Years ago I landed my very first gig in Children’s Ministry, and I was in so deep over my head that I didn’t even realize I was under water. In complete fairness to younger me, the odds were well and truly stacked against me. The last staff person had come into the church in the dead of night and deleted every file she had ever created for the church in seven years of ministry. There was no kidmin budget set aside for the year, and no plan set in place to remedy that. The key volunteers were tired and, as such, waiting for me to be hired so they could quit. And finally, six weeks in, the Senior Pastor of 19 years would resign suddenly for emotional and spiritual exhaustion, among other things. So it’s true, younger Brandi didn’t have it easy. But what I didn’t see at the time, and what I would only discover with more experience and much failure, was that the biggest challenge facing me was actually my inability to plan strategically for long-term growth and development, i.e. multi-level planning, strategy, and, for that matter, execution.

The idea of multi-level strategy here is that from the outset, whether you are just starting out or 15 years in and today is a new day, you are planning for multiple levels of growth simultaneously. Share on X

This means that you are not only looking at your under-staffed nursery and thinking, “Man, if only I had two more weekly room leaders, we’d be set,” but you are also looking at how many more leaders you need if your ministry grows by 5%, what levels of leadership you’d like to add in the next six months, and what role descriptions you need to write even if they aren’t roles you can/should immediately fill. Maybe you relate to younger Brandi in some way (or, Heaven forbid, all the ways!), and this all sounds more than a little overwhelming, but stay with me.

I’m telling you, if you lay the ground work for these things now, you will be reaping the benefits for years to come, and what feels overwhelming and exhausting now will become just a natural part of how you lead ministry well in the… Share on X

So where do you start? There are a lot of great ways to get started with multi-level strategy, just as there are seven great days a week to get started (365 perfect start dates a year!). But where I like to start is with the org chart. Now, the first org chart I ever created made me feel like a terrible person. It definitely felt like I was ranking people I really cared about in order of importance, which is categorically untrue. However, if this is you, I suggest turning your org chart on its side and putting traditionally “higher” level leaders on the left and then moving toward the right until you get to roles like “Assistant Small Group Leader” or “Student Helper.” Now, anyone can (and should) create an org chart, whether you hand write it on a piece of printer paper, build it using SmartArt in Microsoft PowerPoint, or print and cut out all the names of leaders in your ministry and stick them to a poster board in true Children’s Pastor fashion. The difference in multi-level org chart planning is that you are creating two or more org charts for your ministry at one time. To start with, you have the org chart with all the positions and leaders you currently and realistically have in your ministry right now. Then, you have the org chart representing what positions and leaders [TBA leaders included] you actually need for your current ministry to thrive. I actually prefer to begin with the latter.

Start by getting the facts on paper: How many rooms are you using for your ministry? What is the current breakdown of ages? Better yet, what is the ideal breakdown of ages possible in your space and with your child population? Based on your policies and values, how many leaders per room/group would you need for your ministry to be successful? And finally, what leadership positions would you need to create and fill to step out of the tasks that keep you from leading at your highest level (i.e. subbing in rooms yourself, getting the extra glue sticks, troubleshooting the check-in printers (again), prepping the weekly curriculum bins, etc.)? The answers to these questions will help inform your decisions on what roles you actually need in the current state of your ministry and help you to create the appropriate target org chart. Then, you can create the org chart you are currently working with or you can take that target org chart and fill it with the names of your current leaders, placing them in the roles closest to where and how they are currently serving. Disclaimer: For this current org chart, try not to move names into the roles you plan to ask people to fill in the future. This should be a faithful narrative of where you already are so that you can move forward with asks like that accordingly, later. I speak from experience when I say that things written on the org chart feel like they are a done deal, and, let’s face it, sometimes people say no!

The next org chart I would recommend is one that represents growth. Sometimes ministries can absorb some growth with very little changes. The two’s room grows by four children unexpectedly, and you need to add a third leader, etc. But some ministry environments are on the cusp of requiring a complete restructure even if faced with minimal growth. Do yourself a favor and know which one you are so you don’t become that crotchety Kids Director that actually hopes their ministry doesn’t grow! Building a growth org chart will help. Now, you can use the growth stats your church has been seeing if they track these things or if they have been seeing growth in the first place, or you can pick a percentage arbitrarily. I would probably suggest 10% as that number actually represents 20% growth when you look at a standard 10% attrition rate per year, and because it’s an easy number to work with. (Hey, we’re pastors, not mathematicians!) If you are using the 10% marker, you can take the average number of kids you see on a Sunday (please know the average number of kids you see on a Sunday!) and multiply that by 10% (.10). Of the number you just calculated, roughly 20% of that will be nursery (0-2), 30% will be preschool (3-5), and 50% of that will be Elementary. You can use these standards or do the math to see where your church naturally trends, as growth seems to follow the same pattern.

Once you have done all the math (sorry!), look at your target org chart. Can it accommodate this growth? What changes would need to happen in order to do so? Would you need to add leaders? Staff people? Would you need to add rooms? Small groups? What levels of leadership should be in place in order to be proactive rather than reactive? Build your growth org chart based on these answers, and as you start hitting your target org chart, remember to also start padding the areas that lead to this new growth org chart as God blesses you with leaders. It’s true that your church or children’s ministry might not grow by 10% this year, but it’s also true that God is probably more likely to bless a ministry that is prepared for growth than one that isn’t, and it is also definitely true that first time visitors are more likely to return to a church whose Children’s Ministry is over-staffed than one that is chaotic and under-resourced.

Finally, I want to be really honest—using multi-level strategy can often feel like the book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. If you name what positions your ministry needs, you will need leaders to fill those positions. If you are able to recruit those leaders, you will need to provide them with role descriptions and train them. If you need to plan a training, you are going to need more leadership development budget.

The fact is, there will always be more to do. I encourage you to take these things one at a time and refuse – YES, REFUSE! – to be overwhelmed. Share on X

There are a million resources out there for you (I’d start with this article on recruiting leaders: “Four Tips for Volunteer Recruiting” by Kristin Franke), and remember that God has called you to this—You are not alone when you are called by God.

One thing I would warn you against, though, is don’t look at the biggest church out there for tips. Yes, go to the conferences. Yes, pick all the brains and get all the ideas. But don’t compare yourself or your ministry to North Point. No one is North Point. (Unless you’re North Point, in which case, this is awkward.) But seriously, if you are a children’s ministry of 25 kids or 50 kids, don’t look to churches with 1,000 kids as your model. They didn’t get where they are by having the model they have now, and you won’t get where they are by trying to copy them. If you want churches to look up to, find some churches your pastor respects or has a good relationship with that are simply at the next level. Honestly, they’ll be more likely to answer your emails, and they’ll probably learn as much from you as you learn from them. If you’ve tried that approach and had no luck (and trust me, I’ve tried that and had no luck!), consider joining the next Ministry Architects cohort or simply reading “Sustainable Children’s Ministry” by Mark DeVries and Annette Safstrom if you haven’t already.

Look, ministry is tough, but I believe that you are tougher, and the God that is in you is bigger than org charts, volunteer shortages, and check-in printer issues (again). You are called, you are worthy, and you’ve got this. Go with God, and enjoy the ride.

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