Check out this special episode of the This Week in Youth Ministry podcast! Terrace Crawford hosts a roundtable discussion with Mark DeVries, Scott Pontier, and Stephanie Caro on Reimagining Young Adult Ministry! How do we reach millennials? Should Youth Ministries operate differently than they (currently) do? PLUS+ we’ve got great resources to help you grow your ministry!
A VBS Gift
By Stephanie Caro
Like a speeding train you couldn’t stop if you wanted to, it’s almost here! The moment many churches wait all year for: Vacation Bible School! Funny title, right? There’s nothing “vacation” about it, at least not for all the dedicated leaders who pull it off every year. There’s “tired” and then there’s “VBS tired.” But every moment is SO worth it. When the sounds of children echo the halls in real time, there’s no better joyful noise. Between the children we see every week and those we see only once a year, whenever God’s name (Love) is demonstrated – it’s worth every single body ache and ounce of fatigue.
From my years of consulting with churches, I’ve found there’s not much to improve upon during the actual week itself. You’ve got this! But where I’ve seen some churches miss the mark is in the follow-up after the big week is over. So, I’ve created a game plan you can use for maximizing the outreach long after the markers have been capped and the glue has dried. Enjoy!
VBS Visitor Follow-up Game Plan
- All Children’s Ministry Teachers/Key Department Leaders/Staff are on board with the first timer process and have signed off.
Calendar Space Needed:
- 15 minutes at one VBS teacher training and/or email with response required. Goal is to ensure that all adults are oriented to the process.
- May Meetings: VBS team, Sunday school team, CM Leader Team. To set up plans for follow-up before VBS.
- August Meetings: Same as above with the purpose of evaluation and planning follow-up event.
- Plan a “Back-to-school,” “Fall Kick-Off” or “VBS Reunion” event where all kids from VBS come back for a fun, energetic 2-hour program. The program elements will include a video/slide show from VBS, a look at the fall CM ministry, a craft, game time, snack, songs from VBS, etc.
- A database of visitors updated and distributed to all key adults and staff following the VBS week.
- Sunday School database.
- Church Members/Family database.
Children’s Ministry Staff Responsibilities:
- Ensure that all VBS Leaders are prepared to give special attention and provide an intentional welcoming climate for all visitors, particularly first timers. They are especially on the lookout for the parents of first timers/visitors.
- Ensure that online registration forms indicate “first time family” or “visiting family.”
- Create a First Timer Card that will effectively collect information about that child/family and is emailed upon registration of a first-timer.
- Ensure that First Timer/Visitors Cards are available for all Sunday school teachers, children’s ministry volunteers, and any other weekly school year CM program leaders.
- Ensure that all first-time visitors’ parents complete a first timer card.
- Ensure that, in each weekly ministry program and every special event, that at least one volunteer is responsible for distributing and collecting first timer cards.
- Be sure that all first timer cards make their way back to the age-level director who will follow up.
- Within three days of an event where a first timer has attended, generate a letter to be sent to all first-time visitor families & mail before the end of the week.
- Work with the Children’s Ministry data management person to ensure that first timer contact info is put into the system.
- Work with the Children’s Ministry data management person to re-categorize all names on the visitor directory when needed as they either fall away or attend regularly (based on attendance information).
- Work with volunteers and staff on an ongoing basis to create an increasingly welcoming environment for each program of the children’s ministry.
- Transfer all completed first timer cards within 24 hours to correct age-level director.
- Make a call or send an email to all occasional and regular visitors each month.
Children’s Ministry Administrative or Data Management Staff Responsibilities
- Update the database monthly, placing each person on the database in one of the following categories:
- Visited only once
- Occasional Visitor (Visited six or less visits in the previous three months)
- Regular Visitor (has attended at least seven times in the previous three months)
- Each month, give the staff a list of all occasional and regular visitors (for follow up contact).
- Maintain attendance records for all weekly children’s ministry events.
- Add “regular visitors” to the ministry mailing list, to receive the same ministry mailings that all children’s families receive.
- Keep a hard copy back up of all completed first timer cards.
- Ensure that the entire visitor database receives invitations to “bring a friend” community events.
- Personalize and mail a letter for all first-time visitors within one week of their first visit.
- Create first timer card
- Determine what software the children’s ministry will use for its visitor database
- Draft welcome letter
Schedule volunteer leader training in which volunteers will be trained in their responsibilities in the first timer process.
The capital letter “C” church has been a part of my life since I was about eleven years old. I have worked in churches, volunteered with ministries, gone to seminary and surrounded myself with Christian fellowship. While I have been active in many different churches over the years, I have more often than not felt like I was on the outside looking in. To cut to the chase, I was born with Muscular Dystrophy, a physical disability that has affected every part of my life. Though, my struggles are not out of the norm for 1 in 5 Americans. If you were to examine the statistics you would quickly be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of people with disabilities of all ages that are being left on the outside of churches all around the world.
The question I want to ponder in this blog is: What exactly would it look like to be meaningfully included in a faith community?
I want to start with what it does not look like:
It doesn’t look like people avoiding eye contact. It doesn’t look like being forgotten about or minimized to just the state of my physical body.
Not being meaningfully included is like the scene in Mark 2. Many of you know the story of the paralyzed man who was lowered through a roof to meet Jesus.
Something I didn’t realize until recently is that it wasn’t stairs blocking the man from meeting Jesus and being a part of something world changing. In fact, scripture clearly states it was a crowd blocking him. A crowd of people, unaware and uninterested, blocking this man from a potential that was unimaginable.
For people with disabilities to feel accepted, welcomed and desired it takes a few of those people in that crowd to become a community. When the crowd stops standing in the way and begins working together true transformation happens.
In my experience to be meaningfully included means for others to see my potential when I only see my brokenness. It is to have my name asked and to have my story heard. To be meaningfully included is to be treated like a human.
While for me there are still many instances where stairs are a major obstacle to me being meaningfully included, to me the complacent and disinterested attitudes are the biggest barriers.
It is a rare occasion wherein programs, lessons and buildings are planned with disabilities in mind. Stages are even more rarely designed with the thought that someone with a disability would ever lead or speak on it.
In fact even when I was ministering to students, it was an afterthought to me! I’d plan the lesson, write the illustration and map out the activity just to realize I didn’t even take into consideration my own limitations. How backwards is that? I don’t think that is what Paul meant by being everything to everyone.
But, it’s not all bad, because if there wasn’t hope I probably wouldn’t be typing away on my laptop. I have been meaningfully included. One instance was so powerful it is still shaking up my life even though it occurred over four years ago.
I was working at a church in San Antonio doing full time college ministry. I knew my wheelhouse. College kids were easy. They liked video games, coffee and long talks about Jesus. No problem, I excel at all those things. But there was a Youth Director at this church that became a fast friend. We’d grill meat and watch every sport under the sun. It wasn’t long, maybe a few weeks after my arrival, that he began inviting me to come spend time with him and the middle schoolers.
I was sick to my stomach when he first invited me. I smiled and in my most gracious voice declined. On the inside I was screaming “Dude are you out of your mind? Me, with a bunch of wild middle schoolers, running around being hyper and active and fun? You DO realize I use a scooter right? I don’t play sports, I can’t do this, I can’t do that. This is a disaster waiting to happen.”
The Youth Director then proceeded to invite me every single week for the next month. He promised food and fellowship. Finally after a month of invitations I caved in to his persistence. Nerves a wreck, I showed up and ate hot dogs and talked about Maundy Thursday with ten eighth grade boys.
I thought I would just have to make it through those two hours and then never have to hear his offer again once I explained how I’m not a fit to work with youth.
If y’all could have seen his smug grin when he watched me fall in love with working with those kids. Four years later I’m obviously no longer at that church, but I still get weekly texts from the many high school and middle schoolers. I had no idea that potential was in me.
I had no idea that there was a gifting and strength to my story that could connect to kids that I had grown up unable to connect with.
Side note: Kids, no matter the age, love sitting in rollie chairs and holding onto the back of scooters like a train. Extra side note: Get a parent’s permission and have the kids sign a waiver before you do something like that.
But a faith community saw it in me when I didn’t see it. And in this scenario, once I got inside the house and saw what the crowd was staring at, it changed my world.
What I want to leave you with today is just a few pieces of advice:
- Invitation is at the heart of faith communities, do not be afraid to invite those with disabilities to serve, and to share their strengths. Which of course means you need to invite them into your life so that you may get to see their potential yourself.
- This is off topic, but I feel like it needs to be shared. Disability is draining. It consumes energy, health and finances, goodness is it expensive to be disabled. I will be the first to say that I do not want to be seen as a charity case, but those I trust, who know me authentically and intimately and not just as someone to be served, I am grateful to share my struggles and needs with them. It is not easy to support and invest in someone with a disability. But the best things in life are never easy. Get to know people’s needs, but first get to know them.
- Finally, become a community. Lay down the simplicity of being a crowd. Make your plans with an array of abilities in mind. If you work with youth, you already know not EVERY kid likes dodgeball. If you are preaching, hopefully it’s not news to you that it doesn’t take having a disability or learning difference to lose focus on what is being said. Every obstacle has an accommodation.
Maybe accommodations shouldn’t be an overwhelming word, maybe it shouldn’t be such a dirty word, but an opportunity to let your creativity run wild, to try something new (I know new can be scary). What if by accommodating for a few you give way to something more potent, and more world changing than ever before?
MATT CURCIO’S BIO
Matt Curcio is local to Nashville, TN. A speaker, writer and advocate, Matt founded his nonprofit in 2015, Break The Roof. The mission of Break The Roof is to inspire and encourage congregations and Christian communities to embrace full inclusion of people with disabilities. For more information go to breaktheroof.org
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Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” Matthew 18:5
If you have never thought about your nursery being a ministry, I hope these few thoughts will change your mind! Your nursery workers may be the first contact parents (visitors) have with the church and their impressions are important. Parents want to know/feel that their most precious child will be safe and in the hands of loving and caring individuals.
1. Childcare workers – are they fully trained and background checked? Let your parents know!
- Have they been there for a long time? Celebrate that fact. (One congregation I worked in had nursery workers who were working on their 2nd and 3rd generation of babies.)
- Identify your workers by name on the nursery door and make sure the workers are also wearing a nametag?
2. How are parents met when they come into the nursery?
- Do nursery workers go and greet them at the door?
- Are the parents cheerfully met?
- Is appropriate in-take information taken on the child?
- Are diaper bags marked?
- Is a nametag placed on the child?
3. Nursery space itself – is the room clean?
- Is it well lit?
- Are all shelves dusted and the floor clean?
- Are age appropriate toys provided?
- Is there music playing?
- Is the room too crowded with “donations” or stuffed animals?
- Are the toys clean? Have an annual inspection of your facility with fresh eyes to help remove any toys that are not appropriate, defective, or has missing parts.
4. What information do you provide back to the parents?
- Are information sheets filled out and placed in the diaper bag on how their child was while in their care?
- Do you have a nursery pamphlet you can share with them about any schedule in your nursery? Do you provide story and activity time and have handouts on the story schedule? This is also a good place to have brochures or postcards on other up-coming events in the congregation.
5. Physical facility – do your workers know the space and activities of the church?
- Be sure your nursery workers know the layout of your facility and that they can direct the parents to the worship space, restrooms, or coffee. Aim for hospitality at its best.
Let’s make sure that this is true for all our nurseries and childcare areas in the church!
No matter what your ministry context is or what denomination your church is a part of, we all have a common problem. As a matter of fact, it’s probably the greatest challenge church leaders face in ministry. If we don’t find a way to overcome it, we will shortchange our ministry potential. But if we can overcome this challenge, we will see a greater Gospel impact than we ever imagined possible.
So what’s the problem? Well, it’s a tale as old as time (or as old as the Church at least). Good volunteers are hard to find!
Without volunteers, we are sunk. Staff can only do so much. Real life change in our communities will be brought about through the saints we have equipped as volunteers. Show me who your volunteers are and I’ll show you the quality and potential of your ministry!
You see, we need more than just warm bodies. It’s not about having the right amount of people, it’s about having the right people. I love the way Jim Collins says it in his book Good to Great. “Companies (and churches) that go from good to great start not with “where” but with “who.” They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. And they stick with that discipline— first the people, then the direction— no matter how dire the circumstances.” If we want to get where God has called us to go, we’ve got to have the right people walking with us.
Every church leader since Acts 2 has faced this problem. How do we find the right volunteers? I’m familiar with this problem just like you are, and I’ve recruited the wrong people more times than I can count.
The good news is the best volunteers all seem to have a few things in common. Through a lot of trial and error (more error than trial), I’ve identified five traits that high capacity volunteers share. These are the leaders of leaders within your church, and finding them is as simple as following the breadcrumbs of these high capacity traits.
5 Traits Found in Great Volunteers
High capacity volunteers are fast. This doesn’t mean they would beat Usain Bolt in a footrace, but it does mean they are quick on their feet. Fast volunteers are able to act quickly and do what needs to be done. They don’t let grass grow under their feet while a problem grows with it. Instead, they find a solution and move forward toward the goal.
Our world moves faster now than ever before, and ministry is no exception. So we need volunteers who can keep up with the frenetic pace of life. Take this example from Easter weekend at our church.
During our 10am service, we were running out of space. Our worship center filled to capacity, and the people kept coming! We were prepared with an overflow room down the hall, but quickly filled all available seats there too. We needed more seats and we needed them fast!
In a matter of seconds, we had a team of ushers and other volunteers pulling chairs from a nearby closet and finding creative places to set them out. Without their help we would have turned people away. However, because they were fast we were able to seat 200 additional people and accommodate everyone!
High capacity volunteers are fast. They react to problems quickly and bring solutions with them.
High capacity volunteers are also fluid. Fluid volunteers have the ability to change direction quickly and easily seize new opportunities. They are able to go with the flow, and will see and seize new paths while others are still processing.
Ministry in today’s world is fast, and opportunities can come and go in the blink of an eye. Fluid volunteers will see an opportunity and act before others would even notice it. Some of our best ideas and boldest moves have come from the minds of fluid volunteers in our building. If we had to wait on staff to see them it would have resulted in missed opportunities and “what if” thinking.
Whether we like it or not, change happens often in ministry. The question isn’t whether things are changing, but rather can our volunteers keep up when it does? The best volunteers are fluid enough to handle change well. How fluid are your leading volunteers?
Flexibility can be defined as the ability to bend under pressure without breaking. Rigid people break under pressure, but flexible people bend and adapt. Ministry is hard, and it comes with a lot of pressure. Our highest capacity volunteers will always be those who are flexible enough to handle the tough times of ministry.
Have you ever heard the saying “pressure makes diamonds?” Well, in my experience it also makes duds! Pressure and ministry go together like spring and allergies. There’s no escaping it. High capacity volunteers bend, adapt, and get better under that pressure.
I don’t know about you, but I want diamonds, not duds. A ministry (or church) will never be better than its volunteers. So if you have a bunch of duds for volunteers, you will end up with a dud of a ministry. The Gospel is too important for that! When looking for volunteers, look for flexibility.
Faithful volunteers are gritty volunteers. They are people with too much grit to quit! They won’t bail when things get tough, but will dig in. If nothing else I know this: your most faithful volunteers will become your favorite volunteers!
We’ve all had volunteers quit before. Odds are they quit at a really bad time too. I don’t know why it happens this way, but it’s like they could sense when you most needed them and chose that exact moment to hang it up.
Faithful volunteers are different though. They are the ones who rise to the occasion and reach higher when others step away. If I have to choose between talent and faithful, I will always choose faithful!
Faithful volunteers are also consistent. They are the volunteers you can count on to be where they are supposed to be, when they are supposed to be there, and doing it to the very best of their ability. Faithful volunteers will fix the damage left by those who were not.
When recruiting volunteers for your ministry, faithfulness is a non-negotiable trait. Find people who are faithful and your ministry will find a new gear!
This last one is easy to overlook, but do so at your own risk. Being fun won’t make someone a high capacity volunteer on its own, but being boring will always make a dud!
When was the last time you talked with your spouse and said “Let’s do something boring this weekend”? Or what about this? Have your kids ever told you they were having too much fun and needed some boredom in their lives? Of course not (unless your kids are aliens)! Why? Because we all love to have fun and enjoy ourselves.
One of the fruits of the Spirit is joy. I don’t know about you, but when I think about joy I think about fun. Not boredom. I want to be around people who are fun and that I can have fun with. And the people in your church do too.
I personally believe the Church should be full of the most fun people on the planet. We have more reason to celebrate, laugh, and high five than any other people around! Fun volunteers get this and its contagious.
If you were visiting new churches, which would you prefer to attend? One with fun, joyful and smiling people greeting you at the doors, or one filled with sad and sullen saints? I bet you would choose the first one, and so would I. Why not choose the volunteers to get us there? So the next time you look for new volunteers, go where the fun people are.
There is a lot more to good volunteers than these five traits, but they are five traits I’ve found present in my best volunteers. All I know is that our ministries will always get better when we get the right people on the bus. What about you? What do you look for when recruiting volunteers? Which of the five traits above is the most difficult to find?
I would love to hear your thoughts. If you would like to continue the conversation or if you have any questions, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How do you leave your church position well? What about when you’ve been asked to leave? Here are a few ideas.