Whether it’s a new ministry or a desire for a new beginning in a present ministry, the question is often asked, “What should I do first?” With so much to do, what should my priorities be? What should I change, how much should I change, and how fast? How do I determine direction early on and then stay on the correct path? These are essential questions critical to a successful ministry. Here is a “game plan” that I recommend you try. You will certainly need to adapt it to your situation, but I believe the principles laid out here will apply to almost any ministry.
Before we begin, let me first encourage you to consider the balance you need to have between change in your ministry and getting to know the volunteers. Let’s face it, you were hired because change is needed. If they thought everything was fine, they would not have hired you. And yet, too much change and you will alienate yourself from the volunteers.
One of my favorite ministry quotes is from a book hundreds of years old called The Art of War by Sun Tsu. He writes, “A general too far ahead of his army is perceived as the enemy.” Meaning, as a leader, you need to take your ministry somewhere, but you don’t want to push too hard or too fast. If you get too far ahead, you become the problem (in their eyes) rather than the solution. Volunteers need to be encouraged by positive changes early on to spur them on. Finding that balance takes prayer and wisdom.
1. PRAY and GIVE THE MINISTRY TO GOD.
The first key to a successful ministry is to keep at the forefront of your mind the fact that the ministry belongs to God, not you. This sounds like an obvious and easy admission, but in practice it takes work. As soon as you get ‘worked up’ or stressed about the ministry (recruiting, training, other issues) you have taken the burden of ministry upon yourself. If it is truly God’s ministry, then you have no reason to be stressed or worried. If God wants a position filled – He will fill it. If God wants something to succeed – he will make sure it does. This means that when God does not provide – it may be His way of saying that it is something He does not want. You need to firmly believe in God’s provision and demonstrate that confidence to your team. When they see you fully relying on God – they will be encouraged and strengthened to do the same. This does NOT mean that you don’t need to do anything – it just means that you do your best – and leave the results to God. Demonstrate to God that the ministry is His by continually taking your needs before Him.
2. DO A PERSONAL EVALUATION.
When you are new, your eye-sight is sharpest. If you are not new, you can still look at your ministry with ‘new’ eyes. Either way, strive to see what new-comers see. Look at details. Consider what things look good and attractive, and what things are not good first impressions. Walk through every ministry room and take notes as to what your thoughts are. Could you find your way around if you were brand new – is there good signage? Are the rooms attractive? Are there out-dated or broken things? Are the colors and styles out-dated? Are the room kid-friendly in size and equipment? Do not share this list you make at this time – this is just for your future reference.
3. FORM A LEADERSHIP TEAM
Refuse to do the ministry alone. Don’t make any changes until you first have a leadership team! The TEAM makes changes – not you. This protects you from attacks and give you ‘back up’ in times of change. In the beginning your team may be members from your search committee. Eventually your team will be your key leaders, or the point person from each area of ministry. Often you will not have leaders in place yet. In that case, invite key people to form a one year task force to get the Children’s Ministry off the ground and running. You may invite a few key parents, a professional teacher, some long-term volunteers, etc. See who has been involved in the past. Avoid highly negative people, or highly opinionated people. You need team players. Most should be parents so they have a vested interest in their being a quality program.
4. HAVE THE TEAM DO AN EVALUATION.
Let your team do an evaluation of the present ministry. Walk through each ministry room with them, and let them do the same thing you did – answering those questions. Do NOT give them your answers. Your notes can be taken as criticism of them or their past leadership. Let THEM identify the needs. Your notes may help you ask questions about things they may overlook. If they identify the weaknesses, then they will own the job of fixing the weaknesses they see.
In addition to the facilities, have them evaluate the present ministries. Have them identify what the purpose of each ministry should be, and then evaluate how well each is meeting it’s purpose, and why or why not.
5. HAVE THE TEAM IDENTIFY PRIORITIES and GOALS.
Here are two separate procedures you can use to identify priorities and goals from the group.
1. Have each team member identify on paper (without feed-back from others) what they think are the top five needs of the Children’s Ministry presently.
2. Either have them share their answers while you record them on a white board OR collect them and write them all on the board without anyone knowing who submitted which.
3. Next, have them choose ten they feel as the TOP TEN. (Not in any order.) Share these, and circle them. Many will be chosen by everyone.For the extras, have them vote on which are most important – until you have only ten.
4. Have the group number them from 1 to 10 in importance separately, but with 1 being the MOST important. Then ask them to come up and number the ones they picked in order. Next add the totals up. The lower the number, the higher a priority it will be.
5. Take the top five items that have been selected by the group and use them as your top priorities. The rest are important but will have to wait, or you can apply short-term solutions. Your next step will be to formulate goals for those top five priorities along with step-by-step strategies to accomplish those goals.
6. MAKE MINISTRY IMAGE AND CLIMATE A PRIORITY IN FIRST STAGES.
Often during times of short staff (or exiting staff), the image of the Children’s Ministry can become very negative. Guilt may have been used as a recruiting tool or volunteers may have felt trapped, abandoned or not supported. You need to honestly identify the reasons people don’t volunteer for the Children’s Ministry and work to address (and erase) those reasons. Give your Children’s Ministry a positive image. Consider a new name and/or logo for your ministry. You should have a sharp-looking brochure that describes the mission and purpose of your ministry. Describe the ministries in positive terms. When recruiting, instead of “needs,” have “opportunities.” Instead of saying, “We still need two couples to help during service,” say, “Only TWO openings left for couples in Children’s Ministry! Sign up soon or miss your chance!” Be excited about kids whenever you are talking about the ministry. Even when discussing problems, visualize and verbalize a positive future.
Seek to encourage and affirm your current team of volunteers often and creatively.Lots of recruiting wouldn’t be needed if churches would work to KEEP the volunteers they already have. If you burn out a volunteer or allow them to serve while discouraged, you not only will lose them at the end of their term (or sooner) but you may never get them back! It’s a costly loss! An encouraged volunteer may take a break, but they will come back.
7. DEVELOP LEADERS and DELEGATE OWNERSHIP
Don’t be the savior of the ministry! Identify and develop leaders who will own and lead the it. Be very willing to share the credit and the glory. You must become less and they more. Elevate Christ by elevating others over yourself (John 3:30). You may need to set the tone and direction at first, but in time you need to hand things over.
If you follow these principles prayerfully I am confident that you will get your ministry off to a great start—or find a new beginning! And don’t give up! Keep in mind the words of the Apostle Paul in Galatians 6:9: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”