to have fun at church; in fact, healthy churches always have fun built into their programs throughout the year. Fun is part of children’s ministry—but it’s not our primary focus. Our primary focus is investing in kids’ spiritual growth through our regular services. That’s why every weekend, we gear up and go for the win on game days.
When it’s game day, there’s one goal, one objective, and one target: To win the game based on what you’ve defined as a win.
So get out there, and play to win!
Sue Kahawaii has served kids for decades as a children’s pastor, outreach director, community advocate, and speaker both nationally and internationally. She lives near Seattle, Washington.
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