Solving (Sunday Morning) Chaos
By Sue Kahawaii
Take this pop quiz to find out if you’re ready for a solution to Sunday morning chaos:
* Do you ever find yourself dreading a church service because you won’t have enough help — again?
* Have you ever actually hoped attendance would be down in a classroom?
* Do you attend “church on tape” because you can count on one hand the times this year you’ve attended an adult service?
* Have you ever thought to yourself that if you hear just one more person say, “Children just aren’t my ministry,” you’ll scream?
* Have you considered joining the choir (it seems like everyone else does) so you can escape the classroom?
* Do other people in your church view children’s ministry as hazardous duty?
* Do you think a senior pastor getting up on Sunday morning and “really giving it to them” is an effective recruitment method?
* Have you ever closed a classroom because there was no teacher that day?
* Can you really assure that there are adequate adult-to-child ratios in all your classrooms every time the doors are open?
* Are you ready for an approach to building healthy children’s ministry teams?
If you answered yes to any of the questions in this pop quiz, it’s time to take a fresh look at your core beliefs about recruitment and team building in your children’s ministry. There’s a saying that there are three things you’ll always have to grapple with in children’s ministry — time, space, and money. For the most part, that’s true if you’re part of a growing ministry. But if we were to be completely honest, the #1 cry that’s heard all over the world in children’s ministry is: Are there ever enough volunteers to meet the needs? Yes…if you stop focusing on recruiting teachers only. Instead, change your focus to building ministry teams, finding good leaders, and involving parents in the classroom. Our 450-volunteer staff in children’s ministry didn’t happen with recruitment campaigns, pulpit appeals, or guilt-trip responses. This staff happened because we intentionally focused on structuring our classrooms to operate on a team method, and we were willing to overhaul everything we ever thought about recruitment and teachers.
Choosing Leaders First
Many years ago, I realized I needed to stop finding only teachers and start looking for good leaders first. Our leaders don’t have to be great teachers or, in fact, know much of anything about kids. Skills can be taught. Understanding of children can be taught. Leadership principles can be taught, but not everyone has leadership ability. Our leaders have to be natural leaders. Of course I want great teachers, but many teachers aren’t necessarily good classroom leaders or team builders. Yet in most churches, we ask each teacher to be the classroom leader, team builder, administrator, cook, maid, first-aid provider, disciplinarian, usher, and if there’s time left over, teacher. Our first priority is finding leaders who can orchestrate all the things that need to be done and free up teachers to do what they’re called to do — teach!
Building Teams Next
My goal is to have individual teams, each with a team leader, a teacher, and at least two to four classroom assistants. Structuring a team that way allows the leader to focus on the administrative aspects of running a classroom, and the teacher is free to develop and teach awesome and incredible lessons. The classroom assistants help with the million and one small needs. No one feels overburdened, and everyone flourishes. Even in the largest of classrooms, all the kids have needs met, incredible teaching and activity times, and personal interaction with adults. Parents find orderly classrooms, clean counters and rooms, and friendly team members. Teachers look forward to church because they’re getting to do what they want to do. And the team grows when individuals are placed in positions where they excel.
Recruiting Parents Always
For too long, parents have been left out of the equation. So we’ve developed a Parent Partners cooperative program. Parents’ primary fear is that we’re going to ask them to teach, or worse yet, leave them alone in a room with 40 3-year-olds. Once we’re able to remove that fear, the vast majority of parents are more than willing to help once a month in a variety of roles. In our ministry, all parents get to be on the team of their choice, but again, it’s only once a month and it’s with the same team every month. We offer a range of places for parents to participate besides the classroom. Parents can plug into the special events team, drama team, office help, summer camp staff, and more. So even a parent who’s involved with choir (or anything else) can participate in our Parent Partners program. The co-op is not an option. But promoting it in a positive way helps parents feel they get to, not have to, be involved. Keeping a positive approach is essential when communicating the value of the program to parents and existing children’s ministry team members. As a result, we have a huge pool of classroom helpers.
Making the Change
We actually began our program by changing our sign-in and registration processes. We had parents sign an agreement that they’d participate in our cooperative program, and we gave parents all the options for involvement to check off. Then when the forms were turned in, we placed parents on teams with committed team leaders and teachers. Each team leader’s job is to match parents’ talents, skills, and abilities to positions on the team where they’ll feel successful. Their value to the team is confirmed with plenty of opportunities to make connections and develop friendships with other team members. Of course, we use background screening checks before placing anyone with children. Parents are placed on teams after they’ve attended our church for several months and have made a commitment to our church as a church home. It isn’t easy setting up and establishing Parent Partners programs. And it takes a while to change from the Lone Ranger teacher method to a team approach in the classroom. But if you answered yes to any of the questions in the pop quiz, a team strategy could calm your Sunday morning chaos.
It Worked for Us
The following are the benefits of our team-based parent cooperative programs.
* Leadership Development — There’s a law of leadership that says leaders will always surface. A funny thing happens in classrooms when parents are partnered with other leaders and teachers. Many parents surface as natural leaders or teachers themselves and decide to become part of the teaching or leadership team in our children’s ministry.
* Personal Discoveries — Often, we find parents have other skills or talents they just never thought about using in conjunction with kids. We have a fabulous creative design group made up of parents who help us whenever we’re decorating classrooms, painting, or having a special event. During our recent building program, we had parents donate thousands of volunteer hours in construction, painting, electrical work, and stage design. Where did these people come from? They were part of our parent cooperative first.
* Network Recruiting — Teams attract and recruit other people to the ministry for you! A team has far more influence in recruiting than any one person does because team members are in contact with or have relationships with more people. The law of numbers is very clear. Everyone knows a limited number of people. By myself, I am limited, but when teams of people are helping me recruit, the potential is unlimited.
* Team Training — Because of the large number of people involved in our children’s ministry, we equip our team leaders to train the new people who are added to their teams. In addition, we emphasize the need for team leaders to build up their teams by having social times together, contacting each person by phone or email, and working cooperatively during once-a-month times in the classroom.
* Connection — In a large church, we constantly have the need to help people connect. A Parent Partners program is the perfect place for this to happen. Once parents are placed on teams, they get to know at least four or five other people in the church. Often, a parent who starts out in the 3-year-old class with his little one ends up staying on that team for years because of the friendship bonds that developed over the course of that first year. The Parent Partners program serves as a valuable tool for connecting new families with the church and for helping them form lasting relationships.
* One-on-One Attention — Each child gets the special attention, extra hug, prayer for the skinned knee, and other things he or she needs. When kids are in the lobby or the hallways, they’re excited to see so many adults they proudly claim as their “teacher.”
Instead of feeling deprived, the children feel blessed to have so many adults who love and care for them.
* Parent Involvement — With a cooperative system, we’re helping parents fulfill the commandment God gave them to teach their kids. I don’t expect all parents to be gifted teachers, nor are they all going to be administrators or leaders. They can all, however, help with their children’s Christian education at church.
I’ve never met a child who wasn’t excited and ecstatic when his or her parent came into the classroom as part of the team that day. Kids feel like their parents place high value on what they do and learn in class. Parents place high value on the children’s ministry because they see all that’s involved and because they’re part of it. And my core leadership team values parents as an integral part of our success.
Unifying Your Ministry Team
Add these ingredients to your team to bond ministry teams together.
* Determine the personality types that exist on your ministry team. I’ve been blessed to work with people who are very different from me, and recognizing those differences has helped me immensely. To recognize personality types, read The Treasure Tree by John Trent at a ministry team meeting. Think of who each of you would be in the story. If animals aren’t your thing, explore Florence and Marita Littauer’s Personality Puzzle. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of different ministry team members helps everyone know who to turn to in various situations.
* Ask thought-provoking questions. Start each meeting with a question that reveals quite a bit about the people on your team. Use these questions: If you wrote your autobiography, what would the title be? Which historical person would you most like to meet if you could? What would you do with a whole day to yourself?
* Have your meetings in fun and creative places. Get away from the same old environment. Bring snacks to the park or to someone’s backyard. I’ve found a new meeting environment can often spark our creativity. 1 Plan for spiritual nurture. Ministry team meetings also need to be a time of spiritual growth for your team members. Some churches reserve every other meeting for renewing their team members. Do a meeting about friendship evangelism, or make prayer journals. Establish prayer partners or secret angels.
* Pray for each other. There are many ways to help ministry team members pray for one another. One idea I’ve enjoyed is the Prayer Mug. Have each ministry team member bring a new coffee mug to your meeting. Write each person’s name on a slip of paper and put it in his or her mug. Sit in a circle, and pass the mugs to the left, playing music as you pass the mugs. When the music stops, have each person look at the slip of paper in her new mug. In the weeks ahead, each time team members use their new mugs, they’ll be reminded to pause and pray for their mug’s original owner.
* Have fun! Get together for fun and not just for meetings. Work together to create ministry team T-shirts to wear at your next event. Many ministry teams plan retreats, which can be as elaborate as a weekend away or as simple as a one-day event. Arrange a family picnic. Knowing each other’s families helps us nurture each other more effectively.
* Take risks together. Whenever I’ve worked on a difficult or ridiculous project with someone, I’ve walked away feeling much closer to that person. Working together should be fun and uplifting, not drudgery. Show the families in your church how much you enjoy serving them. One church’s children’s ministry team had a wacky fashion show. They spent hours laughing as they developed and created “original” fashions. It’s my prayer that your children’s ministry team and the families in your church will discover peace, harmony, and joy in serving our Lord and that God will use you to spread that joy to others.
Originally published in November-December, 2008 in Children’s Ministry Magazine.
“This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”