One of the biggest and easiest mistakes to make when recruiting children's ministry volunteers is making their job too "easy" and small. Children's ministry leaders who are desperate for volunteers, apologize for asking people to volunteer, then tell them, "You don't have to do much; just show up and stand there for a little bit until parents come," or "Just watch these kids once every six weeks and let them play."
By downplaying the role and making it too easy and too low-commitment, you make it unimportant and unappealing. People don't want to be a part of something small and easy; they want to be a part of something life-changing and something that matters. And as a children's ministry leader, you don't want just a warm body to stand in a room; you want committed, passionate people who are serving using their gifts with excellence. When we make their jobs easy and small, people will feel insignificant and will burn out, and will be much more likely to call off or quit the team.
Instead, when you recruit volunteers, ask big. Invite them to a life-changing mission and empower them to lead and serve using their gifts. Raise the bar on the expectations of the ministry and give them important and significant jobs and value in the ministry. People want to be a part of a team that is making a difference. When you recruit volunteers, make sure they're serving in a role they're passionate about and can use their gifts. When you do this, your children's ministry teams will transform and you'll have a team of leaders who are committed, passionate, excited to be there and serve with excellence.
This doesn't mean you need to make it too time-consuming or to expect too much from your team, but I've found that when I empower volunteers and have good leadership and communication, good curriculum and resources available, and a structure for them to serve, they're excited to serve, and they go above and beyond. Isn't that what every children's ministry leader dreams about?
It was a few years ago, when I was working at a large church, on a busy Sunday morning, with many new families visiting the church every Sunday. Part of my job was helping the new families find the right classroom, and that includes asking their age (since our preschool rooms were age-based). I asked an innocent question and made an innocent (and common) comment.
I asked the mom, "How old is she?" The mother said her daughter (who was very tall!) was four, and I commented cheerfully, "Oh, well you're a big girl! Here's your classroom!" and the mother LOST IT. She flipped out in the middle of the hallway, in front of her daughter and other families. She started yelling about how "...my daughter is perfect! She's not too tall! She's wonderful JUST how God made her! She hears everywhere we go that she's too big for her age, and she's JUST RIGHT! Don't you say she's a big girl!" I stood there, dumbfounded, unsure of what to even say, except for mumbling something like "I'm so sorry... you're right, she's perfect...."
It may have crossed my mind during that scenario that the mother overreacted, and maybe she did. But it's not my place to judge, because I don't know what that mother and daughter had been through in their lives. I don't know what their weekend or morning had been like before church, or what kind of bullying or struggles the daughter may have experienced. I do know as a parent that I am fiercely protective over my kids, even to the point of responding irrationally when I feel they might be threatened. I've been the overreacting parent before. Parents protect their kids. So if a parent does overreact, we give them grace.
As children's ministry leaders, it's our job to keep our cool even when others don't. When parents or kids react in loud ways, it's our job to remain collected, and respond with grace and kindness.
I learned that it's not ever our place as children's ministry leaders to comment on a child's appearance. Even innocent observations or comments about a child's appearance aren't necessary or helpful, and may bring up feelings, memories or experiences with negative connotations, or may be misconstrued.
Some things NOT to say to OR about a child:
It can be tempting, especially when you're not sure what else to say, to comment on a child's appearance. And many times, we are all guilty of saying these things. Most of the time, they are taken well, but we must remember: you don't always know what a family or child has been through or what a child is feeling, or what they've been told.
And we know that while man looks at the outward appearance, the Lord looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). It's important to focus on a child's heart. Encourage their effort, their character, their hearts, their faith; instead of their appearance.
Things TO Ask or Say to a Child:
Speak God's truth and His Word over the kids in your ministry any chance you get. You might be the only one to tell them God has great plans for them. Your encouragement might breathe life into their soul and inspire them. When you have an opportunity to speak to the heart of a child, even if only for one minute, don't waste it. Speak words of life and truth over them.
Our words are powerful, and they can make a difference in the lives of kids. I learned that lesson the hard way after that experience with the mother in the hallway. And I wish I could say I've never commented on a child's appearance again, but I do catch myself. We all (myself included!) need a keen awareness of the importance of our words to kids. This quote is from one of my favorite books, Just a Minute by Wess Stafford:
"If God stands a child before you, even for just a minute, it is a divine appointment. You have the chance to launch a life. You never know when you are making a memory. With each child you encounter, you have the power and opportunity to build up . . . or, sadly, to tear down. A life can literally be launched with as little as a single word . . ."
*Disclaimer: Keep in mind, there may be instances in which you need to ask a child's age or medical needs, or ask if they are sick (if they are showing symptoms of illness), or assess if signs of abuse are present. This post isn't about those situations, which must be handled with tact and wisdom.
Talking to your kids about racial issues doesn’t have to be daunting, even if you’re nervous or you’re still learning yourself. Opening up the Bible and having authentic conversations with your kids can make a difference for opening their hearts to God’s truth. You can start having age appropriate conversations with your kids at any age.
If your kids have questions, answer them the best way you can, but also know it’s ok to say “I don’t know,” or “Let’s figure it out,” if you don’t know how to answer a question.
Also remember that talking is the first step to helping your kids understand racial justice and be a part of change; encourage your kids to live it out and to fight for racial equality, to stand up against injustice, and to love others the way God loves them.
The truth is that diversity is glorious. Heaven will be filled with people worshiping together – and the people will all look different, and it will be beautiful. The world we live in is fallen and filled with sin. As much as it hurts us, it hurts God more. In this dark and hurting world, we can raise kids who are a light for Christ and an example of His love. The good news in a world full of sadness is the Gospel wins, and the Gospel transforms us.
The most important thing you can teach your kids is that God loves them and wants a relationship with them, and you can’t say that too often. If your kids don’t have a relationship with Jesus, that is the starting point. Loving others with the love of Jesus and seeing them through God’s eyes starts with a relationship with Him.
When we know God, we will see others through His eyes. The Gospel must inform and transform our understanding of equality and race. Where there are people who are hurting, the Gospel must bring healing and hope. Where there is division, the Gospel must bring unity and peace. Where there is injustice, the Gospel must bring justice and reconciliation. Where there are people who have been oppressed and judged, the Gospel must bring hope, grace, and freedom. The Gospel is powerful, and our families and our world need the Gospel more than anything.
To help families have conversations, here is a devotional I created that is based on six biblical truths that inform our views on race, equality and justice. These six devotions will allow you the opportunity to talk to your kids about racial issues from a biblical perspective. Each devotional includes Scripture, discussion questions, and an easy object lesson you can do from home with your kids using supplies you probably already have at home.
Asking questions and listening can be helpful ways for us all to learn, so model that for your kids during the devotional time. Object lessons promote hands-on learning, which can help the truths stick for kids. You can end each devotional time with prayer and worship if you want.
You can do one devotion a week for six weeks, or one a day for six days, or any way you want. Don’t let the conversations stop after these devotions are done. Keep talking with your kids, praying with them, and fighting for them and for truth and justice. There are additional resources linked at the end of the resource to have further conversations about the topic.
There's a joke about children's ministry leaders that when church members see them walking toward them in church, they run and hide so they don't get asked to volunteer. It's funny, because many times, it's true. And many children's ministry leaders dread that "ask" even more than the people running to hide. Many children's ministry leaders are trying to do all the ministry themselves, desperate for volunteers, and then end up apologetically begging people to step in and "just do this." But here's the problem: people don't want to just do a small task. They want to be a part of a team; they want to do something important and life-changing. How do we go from struggling to have enough volunteers to having a waiting list of people because so many want to serve?
Yes, you could do a ministry fair, a recruiting campaign, a bulletin announcement, a pulpit announcement, or you could even require parents to serve, but you might not end up with passionate, energized, committed volunteers doing those things. Or you could . . .
1. Invite them to a big vision.
Instead of asking someone to come to the nursery to change diapers, invite them to come change lives. Cast the vision for the importance and eternal value of children's ministry, and invite people to be a part of that vision. Don't give them small jobs or make it seem as simple and insignificant as possible. Raise the bar for serving and give them leadership and ownership in the ministry. People want to be a part of something significant and life-changing. Ask people one-on-one, rather than just blanket announcements.
2. Create an irresistible volunteer environment.
When you have a culture of celebration, fun, excitement, and life-transformation, people will want to be a part of it. Share wins. Keep a high standard of excellence in your ministry, in the way you care for and celebrate your volunteers, the way you communicate, the community you create, and excellence in the details of the children's ministry programming. If your environment is irresistible, people will be excited to be a part of it!
3. Develop teams and care structures.
Care for the volunteers you currently have. People don't want to serve as lone rangers, they want community and a team to belong to. Develop a team for every volunteer area, and a designated team leader to care for and invest in those leaders. When your current volunteers feel valued and well-cared for, they'll stick around, and also want to invite their friends to be a part of the team as well.
4. Know who you're looking for.
Write job descriptions for every role you want to fill. You can't fill roles if you don't what you're looking for. Look for people with the gifts, experiences, and passions to fit those roles. Don't put people where you need them; put them where they will thrive and be passionate to serve. Look for leaders and people with the spiritual gifts you need, then give them an opportunity to use their gifts. Develop and invest in people to help them grow in their leadership and spiritual gifts.
5. Equip your current volunteers.
Give your current volunteers ownership and responsibility for recruiting and for real leadership in the ministry. Don't just delegate tasks, give people opportunities for leadership and ministry. When the current volunteers are bought in to the vision and the ministry, they'll invite others to be a part of it too.
6. Host a regular new volunteer orientation.
Hosting a regular (monthly would be awesome) event to share your vision with potential volunteers will give people who are interested a concrete event to attend. Use it as a time to introduce them to your ministry, your vision, and the opportunities for them to use their gifts on your team. Follow-up with everyone who shows interest in serving within 48 hours.
7. Be present and think outside the box.
Show up to church events that don't involve your ministry. Make sure you're in the main worship service regularly. Show your face around the church and get to know people in as many ways as you can. Being present allows you the opportunity to see people's spiritual gifts and passions, and share your vision and wins from children's ministry. Also, think outside the box when you're looking at potential volunteers. Many children's ministry leaders go to the obvious choice for the volunteer pool: parents of kids in the ministry. But you could also look at teens, college students, young single adults, young married couples without kids, parents of teens, empty-nesters, grandparents, widows. Create intentional diversity in your volunteer teams. Invite people from all walks of life to serve, and you might be surprised by some who become your best volunteers!
My volunteer bundle includes everything you need to recruit and assimilate children's ministry volunteers. It includes volunteer job descriptions, interest flyers, volunteer orientation overview, volunteer handbook, volunteer applications, volunteer interview questions, and more! And it's all editable.
I remember being a new children's pastor and running around like a chicken with my head cut off on Sunday mornings, trying to do it all myself. I dreaded Sunday mornings, knowing we would always be short-handed, and dreaded even more having to ask people to serve. I would apologize and ask them to just stand there and not do very much. But after God changed my views and gave me a fresh vision for recruiting volunteers, I saw the volunteer teams I was leading grow and flourish. A team I led that started with 30 volunteers grew to over 150 volunteers, with some areas overstaffed, because so many people wanted to serve. God gave me a passion for developing teams, investing in leaders and helping them grow, and giving away the work of the ministry to others.
You could go from struggling to having a waiting list of people lining up to serve in your children's ministry!
When's the last time something stressful happened on a Sunday morning in your children's ministry? You don't have to be in children's ministry very long to discover things can go wrong quickly on a Sunday morning. No matter how well prepared you are, things beyond your control can happen. Some Sundays, everything seems to go wrong at once! The check-in system fails, the worship music is wrong, the props are missing, volunteers call off at the last minute, a parent is upset. I've had my share of Sunday mornings where I wanted to either run and hide, cry, or yell in frustration. Stressful and unexpected things will always happen, but the best children's ministry leaders are those who can remain calm, unflappable, and confident even in the midst of stressful situations. When a child vomits on the stage, a volunteer doesn't show up, or an emergency occurs, an outdoor event gets rained out, the technology completely fails you - how you respond during those times will make you stronger and strengthen your influence or break you down as a leader.
l'll be the first to admit I've had many times where I did not handle my stress well, where I got flustered, frazzled, or frustrated, and everyone knew it. A good leader can learn and grow from their weaknesses.
Being a leader who is unflappable, calm, and positive during stressful Sunday mornings is something that comes naturally to some, but to others (like me!), it's a skill to intentionally practice until it becomes second nature.
Here are some things I've learned about how to deal with stressful Sunday mornings.
1. Pray first. Before you ever get to church, pray over the service, the kids, the parents, the volunteers, even the technology! Cover the ministry with God's power and anointing. Stay connected to God throughout the day. If anything goes wrong, you'll handle it with more grace, strength, and confidence when you're connected with God.
2. Rest and eat. For some people, this may not be a trigger, but for myself, I am much more prone to handling stress poorly on days when I'm tired or hungry. If I show up to church on Sunday morning running on 3 hours of sleep and no breakfast, I'm going to be easily irritable and stressed out. I'm more likely to break down emotionally or lash out at others. Be aware of your own triggers, and take care of yourself before you arrive at church.
3. Be prepared. You can't prepare for every single scenario that could possibly happen on a Sunday morning, but the more prepared you are, the better your Sundays will go. Get as much done as possible ahead of time, and schedule extra time for troubleshooting. Have a backup plan for things that could commonly fail. Prepare a backup check-in system, a back-up children's ministry lesson that doesn't involve technology or props, a backup system for volunteers who don't show up, a backup idea for any activity that's dependent on weather.
4. Make decisions with confidence. When you make a last-minute change or decision about something, speak with confidence and positivity. Even if you're nervous, when you speak with confidence and give people a plan, people will trust and follow you.
5. Don't complain or vent. Even if nothing is going right, resist the urge to let everyone know about it. Don't tell all the parents the volunteers are late. Don't tell all the volunteers the technology is demon-possessed. Don't broadcast to the entire staff about an upset parent. When something stressful happens or goes wrong, make it your goal (as much as possible) to make sure nobody can tell. This doesn't mean you have to be fake, you can let others know you're struggling, but it's not ok to vent or complain to parents, kids, or volunteers on Sunday mornings.
6. Take a break. If you can, take a moment to step away and collect yourself. Get alone. Take a deep breath. If you can't get alone; pause. If something catches you off guard or someone approaches you angrily, take a moment to pause before you respond or speak.
7. Smile. Studies show that even when you don't feel happy or confident, there's something about smiling anyway that makes your emotions follow your body. You can literally make yourself happier just by forcing a smile. It might feel like you're being "fake" by smiling when you don't feel like it, but you're actually tricking your body into actually feeling it. Try it next time you're stressed.
8. Focus on the big picture. Remind yourself of the positives and the reason you're serving. Did another volunteer really step up in a time of need? Was a child engaged through an impromptu game you added when the music stopped? Was everyone safe, even though things didn't work out as planned? Remind yourself to actively focus on the big picture and the positives, and show gratitude.
9. Take charge of your emotions. Instead of letting your emotions get out of control, remember you control your emotions. Reject lies and negative thinking, and ask God to help you take every thought captive in obedience to Christ. Don't allow circumstances beyond your control to steal your peace.
10. Give grace. Even when people mess up or systems fail, you can be an example of God’s grace and love. You can show people an example of how God gives us grace even when we make mistakes or fall short.
We can all probably think of people we know who are poised, grace-filled, calm, and confident even during difficult circumstances. And we can probably think of other people who are frazzled, flustered, frustrated, or stressed at times, and when they are, everyone knows it! The difference between those two is not that everything always works out perfectly for the former, and things only go wrong for the latter. The difference is the first type of leader has learned not to not lose their cool. They've become self-aware, and have practiced these things until they become natural.
How do you keep your cool in stressful situations? Have you had anything really stressful happen on a Sunday morning in children's ministry?
If you ask anyone who grew up as a pastor's kid, or "PK" as they used to be called, they'll probably tell you it wasn't always easy. Kids of pastors have unique experiences growing up in church that other kids don't experience, because they deal with unrealistic expectations, extreme scrutiny (the fishbowl), exposure to negative aspects of church life and church politics, and their parents can be pulled away from the family for the needs of the church. They may even see their parents serving and caring for other families instead of their own. They're often at church longer than anyone else, and expected to be at all the church functions or get dragged into helping with something they're not interested in. If we're not intentional, there's a chance they'll grow up to resent the church or even walk away from their faith.
When I was a pastor and my son spent sometimes 12-13 hours at church on Sunday as an infant and toddler, it meant a lot to me as a mother to know he was being loved and cared for by other amazing ministry leaders. I prayed he would grow up loving the church and feeling loved BY the church.
Some people think we shouldn't show favoritism or special treatment to pastors' kids, and while I do think we need to be careful to not show favoritism or special treatment in front of other kids, I do think there are several ways we can show extra love and care in children's ministry for kids who often get the short end of the stick from the church where their parents work.
1. Don't Put Expectations on Them
Don't expect them to be perfect, know all the answers, follow every rule, or have the strongest faith. Don't expect them to volunteer for every role or leadership opportunity or step into positions they aren't comfortable with. Also, don't expect them to be rebellious or troublemakers. Remember they're normal kids, who need love and grace. Don't allow labels to be put on them, such as "PK."
2. Care for Them Well and Make Church Fun
When I was serving in a megachurch with multiple services all day long on Sunday, and had to have my infant son with me the whole day, I was thankful for nursery leaders who kept my son in between services (when I was busiest), even though the children's ministry didn't allow parents to leave their babies in the nursery between services. They went above and beyond to help our family and love him and make sure he was well cared for, so I could focus on leading my part of the ministry. I knew we were on the same team, and they never made me feel like it was inconvenient if my son had to tag along with the nursery leader while I dealt with a situation in my ministry area after the service. They showed incredible grace and love to our family and my son.
3. Love on Them Outside of Church
One thing I used to love to do as a children's pastor was take our pastors' kids out for ice cream, spend time with them outside of church, and encourage them as much as possible. Many children's and youth pastors show LESS attention to pastors' kids, assuming they're getting spiritual leadership at home and don't need someone else in their lives loving on them and pointing them to Christ, but all kids need another adult (besides their parents) speaking into their lives, caring for their spiritual lives, praying for them, and encouraging them.
4. Protect Them and Pray for Them
Be an advocate for the kids of your pastors as much as you can. Don't allow others to treat them unfairly, make judgements, criticize their parents, or try to get them involved in church drama or politics.
If you're a pastor's kid, what's one thing you enjoyed about growing up as a PK, or one negative thing you experienced? What do you wish your church had done differently?
I remember a busy Sunday morning in my first job of as a children's pastor. I was rushing around trying to do check-in, greet new families, set up the media for children's church, and clean up a mess in the preschool room. A woman came up to me and told me she'd love to volunteer in the nursery, and I said "That's awesome! I'll get back to you." Months went by... I never got back to her. And that wasn't the first time that happened. I had every intention of following up. I missed out on several good volunteers because I didn't follow up with them.
The biggest mistake children's pastors make that costs volunteers is not following up with them. Someone might tell you in passing on a busy Sunday that they're interested in serving, or they might fill out a connection card during the service, or they might tell a current volunteer, who tells you, they're interested in learning more. And you might have good intentions of following up with them, but it's easy to forget or even intentionally put off assimilating a new volunteer when you're not prepared with easy systems for assimilating and training new volunteers. Here are some tips to help:
1. Make a 24 hour policy for yourself.
Many people in sales are trained to follow up with potential clients within 24 hours of the potential client showing interest. Set a rule for yourself to follow up with new potential volunteers within 24 hours, and give them a concrete next step in that follow-up. It can be setting a meeting for an interview, inviting them to a volunteer orientation, sending them an application or information with a deadline, or scheduling a time to talk more. Any time someone shows any indication of interest in serving, write it down with a 24 hour deadline for follow-up, and make yourself stick to it. If you wait too long, not only is there an opportunity for someone to change their mind or decide to serve somewhere else, but they also might feel you're not prepared/organized or don't really want them.
2. Use reminder programs. Choose a system for reminders and task management that works for you to help you organize tasks, and keep it all in one place. I've learned that over time, I've had planners, digital calendars, sticky notes, and time management/task management apps - ALL at the same time! Having that many task lists actually makes life more difficult, not easier. Choose one system that works for you, and stick with it. You could use an app such as Wunderlist, Things, Trello, Reminders, or Clear. You could use a written notebook or planner, sticky notes, or a list on your phone. If possible, use something that allows you to set deadlines for yourself.
3. Tell people to email you. When someone asks you a question on a busy Sunday that you know you'll need to follow-up with later, instead of telling them you'll get back with them about it, tell them to email you. Then make a note to yourself so you still remember to follow up.
4. Write it down immediately. Whenever someone shows interest in serving, write it down immediately. I used to carry little cards on Sunday mornings, and whenever someone showed an interest in serving, I would get their name and contact info right away, and give them a card with my information on it.
5. Host a monthly new volunteer orientation. It's easier to invite a potential new volunteer to a specific event than to a role. Instead of saying "Would you like to volunteer sometime?" (vague); you can say "Would you be interested in coming to our new volunteer orientation next Sunday to learn more about serving in our ministry?" (specific, concrete). Host a regular, recurring (monthly is optimal) volunteer orientation to give potential new volunteers an overview and vision of your ministry, a quick tour of the ministry area and information about the volunteer roles. It doesn't have to be fancy or in-depth. It can be a simple donut and coffee meeting before or after the church service. You might have some months where you have one person show up (or zero!), but you'll have some months with a lot more. Having it the same time each month gives an easy way for other volunteers to help "recruit" all year long too. They'll have something to invite potential volunteers to attend to learn more.
6. Have a system and a plan for new volunteers. The best way to integrate new volunteers onto your team is to be prepared with a simple plan for assimilating, training, screening, and welcoming them onto your team. Set up a system for volunteer assimilation and training. Then you won't be scrambling to figure out what to do when a potential new volunteer shows interest in serving. If you're looking for resources and tools to help you assimilate new volunteers, check out my newest resource in my store: my volunteer bundle! It includes volunteer interest forms, applications, interview forms, evaluations, volunteer training guides, volunteer meeting guides, volunteer policies and a handbook, volunteer job descriptions and roles - ALL EDITABLE in Word doc format. Click here to see this resource!
What do you do to help yourself remember to follow up with potential volunteers? Have you ever missed out on a volunteer due to not following up, or had someone not follow up with YOU after you showed interest?
When you work with kids of any age, you'll always have to make considerations for potty time. It's just a part of life with kids. And in a fallen world where predators are out there, it's important for churches to take safety seriously and have policies in place to be proactive about protecting kids. A megachurch was in the headlines a year ago when one of their preschool volunteers was arrested for molesting young kids in the bathroom at church during their children's ministry time. The church did have bathroom policies, but they weren't being enforced, and it was tragic for at least seven kids.
Many times, bathroom policies can be overlooked in children's ministry, but we have a responsibility to protect the kids in our ministry, and it is vital for a church to have and enforce bathroom policies and procedures every time.
The main point of a bathroom policy is this: there should never be an adult alone in a bathroom with kids at any time.
Every church has different setups for their bathrooms, and that can make it challenging to know how to deal with different bathroom scenarios, but no matter what your space looks like, you need to have bathroom safety policies. They need to be written down, clear to parents and volunteers, be communicated frequently, and be enforced at all times.
Here are some children's ministry bathroom policies and procedures:
I know these seem extreme, but the safety of kids is too important to be lenient in this area. I've created a resource for kidmin leaders that includes an entire volunteer pack (all editable) with a full volunteer handbook and all the policies, as well as volunteer applications, interviews, training guides, evaluations, and more! For a free except from the volunteer handbook, which includes full bathroom and diaper changing policies, click this link.
In addition to bathroom policies, it's important for every volunteer to be screened, background checked, and properly trained.
Does your church have bathroom policies? Is there anything you would add to the policy?
While many things about the churches I visited were amazing, I wouldn't return, and here's why:
1. Closed Door Classrooms (And No Windows)
In one church, I dropped off my three year old at a classroom with a solid door (no window), and a teen volunteer (no other helpers). There was no one to greet me at drop off time or tell me if the classroom was even open and ready to accept kids. I just walked up to a closed door that I couldn't see through. Not only was it not welcoming, but it isn't safe.
There should always be an open door (or a window), a half door, some way for others to see into a room. There should never be a situation or time when a volunteer is alone in a closed room with kids, with no accountability or visibility from the outside. This is not only to protect the kids, but also to protect volunteers against accusations.
Solution: Install dutch doors (leave the top half open); baby gates, station volunteers at the open door, or see-through windows. A camera in every classroom adds another level of security (I've been in a church with multiple situations where we needed to watch video footage of specific incidents that happened during class).
2. One Volunteer Alone (Or No Volunteers)
In another church, I dropped my one year old toddler girl off in a nursery with one man (who wasn't identified as a volunteer in any visible way) and a closed door with no window, and no other helpers or volunteers. Then I dropped my three year old son off in a large room with a few other elementary aged kids, and no children's ministry volunteers. One of the church's parking lot greeters told me he would stay with all the kids until the children's ministry volunteer (who I had never met, as it was my first time visiting the church) arrived. I wasn't given a registration form or asked to give them any information about myself or my kids.
*In most circumstances, a volunteer should not be alone in a room with kids. Some churches I know do allow a volunteer alone in a room if no other helper is available, as long as a door is open, and a hallway volunteer is available if needed for emergencies. While I don't recommend this, and I probably wouldn't feel safe as a parent leaving my kid alone in a room with only one volunteer, there may be circumstances in which churches can make this call. Your church's insurance can also give you details on whether or not they have requirements about volunteers in rooms based on liability. There is never a time when it is ok for a volunteer to be alone in a bathroom with kids. (My next post will dive into how to write a bathroom policy for your children's ministry.)
Solution: A minimum of two un-related volunteers in every classroom. All children's ministry volunteers should be screened, background checked, should be asked to fill out an application, and trained. While serving, they need to be identified in some way as volunteers (name tag, sticker, lanyard, T-shirt, etc.).
3. No Check-in System (Or a Check-in System Not Enforced)
I didn't feel comfortable leaving my kids at a children's ministry with no registration form for first time guests to collect information about the kids, and no check-in system to make sure my kids are picked up by the correct person. One church I visited did have a check-in system, and we were given stickers, but even though it was our first time and the volunteers didn't know me, no one asked to see my pick-up ticket when I went to two classrooms to pick up my kids after the service.
Solution: Even if your church can't afford a computer check-in system, you can use pre-printed stickers with spaces for parents' and kids' names and information, or you could use matching bracelets, lanyards, or tags. If you're looking for a great electronic check-in system, I recommend the Kidmin App.
If you have a check-in system and it's not enforced, it's pointless. Make sure your volunteers are asking to see the pick-up tag from every parent (even those they know), and really looking at the tag to make sure they match.
4. No Way to Get Ahold of Parents
When I'm visiting a church for the first time and drop my kids off in the children's ministry, I want to know the church has a way to get ahold of me if I'm needed during the service or an emergency occurs.
Solution: A great way to do this is by using numbers up on the screen (if your church uses a screen) for each family, since they will be looking up at the screen during the service (hopefully). You can buy LED boards where you can post numbers, or post them through your worship software (ProPresenter has this option). You could also use pagers. Some churches use text message or phone calls, although some parents may not look at their phones during the service.
I understand being on a tight budget and not having many volunteers, but these are things we cannot get wrong as children's ministry leaders. These are four things we need to plan for, prepare for, and train volunteers for every time we have kids (not just with new guests).
If you miss these things, not only is there a great risk for kids and volunteers, but parents who are first time guests (or regulars) may not feel comfortable and may not be able to focus on the service, and may not ever return to your church. In one of the churches I visited, I got up during the worship to go check on my kids in the children's ministry, because I was so uncomfortable and couldn't focus on worship.
There are areas we all fall short in children's ministry, but safety is a non-negotiable. These are some safety policies your church needs to consistently get right:
If you don't have and enforce safety policies, not only is there huge liability (lawsuits) for your church, but more importantly, there is a great risk for kids. You can have the best children's ministry curriculum, the best stage and set decor, and the most fun games and prizes, but if kids aren't safe and parents aren't comfortable, they won't stay at your church. Keeping kids safe lays the foundation for you to minister to entire families.
As a parent, I know how my kids are the most precious thing in the world to me, and when I take them to a church, I'm entrusting that church to protect them and care for them. There are many dangers in this world, and while we can't prevent every possible thing from going wrong, children's ministries have a duty to intentionally be proactive about protecting kids as much as possible.
What other things does your church do to be proactive about keeping kids safe? Is there anything you would add to this list?
I remember standing in the middle of a crowd of kids who had totally gone off track, looking at my one other leader in the room with a look of desperation and dread. I had lost the kids. A few kids were sitting quietly doing their craft, but everyone else was running wild. Popsicle sticks being thrown, crayons dumped everywhere, kids taking each other's crafts and running away with them, while other kids just ran around yelling. The service had gone long, and we stretched craft time a few extra minutes as we waited for parents to arrive. I finally took a deep breath and yelled out over the kids as loud as I could and told them to stop and sit, and wait for their parents in silence. Then I proceeded to lecture them on the importance of listening and following the rules.
I went home after that service feeling worn down and discouraged. This wasn't the first time a service had gone that way. But was it really the kids' fault? Was there something I could improve as a children's ministry leader to get them to listen and behave better, so they could actually get something out of the service, and have fun at the same time?
I learned the answer to that question: YES. There is a lot we can do as children's ministry leaders to stop discipline issues before they ever start.
WHY WE DISCIPLINE
Before talking about discipline, it's important to know the why behind it: we can't teach kids about God if we don't have their attention. We won't have their attention if there are behavior issues with no correction or discipline. God tells us He disciplines us to shape us and make us more like Him. That should be our goal: to model Christlike behavior and help kids become more like Him in everything we do.
Hebrews 12:10-11 says, "God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it."
Our goal is not to have kids who behave a certain way, but who have a relationship with Christ. Discipline isn't about punishments, rules, and negativity. It's about guidance, correction, diligence, and teaching. It will help kids develop self-control, responsibility, character, and help shape them to become more like Christ. It will enable them to learn about Him and experience Him so they can hav e a relationship with Him. It has to start from love and a desire to disciple kids.
1. WRITE IT DOWN
It's important to have a discipline policy, rather than just winging it. It allows you to have consistency in how you deal with different situations and empowers your teachers and leaders to deal with situations on their own, knowing it will all be consistent. Write a discipline policy, and keep it simple. Put it in your volunteer handbook, post your rules on your walls or on your screens.
If you don't have a discipline policy that is consistent across the board, you also risk having some teachers who can be too strict, and some who can be too lenient. A discipline policy helps get everyone on the same page.
Your discipline policy should be no more than 3-5 points, with clear and concise boundaries and steps to take. In addition to steps for correction, it's helpful to have 3-5 simple rules that kids can remember, and that encompass all the positive behaviors you want to see, but also include the steps for correction in your discipline policy.
An example of rules you could use:
An example of a Discipline Policy:
Give a copy of your discipline policy to your leaders, and talk with them about different scenarios and how to handle them. This would make a great Pre-Service huddle training session that you could do in ten minutes as you're meeting with your team.
You can provide behavior logs for your volunteers to write down instances of behavior issues. This is helpful if you have multiple services or rotating volunteers, so you can keep a log of specific incidents. If you see a pattern with a specific child, you can make a note to talk with the parents.
2. KEEP IT SIMPLE
Keep your rules simple, and your discipline steps simple. You don't need 20 steps for teachers to remember or 10 rules for kids. Repeat your classroom rules often. Make sure they are simple enough for kids to remember and understand.
3. USE A REWARD SYSTEM
You can utilize a reward system (this works great with elementary aged kids). It's especially effective to split the kids into teams and use something they can see, such as clear containers with plastic balls (or just using laundry baskets with balloons). You could do sticker charts, individual "tokens" or "Bucks" they can use at a prize store. Let kids earn rewards for participation, listening, and following rules. It's only effective if you actually do give the rewards consistently. You can take away an item if one of the teams isn't listening. You could give out prizes at the end of the service for the winning team, or you could just let the winning team win, and let them dance around and cheer.
4. TALK TO PARENTS
Whenever you see a pattern of behavior issues, or a child acts in a violent way, it's important to talk with parents right away. Make sure your conversation is filled with gentleness, grace, kindness, and lots of encouragement. It's important to let the parents know you care about their child and you want to help them get the most out of the service. Ask them for ideas about how to help their child. You may ask them to sit in the service and observe or help if their child needs extra help. Show them your rules and your discipline policy, and give them specifics about how their child behaved.
*A tip: make sure you're not ONLY talking to parents when there are behavior issues: look for any opportunity you can to tell them how amazing their kid is or something great their kid did during a service.
5. BE PROACTIVE
Don't give up on the kids who need extra help. I've seen kids go from the worst behaved kid in the entire children's ministry to the best behaved, and most helpful leader, with the right encouragement and an adult who believes in them.
There are no bad kids. Sometimes the kids who are disruptive are going through issues we don't know about, and are acting out and need extra love and grace. Every time you discipline a child, it's an opportunity to point them to God and remind them of His love and forgiveness for us. Let this be your driving force in your children's ministry discipline.
Children are a Gift
kidmin leader, mother, and servant of the Lord.
These are the views of Lynne Howard, and are not necessarily the views and opinions of any church.