There's a saying that it's easier to retain than to recruit volunteers, and it has a lot of truth to it. Part of children's ministry is ALWAYS going to include recruiting volunteers, and recruiting needs to be constant. But a big part of leading children's ministry is retaining your current volunteers. If you are constantly seeing volunteers come in and others go out the back door, you will have to work MUCH harder. But if you can figure out how to keep the majority of your volunteers, AND constantly recruit new ones, it won't be long before you are fully staffed in some areas, and maybe even have a waiting list for volunteers!
Leading, developing and caring for volunteers is one of my passions. They have to know that we don't just want to use them as a warm body doing a job; we want more FOR them than from them.
Invest in Your Volunteers
As a leader, make sure you know and care about your volunteers personally. People can tell when you just want to use them and get them to do something for you, versus when you want to build relationships with them, serve them, and help them grow. Provide opportunities for them to grow as leaders in ALL areas of their lives. Make sure they are serving in their sweet spots and using their gifts, and that you are identifying people with more potential; then provide a leadership pipeline with with opportunities for them to move up and grow as leaders. Give them ownership instead of just tasks. Give them decision making roles and allow them to take real leadership. People will step up to the role you give them, and if you give them small jobs and small roles, they won't feel necessary, and you will end up losing your volunteers.
Care structure: Coaches
One of the awesome things we do at 12Stone is create a coaching structure to make sure all the volunteers are cared for and invested in. When you have 10 volunteers, you can care for all of them yourself.... but if you want more volunteers, you need to expand your leadership structure. We have over 100 volunteers on each of our department teams, and in order to care for all of them, we need volunteers caring for and leading other volunteers. We have a position called volunteer coach, and this person has 10 people in their small group. They lead weekly huddles, reach out to their volunteers outside of church, encourage them, influence them, pray for them and pour into them, plan fun events for them outside of church to build community. I meet with my coaches monthly as a group and individually and pour into them, and they lead their small group. That is one way to help make sure none of the volunteers slip through the cracks, with no one caring for them. They build community in their small groups, and if someone goes through a hard life situation or family emergency, the coach and small group is there to reach out and care for the people on their team. This is huge- I would not skip this in children's ministry. Helping build intentional coaching structure is vital for building healthy volunteer teams.
Communication/Organization and Ongoing Training
An important aspect of keeping current volunteers is providing clear communication and organized leadership and structure in your ministry. Nothing is more frustrating for volunteers than a leader who doesn't communicate, who isn't on top of things, and isn't prepared and doesn't listen to them. Be a good listener, take their feedback seriously. Make sure you have everything ready for them on Sundays and the policies and procedures and job descriptions are clear. Provide ongoing training for them regularly and opportunities for them to give feedback. We do annual large group "training" sessions that are similar to children's ministry conferences, as well as weekly on site training through Huddles before service, and ongoing opportunities for leadership development.
It's easy for people to serve every week and lose sight of the big picture of why we do what we do- what our mission is, and what a win is in our ministry. When that happens, you lose volunteers. Your job as a leader is to continually keep the vision and the mission in front of your leaders. You cannot over communicate the vision and the value of children's ministry. You should be sharing stories of life change and sharing your goal and what a "win" is on a regular basis. Encourage and show appreciation to your volunteers. Make sure you celebrate with them when you see them working hard and going after big wins.
If you do those 4 things well, you will see great retention in your volunteer teams. We ask all of our volunteers to serve every Sunday, and not just for a certain amount of time- it's until they step down. But we have a surprising number of volunteers who serve regularly for long periods of time- years even, because they are sold out to the ministry and they are being invested in, and they are making a HUGE difference for the kingdom of God. We don't do it perfectly every time, but when you make the effort to do these 4 things with excellence, you will see a big dividend in people invested in your ministry for the long term.
For the last 8 months, I have focused my ministry on preschool (ages 2-5), and I now have a new appreciation for not only this age group, but for the huge potential of life change through preschool ministry. Many people start coming to church (or coming BACK to church) when they have young kids. If their kids are safe and having a great time and learning and growing, people will want to stay at a church. If their kids dislike church, young parents won't be likely to stay.
It's easy to think of preschool ministry as simply "babysitting," but I see a bigger picture: I see a vision of little children worshipping freely and getting their first glimpses of what it means to follow Jesus. I see kids learning the foundational biblical truths that they will build on and plant seeds in their hearts for the rest of their lives. I see a place where kids can wiggle and run and laugh and feel loved and accepted, all while being pointed to Christ in every aspect.
Preschool ministry is SO much more than just babysitting. It is one of the most important ministries in a church, and one that often gets pushed to the back burner. If churches can grasp the importance of reaching young kids and their parents, they will experience growth and church health, and they will see young parents flock to their church. Preschool ministry builds a foundation of faith and trust in the church in young kids, a foundation that is built stronger in elementary ministry, and stronger in student ministry. If we can be intentional to reach kids and impact them through key milestones and moments in their lives, and partner with parents to build a strong faith from the very beginning, we can make a bigger impact and grow disciples that stick with their faith.
A few key points to remember in a great preschool ministry:
SAFETY: For most of my 12 years in children's ministry so far, I have focused mostly on Elementary Ministry. While elementary ministry must have safety policies and procedures in place, it is EVEN MORE VITAL to have simple, yet comprehensive, and enforced safety policies in preschool ministry. There are even more risks, with things like diaper changes and potty accidents, injuries, sippy cups and germs, snacks and allergies, crying children, cleaning toys, check-in and check-out, and moving rooms if you move from small group to large group. There are more things to think about in preschool ministry when it comes to safety, and it is absolutely essential to have leaders who know and enforce all the safety policies and procedures. It took me a few months to completely understand and wrap my mind around the differences in preschool vs. elementary policies, and now I am even more convinced that this is important in a great preschool ministry.
SHORT ATTENTION SPANS AND FUN: Preschoolers have even SHORTER attention spans than elementary aged kids. This can he a big challenge when it comes to engaging them in activities and curriculum, and because of this, many people in preschool ministry almost "give up" and just let kids have free play for most of the worship hour. But I look at it as an opportunity for us as leaders to sharpen our skills and look for fun and creative ways to keep kids engaged from the time they enter the rooms until they go home. We can play games, use puppets, do fun crafts, have snacks, sing songs, and do all kinds of fun activities to help connect kids to God. Everything we do can help point them to the Lord and His love. I love working with my volunteers to find fun ways to engage kids, even as young as two years old, and help them have fun while learning. We do a large group worship services for our preschoolers, as well as small group time in classrooms. You can be as silly and funny as you want with preschoolers. They have endless energy, and they love fun!
WORSHIP: One thing preschoolers (almost all of them) love is worship! They love singing, dancing, wiggling, and worshipping! You can sing songs all through the day, about everything! We sing songs about prayer, about praising God- about anything. Church should be a place where preschoolers love to come and have fun.
CONSISTENT LEADERS: One of the best ways to help preschoolers feel loved and safe at church is to have consistent leaders that they see week after week- people who know their names and greet them by name and notice when they aren't there. We ask our preschool leaders to serve every week. And it is amazing to see how kids connect with "their" teacher, and run to their room each week to see their special person at church who knows them and loves them.
Those are 4 things I believe are important in making a preschool ministry great. What do you think are some other things that make preschool ministries great?
After having our baby boy, I took a little blogging hiatus while I figured out this whole working-mom thing. And while I still don't completely have it figured out, I am getting the hang of it now, and ready to jump back into blogging. If there's one thing I've learned about new moms, especially first time moms, it's that we are crazy. We first time moms have built in protective instincts that make us crazy and want to protect our babies at all costs. I'm probably the most laid back, relaxed first time mom, and yet I still have those crazy times where all I can think about is making sure my baby is happy and healthy and safe.
We need the church to come alongside us and help us, and we need to be able to attend a worship service to get ourselves filled.
Many new parents start coming to church once they have kids, even if they haven't been to church in a while, because it suddenly hits you when you have kids that this is the time to shape your kids' foundation and get your life right with the Lord, because you need Him when you're a parent! So how can churches reach new parents, and minister to them? Here are a few things I think the church can do:
1. Make sure your nursery is meticulously clean, safe, and staffed with loving volunteers. We new mamas are crazy about germs. Our nurseries are meticulously cleaned and filled with fun, age appropriate toys for babies. There are safety policies and procedures that I can count on to protect my baby. I know that the church can get ahold of me if my baby is upset or needs me. And I know that my baby will be loved and well cared for. Those are all things new mamas care about. I LOVE the feeling of walking into the nursery and hearing the nursery volunteers excited to see my baby and cuddle him and play with him. He loves going in the nursery. New mamas can go to the worship service and enjoy an hour and a half to themselves while their babies are enjoying being in the nursery.
2. A Meaningful Baby Dedication. Our Baby D is an amazing experience, and I cannot say enough how special it is to be a part of a church that gives parents the opportunity to be a part of this experience. We participated in Baby D last October, and loved being able to commit to the Lord that we would raise our baby to know the Lord and would live out the Gospel as parents. This is the first step for churches partnering with parents as spiritual leaders.
3. Give new moms a place of community. Our church focuses a lot on community in small groups. I'm a part of a couples small group with my husband and I lead a new moms small group. I love getting together with other young moms to pray, encourage each other, and grow in our faith together. New mamas especially need community with other people in the same stage of life (or further down the road).
4. Don't make church hard for us. Being a new mom is hard. One thing I love about our church is that the nursery has thought of everything. You forget to label your diaper bag? They have tags. You forgot a snack? They serve Cheerios. You need to nurse your baby? They have pagers to get ahold of you, and a nursing moms room where you can stream the service. It's hard enough being a new mom. Getting your baby to church shouldn't be stressful. The check-in and check-out process are streamlined and easy.
When babies can learn that people in the nursery love them and care for them, you lay the foundation for them that church is a good and loving place, and that God is a good and loving Father. That lays the foundation in their lives to go to the preschool ministry, where they learn to worship and learn the Gospel, and that lays a foundation for them to love church in the elementary ministry and the youth ministry. It all starts with babies having a safe and loving experience in the nursery. I love that my baby loves coming to church, and I love having a church where my baby can grow up knowing he is loved.
Valentine's Day is on a Sunday this year (2016), and in children's ministry, we want to make sure our volunteers feel the love! Here's a cute and easy idea I've used to show appreciation to children's ministry volunteers for Valentine's Day. I made these cute labels and attached them to bags filled with heart shaped candy. You can print the label on sticky labels and make it even easier, and just stick it onto treat bags.
You can click the link below to download the picture to use in your children's ministry.
Click HERE to download the graphic I used.
In my 10+ years of full time children's ministry, I've had the privilege of working at 4 different churches, ranging from 70 people, to 700 people, to now 17,000+ people. And they are all wonderful churches, and I have loved my experience at every one of them. I don't think megachurches are better than any other sized churches. Since I have been at a megachurch for about 4 months now, I have observed some things that stand out. I'm blessed to be at 12Stone, and thankful that God provided this opportunity for me to serve, lead and grow as a part of the 12Stone team.
12Stone Church started about 25 years ago, and a few years ago, was one of the fastest growing churches in the nation, if not THE fastest growing church. Last year, 12Stone launched 5 new campuses IN ONE DAY, bringing the total to 9 campuses. So not only is it a mega-church, but is a multi-site church with a strong focus on outreach, church-planting, and meeting and loving people as they are and giving people the opportunity to meet God and experience life change. The more I get to learn about the church, the more I love it and thank God for such a powerful Kingdom-building church.
I've spent the last four months learning, asking questions and observing and soaking in the culture and values of my church, and here are some of the things I've noticed.
Here are a few thoughts/observations about working at a megachurch:
These are just a few of my current thoughts and observations. I'm absolutely loving my time here, and thankful for 12Stone and the children's ministry. *These are not necessarily the views of 12Stone Church.
I know I haven't posted in a while, and that's because it's been a big season of changes in my life the last few months! Over the summer, my husband and I bought a house, then I turned 30, and then I got a new job and we found out we are expecting our first baby! We are due in April 2016, and are very excited. I am no longer the children's pastor at Eastgate Church - I am now the Elementary Ministry Director at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, GA, and I am thrilled to be a part of this amazing church! It is a multi-site mega church that is making a huge difference in the community, and has a great children's ministry. I'm honored to be a part of such a great team! During this time of transition in my life, I've seen that following God is always the best way to live, and there is no where I would rather be than in His will, following His leading for my life. I'm excited about the future and seeing what else God has in store!
A few weeks ago, a parent from my church shared with me that their family got one of the Advent To-Go devotional boxes we gave out at Christmas-time. The boxes contained simple items that helped illustrate biblical truths, and helped facilitate discussions and devotional time for families. The parents told me that their family enjoyed the devotional time and the concept so much, that they have continued doing family devotions using simple household objects every week since Christmas, and it has re-shaped the way their family talks about their faith and does devotions together. To me- that's a huge win! My heart's passion is to see families growing in the Lord together, to see parents leading their kids, to see worship and spiritual growth happening both inside the church and outside the church!
So many times, we get it wrong when we assume that church is the number one place for kids to grow spiritually; when we encourage kids to make major faith decisions at church, and get the majority of their Bible training and discipleship at church under children's ministry leaders. That's not the way God intended it to happen. He created families to be the number one place for discipleship and spiritual growth for kids. He tasked parents with the job of raising spiritual champions. It's the church's job to help support and empower parents, and supplement what kids are already learning.
The class I'm taking right now for my Masters in Ministry is all about family ministry, and it has been challenging and inspiring in so many good ways, to help me stretch and shape my views of children's ministry. I consider it a big win in children's ministry when parents and kids are worshipping, serving, learning and growing together outside the church walls, as well as in the church. Many parents are already doing a great job, but many also don't feel equipped to lead their kids spiritually, or don't feel they are doing an adequate job. It is my goal to be an encouragement and cheerleader for parents, constantly looking for ways to help them and inspire them as spiritual leaders.
I am praying for God to unleash an anointing on the parents of this generation, and to give them a vision for spiritual leadership as they shape the hearts of their kids. I pray for parents to become empowered with the Holy Spirit to become leaders and ministers to their kids. When parents start to feel guilty or inadequate, I pray that God would give them confidence and boldness as they nurture the faith of their children. And I pray that these things would become the win, and the aim, in children's ministry
A few years ago, someone I looked up to told me they felt I had reached my lid as a leader; that I had capped out and wouldn't grow in leadership anymore. While it hurt at the time, I know now that it is not true. I don't know much, but I do know that I want to continue to grow every day, every year; and if there comes a day when I stop growing, then I'll stop doing ministry.
Every year, at the beginning of the year, I seek the Lord about a specific focus or theme that He put on my heart for the year. This year, I keep feeling impress upon me that this will be a year of growth. I don't know if it's a bad sign that I'm posting my "New Year's" post in February... but that's the way the year is starting. It's been good and busy and filled with stretching and growing experiences for me personally and professionally.
I am pushing myself in different ways: one big step I'm taking is by starting my Masters in Ministry through Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University (which also happens to be where I got my undergrad degree in Children's Ministry, and by the way, I'm a HUGE FAN of IWU and Wesley Seminary). It's an online program, and I'm only in week 2, but I am already excited about what I'm going to learn and how I will grow as a ministry leader. It was kind of daunting to think about going back to school while working full time, and wondering how it would fit into my busy schedule, but I am also growing in the area of time management and self-discipline, and it's all fitting together.
I am looking for simple ways to grow and learn throughout the day- things like listening to leadership and ministry podcasts (I listen while I work out); reading books (right now, I'm just reading seminary books, but I just re-read Amplified Leadership by Dan Reiland and absolutely loved it).
I'm growing in my faith through seeking accountability and mentorship with godly people whom I respect, and I'm also involved in networking with other local ministry leaders, and involved in a small group with amazing friends.
I'm going through ministry experiences I've never been through before, like going through a senior pastor transition, and navigating the process of working with our staff and board volunteers as we search for a new pastor and still carry out God's vision and mission for our church.
I'm growing as a wife and woman, and although I fall short daily, I am striving to become the woman and wife God wants me to be, and I am blessed with a supportive, loving, selfless and grace-filled husband who cheers me on and lifts me up.
I'm being stretched with my time, as I juggle full time ministry, and writing and selling my own curriculum, as well as doing some freelance curriculum writing, and now Masters classes. But to be honest, I've never felt more fulfilled or excited about life than I have now. I wake up each morning filled with gratitude and excitement for the opportunities God has given me and the honor of getting to serve Him each day. And it truly is my honor to get to spend my life serving Him and His children. I know I have a lot to learn, and a lot of room for growth! I learn a lot of things the hard way, and I continually have to seek the Lord for wisdom, but that's how I know I'm right where He wants me, because I can't do it on my own.
I have no idea what's going to happen in 2015, but I want to look back at the end of the year and know that I grew more in love with the Lord, grew in wisdom, grew closer to Him and more like Him, grew in the humility and servanthood, in knowledge and in leadership (and maybe my family will grow this year.... who knows?! ....This isn't a hint, though!).
I've never grown more in my life than in times of stepping out of (or being pushed out of) my comfort zone, and uncomfortable as it is to be stretched, those times are mile markers in my life. I don't think that I've reached my cap as a leader or a person, and I'm not hoping to any time soon!
Earlier this month, we did a church-wide fast. I wanted to get kids involved and find a good way to teach them about fasting. So I did some research. I spent hours looking online, and not finding much AT ALL for teaching kids about fasting. The only thing I found was a fasting calendar.... then God put this idea on my heart as a fun and engaging way to teach kids about fasting.
This was a fantastic way for kids to learn in a hands-on way that they can understand. I came up with a lesson, based on the object lesson of an empty cup- which represents us as we empty ourselves from the distractions that keep us from focusing on God, and the way God fills us up. He fills us with His love, His strength and grace, and His Spirit.
The lesson was fun for the kids, but my favorite part was getting to give the kids their own Fasting Cups to take home. We don't just want kids to focus on what they are GIVING UP, but on what God can do to FILL them up. We didn't encourage kids to fast from meals, because their growing bodies need nutrients. Kids would get two cups: one that says "GIVE UP" and one that says "FILL UP." Each cup had slips of paper in them. They would do a drawing a few times a week; one drawing would tell them what they would give up for one day (TV, cell phone, sweets/junk food, etc.) and one cup would be something they could do to allow God to fill them up (Read a certain Scripture, memorize a verse, write a prayer, etc.).
It was really cool to see the kids involved in the church-wide fast, and see their dedication. I had parents tell me that even when THEY started to "cheat" on their fast, their kids would remind them about fasting and the importance of it! The kids inspired me with their hearts for God. I love hearing stories of kids living out their faith at home. The fasting cups were just one simple tool to help kids connect with God at home and live out their faith.
To purchase this resource, CLICK HERE to access the resource in my store.
Children are a Gift
Children's Pastor, wife, and servant of the Lord.
These are the views of Lynne Howard, and are not necessarily the views and opinions of 12Stone Church.