Jan 20, 2017

Why Your Ministry Needs Outside Eyes

You've got eyes on your ministry.  You carefully watch and monitor attendance, volunteers, programs, processes, challenges, events and more.  And you are able to see most of what is happening. 

But you can't see everything.  Why?  Because every ministry has blind spots.  Blind spots are caused by...

Success.  We rarely examine or analyze successful programs, events or processes.  If it's not broken, don't try to fix it, right?  

“Success is a lousy teacher.  It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.”  -Bill Gates

If you are not intentional, ministry achievements can produce troublesome blind spots.  It can cause you to think that past results will guarantee future success.

Lack of Diversity.  Our natural tendency is to gather people around us who have the same personality type as us, who think like us and act like us.  While this is good for unity, the downside is it can lead to blind spots.  There is no one to challenge us, question us and make us take a hard look at what we are doing.

Familiarity.  Familiarity leads to blind spots.  When you are close to something, it can actually cause you to miss the obvious.  The comfortable can lull you into complacency. 

This is why your ministry needs outside eyes.  You need someone who isn't "wowed" by your success...someone who thinks a little different than you...someone who can bring an outside perspective...someone who is not familiar with the "way things are."  

Here are some ways to turn the gaze of outside eyes onto your ministry: 

Make connections with other ministries.  It's easy to get so consumed with your own ministry and become so busy, that you isolate yourself from other ministries.  Be intentional about connecting with other ministries both locally and outside of your area.  Go visit other ministries and see what they are doing.  Get on the phone and call another ministry you admire and ask questions.  Connect on social media with other ministries. 

This will provide you with other perspectives and other ways of doing ministry. 

Ask guests for feedback.  A great way to get outside eyes on your ministry is by asking first-time guests for feedback.  You can do this by emailing first-time guests a short survey about their experience and inviting them to provide you with feedback.  In fact, reward them for their feedback with a free gift card or other perk.  It's one of the best investments you can make in your ministry. 

Bring in outside eyes.  The best way is to actually bring in outside eyes to observe your ministry in action.  Partner with another local church in this.  You can observe their ministry in action and provide them with feedback and they can do the same for you.  And when someone from another ministry outside of your area comes to visit your church, ask if they would mind giving you honest feedback about what they saw.  You can also bring in an experienced consultant for the weekend to observe your ministry in action and then provide you with detailed feedback. 

Your turn.  The floor is yours.  What are some other things that cause blind spots?  Do you think it's important to get outside eyes on a ministry?  What are some other ways you do this?  Share your thoughts with us in the comment section below.

Jan 19, 2017

5 Keys to Leading a Children's Ministry

Looking from the outside, it might appear that leading a children's ministry just requires being good at connecting with kids.  While you definitely need to have a heart for kids to be in children's ministry, there is much more involved when it comes to leading the ministry. 

I am often ask by young leaders who are starting out what they should focus on.  Outside of the time you spend with the kids, here's 5 keys to leading a children's ministry.

PEOPLE.  I believe this has to be your number one priority.  Focus the biggest % of your time enlisting, equipping and empowering people for the work of the ministry.  Ephesians 4 confirms this. 

"Their responsibility is to equip God’s PEOPLE to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.  This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ."

The key is being an equipper more than a doer.  As you invest in people, you will see the ministry grow and flourish.  It's not about what you can do, rather it's about what you can empower other people to do.  Never do ministry by yourself.  Have someone you are training and investing in. 

The success of the ministry will rise and fall on the strength of the volunteer team you build.

PASSION.  As the leader, you must set the tone for the ministry.  Lead with passion!  Have a vision that causes people's hearts to beat faster!  The passion of the ministry will never rise above your passion.  Be a thermostat rather than a thermometer.  This means you set the spiritual temperature for the ministry rather than just measuring it. 

Give it everything you've got!  Pray with passion!  Share with passion!  Lead with passion!  Care with passion!  Invest with passion!  When people see and feel your passion, they will be drawn to you and it will rub off on them.  Remember, passion is not something that can be taught...it is caught.

PLANNING.  It's your job to plan out where the ministry is headed and what will take you there.  Lay out a clear plan for programs, events, special days and other calendar dates.   I highly recommend planning a year in advance.  You've heard the saying, "Plan your work and then work your plan."  It's true...and look what comes first - the planning. 

One word of caution when it comes to planning.  Remember...less is more.  A full, busy calendar does not always equate to a successful plan.  Focus on doing a few things really well.  The goal of your planning should first and foremost be productivity.

Planning also involves collaboration.  Don't plan alone.  Bring people around you to help.  Coordinate with other ministries so your plan flows well with the overall church calendar.  This is vital for successful planning.  

PROBLEM SOLVING.  Guess what?  Leading a children's ministry equals dealing with problems.  You will be the go-to-person when problems arise.  Be a fixer rather than a complainer.  A good leader faces problems and brings solutions.   Embrace the messiness of leading.  As you solve problems, you will earn the respect and trust of those you lead.

PROTECTION.  You must protect the ministry.  Protect the children by having safety and security measures in place.  Make everyone who serves go through a thorough on-boarding process that includes a background check and personal interview where you ask the hard questions.  Never allow an adult to be alone with a child.  Have an evacuation plan in place.  Be aware of food allergies. Have a solid check-in and check-out process. 

Protect the unity of the ministry.  Know how to navigate and mediate conflict.  Have the courage to have difficult conversations when it's necessary.  You must keep the "alignment" of the ministry on course. 

Here are some follow-up questions to think about:
  • Am I spending my time investing in people?  How can I focus more of my time in equipping?
  • From 1 to 10 (with 10 being the highest), where is my passion level for the ministry?  How can I raise it?
  • Do I have a plan in place for the ministry?  Is the plan strategically taking us toward our goals?  Is there anything on the calendar that is not effective?  How can I narrow our focus?
  • How good am I at problem-solving?  Do I try to sweep problems under the rug or do I fix them?  How can I improve in this area?
  • Is our ministry protected?  Do we have solid measures in place to protect it?  Are there any vulnerable spots we need to strengthen?  
What a privilege it is to lead in children's ministry.  What a joy to be chosen by God to help reach the next generation.  There's nothing better!  And it deserves your very best!  Lead well! 

Jan 18, 2017

What To Do When Your Church Doesn't Value Children's Ministry

Are you in a church that doesn't value children's ministry?  Do you feel like you are the only one who really cares about reaching the next generation?  Is there little to no money budgeted for kids?  It can be frustrating when God has placed a passion in your spirit for children's ministry, but you find yourself in this situation.

So, what should you do? Here are some steps you can take.

Champion children's ministry.  I believe in every church God raises up someone to be the voice for the next generation.  If you're reading this and it resonates with you, then you're probably that person.  God wants to use you to raise awareness for the children's ministry.  Lead the way.  Share the vision.  Pray bold prayers of faith for the ministry.  Many times a church is just waiting for someone to be a champion for children's ministry.  Be that person!

Have an honest conversation with church leadership.  Ask to meet with your Pastor, elders and other key leaders in the church.  Share with them your heart to reach the next generation.  Cast vision for how children's ministry can be a blessing to the entire church.  This should not be done in a spirit of complaining or disunity, but with a humble heart of a servant.  If you need help gathering some thoughts to share, here's some articles to read.  

How to Build a Thriving Children's Ministry in Small Town, U.S.A.

The Importance of Children's Ministry

8 Things Most People Don't Get About Children's Ministry 

How a Dynamic Children's Ministry Helps a Church Grow
In most cases, leadership wants to reach the next generation.  They are just waiting for someone to step up and lead the charge.  And this starts by getting it on their radar.

Get others involved.  Don't think you can do this alone?  You're right.  You need other people to come alongside you.  Pray for divine appointments and approach the people God leads you to about helping in children's ministry.   Remember to make the ask with vision instead of desperation.  The more people you can get involved, the more momentum you'll build.

Do your best with what God has placed in your hand.  Rather than whining about what you don't have, use what God has place in your hand.  Don't fall into the trap of comparing your ministry to other ministries...your budget with other budgets...your facilities with the facilities of the church down the street. 

Years ago, I was leading a children's ministry in a rural church.  The only room available for children's ministry was an old room in the basement.  Block, grey walls.  Concrete floors.  Inadequate lighting.  Zero budget.  A handful of kids attending.  I went out and gathered branches, vines and old wood and used these free items to turn it into a clubhouse.  When kids came into the room, they felt like they were in a clubhouse in the woods.  And they loved it.  In just a few weeks, we doubled in size. 

See, I believe God wants to take what He has placed in your hands and do great things with it.  It's not about the size of your budget, it's about the size of your belief.  It's not about your facilities, it's about your faith.  It's not about how cool your videos are, it's about how big your vision is.

Stay faithful.  When you're in a church that doesn't value children's ministry, it's easy to get discouraged and quit.  Don't give up.  Stay faithful.  Without faithfulness, the above steps will fall flat.  God rewards faithfulness.  And remember faithfulness is not proven overnight.  It takes time.  In some cases, it takes years. 

Faithfulness leads to increase.  It is a huge key in seeing your children's ministry take off and become a priority in your church.  If you want to see children's ministry be a big part of your church, you must first be faithful while it is a small part. 

I trust this has been a help and encouragement to you.  I hear from many of you who are in this situation.  You are not alone.  God is with you.  We believe in you.  Be the children's ministry champion in your church!

Jan 17, 2017

The Selfie Generation's Self-Image Struggle

Kids are growing up in selfie culture.  To fit in, they are expected to post a selfie before, during and after every activity.  They then watch closely for the resulting likes, thumbs-up and other ratings to tally. 

It's a great way to share experiences and memories.  The downside?  It can turn into a self-image measurement.  It affects how kids view themselves.  Recent studies show that...  
  • 35 percent are worried about people tagging them in unattractive photos.
  • 27 percent feel stressed about how they look in posted photos.
  • 22 percent felt bad about themselves if their photos were ignored.
Here are a few examples of the selfie culture kids are growing up in.  

The number of followers, likes, and emojis kids can collect gets competitive, with users often begging for them.  Instagram "beauty pageants" and other photo-comparison activities crop up, with losers earning a big red X on their pics.
Numerical scores display the total number of sent and received chats.  You can view your friends' scores to keep tabs on who's racking up the most views.
Hot or Not. This quintessential rating app lets you judge the attractiveness of others based on a series of photos, tapping either a heart sign or an X to to rank them.  Users log in to see what others think of them.

When Instagram users type "#tbh," they're indicating either that they want others to honestly appraise their selfies or they're expressing their true feelings about someone else's looks.  Examples: "#tbh am I pretty?" or "#tbh I think you're really pretty."  Although #tbh is usually positive, it can get negative in specific and hurtful ways, and even when it stays positive, it reinforces the idea that appearance is what matters most.
YouTube - "Am I pretty or ugly?" 
Kids - mostly girls - post videos of themselves asking if other users think they're pretty or ugly.  These videos are typically public, allowing anyone - from kids at school to random strangers - to post a comment.
Social media tools can be very influential in a kid's view of themselves.  While it can bolster self-esteem, it can also hurt it.  It is critical that we help the selfie generation navigate through this struggle.

Help kids discover the foundation of their self-image. We must teach kids that their self-image is based not on how others see them on social media, but on how God sees them.  When we help them see that who they are in Christ is more important than what they look like, it will give them sustaining confidence, even when they get a thumbs down on social media.

Provide caring volunteer leaders.  Volunteers who care about kids have an enormous effect on them.  Challenge volunteers to invest in the kids and speak words of life and encouragement into their lives.  Of course, the primary adults who mold a child's self-esteem is his or her parents, but kids also need another adult besides their parents to invest in them.

Teach kids to be leaders.  Kids can make a positive impact when they lead the way in posting constructive comments about others on social media.

Help them see the true picture.  Kids often compare themselves to the media images of celebrities and models.  But they may not understand that these images are often retouched and enhanced.  Yes, the people may be attractive, but it is not real life and not a standard by which they should compare themselves. 

As the kids in your ministry face the challenges of growing up in a selfie generation, God wants to use you and your team to give them a true picture of who they are in Christ.

Jan 16, 2017

Children's Ministry Leader, You Got This!

Monday morning.  You're probably reflecting back on the weekend.  It may have been a great weekend or it may have been not-so-great.  You may be walking into a new week full of confidence or, if you're like me, sometimes wondering if you've got what it takes to lead the ministry.  Some Mondays you're ready to charge forward to reach the world for Christ and other days you're just seconds away from resigning. 

Leading a ministry is full of highs and lows.  Great weekends where you see God move in miraculous ways in the kids' and families' lives, and ho-hum weekends where you wonder if you're really making any difference at all.  It's part of the journey.

Wherever today finds you, I want to encourage you and reassure you with 3 words.  YOU GOT THIS!   You are called, equipped and empowered by God.  You've got this because God has you.  You are not alone in this.  He is with you.  Even when you don't feel like He is.

When I was in high school,  I lifted weights to improve my sport's skills.  One of my mentors was a power lifter named Ralph.  He was a big, strong man who had been lifting for years and he could lift hundreds of pounds.  He agreed to be my workout coach and helped me.  When I got ambitious and tried to bench press an amount that pushed me to my limits, he was there to spot me.  If I got stuck, ran out of energy or the weight was too heavy for me, Ralph would grab the weight bar and help me lift it back into place.  As long as Ralph was there, I knew I was okay. There was no weight too heavy to try, as long as he was there.

I remember one time I decided to work out alone.  In my youthful zeal, I tried to bench press a heavy amount...without Ralph there to help me if I got stuck.  Sure enough, I got the bar down, but when I tried to push it back up...uh oh...no go.  I was stuck there with a heavy weight on my chest without Ralph to help me.  I panicked and after several minutes was finally able to roll the bar down my body and get out from under it.  And yes, it was painful and dangerous.  I learned my lesson that day.  Never try to lift a heavy weight without a spotter to help you.

Do you feel weighted down by the ministry today?  Wondering if you can keep going?  Is the load you're carrying about to do you in?   Be encouraged.  You've got this because you have a ministry spotter named Jesus.  He is with you.  Depend on Him, trust Him and ask for His help and the heavy burden will become light.  You weren't meant to carry the weight of the ministry alone and you don't have to.  Take a deep breath.  Whisper a prayer to Jesus.  It's His ministry anyways.  Put the weight on Him.  He can handle it.

You got this because God has you in His hands!