5 things I’ve learned about children’s ministry and volunteers

Children’s Ministry is difficult in a lot of ways. It’s not even working with kids that make it so challenging. Instead, having enough people ready and able to serve is the most difficult part. I have often wondered if this is a unique problem to my local church context, but having talked with dozens of churches — big, small, rural, and urban — I’ve discovered that we all seem to struggle with the same difficulty: finding great volunteers! 

I’ll admit that I haven’t cracked the code, but I wanted to share a few things I’ve learned that not only help us staff our classrooms with able and trusted people but have also allowed our leaders to flourish and enjoy serving in ministry.

Not everyone can do children’s ministry 

It sounds strange to suggest it, but one way to get more volunteers, and the right ones, is to narrow your audience. What I really mean is that when you are talking to leaders or potential leaders, make sure they know you need skilled laborers. Highlighting the specific and unique qualities needed for service will empower volunteers to step into service with the confidence that they are gifted for the role. How would it make you feel if your boss walked into your office and said, “We just need more people doing your job, and literally anyone can do it!”? When we lower the bar by saying, “Anyone can serve in kids ministry,” we can unintentionally belittle the work of our current volunteers, alienate high capacity leaders, and inadvertently welcome the wrong or even unsafe volunteers.

Letting people know that you need specifically-skilled and intentionally-called leaders will allow them to see the beauty and necessity of their commitment to serve. It illuminates their responsibility in ministry and changes children’s ministry from childcare into soul care for kids. 

A lot Is at stake

I believe one of the greatest misconceptions church members have about children’s ministry is that it is primarily a place to drop children off and keep them occupied while the important work of discipleship and ministry happens with adults and youth. The reality is that our children (birth–age 11) are very much in need of hearing the gospel. We show and tell kids about Jesus so that their lives can be moved and shaped by the power of the Holy Spirit. Souls of any age who do not know Jesus are separated from his love. Therefore, kids need to hear the message of the cross (Rom. 10:14), too.  

I’ve discovered that when our people are presented with the reality that our children’s souls are at stake, God’s Spirit moves them to action. The higher the stakes, the greater the need. Children sometimes seem innocent, but apart from Jesus they are lost and in desperate need of the Savior. We need leaders who are willing to step into discipling roles to help kids see and experience Christ’s love, praise him for his goodness, and go on mission for his glory (Matt. 28:19-20). 

Get to know your volunteers

Getting to know your team seems obvious, but I confess that it was something I did poorly when I first started in children’s ministry. Outside of the gospel message itself, our volunteers are our greatest asset. The saints make ministry possible. So as you recruit, equip and serve your team. Serve alongside your volunteers, take time to delight in their service, and share in their lives. Write thank you notes to those who go above and beyond. Send get well cards to team members who call off due to sickness. Prepare a meal for someone who just had surgery and will be out for a few weeks. 

Small and seemingly insignificant acts deeply affect the hearts of our people. Paul says, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom. 12:10). When we find unique and kind ways to appreciate our people, we get the opportunity to live out that kingdom ethic. 

Knowing your team is especially important for the sake of protecting kids from abuse. An essential part of creating welcoming environments for children is taking safety seriously. After all, the only truly welcoming environment is one that ensures that only trustworthy people are on the team. 

One way to do this is through the Caring Well Challenge. The CWC helps equip churches to be safe for survivors of abuse and safe from abuse. A big part of this initiative is the encouragement to know every member of your team well. In addition to administering background checks, the following are several other steps churches can take to as a part of the screening process: written application, references check, internet check, and an interview. In addition to screening, recruitment should be limited to people who have attended your church for a set amount of time. And each volunteer should be intentionally trained on how to report when abuse or neglect is suspected. To learn more about each of these steps, and to help your church become safe for survivors and safe from abuse, see the free resources provided at CaringWell.com.

Elevate the moment

God is the best at celebrating. The Bible is full of feasting and celebrations for God’s work in and through the Israelites. There are harvest festivals, milestones, weddings, and more (Ex.12:14; 23:16; Deut.16:1,13; Pss. 20:5, 95:2). When new volunteers go through training, that’s a milestone. Celebrate it! When someone serves in a classroom for the first time, that’s a big moment. Celebrate with them. When someone shares the gospel with a child and they respond, that’s a miraculous thing that deserves celebration. When a leader has served for five years, that’s worth even a Baptist dancing about! 

It’s easy to get caught up in the business of doing ministry. I can easily forget to recognize incredible moments, transitions, milestones, and most importantly, God’s work through his people. Let’s not miss out on the opportunity to celebrate. Children’s ministry isn’t easy, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be incredibly fun and full of celebration. 

You hit where you aim

Why do we often miss the mark on what we are trying to accomplish? Systems, processes, training, and goals are very much a part of thriving in any arena. When recruiting children’s ministry volunteers, adopting some organizational rhythms will help to keep you on track and ensure that the people you’re recruiting don’t fall through the cracks. 

Set recruiting goals, and let your team know what you’re aiming for. It’s important to be able to articulate exactly how many people you need, what age groups, service times, or events that have the greatest need, and why it is so important for people to join in the work. Setting recruiting goals will give you two gifts:

  1. Direction. You’ll know better how to align your daily work with your ministry’s needs (and God’s desires for it).
  2. Accountability. You’ll know when you are hitting the mark and when you’re not. You’ll know when you’ve reached your goal so that you can celebrate! 

A ministry that is healthy will often attract healthy and vital leaders. The more you are able to show your congregation the skills needed to serve, the urgency of children’s discipleship, and the reality that they’ll be cared for and celebrated when they volunteer, the more they’ll be willing to jump in and serve. Then, once someone commits, celebrate the moment with them and say, “Welcome to the team! Let’s invest in the next generation.”

This article was written by Willis Deitz, Kids Director at Pleasant Valley Community Church in Owensboro, Kentucky. It was published on erlc.com.

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