It is early on Sunday morning, and the halls of your church begin to come alive with activity. There is a contagious feeling of joy and enthusiasm in the air as you eagerly anticipate the day ahead. Your leaders warmly welcome volunteers as they arrive, confirming that everything is in place for the day’s Bible lessons. Your volunteers not only feel committed and connected to the preschoolers and children in their class, but also with the other volunteers. There is a sense of community within your ministry that gives your volunteers confidence in knowing that they are truly making a difference.
Seeing the difference these volunteers make may cause other people to ask how they, too, can be a part of such an exciting area. Yes, even with crying babies, curious toddlers, and restless children, teaching the love of Christ to our youngest children can be a fun and rewarding experience. However, creating an environment that reflects this often can be difficult.
A motivated team of paid staff and volunteer leaders is one of the most crucial pieces to a successful children’s ministry. As the director of volunteers at Fellowship Church in Dallas, I have learned that without a dedicated core of volunteers, it would be impossible for the 3,000 children who attend each weekend to learn and enjoy church in a creative and relevant environment. Without them, all of the responsibilities of ministry would fall solely on the shoulders of paid staff members. With the volunteers, your ministry can flourish in incredible ways, and you will be able to better meet the needs of your church. The following six factors are key to building strong leadership teams:
When you identify a potential leader, pray for God’s guidance and confirmation on that person. First Timothy 3:1-7 is an excellent Scripture passage to use as a standard for recognizing leaders. Ask them to serve in leadership only when you have clear direction from God and confirmation from them that they are being led to this role.
Recruit leaders based on their gifts and passion for your ministry. Often, your best leaders are those that are quietly and faithfully serving and who might not be obvious at first glance. Think outside the box. Be careful not to limit yourself. Do you only recruit parents? Are you actively recruiting from your college, singles, and married adult ministries? There may be many gifted leaders sitting in your church that you are not aware of because they do not have children. Spend time educating other ministries on the opportunities that exist to serve within your area.
3. Vision Cast
Vision casting should not be a one time thing, but something that becomes a part of everything you and your leaders say and do. Leaders desire a very clear idea of where your ministry is headed and their role within this vision. Continually “paint the picture” for your volunteers. Share specifically where you feel God is leading your ministry, discuss how to get there, and emphasize their part. Always focus on opportunities instead of needs. People are not attracted to ministries that are desperate and needy, but to those that are exciting and meaningful.
Equip your leaders with the tools they need to do their job. Provide initial training overviews of the ministry’s structure, policies, procedures, and leader expectations. Then provide continuous support and leadership development through leadership meetings that focus on a particular area of the ministry and the leader’s role. React quickly to their needs and create an environment where feedback is welcomed and encouraged. Empower them to do ministry!
Establish a volunteer structure that ensures the leaders’ personal ministry needs are being met. Focus your time and attention on ministering to your key leaders, setting the example of how they are expected to minister to the volunteers on the team. When the example is set, it will trickle down to ministering to each child the same way. Encourage your leaders to contact their volunteers once a month without asking them to do anything. Instead, they should ask for ways they can be praying for them. Also, provide opportunities for leaders to build relationships with paid staff and other leaders. This will bring your team closer together in ministry.
Take the time to say thank you. Consider a hand-written note, a small gift, a compliment, or an appreciation dinner. Ask families to write testimonies of the impact volunteers have made on their own children. Share these stories with your volunteers, and encourage and remind them of the difference they are making. Always be aware of ways that you can communicate just how thankful you are for their commitment and faithfulness.
Our most important goal in children’s ministry is to share the love of Christ with the children in our church. When we prayerfully identify, actively recruit, enthusiastically vision cast, thoroughly train, lovingly minister, and continuously appreciate our leaders, we are establishing a strong foundation for God to use in impacting the lives of children.