Children's ministry has changed dramatically over the last twenty years. Unfortunately, leadership models have not kept pace with these changes and consequently, children's programs become ineffective. We all understand the importance of leadership. The leadership in children's ministry determines not only present approaches (maintenance) but should also position the ministry for the future (vision).
Let's take a look at the changes in children's ministry leadership. First of all, the pioneer leaders in children's ministry were teachers. They understood kids and the best methods to instruct them. Today's children's ministry leaders spend little time in the classroom. They must concentrate their efforts on leading and managing the adults who are a part of the ministry team.
Second, twenty years ago children's ministry was needed to support the "main ministries of the church." The world of children's ministry today plays a major part in the family's decision to choose a church. Today's leaders need to understand public relations, "how to make a good first impression, even with graham cracker crumbs on his/her vest."
Third, children's ministry used to be in the other building and the leaders conducted their own ministries with little interaction from other ministries or their leaders. Today's leaders need to consider how to coordinate ministry with other groups, give input on the life of the church and share creative collaborative ideas on teamwork. The management skills necessary for this change alone create difficulty for some that are in leadership.
Fourth, twenty years ago children's ministry programs were not concerned about technology or culture. Today's leaders need to understand "cooperative learning, interactive learning, portfolio learning, multiple intelligences, and teaching through all the senses." Other changes require present leaders to understand legal matters (for screening workers); medical matters (to know any prescriptions kids may be using) and be capable to counsel families, children, and their own team members.
The ministry I've launched assists churches in developing strategies to adapt their children's program to this changing environment. There are also two significant identities/roles that are key components of a contemporary design for children's ministry staffing. The first role is the ministry leader and the second is the support team. In my role as a consultant, I also assist churches in clarifying these profiles. For the remainder of the article I will define these identities in principle and avoid the normal tendency to define full-time, part-time or other financial parameters.
As already illustrated, the role of the leader has changed over time. Presently, two major distinctives are occurring nationally. The first is the traditional children's ministry leader identity which is to manage all programming for children, birth-5th or 6th grade. The second identity is the family ministry director who oversees "family life activity" but still has the major responsibility for children. The traditional children's ministry leader is now the fastest growing staff role. More churches are searching for this person who can effectively minister to kids and bring families to the church.
Many churches do not take enough time to clarify the profile of the person they need. We have found this is a major source of frustration for candidates. Now we've formulated several profiles for churches to use to help identify their specific profile in light of the changing children's ministry culture. For example, a church may have a "profile" in mind to hire someone who is great with kids, "a pied-piper." This person may be great with a large group of kids, but may be very weak in equipping skills. This example reflects the issue that many churches can miss the mark without some strategy.
Another consistent "profiling" mistake we have seen is a church hiring someone out of the education field. This person may be a great classroom manager and given to detail, but may lack "big picture" skills like implementing the vision or recruiting the team for the ministry. As you're building your team, take time to dialog about your ministry "profile" in order to know where to begin your search.
The second emerging leadership identity for children's ministry is the "family life leader." This role is intriguing in that it makes sense that ministry to kids and their parents comes from a similar source. We now understand that parents have concerns about leaving their children in "sequestered" programs. It may make parents more comfortable to know the leadership for both adults and kids is similar.
The family ministries portfolio is often a promotion for the children's director who now would oversee youth, college, and young adult ministry. This profile is still emerging, but should be considered part of a church's staff planning (or staff design).
Perhaps the most critical decisions for children's ministry staffing are related to the support staff. I've been conducting weekend audits for children's programs and have accumulated many different models of support staff. Observing different designs has led me to the following questions:
* Is there a ministry size that requires you to add a team member?
* Who determines the tasks that new team members will manage?
* Is it fair that one ministry area seems to have more paid leaders than another?
* What support design maximizes your ministry?
Support team design in the children's program needs to begin with the highest levels of leadership. For example, the children's director should meet with his/her supervisor to discuss the best design. Meaningful dialog about realistic time frames for adding people to the team should follow.
Here are some additional guidelines to help design the children's ministry support team:
Size: When a children's program grows 100-150 children, another full time person should be added.
Design: Many churches start by adding their first support person to The Early Childhood Department. Others start by adding a special events person. Some start by adding a recruiter. Try to add the person you think is one or two steps down the road of your design.
Personnel: Consider a person who is not presently connected to the ministry. A retired businessperson may be the perfect addition to a growing children's ministry team. Another approach is to add individuals with gifts that complement the leadership, perhaps in areas where the leader is not as strong.
Tasks: Consider volunteers for copy work and craft supply organization. Consider paid people for ministry dreaming and event planning.
Providing quality ministry to children requires the best leadership. The person who is guiding the ministry and the support team, who often have more relational opportunities with the constituency, determine the long-term success of the program.
A final thought to those in leadership who affect children's ministry decisions:
Take time to celebrate with your children's ministry team.
It's always easy to analyze; it takes energy to celebrate successes. Senior pastors, executive pastors, do your best to honor your children's ministry leaders and partner together to reach your community for Christ!
This article is used by permission from Dr. Dan Reiland's free monthly e-newsletter 'The Pastor's Coach' available at www.injoy.com.