Years of preparation had made her movements effortless, her turns seamless, her leaps weightless. A dancer of unparalleled talent, she mesmerized the crowd with her skill, but even more with her passion. Her countenance proclaimed in no uncertain terms that she was made for this moment.

But she would finish much sooner than anyone expected. Coming down from an arching leap, she landed with a jolting crack, her foot driving its way through the rotting wood of the floor, her body twisted in pain, her leg bent in places it was not made to bend. She was pulled from the stage, wondering if she would ever dance again.

The master of ceremonies dismissively apologized, “Inexperience does this to a dancer.”

 But no one repaired the floor.

 And then, as if nothing had happened, the next performer was introduced. The crowd responded with a smattering of applause but with no one attending to the dance floor, the audience knew that the new dancer would also find her performance ending prematurely with a disappointing, perhaps tragic, conclusion.*

(*from Sustainable Youth Ministry by Mark DeVries, 2008, InterVarsity Press)

I first read this story in Sustainable Youth Ministry several years ago.   By the end of the story, I was in tears, not the little misty-eyed kind, but big, boo-hoo sobbing, salty and running down my face tears. Sounds a little dramatic, I know. But, the story of the dance floor resonated with me in such a deep way. You see, I have been in children’s ministry most of my life, and I literally heard that crack when the dancer fell. I almost physically felt her break, because I have been that broken dancer, more than once. You see, I have dreamed of becoming this dancer since I was a little girl. I have always wanted kids to get to know Jesus the way I knew Him as a child. Each time I began to dance, I found myself on a floor that was cracked, broken, or rotted out. I longed to dance so badly, that knowing the risk, I went for it time and time again. I danced full-speed ahead and with all the passion possible filling my young heart, until one day, “Crack!” The floor gave way and something deep in my soul was broken. The announcer placed his judgment on me as lacking needed passion and appropriate experience. I was considered unfit for the dance. But it wasn’t just my dance. It was my dance for Him. As a result, I made it my mission to learn to build a solid dance floor.

You have probably already figured out the metaphor, but just in case, allow me to spell it out. The dance floor is the set of systems where our ministry to kids takes place. Without healthy systems, we can create the most engaging programs known to children’s ministry, and dancers will continue to be carried off that floor broken and disappointed, one after another.

The good news is that fixing a dance floor isn’t rocket science. You can do it! With some deliberate, strategic steps, and good ol’ fashioned hard work, you can renovate, repair, and polish that floor to a place where the floor itself will make good dancers perform even better. There are two simple things we must address in order to build a healthy system. The first is architecture, and the second is atmosphere.

Think about it this way, the architecture will be the longstanding design of your ministry. Things that are in place for years to come. Programs will change, décor or technology may change, but the daily, weekly, and yearly habits, the communication channels, and behind-the-scenes processes for accomplishing objectives will stay the same. Those architectural elements are foundational pieces which remain critical to changing programs through shifts in culture, advances in technology or the passage of time.

The second thing we will address is atmosphere. Think of atmosphere as the shine on that dance floor. The floor can be structurally sound, but hit a rough patch mid dance, and our dancer is more than likely to take a nasty spill. Atmosphere is the thing that either encourages or prevents smooth turns and allows for graceful leaps with soft landings. Atmosphere speaks to the interpersonal relationships on our team and within our church. The image and reputation of the children’s ministry with the senior pastor, administrative boards, parents, and the general congregation is a vital part of atmosphere as well.

As we move forward, we will address the strategy behind building and maintaining a sustainable architecture and healthy atmosphere. It’s not complicated, but it is work. Lots of work, but well worth it!

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