As kidmin leaders have you experienced the dreaded Friday or Saturday text or voice mail? “Hello, so sorry but we decided to do something as a family tomorrow and I can’t serve.” Or, “I’ve come down with a sudden cold.” Or, “My kids were up all night.” Or, or, or….

Building reliable volunteer teams should be very close to our number one priority if we want kids to embrace a vibrant faith in Jesus and if we want to have a life beyond rat-race existence. The bad news? It takes work, intentional work and focus, LOTS of focus! The good news? If you do the work, investing the needed time, your life will dramatically improve, you will gain a pipeline of leaders and almost guaranteed, end those dreaded Friday/Saturday communications.

Currently, I’m serving as a coach/architect, helping a mid-sized church build sustainable kidmin systems. The church’s DNA hasn’t supported a healthy children’s ministry for decades. So when invited to this role, I discovered that every system, and I mean EVERY system, needed to be built from the ground up. Not a surprise, that included the volunteer teams.

For starters, I read, re-read, highlighted and underlined pages in Sustainable Children’s Ministry  by Annette Safstrom, a Ministry Architects lead consultant. Her book is my preferred go-to resource (right after the Bible!) for building a healthy children’s ministry. I also accessed some of Ministry Architect’s helpful free resources focused on team building. Armed with tons of prayer, experience from past roles, and Annette’s and the Ministry Architects team’s wisdom, I began building sustainable systems, including volunteer teams. 

Consider WHY volunteers serve… It’s all about relationships!  

Identifying the needed roles, creating job descriptions and recruiting to those roles are vital steps. If you’ve done that, congratulations! But it’s also wise to take a closer look at your structure, keeping in mind why volunteers say “yes!” to serving. We know that one of their primary motivations is to experience stronger relational connections with others in the church. Imagine your various volunteers on a Sunday. Is it possible for them to show up, serve and leave, without having meaningful interactions with other team members?

If your volunteer team is depending on you as their sole point of relational connection, you’ll fail them. If the ratio is one of you to 15, 20, 50 others, you lose! Share on X

Those you’ve worked so hard to recruit and train won’t feel connected to the ministry or to the people they envisioned connecting with. The result? They’ll begin calling on Friday or Saturday to let you know they can’t come. They’ll show up sporadically. They’ll serve a while and then leave. And the crazy cycle is set into motion, yet again. 

We know it’s much easier to retain volunteers than to continually have to replace them. And, we know that a reasonable span of care, the number of people with whom you can have meaningful, caring relationships is limited… most research says 8-10. So how do you build a system that creates connection and provides a reasonable span of care for you and others? Through volunteer coaches. These are high-level leaders who lead teams of leaders, prioritizing building community and relational connections within the team.

What do coaches do?

  • They connect with leaders during team huddles on Sundays or midweek, offering support and relational connection while leaders are serving. 
  • They are aware of what’s happening in the leader’s life apart from serving and communicate needs, occurrences with you. (i.e. death of family member, diagnosis of illness, moving, etc.)
  • They communicate regularly with their assigned team, noticing wins and sharing ministry vision they’ve received from connecting with you.
  • They commit to meeting in person with each team member once every six months for the purpose of connection and gauging next growth steps.
  • They help recruit, develop and train leaders. 
  • They encourage connection with parents.
  • They form your leadership team and are the ones you, as the pastor or director, disciple, providing the care and connection for them that you desire for them to provide your various teams. 
  • Different from ministry directors, who typically focus on the ‘doing” aspect of the ministry, they focus on relationships, leadership and team development.
Word on the street is that teams who serve inside a coaching model have significantly higher retention rate than teams without coaches. They show up more often. They are less likely to call and cancel because they are invested… Share on X

You might be thinking, “You’re crazy!  You’re asking me to recruit yet another set of leaders?” And, “That is a high level of commitment, I can’t get people to commit to showing up once a month!” You’re right! The coaching model does require a high level of commitment, but it’s worth it.  And, it’s been proven that asking for greater commitment results in gaining higher quality leaders who build stronger teams.

I’m convinced. How do I start?

I’m six months into my new assignment and I’m just now taking my first steps toward this goal. It’s taken this long to gain a sense of church culture and build some relational capital and trust.  Here’s what I’m doing:

Pray!  I have been and will continue to pray for God to faithfully provide the right people.

Discern why.

Why do you want these leaders? High level leaders respond to vision. They want to know, “Why is this important?” You need to be personally convinced that relational connection builds longevity. Be ready to share.

Discern what.

What ministry values have you established that you want your coaches to embody and replicate? For me, I am convinced that vibrant spiritual transformation for kids is best realized in the context of relational connection. I want my coaches to model this with those they are leading, which is then lived out in their leadership of children. Other values I want my coaches to embody include a vibrant and growing relationship with Jesus, and a deep value for partnering with parents and a  

Discern who.

Ask yourself:  “Who do I ask to cover the ministry when I’m away on a Sunday?” They might be the ones to step into this higher level leadership. Or, there could be leaders sitting in the pew who might not consider serving with kids, but would love to mentor leaders. 

Observe: Who does a great job leading a small group? They MAY be your best coaches as they replicate their leadership in others.  You might be thinking I can’t spare them as leaders. As their first task, ask them to recruit their replacement! 

Invite and keep inviting! 

Recognize this is a slow building process. I’m meeting  with a couple this week to invite them to this role. I’m not in a hurry, but I am focused and intentional.

And, repeat!

I’ll keep praying, discerning and inviting because I’m convinced this model provides the sustainability I long for and that I want to hand off to the leaders following me. 

Looking forward to fewer Saturday night calls and a transformed church DNA that values ministry to kids and hope you can as well!

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