Mar 23, 2017

Is Sunday School Dying a Slow Death?

Sunday School.  Some churches still use this term for their Bible study hour at church.   But a large percentage of church leaders would say the term is an ancient relic that has been lost in the progressions of change. 

Is Sunday School an ancient term?  Well,  it is over 230 years old.  It originated in Britain in the 1780's.  During this time of the Industrial Revolution, many children spent six days a week working in factories, which resulted in them being illiterate.  Christian leaders of the day wanted to do something to change that.  Sunday was the only available time for these children to gain some education.  Robert Raikes, an English Anglican evangelical, was a key leader in starting the Sunday School movement.  The first "Sunday Schools" were literally schools.  They were places where poor children could learn to read.

Soon Sunday School spread to America.  Churches everywhere began to create Sunday Schools and the movement became so popular that by the mid 19th century, Sunday School attendance was part of most children's lives.  Even parents who did not regularly attend church themselves sent their children to Sunday School.   Although Sunday School started as a way to educate illiterate children,  religious education was, of course, always an important part of it.  The Bible was the textbook used for learning to read.  Children also learned to write by writing out Bible passages. 

As child labor laws grew and children started going to school during the week, Sunday School shifted toward being totally about religious education.  Sunday School also became an evangelistic tool for reaching children with the Gospel. 

Over the last 30 years, the term "Sunday School" has been used less and less.  As mentioned earlier in this article, churches have shifted toward more contemporary wording and methods.  While children used to attend one hour of "worship" and one hour of "Sunday School," many now attend one hour that is a hybrid of the two.  

Many churches have replaced the description with names like "Life Groups" or "Bible Fellowship" or "Connection Groups" or "Small Groups."  I don't think it is a negative think that the term "Sunday School" is being used less.  The word "school" is not appealing to most kids and the last place they want to go on a Sunday is where they have been all week.

The important thing is not that the name "Sunday School" is dying.  The important thing is that kids and parents are taught the Word of God, are part of a smaller group of believers where they are known and cared for and have the opportunity to engage in discussion about God's Word.  These are key components that you just can't get in a large group only format.  Whatever you call it, we must provide an opportunity for kids to be part of these elements that are a vital part of discipleship.  Discipleship happens through relationships and that doesn't happen staring at the back of the person sitting in the pew in front of you.

Your turn.  Do you still use the term "Sunday School?"  If not, what do you call your discipleship opportunities for kids and families?  Share your thoughts with us in the comment section below.

Mar 22, 2017

3 Keys to Closing the Volunteer Turnover Door

Do you struggle with volunteer turnover?  Seems every time you work hard to get a new volunteer, you lose a current volunteer out the turnover door. 

It's normal to have some volunteer turnover.  People move away, get sick, change work schedules, have babies, etc.  But if you are seeing volunteer turnover beyond that, then there are other issues at play that are causing volunteers to walk out the turnover door.

But the good news?  You can close the turnover door.  No, it won't ever be completely closed, as I said in the beginning,  because life happens.  But you can move the door from being wide open to just a small crack.  Here are the 3 big keys to closing the volunteer turnover door.

When you meet with a new volunteer and ask them where they would like to serve, what do they normally say?  "You can place me where ever you need me."  And the temptation is to do just place them where you currently have an opening.  But don't.  Here's why. 
Don't place volunteers where you need them.  Place volunteers where they need to be.
Where do they need to be?  They need to be in a role that is based on their gifts and passion.  Simply put, they need to be in their sweet spot. 
If you don't help people find their sweet spot, their serving will turn sour.
When people are serving in their sweet spot, they thrive.  When people are serving in their sweet spot, they serve long term.  When people are serving in their sweet spot, they love what they are doing.  When people are serving in their sweet spot, they are happy.

How do you help people find their sweet spot?  There are several steps among which are having them take a spiritual gifts test and a personality test.  Another biggie, is simply asking them, "What would be your dream role here at church?" and "What do you love doing?"  These questions will quickly help you access what their sweet spot is.

Give volunteers permission to let you know if they are not serving in their sweet spot.  In fact, take the initiative and ask them one month after they start serving if they are in their sweet spot.  If they are not, help them find the role that is their sweet spot.  If you don't, they will let you know, but it will be too late.  It will be when they are walking out the volunteer turnover door.  

Have you ever been working on a project and realized you didn't have all the right tools you needed?  You try to make it work, but you get frustrated and eventually quit until you can get the right tools.  It's the same scenario with volunteers.  When you place them in a role, but don't give them the right tools or training they need to succeed, they get frustrated and quit.

Make sure you provide adequate training for new volunteers.  From an orientation to a clear job description to shadowing a seasoned volunteer for several weeks, it's important to set them up for success.  I am thinking now about a volunteer years ago that I pushed into a room without adequate training.  It was only a few weeks until he quit.  And looking back, I don't blame him.  Don't make this mistake with your volunteers.

I believe relationships is the super glue that keeps volunteers serving long term.  When volunteers are surrounded by people they know, care about, do life with and pray with, they keep serving.  Although many of these relationships will be formed organically, there are some key steps you can take to help foster relationships among volunteers. 

As stated in the first key, when you place volunteers in their sweet spot, it means they will be with people who share the same passions as they do.  This helps relationships naturally form around this common interest.  Some other steps you can take to help relationships form is to provide opportunities for volunteers to spend time together outside of serving, share prayer requests, do team building activities and form small groups with volunteers.

You can get many more ideas for closing the volunteer turnover door in my new book "The Formula for Building Great Volunteer Teams."  In this book, I share a proven formula for not only bringing volunteers on your team, but keeping them long term as well.

Mar 21, 2017

Creating Exceptional Experiences for Guest Families

Recently, I took my car in for some maintenance.  I took it to a small company that specializes in working on the brand of car I own.  When I entered, I was immediately greeted and made to feel at home.  After getting my information, they offered me the option of a complimentary ride home during the wait or I could hang out in the waiting lounge.  I chose to stay since I had brought work with me.  Seeing I had my laptop, they quickly let me know free wi-fi was available. 

If you've been to have your car worked on, you know that most car businesses offer free coffee.  And this business did as well, but they made the experience exceptional.  Whereas most places have serve yourself, one of their workers came and asked what kind of coffee I would like.  They offered several options.  After taking my order, he returned in a few minutes with not only the coffee, but with breakfast food as well.  For me, that seemingly little extra touch turned a good experience into an exceptional experience.

This weekend a family is going to walk through your church doors for the first time.  They will decide if they are going to return or not based on the guest experience you provide for them.  If the experience is good, they may return.  But if the experience is exceptional, the likelihood that they return increases greatly.

How can you make their experience exceptional?  Well, here's the good news.  It doesn't take a lot of extra money or time.  You see, it's the small things that make a guest family's experience go from good to exceptional.

Walt Disney World resorts are a great model of how small, intentional add-ons can turn good into exceptional.  Here are some examples.
  • Pixie Dust: “Close your eyes, make a wish, and with a little faith, trust and pixie dust may all your wishes and dreams come true.” That’s the special phrase you may hear as a merchandise Cast Member sprinkles pixie-dust over a guest entering one of their retail locations.  Being “pixie-dusted” creates a magical moment that can transform a typical shopping experience into a cherished memory.
  • Bell Ringer:  Every day at noon, a guest is chosen to ring the lunch bell at Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn & CafĂ© – one of their quick service dining locations in Magic Kingdom Park. With the clang of the bell, and the aid of fellow cast members, the bell ringer is encouraged to call out to passersby – “It’s time for lunch! Come in and eat!” Again, this simple touch provides a unique experience for the bell ringer, as well as for fellow diners and those who thought they were just passing by.
  • Celebration Buttons: These provide a unique opportunity to connect with guests on an individual basis.  Celebration buttons send a visual cue to cast members that a guest is celebrating a birthday, anniversary or their first visit.   This creates numerous chances for fun, spontaneous interactions with cast members and guests.
As you can see, the above examples don't take a lot of extra money or even much time.  You can get more tips from Disney about creating exceptional guest services experiences in our book If Disney Ran Your Children's Ministry.   Think about some small things like this that you could do to provide your guests with an exceptional experience.  I would even encourage you to sit down with your team and make a list of some simple add-ons that have the potential for this.

Here are a few ideas...
  • Have a separate check-in area for guests. 
  • Give guests a small gift with your ministry logo on it (an example would be a wristband).
  • Walk guests to their room instead of pointing them. 
  • Give guests a "fast pass" for pick-up. 
  • Give guests a special name tag or button so volunteers can give them extra attention and make them feel at home.
  • Call guests by their first name. 
  • Find out what the guests' favorite candy is and get it for them. 
  • If you sell coffee at your church, give guests a coupon for free coffee.
  • Offer a guest reception area for new kids and their parents after the service. Have popcorn, snacks, etc. available at the reception. 
Exceptional service makes an impact.  Exceptional is remembered.  Exceptional service brings families back.  Exceptional service helps grow a ministry.   Exceptional service helps close the back door.

Your turn.  The floor is yours.  What are things you do to provide exceptional service for guests?  What are some of the little "add-ons" you do for them?  Share your thoughts and ideas with us in the comment section below.

Mar 20, 2017

Every Minute Makes an Impact

Do you struggle with any of these?

Volunteers showing up late?

Volunteers standing around talking with each other instead of interacting with the kids?

Volunteers sitting in the back rather than with the kids during large group time?

Volunteers coming unprepared and looking at their lesson during large group time instead of focusing on the kids?

Volunteers leaving as soon as the service is over rather than spending time with the kids while waiting for parents to come?

Volunteers not taking time to talk with and interact with parents?  

Here's how to change these scenarios.  Share with your volunteers that "every minute makes an impact."

Every volunteers on your team has something in common.  Here it is.  They want to make an impact.  They want to leave a legacy.  They want to know that the time they are spending volunteering is making a difference.

Help them see that they only have a small window of time each week to invest in the kids and parents and every single minute they spend investing in them makes a difference.  It's in the seemingly small conversations before service where volunteers can make the biggest connection with kids.  It's in the quick conversations at pick-up and drop-off where volunteers can encourage parents.  It's in the 3 minutes of a worship song that volunteers can model what it means to worship God.  It's in the few minutes after service that volunteers can speak life into kids while waiting with them for their parents.  It's in the first minute that volunteers can make new guests feel comfortable and welcomed.
Time spent investing in kids and families is never wasted.  Every single minute is valuable.  Every single minute presents an opportunity to make a significant impact in their life. 
When you help volunteers catch this vision, they will show up on time.  They will come prepared.  They will be intentional about what they say to parents at drop-off and pick-up.  They will engage with the kids before, after and during the service.

We are in a race to children's hearts.  Just like a minute matters in the outcome of a physical race, a minute matters in the outcome of this spiritual race.