“An effective [children’s] ministry happens when a consistent set of factors is put in place, and it flounders when those factors are absent.” (from Sustainable Youth Ministry)
Through working with hundreds of children’s and youth ministries, we have seen a common problem surface. It’s what we like to call “stuckness.” It’s a common ailment, but it has a wide variety of symptoms. In one church “stuckness” may look like the transition of 3 different children’s directors in 5 years. In another, the ministry is drowning in a toxic climate of distrust, gossip and dissatisfaction. Or in other situations, volunteerism may be at an all-time low, and every effort to get the congregation engaged with the children has been met with failure.
In situations like these, churches contact Ministry Architects in an effort to get un-stuck. Because “stuckness” can look so different from church to church, let’s begin this blog series by identifying some of the symptoms first, and then offering some solutions toward helping the ministry get “un-stuck”.
We know we’re stuck if….
We’re looking for the next big idea.
I LOVE to go to children’s ministry conferences. They are full of innovative, fun, and relevant ideas. Conferences are a great place to get charged up and learn about resources and strategies. However, like kids in a toy store, we can get distracted by every shiny gimmick we see, hoping that this innovation will be the magic solution to our deep problems. Unfortunately, without a plan for the longevity of the ministry, children’s ministers will be tempted to jump from idea to idea and program to program, leaving a wake of confused kids, and burned-out volunteers. If the ministry is missing a predictable flow, the children may lack a consistency in their spiritual development.
Ironically, ministries which are stuck have no shortage of great ideas. In fact, when we first meet with a new church, rather than asking us for ideas, many church members are anxious to express their great ideas to us. They usually include the naively optimistic phrase “we just …” We have heard over and over again, great ideas like:
- We just need a playground. The kids don’t have anything fun to do.
- If we just had a rockin’ children’s choir, this ministry could get off the ground.
- If the parents would get involved, we would have more than enough volunteers.
- Get us some more classrooms, and we just need more space.
- Why can’t we get the grandparents involved?
- What if we had some life size characters to greet the kids on Sundays?
- The kids just need to memorize the Bible more.
- We just need a sports ministry.
While most of these ideas are great in and of themselves, unless they are placed within the framework of consistent structures, they will just add to the workload of the already over-worked staff and volunteers. What is needed is a plan for implementing these ideas into the fabric and flow of the ministry.
Typically, when I take staff or volunteers to a conference, we will meet on the last night to discuss what we heard, and choose one or two doable ideas to take back to our church. We build a plan for marketing, staffing, and implementing each idea without rushing through the process or neglecting what is already working in our ministry. This way, we aren’t reinventing our children’s ministry every time we go to a conference. We continue the same consistent ministry and are able to build on that foundation with some fun relevant ideas to bring new life to the program. Some ideas work for us, and some don’t, but when you aren’t changing up the entire program, we have the freedom to experiment a little bit.
Annette Safstrom has been involved in children’s ministry since the 1980s. After graduating from Bible college in 1991 with a certification in children’s ministry, she earned a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Texas A&M University, and a Master’s from SMU. Over the years, she has consistently served in various roles and in various settings as either a staff member or volunteer team member.
In recent years, Annette served as a director for a rapidly growing children’s ministry, and has been a member of the Ministry Architects team since January of 2012. She enjoys working with children’s ministry leaders and helping them to build sustainable ministries and balanced lives. She lives in McKinney, TX with her husband Kevin, and their two children, and enjoys traveling, cooking, and writing.