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!
We are about to start a church-wide 21 day fast. I wanted to get kids involved and find a good way to teach them about fasting in a kid-friendly way that didn't involved giving up food they need to grow! When I first did this last year, 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 great 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.
Visiting a new church for the first time is a big deal. A family makes the decision to go to a place where they won't know anyone, but people will know each other; they won't know where to go, but everyone else will, and they will drop their kids off with people they don't know. For many people, the entire experience can be uncomfortable, and if churches aren't intentional about creating good first impressions and focusing on hospitality, especially in the area of children's ministry, we could be missing out on many opportunities to connect with guests and help them feel welcomed and comfortable enough to come back!
Last summer, I took a short sabbatical in my transition time in between churches, and enjoyed visiting other churches... but it was also an eye-opening experience for me! Even coming to my current church as a new person taught me a lot about what our guests notice when they first come, and a lot of it is things that we often overlook because we're so used to them! One thing I do remember that stood out is the friendliness of the people. No matter who you are, it's intimidating visiting a new church. There are things we can do to help ensure our guests have a good experience and feel loved.
As a children's pastor, I take first impressions and hospitality very seriously, and always reinforce this value with my team. We want to always be thinking of ways to improve in the area of First Impressions, and it's good to have people to give good feedback on all the details, from the guest experience in the parking lot, to the drop-off/pick-up process. Here are a few things we do to help guests have a good first impression....
It's a good idea to have a special area at the kids' check-in desk for guests to check-in, and the check-in process needs to be as easy and fast as possible. Parents don't want to fill out pages and pages of forms, but they DO want you to ask for the important information that you need to know to keep their kids safe. I'm attaching a copy of our one page Registration Forms that parents fill out on their first visit.
After parents fill out the form, our check-in leader collects their information to print out a simple Guest sticker from our computer (it includes the kid's name, parents' names, parents contact number, kid's grade/age, and any allergies or needs). They print out two stickers- one for the kid, and one for the parent to turn in when they pick up their kid. We tell them that the next time they come, we will have entered their information into our computer system, so they won't have to fill out a new form (if they are a true ONE TIME guest, we won't add them into our system). *We also let parents know that we have the ability to send them a text message via our computer if they are needed in case of an emergency, which makes parents feel more comfortable knowing you can get ahold of them if needed.
It's important to make sure the check-in process is streamlined and fairly quick for all parents- not just guests. If new people look over and see chaos in the regular check-in line, and frustrated parents who have had to wait too long, it makes everything feel chaotic. Make sure the check-in time is easy for all families.
Aside from our regular check-in volunteers, we have hosts each Sunday, who are specifically there to greet and welcome new guests. They are trained to engage the family in conversation, answer their questions, walk them to any room need to go to, and help them with the check-in and drop-off process. It really makes families feel great when our hosts remember them from their last visit and seem genuinely glad to see them.
Identify your volunteers
It's important for new families to know who is on our children's ministry team, and identify who they can go to for questions. One way we do this is by having all our volunteers wear lanyards. Sometimes, we've had our volunteers wear name tag stickers, and some of them wear T-shirts with our logo. However you do it, this is one important detail not to overlook.
On their first day visiting, we give all kids a fun little prize box that's filled with small and simple, but cool little toys and something small with our logo on it. Even though these prize boxes are simple, every time a kid gets one, and looks inside it, their eyes lit up, because they got something that is just for THEM.
Try to connect with a first-time-guest within 72 hours of their first visit, either through email or postcard, and let them know you're glad they came. I usually send a simple email while I'm adding the guests into the check-in system on Monday mornings.
Engage kids immediately
Train your volunteers in all age groups to engage all kids quickly when they come into the classroom, especially the new kids. Teachers should be looking for the new kids, and pulling them into a conversation or opening activity- kids should never walk into a room full of chaos, or just be left to wander or sit alone. Often, it's good to introduce them to other kids their age, and then engage the kids in an activity together.
We plan arrival activities to help engage kids as soon as they come. Our arrival activities change every week. Sometimes it's a craft, or a large group game, or a team challenge or other activity that is designed to draw kids in and introduce them to the Bible lesson as soon as they enter the classroom - and I don't like for the arrival activities to be (or even look) chaotic, because no one likes walking into a room that seems to be in chaos, especially new kids!
Information for Parents
Make it easy for parents to get their questions answered. Make sure signage is clear and visible, and make sure parents can get simple information about your ministry: who's the leader, where kids go in each age group, what your safety policies are, etc. We give parents a paper with detailed, but streamlined information about our children's ministry. We're working right now on making our signage even better, and helping our guests know where to get the complimentary coffee we offer everyone on Sundays.
*Here is a copy of our "Thanks for Coming" information paper we give parents
Someone told me recently that they took their kids to visit a church, and they had to go to three different check-in desks, and fill out registration forms three different times for one kid, because none of their volunteers knew what was going on, or what to tell them! It seemed disorganized and difficult for the parents. They were sent to several different rooms. All of a church's volunteers should be knowledgeable and ready to help new guests. Also, make sure your front line people (your greeters, front desk people, etc.) are genuinely friendly and have the gift of hospitality! It's a tendency for everyone (even me!) to just stand in doorways and talk to people we know, but we need to remind ourselves to be outward-focused on Sunday mornings, and always looking to connect with others, especially people we don't know! Constantly remind your team of the value of hospitality and friendliness.
*Another note: first time guests don't know who's who, or where everything is (even things like the bathroom or the coffee bar), and they don't know what your church does on Wednesday nights or what the youth group is called. Make sure to have easy information at their fingertips, or a place they can go to get answers (we have a Welcome Desk that is staffed and has plenty of information about the church); but if you think through the details ahead of time, people won't have as many questions.
Safety and Security Policies
It's hard for parents to leave their kids with people they don't know, and we can let them know we're thinking about that. We let parents know that we take their kids' safety very seriously, and let them know about our safety policies. We explain our check-in and check-out procedures and give them a written overview of the safety policies on our Parent Information Page. Parents need to know that we care about their kids' safety. We have caring volunteers in every room who are trained and screened, and we make sure our classrooms have safe ratios of kids, and aren't alone with a kid in a room, we have our sickness and health policies posted, and parents know we have their cell phone number in case we need to get ahold of them.
Think about Parking
We have designated visitor parking spots up front, but even if all the spots are filled, it's a good idea to have people available to help with parking direction if needed. If guests can't park, or don't know where to go to get into the service, they won't want to come back.
Second Time Guests
Many people will try out a church one time, but studies have shown that there is great success in assimilating new families into a church bodies if they return even a second time! If a guest family comes back a second time, it's a win! We want to make sure they have a good experience EVERY time they come! Try to remember their names when they come back. Make sure kids get connected with other kids, and invite the family to a small group, Wednesday night program, family church event, or something else to get connected.
We don't always get this all executed perfectly, and I always appreciate hearing feedback and getting ideas to make or guest services even better, but I am thankful to be at a caring and friendly church that truly values all people, and have a children's ministry team that understands and values this as well!
Families may visit your church on a Sunday and have an "ok" experience, but what if you go the extra mile in every one of these areas? What would it look like for your whole team to go above and beyond to help people feel loved, valued, and welcomed at your church? In the parking lot, at the check-in desk, inside the classrooms, and even in the sanctuary? Many people who come to visit are craving a place to belong, a place for their kids to have fun and want to return, and know their kids are learning Bible truths WHILE having fun and making friends, and a place to know their kids' safety is a top priority. If you can help a family find those things, you will see more and more second time guests, and third time guests....
Do you have any other ideas for helping welcome new families?
*Update: This has become one of my most popular blog posts, and my most requested resource, which is awesome! I'm reposting, so more people can see. I'm always happy to share. If you're looking for a great resource this Christmas (or any time) to help families grow in their faith together, this has been a fun and easy way to do that.
One of my goals as a children's pastor is to empower parents to be spiritual leaders. God designed families as His number one plan for discipleship for kids. There are many parents who are doing a great job with this, but many parents also don't feel equipped to lead their kids spiritually. The church should be ONE avenue for kids to grow as disciples, but not the ONLY place. Leading kids spiritually doesn't have to be complicated- parents can weave faith conversations into every day life at any time!
I am always looking for ways to help bring tools and ideas to parents for teaching and leading their kids. One thing I did last Christmas season was send home Advent Devotional To Go boxes with every family at our church. I had never seen or heard of anything like that before, so I wasn't sure how they would go, but they were a hit! They were gone very quickly, and people even wanted some for friends and neighbors!
The goal of the boxes is to get families talking together in fun and easy ways, that engage kids at any age. Even my 3 year old nephew loved the one I sent him in the mail.
Each box contained 10 Devotional Cards and 10 small, simple objects:
Each object corresponds with a devotional that the family goes through together. The devotional cards are labeled and in order, and the kids can take out the object while the family reads the instructions to see how it goes along with that day's devotional and Scripture. The idea was to get kids involved with hands-on devotionals using simple objects, and get families talking about Scriptures and praying together. It's not complicated, but it can be a powerful way for families to connect and grow together!
*They weren't super expensive to make. The boxes were from Oriental Trading, and I made the stickers and cards, and got the items from the Dollar Store or in bulk online. Planning ahead helps, because you can be collecting items for months before you make the boxes. This year, I'm thinking about making "Frozen" themed Advent To-Go boxes.
This is just one way I hope to empower, equip and partner with parents in the journey of raising kids who are strong and devoted disciples.
TO PURCHASE this resource, so you can make your own, CLICK HEREAdvent To Go Boxes.
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.