Casting the KidMin Vision to the Staff
Last week, I had an opportunity any ministry leader would envy. I had 90 minutes to lead our all-staff meeting and share the vision of Next Gen, explain what we do and how everyone can get behind us. Unfortunately, I only had four days notice, and since it was a holiday weekend, I didn’t really break the news to my staff until Sunday (the staff meeting was on Tuesday).
Here are two things I learned:
A good meeting takes time to prepare. I wouldn’t say that I lead “great” meetings. Unfortunately, I “wing it” for a lot of them. I’ve got some notes I’ve jotted down, but rarely do I come into meetings where I’ve spent hours and hours preparing. I know, most people hate meetings. They seem to be the antithesis of productivity. However, I think they can be a source of inspiration, something that rallies the troops like nothing else. Those kinds of meetings aren’t the result of winging it though. They take time.
I should have done this a lot sooner. I’ve been a Children’s Pastor for 13+ years, and I’ve never done this before. Shame on me. Okay, for 5 of those years, I was on staff with less than 6 people, so a meeting like this is much easier to pull off. However, something happened last Tuesday, and it was great. It was powerful. I hope to have this kind of opportunity once a year or so from now on (at least I’ll certainly ask for it). If you haven’t been given this opportunity, you should ask for it. Really, you should. Let this post and the others I write this week inspire you to do this with your staff team.
So I probably put 15-20 hours into the preparation of this meeting. If you count the hours of all of my staff that spent time preparing for this, we’re probably talking 40 hours. Don’t forget, it was worth it for sure.
So on Sunday, I met with my Early Childhood Director and Elementary Director to help me come up with my core outline. Cathy, my Elementary Director asked me, “Kenny, what three things do you want everyone on staff to know?” We wrestled around with several things and came up with three central ideas. It was tough because there are so many things to say. The three things ended up boiling down to these three statements:
- Next Gen is strategic, vital, and urgent
- Next Gen isn’t just about kids and students
- Next Gen can’t do it alone
These three statements addressed the three realms we operate in, our three targets: Kids, Volunteers, and Parents.
So I had to set up this talk. I actually had almost 90 minutes at my disposal. How was I going to draw everyone in? How did I maintain energy throughout the talk and keep it from dragging on? I had so much information, I didn’t want to bog down under the weight of a LOT of really good information. So here’s how I set things up.
During these all-staff meetings, we sit at round tables and eat lunch during the first part of the meeting. I got up a few minutes after everyone was situated. We had notes for everyone at every table, and I turned everyone’s attention to the discussion questions at the top of the page. I asked everyone to discuss the first two questions for 5-7 minutes as they finished up their lunches. These questions were carefully crafted. I wanted everyone at the table to have something to say, an opinion at least…even if they are not even remotely interested in ministry to young people.
The key question was the first question. “What would Gateway look like if Next Gen didn’t exist?” It’s actually a loaded question, but nobody knew it. It was a set-up, and I knew the way most people would answer this question, and it would take everyone in the room right where I wanted them, but I’ll get to that later.
After the table discussions, I shared the mission statement of Next Gen, showing how we have aligned our ministry with the mission statement of the church. I also brought my staff up on stage to introduce each of them and clearly define what their roles were. It’s funny how people really don’t know what your staff does even though it seems so obvious to you. I also took a minute to clearly explain what my role was since many still saw me as just a Children’s Pastor.
I then shared how everyone on my team believes that Next Gen is the most important ministry at Gateway. Shouldn’t they? However, everyone in that room probably felt the same way about their ministry. Shouldn’t they? So I let the tension out of the room and informed everyone that I wasn’t going to take the next hour to convince them that Next Gen was more important. However, I shared how we are all co-laborers and teammates and as the pastor over Next Gen, it was essential that they understood Next Gen and that, even for a few moments, they saw what I see. As staff members, they represent Next Gen to everyone they come into contact with, and I need them to not only be knowledgeable, but to even be excited about the vision.
Then I concluded my introduction by asking a few tables to share how they answered the question, “What would Gateway look like if Next Gen didn’t exist?” I knew what their answers would be. You do, too. It actually generates a lot of laughter. We imagine a chaotic place. Kids running everywhere. We imagine a noisy auditorium with squealing kids. Maybe even roaming gangs of middle schoolers roughing people up in the parking lot. These were some of the things people said. One person said, “We’d have a lot less people.”
After I got a handful of predictable answers, I let them in on the secret. I told them that the question was a set up. I expected their answers. Why? Because most people have preconceived notions about ministry to young people, and I was playing toward that notion. I then said, “If your initial thoughts and answers about what Gateway would look like without Next Gen was about how its absence would affect the general adult experience, you’ve missed the point entirely.” Nearly every answer was in the context of how the adult service would be affected or about how the experience would not be attractive to adults. This led me to my first point:
POINT 1: Next Gen is Strategic, Vital, and Urgent.
I began telling the staff about George Barna and how he wrote a book on accident. I told how he was doing research and the results led him to see something he’d never seen before. He had an epiphany. This expert with more than 25 years of experience of studying everything about the church had a life-altering realization that caused him to write a book about it. You know the book. Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions.
Unfortunately, no one read this book. Let’s be real honest. No one is going to read this book but Children’s Pastors. That’s unfortunate. However, I shared the first couple of quotes from Barna about his realization…how he missed the boat and the ocean. I then gave some of the stats about how most Christ-followers come to faith while they are young people and set the stage for the punch to the gut.
So if most people feel that the absence of Next Gen is bad because it would affect the adult experience…we missed the point entirely. A church with no Next Gen would be removing the most effective and efficient arm of evangelism in the Church (I used a big C because I wasn’t just talking about Gateway). Yes, a strong and effective church needs a good children’s and student ministry. But it’s not just about having a good children’s ministry for the sake of the rest of the church. It’s about having a great children’s ministry because some of the greatest work of the Holy Spirit happening each weekend is happening in the kids’ building. Period.
I wrapped up this point talking abut the Strategic, Vital, and Urgent nature of Next Gen. It’s strategic because this is the age when people are open to Christ. There’s no better time. Although Gateway excels in reaching lost adults (half the church came to faith at Gateway), that doesn’t mean our biggest influx of new believers won’t still come from Next Gen. It’s Vital because the church does need a strong ministry to kids and students to bring in families. Last of all, it’s Urgent because if we don’t reach these kids before they hit the age of 13, statistically they probably won’t come to faith at all.
I ended this point by leading them into table discussion around this information.
POINT 2: Next Gen isn’t just about kids and students.
This part may or may not be true of your church, but it is of Gateway. So this may not apply to your situation.
Here at Gateway, we have a connection path that is well known by the staff and leaders. Essentially, a person begins the connection path by ATTENDING our church. Then we try to get them to CONNECT either in a small group or spiritual running partner relationship. The next step would be to take steps of spiritual GROWTH in the context of their small group or running partner group. Last of all, they will make efforts to SERVE, usually through their group but sometimes individually. Gateway is fairly community outreach active, and we have lots of serving opportunities. So this is the generally accepted and known path for connection.
ATTEND >> CONNECT >> GROW >> SERVE
This is a great model. Nothing wrong with it. It works.
However, I wanted to suggest another model. It’s a good one, too. It works as well.
ATTEND >> SERVE >> CONNECT >> GROW
In the end, we want people to do more than attend. We want them to grow, connect, and serve. We don’t really care as much about the order…as long as they are growing and serving in a connected community. As long as we get there, it doesn’t matter what path they take.
I know that there are many people who don’t like small groups. The idea of meeting in someone’s home with a bunch of people they don’t know freaks them out a little. Some people have more of a ‘Martha’ complex (whether that’s bad or not). You can’t always force people through a mold. So we suggest that Next Gen provides another great connection path. As a staff or leader who is talking to a visitor or person who is not connected, we can ask them questions that might reveal the best way for them to get connected. It won’t take long to determine if they’ll do better plugging into a small group or if they should serve in Next Gen.
However, we’ve become very intentional about our connection process in Next Gen. It’s not just about the kids and students. Our leaders in Next Gen have a task role of leading program-related stuff, but they also have a spiritual role of leading the volunteers that serve in their area. They work intentionally to build relationships with their volunteers and get into their lives. Our mission is that every volunteer would feel like they are part of a community and would experience spiritual growth BECAUSE they serve in Next Gen. That’s our connection path.
The last point I shared was a quote from Thom Rainer from the book, Surprising Insights from the Unchurched:
“Sixty-two percent of those interviewed gave us a response that indicated their ministry involvement to be the glue that held them to the church. From the perspective of the formerly unchurched, being involved in ministry has been the key factor to their
assimilation in the church. More than any other factor, the formerly unchurched told us that their service and ministry in the church keeps them coming back each week.”
So small groups are a great way to connect people and help them stick to what God is doing. However, according to research, connecting people in ministry involvement connects people even better.
So as a staff person who is talking to someone who needs to be connected, think about these things:
- They’ll experience a greater sense of connection through serving. Next Gen might be ideal.
- Many small groups don’t have room for more people… however, Next Gen has plenty of room.
- Childcare. A lot of great groups don’t provide childcare. If you serve in Kids Quest, childcare is built in.
You see, Next Gen isn’t just about kids and students. It’s a great place for adults to find connection and growth, all in the context of serving kids and students. In my opinion, it’s the best way to get connected. But I wouldn’t be very good at my job if I felt any other way, right?
The introduction and first two points built a really strong case for Next Gen. I had the staff right where I wanted them, and they had the information they needed to communicate Next Gen well. My last point was where I practically pulled the rug out from under their feet. I presented the greatest problem we face.
POINT 3: Next Gen can’t do it alone.
I read Barna’s description of a biblical worldview. How many of those 18-23 years of age possess a biblical worldview? Less than 1%.
Wait a second. I thought that 30% of all Christ-followers come to faith before the age of 14. Certainly, those would amount to more than 1% of the total 18-23 population. Just because they’re Christ-followers doesn’t mean they have a biblical worldview. Is it possible that the church is graduating into college anemic and under-informed Christ-followers? Apparently so.
Eighty-five percent of young adults 23-30 years stopped attending church for at least a year between the ages of 18-22. Why is it that our high school grads are abandoning the church by the boatloads?
Because what we’ve been doing for the past 20 years in children’s and student ministry hasn’t been working.
“But one of the lessons that emerged from the research on which my earlier book was based was that churches alone do not and cannot have much influence on children. In fact, the greatest influence a church may have in affecting children is by impacting their
parents.” – Revolutionary Parenting by George Barna
If we don’t equip the parents to lead their own kids spiritually, we WILL BE UNSUCCESSFUL in equipping the next generation to be Christ-followers who are strong in their faith.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have a crystal-clear solution to present. The Next Gen staff is still working on this, something we’re calling the “Parent Path.” However, what we needed the staff to know was that although Next Gen is vital and effective, parents have to take the lead. We have hundreds of leaders who are pouring into adults at Gateway, but most of them are focused primarily on their own spiritual growth…not the spiritual growth of their kids.
I asked the staff to listen closely to one thing. I asked them to pass this one thing on to all of the leaders they oversee. “When looking at the list of people you’re spiritually pouring in to, if your own kids aren’t at the top of the list, then you’ve totally missed it. You can be responsible for leading hundreds who’ve multiplied spiritually to thousands, but if you’ve lost your own kids, you will live with regrets. What you’ve done won’t matter by comparison.”
I ended with that and allowed the staff to discuss some questions at their tables.
Following this, they closed in prayer, specifically for the parents at Gateway.
- Here is the handout every staff member had.
- Here’s the same handout with the blanks filled in.
- Here’s my script. I tend to write out my talks rather than outline, so this is essentially everything I said.
So what did I learn from this experience?
- I’m disappointed that I haven’t done this before (at least to this capacity). From this point on, I’ll ask to lead our all-staff at least once every year.
- Although they didn’t know it, the staff wanted to hear about NextGen. It’s not that they don’t care, they just don’t wake up in the morning thinking, “I wonder what’s happening with the kids this week?” However, I had everyone’s attention, and they were truly interested in what was being said.
- People truly do respond to vision, even if it’s not a vision that pulls them to action. Since my talk last week, I’ve had many questions about Next Gen and a few people wanting to do more to be involved. Most in the room won’t do anything more for Next Gen tangibly, but so many were inspired by the vision of this important ministry and will represent Next Gen well from this point on.
- Like I said earlier, a good meeting takes time to develop. I put in at least 15 hours into planning, writing, and preparation, and the end results were more than worth the time invested. This has greatly challenged me toward the level of preparedness that I come to other meetings with.
- Google Wave is a useful tool. I used Wave with several people from my staff. We were able to walk into our first meeting with several notes on the Wave that several people had contributed to. Wave was also the platform we used to document our notes while we were meeting. In the end, I took it out of Wave and finalized the talk in Word.
If you haven’t done it before, arrange an opportunity to talk to your staff about what you do and why it’s so important. Most of us don’t have a problem communicating passion; just take plenty of time to organize your thoughts so it really grabs the attention of your listeners.