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2017 marked my second full year of my intentional journey of reading. For years, I would read 10-12 books on average. I got a lot out of every book I read and would be disappointed by the growing number of books I added to my bookshelf that I never read. In 2015, I decided I would create some new habits around reading. I would prioritize the amount of time I spent reading, including how I would consume books (transitioning to digital mediums). Each year since 2015, I increased the number of books I read over the previous year. For 2017, I set a goal of 30 books and by year’s end (I literally spent most of New Year’s Eve reading) I polished off an all-time best of 40 books.

Not only did I read more books than ever before, they were incredible books too. I learned so much. This year I read:

  • Over a dozen fictional books for fun, most of them geeky science fiction reads.
  • 4-5 books on leadership and/or productivity
  • 3 books on the LDS Church (Gilbert, AZ is the highest population of Mormons outside of Salt Lake City, UT – Per Capita)
  • Almost a dozen books on personal and spiritual development
  • 5 biographies of men who each changed the world in a profound way
  • 2-3 books specific to ministry/strategy

I’m even more excited about the books on my list for 2018.

Below are the top six books from 2017. Why six? Because I didn’t want to narrow it down to just five. You may notice a theme this year (biographies).

Steve Jobs – Walter Isaacson
I’ve had this book on my radar for years. I read this book immediately after the books about Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. What an AMAZING book. Steve Jobs may have had more faults than the average guy, but he literally did change the world. Years after his death, we still feel the impact this man had on technology, media, telecommunications and so much more. If you’ve been putting off this book like I had, it’s time to read it.

Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future – Ashlee Vance
I was excited to learn more about Elon and the companies he founded. There’s so much more to this man than I knew. There’s something very different about this guy than the other tech giants, something else that drives him. Jeff Bezos wants to innovate how we shop. Steve Jobs wanted to innovate how we interact with computers and technology. Elon Musk wants to ensure the survival of the human species by getting us “interplanetary.” What an amazing read.

Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike – Phil Knight
I literally knew nothing about Nike before reading this book. Nothing. If I was shopping for athletic shoes and faced between a choice of Nike and another brand, comfort and price would be the primary factors I’d consider. After reading Shoe Dog, I’d by Nike over any other brand (although price and comfort would still be factors). This book was the fantastic story of the entrepreneurial journey for of Phil Knight, eventually making him one of the wealthiest men in America. However, his humility and generosity set him apart from so many other successful entrepreneurs. Go NIKE!

Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success – Shane Snow
I have to admit, I LOVE life hacks. Tips and tricks to help me be more successful in life are things I love. This book was so much fun with so much valuable information. Information that left me thinking long after I finished reading it. I would finish a chapter and spend hours thinking, “What if?” There are so many amazing ideas and practices that can easily be connected to the way I lead people, evaluate performance and create ideal learning environments. I finished reading this book, but it isn’t yet finished with me!

Rejection Proof: How I Beat Fear and Became Invincible Through 100 Days of Rejection – Jia Jiang
Four years ago, a guy named Jia Jiang spoke at my church. It was a summer series called “voices” where an amazing line-up of guest speakers had been arranged (aka, lead pastor’s summer vacation). Jai actually attended our church and had recently given a TED talk. Crazy, right? He spoke about rejection and fear and it was absolutely wonderful. The weekend crowds gave him a standing ovation, something I’d never seen happen at my church before. Last year, he published this book, based on the message he shared at TED and my church. It’s a really fun book and very eye-opening. This book really got me thinking about the greatest challenge most of us in ministry face – recruiting volunteers. I’m still processing some of the ideas from this book and will likely talk about them again soon. Regardless, this book is fantastic and highly recommended.

The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery – Ian Morgan Cron
A co-worker introduced me to the Enneagram several years ago. I didn’t understand it. I’m a big fan of the Meyers -Briggs, and Strengths Finders. I just didn’t understand an assessment based on the seven deadly sins. However, this summer I was reintroduced to the Enneagram again along with Sara. I read the profiles and enjoyed the perspective. However, I saw this book sitting on a co-workers (different co-worker) and asked if I could borrow it. Reading about the history of this assessment and how all the profiles connect was absolutely fascinating. I also LOVE the author. The writing read like I was simply having a casual chat with Ian Cron. Moving forward, I’ll utilize the Enneagram when assessing staff and couples simply because of the insight it gives that’s missing from Meyers-Briggs and Strength Finders. If you want to know more about why some of us get along and others of us don’t… Read. This. Book. BTW, I’m a 7 and my wife is a 2. Now all the Enneagram nerds know exactly what my wife and I fight about. Ha!

What a fun and amazing journey a handful of books (okay, more than a handful) took me on this year. I’m looking forward to the 50+ books I intend to read this year.

What books are you reading?

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Volunteer recruitment is most likely one of the hardest and most time-consuming aspects of your job. You never have enough helpers to get it all done, and when you are finally getting to that place of calm, someone asks if you have time to talk. What if you could walk over to the wide open back door and leave it only partially cracked? Imagine what it would be like to have a team of committed small group leaders instead of a mismatched group of babysitters. Sounds great, doesn’t it? What if most of your small group leaders actually served for years and years? What if they even considered themselves as lifetime volunteers? Let’s talk about how to recruit those kinds of volunteers. Here are a few basic principles to follow:

ENLIST TO A CALLING

Your job description can be found in Ephesians 4:12, “Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.” Your goal is to prepare your small group leaders to minister to the kids and their parents so the church will grow in wisdom and holiness. As you are building your teams, your goal is to intentionally join them together, so that they resemble the body of Christ, not Mr. Potato Head. When someone is willing to serve wherever needed and they are a gifted teacher, avoid the temptation of filling your worship leader vacant spot, and actually place them in a teaching role. Find their best fit. Get to know your team through a strong on-boarding process and solicit feedback during placement to verify they can see themselves serving in this capacity long term.

EXPLAIN WHY THEIR ROLE MATTERS

When you pressure small group leaders to serve out of guilt, your temporary motivation will only take them so far. Show them how the role of a small group leader is carrying out the great commission found in Mathew 28:19-20, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Point to specific examples and show small group leaders how they are building the church and expanding the kingdom each and every week. Most people serving in the church can point back to a leader who showed up and influenced their spiritual journey. You have a group of influencers who are making a difference in the next generation, so take the time to remind them of this impact.

FOSTER A FAMILY CULTURE

Sundays can be challenging. It comes with the territory. After a long and difficult morning at church, it might be tempting for a volunteer to quit (who hasn’t been tempted to quit?). It’s easy to quit a position but it’s hard to leave a family. When you work to connect your team, the members of the team begin to work together and belong to one another. Romans 12:4-5 explains it like this, “Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.” Placing the right people in the right positions in an organization built around groups can help nourish this family culture.

MAKE FREQUENT AND INTENTIONAL INVESTMENTS

The secret recipe for keeping your long time volunteers around is to continue to show love to them by making deposits into their lives. Hebrews 10:25 challenges us saying, “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” Investment is not about giving your small group leader a five dollar coffee gift card, but sitting down with them around the coffee table. No longer is it about the small group leader simply showing up and doing okay but it’s increasing their abilities and equipping them to become engaging disciple makers. When you see small group leaders have a gifting beyond their current position, show them future next steps. And whenever you see a small group leader who needs a break, give them time off with an intentional plan to bring them back on the team.

In the last paragraph, of the last page of Jim Wideman’s book, Tweetable Leadership, he says, “Be a lover of God’s people. The ministry is all about relationships. People matter! I believe the time we spend empowering and encouraging people is never wasted.” For you to recruit lifetime small group leaders, you must enlist them to a calling that fits their gifting, connect them with one another, and continue to love them through intentional deposits in their lives.

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Maybe one of the greatest ministry tragedies is when a ministry outgrows its leadership. I see it happen all the time. Something good is happening which causes growth, but the growth put’s pressure on the organization and things start to fall apart. Structure is a key the key to handling growth. Structure will also help you overcome a hectic and frenzied ministry environment.

  • Don’t have enough small group leaders? Structure will help.
  • Have you reached your limit on how well you can lead all the people you are leading? Structure will help.
  • Are parents or kids getting something less than a personal experience on Sunday? Structure will help.

Let me unpack six pieces to a ministry framework that will help you scale your ministry to something healthy and thriving.

ORGANIZE THEM

The best place to begin is with how you organize your team of small group leaders. With smaller teams, organizing them isn’t difficult to do. Like a basketball team, everyone knows everyone else on the team and the positions they play. In fact, all of them are generalists. Though they each bring different strengths to the team, they all play offense and defense making the entire team flexible and nimble. If you were to map your smaller, basketball-like team on paper, all names would point directly to you. You’re their coach, their guide, their primary encourager. And all works well until new families start coming. More kids are in your environment. Your ministry is growing. As a result, you have to recruit more small group leaders. You bring them on the team, define their role, get them some “on the job” training and you should be off to the races. But with each new small group leader you add, your team grows and over time – your team changes. You move from coaching a basketball team to coaching a football team. With a football team, there are far more players and very few generalists. With football teams, sheer numbers alone prevent you from knowing your volunteers in a meaningful way. And if you can’t know your small group leaders in a meaningful way, then how can you encourage, guide, equip and empower them for meaningful ministry? The key is in how you organize them. (Read more about this great analogy from Sticky Teams by Larry Osborne.)

DEFINE LEADERSHIP LAYERS

Start by defining leadership roles. The very purpose of these roles is to help you to do together what you cannot do alone. To know, encourage, guide, equip and empower your team of small group leaders. In my setting, we have two leadership layers: Team Leads and Coaches. These roles have specific job descriptions that describe what is expected from their role and how they can win. It looks a little something like this:

Small Group Leader <  Team Lead < Coach

This is a great start to establishing layers of leadership on your team. But we can’t stop here.

SET RATIOS

The next step to organizing your team is to set ratios. You probably have ratios that define when to add more volunteers based upon the number of kids in attendance. The truth is, if you have 30 kindergartners and one small group leader, things will not go well. The same holds true for your leadership layers. How do you know if you have enough leaders helping you to lead your team? That’s where a ratio is very handy. At Faith Promise, we set a ratio of 6 Small Group Leaders per Team Lead and 4 Team Leads per Coach. It takes the guesswork out. For every 8 kids we increase, we add a Small Group Leader. For every 4 SGLs, we add a Team Lead. These ratios help predict when to add a layer of leadership to ensure the team remains relationally strong.

SHAPE THEM

You can put a lot of work into organizing your Small Group Leader team, but there’s more work ahead. The next phase requires shaping and developing these leadership layers. Development is a slow process. It’s never a one-and- done conversation. Just the opposite. It’s a series of interactions working on one layer at a time drawing out more in them than they thought they had in themselves. The process of shaping these leaders comes down to two repetitive actions.

DEFINE BEHAVIORS

One of the biggest challenges we can have as leaders is our tendency to project on those we lead. This is definitely a hole I step in often. Here’s how it goes. We discover someone with leadership skills so we elevate them to a leadership position. We give them a role description, announce them to the team, spend some time showing them the ropes then step back and wait for the magic to happen. As we watch, we notice things they do that make us scratch our head. Why aren’t they doing what we would do? We think that a volunteer leader is going to morph into the leader you want them to be simply because they are hanging out with you. But it doesn’t work that way. That volunteer leader has different ideas, experiences, and thoughts that shape how they will lead. If you want them to lead in a certain way, you’ve got be intentional about teaching them how to think. And that begins with defining expected behaviors. Like giving them the answers to the test, defining expected behaviors for the role is critical to ensuring your coaches are going to do what you know they should do to be successful. At Faith Promise, we keep the behaviors simple. We want them to be memorable, simple yet powerful behaviors that really help them win as they lead. Our 5 Leader Behaviors are:

  • Engaged Relationally
  • Communicates Proactively
  • Leads & Empowers
  • Has a Can-Do Attitude
  • Recruits Actively

If a Team Lead and Coach adopt these behaviors they will lead successfully. You might come up with different behaviors. Ones that you would say are critical to success in your ministry. No matter what those behaviors might be, if you write them down and share them with your leader, you have a fighting chance you’ll see those behaviors replicated in them as they lead.

CADENCE OF ACCOUNTABILITY

Now that you’ve defined behaviors, your next critical step is accountability. Accountability is the part of the equation most people don’t like. I know I never did. But accountability is the secret sauce. It’s the key to success. Without accountability, all the work invested in defining leadership layers, setting ratios and defining behaviors will only produce mediocre results. The reason is that a lack of accountability fosters an environment for low performers to inhabit and high performers don’t want to work with low performers – even in a church. As Craig Groeschel would say, “Your culture is comprised of two things: What you elevate and what you allow.” When we allow volunteer leaders to remain in a role where they are not meeting expectations, not only does your team suffer but your inaction communicates to everyone else that the expectations defined don’t matter after all. Setting a cadence of accountability means you have regular check-in times with these leaders to review expectations and evaluate progress. A cadence of accountability ensures that conversations aren’t lost in the noise of weekly ministry. They’re hard to do but with repetition, they get easier and more natural over time. It’s funny to think how remarkably simple yet complex these two steps are: Organize and Shape. Yet building a strong Small Group culture requires intentional focus on each. Like building the marshmallow structure, throwing together a Small Group Leader team and hoping for the best is not your best game plan. Your role as the ministry leader is to constantly organize and shape your team, building a structure for strong small groups and future growth.

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For years, one of my biggest frustrations was getting volunteers to show up on time. After talking to others, I discovered that I wasn’t alone. Honestly, getting anyone to show up for anything on time is a modern-day challenge. However, when services begin at 9:00 and volunteers are showing up minutes before (or even after), ministry leaders will literally lose their minds. However, I’ve found the solution to this little problem. The Pre-Service Huddle.

Actually, the Pre-Service Huddle wasn’t created just to get your volunteers to show up on time, but timeliness with your volunteers is a welcome side effect.

Culture creation is a huge part of developing a healthy volunteer ministry and one of the best ways to create culture is through regular pre-service huddles.

I know what you’re thinking. “I can’t even get everyone to show up to serve on time, what makes you think they’ll come 20-30 early for a MEETING?” Trust me, you’d be surprised. Below are some components of great pre-service huddles.

INSPIRATION

There’s a very good chance that inspiration is what got your volunteers to sign up. They heeded a call to serve and they dove in. Unfortunately, inspiration wears off. Busy weekends, sick kids and life, in general, has the tendency to trump inspiration. This is why you should seek to inspire your volunteers on a regular basis. Remind them about why they serve. Show them the difference they’re making. Tell stories of life-change. Brag on them. Cast compelling vision of where you’re headed. It’s Sunday morning, there’s nothing like a mini-pep rally just before opening the doors for the kids to enter.

TRAINING

Who says you can only train your volunteers through 90-minute lunch seminars that less than half of our volunteers show up for? Did you know that you can train your volunteers every week, just 2-4 minutes at a time? Volunteers need regular instruction. How can they better connect with their kids? How can they handle behavior issues? How can they connect to their kids in meaningful ways? These are really simple nuggets of training that you could offer every single week. Wrap it with an email, quick video and 2-3 minute conversation at your huddle and you’ve got a really good chance of seeing volunteers grow in their abilities.

SPIRITUALITY

The main auditorium isn’t the only place for people to connect with God. There’s actually a really good chance that what volunteers are going to teach their kids that day could also be fresh and impactful for them as well. What if you connected with your volunteers on a spiritual level around the same idea they’ll teach their kids? There’s a chance that what they teach will come across even more meaningful. Take the time to connect your leaders to God, find unique ways to make your huddle meaningful. Most importantly, create the space to pray and connect with God – to dedicate their service to what God wants to do.

COMMUNITY

Everyone craves community. They want to be known. However, not everyone is going to go to an adult small group. That’s a scary first step for many. However, you can create great community through your huddle. Take time for people to share stories. Let people talk about themselves. Create opportunities where your volunteers can laugh together or just do something fun. Create an environment where everyone knows each other and begins to pray for each other on a regular basis.

When these things are a part of your weekly pre-service huddle, your volunteers will start showing up. They won’t at first. They’ll trickle in over time. However, if you’re consistent with this, having volunteers skip the huddle will actually become unusual. Crazy, right?

Let me leave you with a couple of final tips:

  • Inspiration, training, spirituality, and community are all components of pre-service huddles. However, it’s unlikely you’ll offer all of those every week. Actually, you really shouldn’t. Maybe offer 3-4 weeks of training on a specific topic. You’ll also incorporate a little community and maybe a story here and there. Then you’ll take a few weeks to focus on fun team-building stuff or some heartfelt devotions. Mix it up, but keep track of when you’re doing what.
  • Prepare, prepare, prepare. If you’re waking up on Sunday morning wondering what you’re going to share at this week’s huddle, you’ve already missed it. Plan your huddles out a month in advance. What do you want to cover this month and bullet point out the talking points? This is especially important if you’re letting your coaches lead the huddles. If you give them talking points 5 minutes before their huddle, you’ll kill whatever you’re trying to build.
  • Keep it short. Less is more. We only get 10-15 minutes to huddle, often time less than 10 if a service went long. You can do a lot in a little bit of time, just be prepared.
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One of the greatest children’s ministry challenges is deciding what to do with preteens. 4th and 5th graders (or 5th and 6th graders depending on schools in your area) are losing interest in your church. They WANT to attend your student ministry, but they’re not old enough yet. They don’t want to be in your children’s ministry, it’s too juvenile. They’re far too mature for that. They’re “tweeners.” They don’t fit anywhere. They’re in between.

Here’s the interesting thing about preteens. They’re still kids. They are really active. They love to jump around, giggle and act crazy. But they want to be seen as more than kids. They are open to having deeper conversations. They don’t want to be talked down to like when they were kids. It’s just different now. This can be really confusing for a ministry leader. Tweens attend your children’s ministry, but you don’t want to treat them like you do the other kids.

Whether you have your preteen in their own specialized environment or they’re combined with all of elementary, groups should look a little different. You actually should consider raising the bar for this age group. They need something different, better even. It’s time to double down to prepare them for the shift to their next phase in life:

Double Down on Environments

Environments matter at every age. However, something shifts with the preteen kid. This is an age where kids begin to see their environments differently. It’s at this age where kids want more say in how their room looks. They have their own opinions. Having a “cool” space for your preteen kids is subjective. This is an opportunity to win with your preteens by setting them apart from the younger kids.

Change up the environment, even if they are small changes. I’ve seen churches install large restaurant booths (to fit 10-12 kids) along the back of the large group room. I’ve seen churches move to bean bag chairs instead of carpet circles. Other ministries have gotten extra creative with Ikea products to make the environment a little more special. Preteens aren’t teens yet, but our environments can communicate to them that we see that they’re different.

Double Down on Conversations

Take conversations to the next level. Elementary kids are concrete thinkers. However, preteens are shifting more toward abstract thoughts. You can begin to explore ideas and concepts that are less concrete. They can comprehend a metaphor. This is the perfect age for helping kids understand a story or principle and translate that to their life. They are actually at an age where they can “discover” context and application if guided appropriately with well-crafted questions.

Teaching is never really the point of the small group. However, leaders in younger groups often teach or reinforce concepts during small group time. Preteen groups are perfect environments for discovery. Small group leaders are guides, constantly asking questions that help kids learn something not because it was taught to them but because they figured something out.

Double Down on Relationships

They say the average kid attends 40 times a year. I think that number is actually starting to slip. More and more families are attending less than twice a month, yet they still see themselves as regular attendees. Influence is diminishing, yet there is a great opportunity to double down on relationships. Summer Camp, Winter Camp or whenever you do camp, is the perfect opportunity to double down on relationships. Your small group leader will possibly get more time with their group of kids in one week at camp than they will during the entire year in small groups. Other special events like game nights, swim parties or other events are key. These don’t have to be things your church organizes either. Empower small group leaders to plan 2-3 events a year.

Every hour a small group leader has with a kid is relational credit earned. Create opportunities unique to preteen to build extra relational time.

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One of the most important components to a healthy and growing small group program is the coaching system. A small army of coaches to lead, inspire, train and equip small group leaders is simply essential. However, most churches don’t really have them. Most don’t know where to get them. Many don’t even know where to start. That’s okay, everyone starts somewhere. I was leading a large small group ministry for nearly seven years before I started installing coaches. Now I wouldn’t do ministry without them. Once I transitioned to MISSION, the first task I started working on was to recruit coaches. One year in and we have 8 coaches covering almost all of our elementary volunteers. In the next month, we should have 7-8 coaches covering most of our preschool as well. Let me tell you, this is a game changer.

I’m still new to the coaching game, but I’ll tell you that I’ve had less trouble finding great coaches than I expected I would. Here are a few things that have helped me find, recruit and install great coaches:

COACHES FIRST, SMALL GROUP LEADERS SECOND

On multiple occasions, I’ve run into this exact situation. There is a fantastic small group leader who would make a good coach. However, there is a reluctance to recruit them as a coach simply because they’re so good at leading their small group. Sometimes there was a delay in moving them into the coach role because we needed to recruit a few more small group leaders first. Moving them into the coach role creates a hole that will be felt my kids/other leaders in the room.

Every one of these reasons is completely legitimate. However, I’ve found that they’re not good enough reasons to delay moving someone into a coaching role. Sure, moving someone would create a hole in your group roster. It would likely add pressure to other small group leaders. However, another small group leader might step out of serving at any time for any reason and you’re in exactly the same position. Install the coach and at least you have another leader helping you find additional small group leaders and someone to help encourage existing small group leaders as you continue to build.

PROMOTE YOUR BEST SMALL GROUP LEADERS

There’s a tendency to keep your best small group leaders as small group leaders. It makes perfect sense. Why mess up a good thing, right? However, I want to spread anything that is good and healthy. I want my best small group leaders helping my other small group leaders to get better. I’d rather sacrifice one amazing small group leader if it means that 6-7 small group leaders go from okay to great.

I try to be smart about how and when I promote my small group leaders. It helps to have a long range plan. Sometimes I’ll recruit a person who has “coach” written all over them. If this is the case, I’m strategic about where I put them. I might put them in a grade where they could easily transition at the end of the school year. For me, that may be as a 3rd-grade leader. Next year, their group will promote to preteen where their current mixed-gender group will split into a boy and girls group. Since the group is already going to experience a transition, moving them out entirely is an option. I might even put them in a younger age group since a leadership transition for kinder or 1st grade is far less tragic than a transition for 5th or 6th graders.

RECRUIT UNCONVENTIAL LEADERS FROM THE OUTSIDE

I’m about to install 3-4 coaches in our preschool ministry who don’t currently serve in preschool. While it is ideal to promote within, some of your best leaders just aren’t in your children’s ministry yet. There are some people who feel more equipped to lead/serve adults. Maybe they’ve spent the last several years leading adult groups or leading at some other capacity. It’s a good thing that you have opportunities within your children’s ministry that don’t require actually leading kids.

A few years ago, I actually had this crazy idea. We had more High School small group leaders than we needed. Every group had a leader and a co-leader and there simply weren’t any more opportunities to lead high school girls. This was a great problem to have. We were able to move some of these volunteers to middle school groups, but there were some who really wanted to work with high schoolers. That’s when we made a really interesting connection. We had a very high number of high school girls who were serving in our preschool and we had a shortage of preschool coaches. What if we moved some of these women who wanted to lead high school girls to do exactly that, but as a coach in preschool. This approach was in the process just as I was leaving my last church, but it looked entirely viable.

Regardless, some of my best coaches have come from outside. Leaders are going to lead, regardless of their background. It doesn’t take that much to acclimate a coach to a children’s ministry environment. They’re going to lead and invest well because that’s something you won’t have to train.

Your coaches are out there. They’re already serving in your ministry, they just need to be asked. Ask others on your staff. Who is a great leader who isn’t really being utilized right now that might step into a coaching role within your ministry. Prioritize this now and you’ll create an environment that is better to recieve the additional volunteers you need.

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There’s a dirty little secret to leading small groups for kids. It’s a weakness. A limitation. A barrier that your groups will experience in time. Even if you don’t see it, it’s always there. Others will definitely see it, they just might not say anything because they’re “polite.” Regardless, this issue will limit your success and growth. The sooner you deal with it, the better. Are you ready for this?

Your biggest limitation to a ministry of healthy, thriving and life-giving small groups is… YOU!

I get it. There’s always a “season.” You’re launching groups and it’s going to require you to run point on all the groups. Fine. Maybe you’re leading a transition which requires more involvement than normal. Okay.

But what’s your exit plan?

The longer you try to lead all your small group leaders, the longer you are holding your ministry back.

Think about it for a second. Your goal is for every kid to be in a small group, right? You’re striving to make sure that each group only has 8-12 kids, right? Because you know that this is the ideal environment for success. Relationships can thrive. Leaders can handle 8-12 kids without feeling totally overwhelmed.

The same is true of you. 8-12 leaders are all you can really handle.

Okay, let’s bump that to 15-16. You are a professional. This is what you love and wake up every morning thinking about. I’ll give you that. But wait a second. This probably isn’t your only job. You’ve got other things to take care of. If you’re like me, you have a lot of things on your plate. Why take on the weight of leading 15-16 (or even 8-12) small group leaders if you don’t have to?

So, whether you have a total of 4 small groups, 40 small groups or 400 small groups, you need some help. You need a layer of leadership between you and your small group leaders. You need someone who can dedicate 100% of their energy and passion toward taking care of people who are leading kids in groups. It’s really simple. You can lead 8-12 small group leaders. But even if you just had 4-6 coaches/team leaders, you could immediately lead 50-60 small group leaders without even breaking a sweat.

Let me share a few reasons why enlisting coaches will help your small group ministry thrive:

COACHES HELP CONNECT YOUR LEADERS TO MORE PEOPLE

It’s possible that you recruited all your small group leaders. They’re there because of you. There’s possibly a relational connection there. Over the years, I’ve found that one of the biggest reasons why small group leader continue to serve where they serve has more to do with relationships than anything else. Even more than purpose or mission. Having a coach gives them at least one additional person to connect with. Also, that coach can create a smaller tribe of small group leaders that is highly relational, something you can’t do well when leading all the small group leaders. The better this community is, the longer your leaders will serve.

COACHES WILL TAKE RESPONSIBILITY OFF OF YOUR PLATE

Every week, someone isn’t going to show up (hopefully they called ahead). Every week, there’s going to be an issue with a child. Every week, there’s going to be a glitch with the curriculum, supplies or some other minor detail. Every week, there is a parent who needs to talk to you about their child. Every week, there are 100 things to attend to. The secret is that 90% of these things really don’t really need you. They just need the attention of someone who has the knowledge and authority to do something about it. Someone like a coach. Once you have coaches in place, you’ll find that you have WAY more time for strategic things. You’ll find yourself working ON your ministry rather than IN your ministry.

COACHES WILL MULTIPLY YOUR EFFECTIVENESS

I remember this stupid thing I used to always say. “I wish I could clone myself and have 5 more of me on a Sunday.” Maybe you’ve said something like this too. Let’s be real honest. The last thing we need is another one of us. The reason we say silly things like this is because we’re trying to do too much. We say silly things like this because we’re neglecting our responsibility to truly lead, delegating authority and responsibility to capable people. There’s something far better than a small army of you-clones. A small army of people who see things differently and process things differently that are 100% on board with your leadership. Leadership can be a lonely role unless you surround yourself with people who will help you lead.

Too many leaders neglect to expand their leadership. They want to control their environments. They don’t trust enough or provide opportunities for people to step into something bigger. You may be amazing… you probably are. Regardless of your awesomeness, you will be your greatest limitation. Take steps to step aside and make room for another voice… even if you think you ministry isn’t big enough yet. You will NEVER regret delegating authority and responsibility to a faitful leader.

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It’s easy to lean in one direction or another when it comes to prioritizing age groups. Preschool is so foundational. It’s when kids are creating their very first impressions of God, church and the Bible. High School is the final stage before they venture off into adulthood. It’s when we have to shore up everything we’ve been working towards. Middle School is a MASSIVE transition. Elementary is so formative. Which one is most important? I don’t know. All I know is that every age is important. Every age has its critical moments.

Elementary though, it’s a big one. Probably because of when the elementary years take place. It’s all about timing, there is no other time like the years a kid will spend in elementary school. Churches are uniquely positioned to make an eternal difference that can’t they afford to miss. Here are three big reasons why.

Evangelism

The church today (and for a very long time) is made of people who put their faith in Jesus when they were children. It is during this elementary school age that kids are most likely to receive Jesus.

For years, church leaders have heard the claim that nearly nine out of ten Christians accept Jesus as their savior before the age of 18. If that statistic was accurate in the past, it no longer depicts U.S. society. The current Barna study indicates that nearly half of all Americans who accept Jesus Christ as their savior do so before reaching the age of 13 (43%), and that two out of three born again Christians (64%) made that commitment to Christ before their 18th birthday. One out of eight born again people (13%) made their profession of faith while 18 to 21 years old. Less than one out of every four born again Christians (23%) embraced Christ after their twenty-first birthday. Barna noted that these figures are consistent with similar studies it has conducted during the past twenty years. Barna Study

That’s a lot of numbers, but they all point to the same thing. The majority of Christians in the world today became Christians when they were kids. Most of them during the elementary school years. There is even a massive worldwide missions movement called the 4-14 window. Becuase most decisions for faith are made between the ages of 4 and 14, efforts are underway to reach the younger populations of the unreached parts of the world.

People often minimize or discount the young faith of a child. Kids just don’t know enough yet. They can’t comprehend the significance of what Jesus has done. Kids simply mimic and copy what they see their parents or family do. However, this young faith develops and matures and most adults always point back to this new faith as a child as a point of salvation.

Discipleship

Beyond just evangelism, how a person sees the world is cemented in place during the elementary years. If we don’t help kids establish what truth is at this age, it’s far more difficult to change it later.

First, a person’s moral foundations are generally in place by the time they reach age nine. While those foundations are refined and the application of those foundations may shift to some extent as the individual ages, their fundamental perspectives on truth, integrity, meaning, justice, morality, and ethics are formed quite early in life. After their first decade, most people simply refine their views as they age without a wholesale change in those leanings. Bana Study

Moral training is happening in the elementary years. Kids will either learn from a mentor, teacher, or parents. However, they’ll also pick up belief systems from media, friends and other influences. Regardless of intentionality, the moral code will be set before they finish elementary school. This is just more reason for intentional relationships to be in place during the elementary years.

Relationships

Relationships are significant for kids. From the outside, they may look chaotic, rambunctious or simply random – but there is more happening than you know.

For instance, among Christians who embraced Christ before their teen years, half were led to Christ by their parents, with another one in five led by some other friend or relative. Comparatively few accepted Jesus in response to a minister’s personal prompting (7%) and only one out of eight cited a special event as the turning point in their journey. Among those who mentioned events, about half identified a church service. Just 1% mentioned media evangelism or other special situations as being responsible for their conversion. Barna Study

So many churches and ministries rely upon alter calls, evangelistic events, and other opportunities to see kids come to faith. However, that’s not really where it’s happening. More kids are coming to faith through relational opportunities. The best chance you can give a kid to know and follow Jesus is the platform of a relationship.

Small Groups in Elementary is a big deal. Let’s leverage this short phase in a child’s life for maximum impact.

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Kids ministry in the local church is probably the most influential mission field in the world. You’ve heard the statistics. This is a really big deal. Understanding this is key, especially when you’re recruiting. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of something like that? But what if there is something else to consider?

Sure, your kid’s ministry is a life-changing environment that is compelling in its own rank. However, what about the life-changing ministry that happens with each adult in the room as well? If you’ve been working in kidmin long enough, you have a list a mile long of adults and teenagers who have been impacted for life BECAUSE of their time serving kids. When recruiting, don’t let this idea simply be an afterthought.

Recruiting volunteer leaders to your ministry becomes so much easier when you’re inviting them to a vision and mission that will benefit and bless them as well as influence others! Forget ratios. Stop it. Ratios are important, but you are not looking for helpers to keep your adult to child ratios reasonable.  You are providing opportunities to participate in a

  • FUN
  • LIFE-CHANGING
  • ETERNALLY SIGNIFICANT

ministry that requires an hour of their Sunday each week. SIGN ME UP!

Once I changed MY thinking, the ASK ACTUALLY became ENJOYABLE. But where do you start and who do you ask?

Here are five things that will help you improve your recruitment ask:

START WITH PRAYER

Duh, right? It can be easily overlooked in the “job” of leader recruitment though, so it’s worth making note of. There are people you need to invite that you don’t know to ask. Invite the Holy Spirit to direct your opportunities.

HAVE SOMETHING TO INVITE THEM TO

Don’t have an official new volunteer process? Get one. Prioritize this now. Make a list and walk people through it. You can find some examples here.

Step one should always be about vision, whether it’s an invitation to come observe a service or to attend a ministry vision orientation. We created the later that is a standing 15-minute orientation on the last Sunday of each month. Better than having a captive audience to brag about kids ministry at our church and the numerous different opportunities to participate, is that this orientation is something that any of our leaders, volunteers, or coaches can easily invite someone to attend!

JUST ASK

You. Not your Pastor, YOU. I promise you will cast a more compelling vision for what happens in kids ministry. Once you understand and believe deeply that ministry is to be given away and by doing so blessing will go out in all directions, you’ll want to ask as many people to get involved as possible. Enthusiasm will ooze from you! Start tapping on shoulders, and don’t be afraid of a NO. We’re all afraid of rejection, so we don’t ask because we can already anticipate their answer. Whatever you do, don’t say “no” for someone by not asking.

Most people are simply waiting to be asked. Think about this for a second. Your best volunteer you don’t yet have is waitng for you to ask them. JUST ASK!

SET A WEEKLY GOAL

Each Sunday, my goal is to invite 5 parents to come just hear more about the ministry by attending our “First Look Orientation” at the end of the month. We also challenge our current leaders to invite a friend each month. We even equipped them with postcard invitations to make the approach and ask feel more natural.

NO ONE IS OFF LIMITS

As you build a relationship with potential new leaders, you’ll be able to best discern what role would be the right for them. Not everyone is small group leader material, but there are so many other opportunities to participate in ministry to support that role! Leading groups is definitely front line ministry work, but there is an army behind each SGL, and each of those roles is just as important. Whether prepping small group materials, setting up rooms or tearing them down, greeting new families, etc, there really is something for everyone. If you have a compelling vision that communicates the eternal value of every role, people will want to participate, and be blessed by doing so.

This really shouldn’t be as hard as we make it. Ministry to kids is compelling. It’s fun. It’s exciting. It’s life-changing. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

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What if I told you, your small group leadership team could be bigger and stronger than what you see today? You could have enough small groups where every kid has a front-row seat in the circle. You could have volunteer leaders would stand shoulder-to- shoulder with you, carrying the weight of ministry? You could experience big attendance weekends don’t feel like a “brace for impact” moment but more like a moment you’re prepared for. Sounds pretty amazing, doesn’t it?

It is possible. It’s not easy. But it is possible.

EXPERIMENTING WITH STRUCTURE

There’s this experiment I like to do when I teach in a group setting.

Using nothing more than marshmallows, toothpicks, and our own imagination, we build marshmallow structures. These structures can be as tall, as wide, as dense or sparse as the builder desires. We set to work with a 5-minute timer looming over our creative construction. When the buzzer sounds all hands go in the air. The first test of success is the “Stability Test”. Will the structure actually stand without your assistance? Those who survive the first test move on to the second test of “Best Design”. From there, finalists move into the third round of judging where a curveball is thrown their way.

Using a bucket full of bean bags, finalists are challenged to stack as many bean bags on their structure as they can without collapse. This final challenge is usually met with wide eyes and a gasp of breath. Nobody knew that bean bags were involved. Nobody planned for this reality. Faced with uncertainty, the only thing they can do is pile on the bean bags and hope for the best.

IT ISN’T A GAME

Have you ever felt this way with your Sunday Morning Small Group Leader team? There was a season when my ministry felt like the third round of this competition. I would spend my week building my Small Group Leader team believing that all it had to do was hold together for the coming weekend. Though it stood up on its own and looked pretty good from the outside, it was not designed to bear the weight of ministry I was asking God to bring. I was in a perpetual cycle. On Monday morning, I’d hit the ground running trying to shore up my SGL team. I worked feverishly replacing toothpicks and fluffing up marshmallows that had been smashed under the weight of a

I was in a perpetual cycle. On Monday morning, I’d hit the ground running trying to shore up my SGL team. I worked feverishly replacing toothpicks and fluffing up marshmallows that had been smashed under the weight of a bean bag. As the weekend approached, the only thing I knew to do was to take a deep breath, hope for the best, then do it all again 7 days later. Over and over and over again.

In the midst of all this frantic paddling, I kept reading blogs and listening to leadership talks about layers of leadership. The concept of raising up volunteer leaders and empowering them to help expand my span of care sounded amazing, But I had just one question. HOW?

That’s the pivotal question, right? Most people don’t ask “Why?” We get why! The question most of us have on the tip of our tongue is “HOW?” Let’s answer that question. Let’s demystify the magic behind great Small Group cultures. It won’t surprise you to know that it’s built on more than toothpicks and marshmallows. Actually, it can bear far more ministry opportunity than you can imagine. Though ministry contexts vary, the framework below is one that translates to a variety of leaders and teams. It’s a matter of replacing flimsy toothpicks with solid beams of steel. We’ll start with an Organizational Chart.

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about six components to a ministry framework that I’ve used to structure a growing small group ministry. The framework thrives in large and small environments and can help you establish the structure your ministry needs.

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