THE ANATOMY OF STUCKNESS – PART 1

Blog Entry by Annette Safstrom – Lead Consultant with Ministry Architects

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“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.

Posted in Blog, Children's Ministry

5 TIPS FOR BUILDING A SUSTAINABLE VBS

Blog entry by Kristie Vosper Christie – Staff Consultant with Ministry Architects

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Every summer for many churches a beloved part of programming takes place: Vacation Bible School. Children wait to learn the theme, parents are eager to drop them off for the week, and what about you? What about your leaders? It can either be the most exhausting or fulfilling week of the summer and much that will be up to how we plan, prepare, and construct a model that works. We have a choice to do things in a way where everyone plays a part and you facilitate or you do everything, feel resentful, and everyone else just stands there and watches you do too much! We don’t want that, we want you to love VBS just like the kids do!

You can set Vacation Bible School at your church up in a way that will be sustainable and poised for success. How great would it be if this year you were able to look around and enjoy kids making crafts, playing games and get to focus on what you do best: pastoring children and families, especially those who might be new and checking out your church.

Here are a few tips you can put into practice this year in order to build a sustainable VBS:

  1. Gather a great team. Connect with your children’s ministry leaders and ask for their help bringing together a great team. You don’t have to do all the asking. It’s great to involve others. Brainstorm together a pool of great people that might be possible team leads. Connect people with their passion and gifting, and you will watch volunteers thrive, not just survive the week.
  2. Create Job Descriptions. Clear and manageable expectations are always the way to set your team up for success. If you put together job descriptions for each volunteer job, you’ll find that you’ll do a lot less explaining and handing out tasks. Provide the clarity your team wants and needs.
  3. Get a head start. Stressful VBS seasons usually happen when we wait to the last minute to do everything. Plan with your team which parts you’ll accomplish, and set deadlines for each of you. Check in regularly about challenges and progress made.
  4. Get organized. Boxes of unopened supplies can feel like a daunting corner in your office or storage closet of things you “need to do” but never get to. Our advice: Open the boxes and pull things out and organize them accordingly. Using freestanding organization racks like this one, and then place laundry baskets on them to sort items per day labeling them: Monday Craft, Tuesday Craft, Wednesday Craft, etc. This way it keeps things nice and clear so your volunteers can get what they need and do their job with excellence.
  5. Invest your time. Try “investing” your time more than you spend it this year. When we spend our money or our time, we get something for it. You spend money to get a good meal or you spend time building a balloon arch for VBS. Investing is when you get greater gains later – a return on your money or your time.  An hour spent training a volunteer will often generate five hours of great work later.  Work you might have done yourself.

Vacation Bible School is an opportunity to immerse kids in the kingdom of God for a week of fun. You won’t get this much time with kids in your community and church community at almost any other season of the year. Pray for this week, put healthy models in place and enjoy the week with the kids and families! God does great things through VBS, and He is going use you as a part of his work, and doesn’t want you to feel burnt out and “used.”

 

Kristie has worked in Children’s and Family Ministry since the late 90s. Over the years she has served Malibu Presbyterian Church, First Presbyterian Church of Newhall, and Bel Air Presbyterian Church and Forest Home. She is a popular speaker and writer who started her own company, Life to the Full, to bring fresh and exciting resources, training and interior design for churches and families. She now focuses her work on consulting for Ministry Architects, leading Life to the Full and writing and speaking for her blog and several other magazines, organizations and publications. Kristie graduated from the California State University of Northridge with a degree in Liberal Studies. After training to be a teacher, she felt led to use those gifts and skills to educate children and families in the local church setting.

Kristie lives in Calabasas, California with her husband David Christie (Yes, this Kristie Christie thing is no joke!) and their favorite black cocker spaniel, Frankie. They like to host friends for dinner, travel, take road trips and are suckers for great comedy because they love to laugh together. Her mission in life is this: “Daring to create a life of freedom, authenticity and connection.” Kristie has a passion to see all people grow and restore their relationships with each other and with God.

Posted in Children's Ministry

FINISHING THE SCHOOL YEAR WELL

Blog entry by Chris Sasser – Lead Consultant with Ministry Architects

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I don’t know about you but, for me, it seems like spring can often be a crazy time of year.  The weather breaks and students seem a little harder to corral, attendance may be a little down, events pile up, and it seems like so much is going on.   We head into this little event called Easter, we’re attempting to finish up the school year with youth group and graduation events, we’re planning for summer mission trips and camps and, oh yeah, fall is right around the corner.  It can often feel like too much to juggle and things can easily fall through the cracks.

I recently sat with a group of fellow youth workers and we brainstormed on how we can “finish the school year well” in the midst of the chaos.   We came up with several principles that can be helpful as we go through the next several months in ministry.

  1. Take time to celebrate what God has done.  Over the next few months, don’t just move from one season to another but make sure you tell stories of how God has moved in the lives of students, leaders, parents and families.  Have students share at youth group or special events, make videos to show in services, and have people write what God has done and publish those stories.  This will be a great way for us (and everyone else) to remember why we do what we do and to give God the glory He deserves.
  2. Delegate what you can.  With so much going on and so much coming up, we need help!  Are there key leaders and parents who can help with tasks and events?  Can someone else coordinate that meal or run that thing that we always have to run?  At Ministry Architects we encourage churches to have written job descriptions, even for volunteer positions.  We know it’s hard to give things away, but it’s actually what we are called to do as we equip the saints for works of service.  Determine a few things that you can give away and do it!  You’ll be glad you did.
  3. Plan, plan, and plan some more.  We know it takes time, but advanced planning can eliminate lots of potential future headaches and issues.  Take the time you need to make sure you’ve anticipated and solved the things that you know are coming soon.  Another valuable Ministry Architects tool is the discipline of taking “balcony time” each week to look at the big picture and essentially make plans to make sure you are planning.  Maybe take time now to make sure your end-of-the-year events will be all you hope they will be.  Be on top of the details for your summer events and trips.  Maybe don’t wait until the craziness of the summer to plan your first month of the fall.  Plan it all now and you’ll be ready when it comes.

So … what if we could all take this spring and make it more productive and really finish the school year well while setting ourselves up for success in the coming seasons?  God has done so much this year, so let’s celebrate.  There is so much going on, so let’s delegate.  There is so much coming our way, so let’s plan for it.  All of these ideas just may help us finish the school year well and be ready for what’s coming next.

 

Chris Sasser is the Director of Student Ministries at Port City Community Church in Wilmington, NC. He has a passion for helping connect students to God, to leaders and to each other. He has worked in full-time ministry since 1993, working with Children’s, Middle School, High School and College Ministries. Chris is married to Karin and they have two young children, CJ and Kylie. A graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, Chris is an avid sports fan.

Posted in Youth Ministry

John Bennett

Staff Consultant
john.bennett@ymarchitects.comjohnb_individual

John has served as a Children and Family Minister since 1989. Currently he serves as the Preschool/Children’s Ministry Consultant for the Kentucky Baptist Convention. For his work at the KBC, John conducts church consultations and leads numerous training events for children’s ministers and children ministry volunteers.

John has a BA degree in Social Work from Western Kentucky University, a MA degree in Social Work from the University of Louisville, and a MA degree in Christian Education from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Prior to entering the ministry, John worked as a child and family therapist.

John and his wife Angela live in Simpsonville, Kentucky. They have two young adult children, Rachel and Johnathan. John enjoys spending quality time with his family, camping, mountain biking and wake boarding.

 

 

 

Posted in Meet Our Staff

Mike Crain

Staff Consultantmike_crain_indiv
mike.crain@ymarchitects.com

Mike began serving in youth ministry in 2001. He has worked at Kanakuk Kamps and has been involved with the para-church youth ministry K-Life. Since 2008 Mike has been the youth pastor and children’s pastor at a satellite campus of Community Bible Church in Van Buren, AR.

Mike graduated from Abilene Christian University in 2004 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Youth and Family Ministry, and he graduated from Bethel Seminary with a Masters of Divinity in 2013.

Mike and his wife, Ashley, live in Van Buren, Arkansas with their daughter, Adeline, who was born on March 25, 2013. Mike enjoys sports, movies and interesting documentaries. He also volunteers with the Van Buren High School wrestling team in his free time.

Posted in Meet Our Staff

MINISTRY ENVY…Have You Watered the Grass Today?

Blog entry by Bryant Johnson – Lead Consultant with Ministry Architects

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This year at the Simply Youth Ministry Conference I had the chance to speak one on one with different youth directors. Something came up in a few different conversations, that I had also struggled with at one time – MINISTRY ENVY.

I was reminded of a time in my ministry when I looked at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Orlando with great envy. This was a church that had a youth room designed by Disney Imagineers. It had a Texas sized pillow pile, an old telephone booth with a working phone, a wall of video game stations, a snack area, a spiral staircase to nowhere, a purple hand chair, and an open ceiling that looked like an attic with all kinds of different items hanging from it including a grocery cart. This church had multiple youth staff, a large volunteer team, interns, and a budget that seemed to never end.

This was the church that every youth group wanted to stay at when they traveled to Orlando. It was the church that if you told your youth group you were staying at, they would ask, “In the Attic?” And if the answer was, “No, in a Sunday school room,” disappointment would spread like the bird flu. From the outside looking in, it was a church that appeared to have everything you needed for a successful youth ministry. “If only I had some of what they had, my ministry would have been soooo much better,” I thought.

Many churches and ministry leaders continue to get caught in this trap today. Envy. The church down the road always seems to do something better than our church or have something more than our church or raise more money, or have a bigger budget, more programs, higher attendance, and the list goes on and on. The problem with ministry envy is that we spend more time focused on other churches and other ministries than we do our own. We get more concerned with what others are doing or have that we neglect the ministries we are called to lead. We think our ability to lead would be better if we had [FILL IN THE BLANK] that [NAME OF CHURCH] has.

Here’s the thing with that thought. It robs our ministry of our time and energy. It’s poor stewardship of our gifts. Proverbs says that envy “rots the bones.” When we give into the lie that we have so little, and we just want what others have, it feels that way. It rots away at us from the inside out. It rises up within us and steals our energy, joy and excitement for what we have been called to do.

In one of my conversations, I was reminded of something I heard Rob Bell say. “The grass is not greener on the other side. It is greener where it is watered.” I love it. It’s a phrase I continue to repeat to myself in all aspects of my life. It turns my focus back to what I can do and what I have to offer. It helps me to focus on watering the grass that is in my care.

How do we water the grass of our very own ministry? There are a few ways:

  1. Fertilize the grass. Discover the vision and values for your ministry. Invite others to join you and answer this question. Why does our church do youth ministry? Spend some time with this and know why this ministry exists within your church. Live into fulfilling the vision and values the best that you can.
  2. Pull the weeds. Explore your gifts and focus on them. How have you been gifted? What gifts do you have to offer? How can you best use these in your ministry? Don’t be concerned with the gifts another youth director has. Don’t worry about what you don’t have and can’t do. Focus rather on what you can do and do it well.
  3. Water the grass. Help your team of leaders to be the best that they can be in their roles on the team. Train them, talk with them, and allow them time to share and ask questions. Help them to be good stewards of the gifts they have been given and use them faithfully.

Bryant Johnson began working in youth ministry in 1997 and is currently serving at Harrison United Methodist Church in Pineville, NC. He has been worship speaker for summer camps, taught seminars for youth workers, and written curriculum for the Florida United Methodist Camping programs.

Bryant graduated from Florida Southern College with a Bachelor of Science in Sociology. In his free time Bryant enjoys all things technology, exercise, and good movies. He and his wife, Tonya, live in Charlotte, NC.

 

Posted in Blog, Youth Ministry