Virtually every workplace has standards. It might be personal behavior standards, or program standards, or safety standards…or all of these, and more. Our ministries should be no different.
Yet, as I work with churches, I often find that there are very few standards in place. Things are done haphazardly. Certainly we want spontaneity at times, and we always need to be ready to be flexible. But a lack of standards can endanger our programs, our people and our church. A lack of standards can be especially dangerous with Children’s & Family Ministry.
So what standards ought we to be concerned about? Here are a few to think about as starters…
Standards Every Church Ought to Have for Their Children’s Ministry
This might seem like the obvious one, but I am amazed at the lack of safety standards in some churches. But we are responsible to keep kids safe! And that doesn’t just mean physically – it means emotionally, mentally and spiritually, as well! And these safety standards needs to be known by all and relentlessly practiced.
If you don’t have clear safety standards in your ministry, I would suggest that this just became priority #1 for you and your ministry. If you need a place to start, our partners at KidCheck offer a terrific resource called Improving Child Safety and Security in Your Organization.
“If you are breathing, we will take you!” That seems to be the standard in some churches. And, to be honest, there was a time when that might’ve been more true than not in my own ministry.
But I discovered something: not only was I putting my ministry at risk by taking anyone and everyone, but I was also making things much more difficult for me! You see, taking anyone who’s breathing means taking people with bad attitudes, bad habits, poor skills, and much more. That creates a lot of mess that I will eventually have to clean up.
I would much rather invest in the work necessary to maintain standards at the beginning than clean up a mess at the end.
So what standards do we need to have with our volunteers? I like to go by three “A’s”:
- Attitude. Attitude is critical! Are they cheerful, patient, persistent and positive? Will they support the ministry and help find solutions, or criticize and complain? Attitude matters, so taking time to get to know volunteers is very important.
- Alignment. I want to ensure that all my volunteers are aligned with our vision, our values, and our doctrine. I had a friend who discovered that she actually had a Jehovah’s Witness teaching in her Children’s Ministry! Yikes! That only happens when we take anyone and everyone because they seem like a nice person. But if you truly are heading toward a big vision in your ministry, you need people who are committed to going there with you, and that takes alignment.
- Aptitude. This is probably the least important of the three areas of consideration because it is the easiest of the three to correct. But aptitude does matter. You don’t want someone who has never been around babies to be responsible for your nursery. You don’t want a brand new Christian to lead your Children’s Church. You don’t want fearful, timid, introvert stepping in to lead the tween boys. The key is to find out what level of experience, ability, and willingness to learn people have, and assign them appropriately.
The pastor’s daughter told me that, now that she had kids in our ministry, she wanted to volunteer to serve. “Great!” I said, “Let me get you the volunteer application packet, and then we’ll set you up to go through the orientation.”
She looked at me like I had asked her to eat a frog.
“What?” she said, rather firmly. “I’ve grown up in this church. You know who I am. Why do I need to do all that stuff? I’m ready to serve today!”
But, no, she wasn’t ready to serve today, because she had not gone through the assimilation process that we had mandated for all volunteers. We make no exceptions to the process because it has everything to do with all the other standards we want to maintain. And, as well as I knew her, and knew who she was, I didn’t know everything about her that I needed to know in order to entrust children of my ministry to her.
What is the process of getting new volunteers into your ministry? Assimilating them effectively can be a huge part of accomplishing your vision.
Do you equip your teachers to maintain certain standards in teaching? If not, you will have inconsistent teaching which will reflect the way each individual teacher was taught. And, most likely, it will be teaching which is pretty boring. And guess what? Kids who are bored are not engaged, and kids who are not engaged aren’t learning, and kids who are not learning are highly unlikely to ever own their own faith.
So do teaching standards matter? You bet they do!
Here is an example of a simple set of standards you can equip your team with:
- Our teaching will always be:
- Engaging – we will involve children in the learning process and allow them to explore and experience the lesson for themselves;
- Child-centered – everything about our teaching and teaching environment will be appropriate for the group of children we are teaching;
- Relational – knowing that the deeper the relationship, the better the teaching, we will create an environment that promotes and encourages relationships, and build our teaching around those relationships;
- Focused – we will focus on a single objective in our lesson, with all activities, games, stories and other components all reinforcing that single objective;
- Applicable – every teaching will include a practical application which the children can practice and use during the coming week.
The teaching in your ministry contains the very message that you are hoping children will understand. Ensure their engagement by defining and equipping your team with effective teaching standards.
This can be a difficult one for Children’s Ministry Leaders because we often have little control over the facilities we are assigned. It may include rooms shared with other ministries or schools. It may be that we are meeting in a school with little ability to change the room around. It could be that we simply have no budget for maintaining the standards that we ought to maintain.
I’ve been in each of these situations, and they can be frustrating. But here’s what I’ve learned and encourage others to do when it comes to facilities: First, make sure that the environment is safe. Second, do whatever you can within your means to make it attractive and inviting to the children you are serving.
I also learned that, when I created a team focused on facilities (most of whom could not or would not serve in a classroom), I rarely had to worry about it again. People loved the idea of contributing to the safety of the kids, and others loved getting creative in whatever situation we were in to make the facility and environment attractive and inviting.
Communication happens in your ministry all the time. It is a spiderweb of thoughts between kids, volunteers, parents, and staff.
Is the communication that’s happening intentional? Is it coordinated? Are you all using the same language (yes, your ministry and church has its own language!)? Is it timed well? Is the amount appropriate?
Are there topics which are off-limits? Topics that are reinforced with a plan behind them?
Communication effects everything you do in ministry. And how you communicate matters tremendously.