In working with hundreds of children's ministry leaders over the last 20 years, I've discovered three main reasons for this pattern of come-and-go assistance: value, support and training. Conversely, each reason is intricately tied to why some volunteers stick around.
It's difficult to attract leaders if you have a revolving door of volunteers; but give people incentive to stay and they'll remain loyal in a thriving environment. To that degree, here are three secrets every pastor and church leader should know about developing—and keeping—children's ministry leaders.
Value What's Valuable
The first secret to developing solid leaders within the children's ministry at your church is to create an environment where both the ministry and its volunteers are valued and respected. This starts with the senior pastor.
In most churches, the pastor sets the tone for what is most valued in that body. If his passion is for evangelism, those who are part of his church will most likely have a similar bent for reaching the lost. If the spiritual development of children is important to the pastor, it will be important to the congregation.
People want to be part of something that has significant impact, and few things top the call of raising tomorrow's leaders. The trickle-down effect of this is a leadership that doesn't just talk about supporting children's ministry, but instead backs up their words with action.
One of the prime ways pastors can do this is by providing sufficient financial support. Crafts, snacks, prizes, props, toys, CDs, DVDs, curriculum ... these essential elements, when added up, aren't cheap. Ministry-appointed donations from members are great, but there comes a time when an appropriate budget needs to be established and adjusted as needed. Individuals are much more likely to help lead when they know the financial resources to succeed are available to them. Bottom line: When pastors make known to the congregation the importance of supporting and volunteering in children's ministry, leaders and financial support are more inclined to emerge.
Equally as crucial in creating this environment is finding the right leader. A children's ministry director must be experienced at effectively working with children, parents and volunteers. Too often inexperienced individuals are appointed by default to lead.
A director's abilities and experience speaks volumes about how the ministry is valued and perceived by the pastor. Although it is true that skills can be enhanced, good people skills should be a prerequisite for directors. They set the tone and atmosphere for the day-to-day ministry operation. They also have the greatest influence on ministry volunteers and those who will potentially become leaders. Fill the position carefully and prayerfully.
Show Some Support!
Once a children's ministry director is appointed, those in church leadership shouldn't automatically assume it's only a matter of time before the ministry becomes a bustling Mecca for children's spiritual growth. There will be days when a ministry director leaves the parking lot after a service pondering the sanity of his decision to accept the position.
What keeps that leader coming back with renewed passion? That's the second secret to developing powerful leaders: Pastors and church leaders must be supportive and encourage those emerging leaders. This applies to both the ministry's director and its volunteers. Obviously, the director needs to sense the pastor's support. Knowing your pastor is supporting your every venture makes all the difference. Likewise, volunteering leaders need to know that they have emotional and spiritual support, especially during challenging times.
Children's ministry is different from any other within in the church. While dealing with children, parents and volunteers, leaders have to master the art of walking through an emotional minefield every time they serve. It is essential that they are prayed for, supported and encouraged to stay strong and committed.
As most pastors know, a thriving children's ministry doesn't happen overnight; it takes a substantial amount of work. Those leading the charge are required to handle an array of tasks and issues. One volunteer children's ministry director I recently spoke with described her job as "thankless."
"There is always the pressure to do more, run faster, jump higher and be spectacular," she said. "I don't need a trophy; but a 'thank you' every now and then would be great."
It's the Little Things That Matter
Her story is far from unique. Children's pastors and leaders across the country are some of the most tireless workers. They're also among the most underappreciated. As a pastor or church leader, you must realize that though it is important to set realistic goals and strive for excellence, it's equally as important to be considerate and show appreciation.
If you're a senior pastor, you can set the precedent for this. Reward those who have taken upon themselves this high call of nurturing the church's children. When volunteers serve in an environment where they are validated and appreciated two things happen: Turnover is reduced and individuals are more willing to take on leadership responsibilities.
I've been at many churches that have perfected the ministry of appreciation, and they all have one thing in common: They go out of their way to let their volunteers know they're special and valued. Showing such appreciation doesn't have to be an expensive endeavor. On days when they serve, provide complimentary CDs of the message in the main service. Throw an occasional workers-only special event for those who help out in the children's ministry. Hand out certificates of appreciation. These are all inexpensive but effective ways to say "thank you."
Another way of being supportive is to eliminate any perception that there is a ministerial glass ceiling for leaders in the children's ministry. Serving in that ministry does not have to be a lifelong assignment. It baffles me why so many effective leaders in children's ministry are expected to master communication skills, administrative skills, people skills, time-management skills and have a solid understanding of the Bible, yet they're never promoted to expanded areas of ministry.
Children's ministry is not a dead-end zone, and it's important that emerging leaders within it have the view that the sky's the limit. They should be able to serve faithfully, develop their spiritual gifts and pursue their calling wherever it leads. In fact, children's ministry can be the perfect training ground for anyone who is called to the mission field, pastoral ministry, church administration, evangelism or worship leading.
Grow as You Know
It's true: Having a heart to serve and nurture children can often make up for a degree in childhood education or a third-grade teaching career. But whatever their backgrounds, those working with kids at church can always benefit from additional education. This third secret to developing outstanding leaders—providing ongoing training opportunities—is both universal and continuous (thus the ongoing part).
When children's ministry workers are properly trained, the quality and effectiveness of the ministry experiences quantum leaps. Training is essential to developing leaders. Well-trained volunteers are more equipped and typically more confident about carrying out their responsibilities.
Many churches struggle with this concept, either because of a lack of funds to sponsor such training, or because of a lack of commitment to growing leaders. Let me assure you: Training is the best investment a church can make in its staff and volunteers. That's true not only for general leadership, but also for those involved in ministering to children.
There are several different training opportunities available to children's ministry workers. In-house workshops, guest speakers or regional and national conferences are all great ways to build volunteers and leaders. It is also advantageous to establish a teaching library with books, audio and visual recordings so emerging leaders can benefit from information previously shared.
These three secrets are simple and practical, yet I've consistently seen them have profound results when implemented and sustained over time. Developing children's ministry leaders does not have to be a challenging endeavor. It can be a tremendous opportunity to watch God call forth and empower ordinary people to do extraordinary things for His kingdom through serving kids.