We all know it. Kids ministry can be one of the toughest ministries in the church to build a steady stream of volunteers. Kids leaders can often compare themselves to other ministries and wonder why they have such a hard time getting people to be passionate and involved in their ministry! Afterall, when was the last time the worship team had to recruit? People love being on stage! Or when the outreach team offered that amazing mission trip, of course there was no shortage of people signing up!

The problem often lies in the demand of kids ministry. People feel as though they are “missing out” when they serve in the kids classroom instead of sitting with their families in service, engaging in worship, and listening to the message. And let’s be real, in 2018 the fear of missing out is bigger than ever!

Even if you can get people excited to serve for a season, unless you have a solid plan of attack, eventually you will find a drop-off of excited, expectant volunteers and you will have to begin the recruiting process all over again. So, let’s talk about how we can build a kids ministry that not only will attract volunteers, but will also create a culture that maintains excitement about what is going on. Whether you are a volunteer, a kids worship leader, or a full-time kids pastor, I believe these 5 keys will inspire you to build the ministry that is in your heart!

1. Clear Vision

Proverbs 28:19 in the Message says, “If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves”. Wow! That is so true! As ministry leaders, it is so easy to get caught in the details of the PCO plan, scheduling, and prepping for Sunday morning that before long, we can go months or even years without casting vision! You may hear a complaint from volunteers that your ministry “asks too much” of them. If you hear that phrase, or anything like that phrase, you must know that even though that is what they are saying with their lips, what they are meaning in their hearts is that the vision isn’t compelling enough to give their time! When there is no vision, even 30 minutes a week can seem like “too much”.

Put time and effort into how the room feels, how the vision gets presented, and how people feel when they leave. If you create value, they will create time.

Try it out! If you don’t do something like this already, plan a vision night for the next 6 or 12 months. Then carve out time in your day to dream again. Dream about what you want to see in the next year. Dream about the moment a parent comes to you and says, “thank you.” Dream about the moment that the shy kid in the back actually enters into worship or gives their little life to God! Then have your meeting. Put time and effort into how the room feels, how the vision gets presented, and how people feel when they leave. If you create value, they will create time.

Most leaders stop there. I can’t tell you how many leaders I’ve coached who do the vision night and then give up when nothing works. This is why number 2 is so important…

2. Celebrate the Wins

Follow-up on vision is the defining factor between whether or not people actually run with your vision! My wife and I are naturally competitive people, and we have definitely passed that on to our kids. Life is better when winning is involved! Imagine preparing for a race knowing that they would be giving out prizes for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. You worked hard, you ate the right foods, you trained endlessly, you envisioned yourself on the podium. Then comes the day of the race. You take off, passing people left and right, excitement fills your body as you know that this vision you’ve worked for will finally come to pass! You cross the finish line neck and neck with 2 other people. Who got 1st?? You wait to find out for what seems like forever. Finally, the announcer comes on the stage and taps the microphone to make sure it’s on. You listen in anticipation. He clears his throat and says, “Thank you all for coming, our next race is next week and we would like to see you come out again”.

Would you come back next week? Probably not. And yet, we often do that very thing to our volunteers and then wonder why they start declining our scheduling requests. We create vision, we ask for them to work hard, but then forget to celebrate the win! We often don’t celebrate wins because we haven’t made the win clear. Every week that your volunteers serve, make sure you celebrate the wins. Celebrate volunteers, cheer for salvations, talk about the wins. When people know that they are winning, they want to keep winning!

3. Flannelgraph Jesus

At the beginning of this article I talked about the fear of missing out. Our volunteers have created a dichotomy that doesn’t need to exist, and it is this: I receive in main service; I give in kids service. This belief is partly our fault. Some of the lessons that we have taught in kids ministry are flat out boring and not compelling at all! They are cute and light and have no real depth.

My pastor says something that I love. “We don’t give our kids Mini-Holy Spirit”. Meaning, the wonder and greatness and closeness of my God should not be stripped away for cute, nice, flannelgraph Jesus. Now I get it. Service should be fun and engaging. It also should be compelling and just as powerful for us as it is for our kids! As a worship leader, it is my job to choose to engage in worship and sing praise to my God from my heart, whether I’m leading a group of 4-year-olds or I’m on stage leading thousands of adults. The same is true when I prepare a message. If the game is fun for me, the worship is a reflection of my personal relationship with God, and the message is convicting for me, then not only will my kids be more engaged, but my volunteers will stop feeling as though they can only “receive” from the Senior Pastor and they will begin to see the value and the power of a transformative kids ministry.

4. You Are the Doorway

As amazing as your kids ministry can get, it is still your job to make sure your volunteers feel connected to what is happening in the adult service. This is a huge part of making them feel connected when they walk in your room to serve. Talk with your pastor about getting an excerpt of his Sunday’s notes to share with your team. Get the list of weekly announcements and go over them with your team. If your church records Sunday’s message, send it out in a link over the following week.

Another way to be the doorway is in your scheduling. As the kids pastor or leader, you should know when the last time your volunteers sat in the main service! It’s easy to only focus on when they are on schedule, and forget to make sure they are sitting in service as well. In digging into this information, you may find two things. The volunteer who has served faithfully every week and hasn’t been in main service for quite a while, or the volunteer who comes only when they are on schedule to serve. Have the conversations, make the course-corrections, and watch how valued your volunteers feel when your number one goal becomes making sure they are taken care of.

5. Copy Paste

A magician never reveals his secrets, but a great leader gives his away for free.

I have seen good leaders take all these steps and create the ministry that people wanted to be a part of, only to pass the baton and watch everything crumble. In her book, “The Art of Mentoring” Darlene Zschech says, “Some people hold on to a position or title for dear life; they hold on so tight, in fact, that they sabotage their own lives in the process.” When our ministry starts thriving, it becomes very easy for us to hold it tight and never let it go. We begin to think of it as “our ministry” or “our legacy” when, in fact, ministry is a gift from God and all the people we’ve led are His anyway. As leaders, we should be the opposite of magicians. A magician never reveals his secrets, but a great leader gives his away for free. Find someone and start pouring into them. Take them to coffee, invite them to work the late nights with you, coach them, pastor them. And when the time comes to hand off the ministry you’ve been entrusted, you will watch the people you’ve trained as they stand on your shoulders and attain the dreams that God has placed in their heart as well.

My goal in writing this article is to encourage you that you have the tools you need to succeed, you are enough, and God has called you (yes, you!) for such a time as this. It has never been so important that our children are being taught the Living, Breathing, Word of God. So, spend some time in prayer with God this week. Lean in and begin believing that He’s got some new mountains for you to climb. They may be tough, the terrain may be ridden with obstacles, but the reward is eternal. And God has called you to lead this kids ministry to the top!

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