Friday, February 22, 2013


Regular readers of this blog know that I'm not a big fan of rotating teachers (if you want to know why, here is a link to the introduction to that series). I'm sure there are circumstances in which rotation works well (and I'd be happy to examine each one), but overall, I believe the practice of making a schedule and having a different teacher each week for the main kid's worship time is actually counter-productive to effective children's ministries.

Aside from the inconsistencies in preparation, presentation, and participation, I think weekly rotations are actually a "distraction from the best." I know a very humble, very godly man who oversees children's ministries in his church. At least twice in the last year, he has expressed the need for "more volunteers." In fact, this last time, he has described it as a "dire need." The problem isn't that they have more kids than ever before. The problem is that children's ministry has been replaced with getting enough volunteers to fill the slots on the schedule. It has grown to the point that the focus is no longer what is best for the kids, but what is best for the volunteers.

Image courtesy of koratmember/
I imagine the process started with the innocent desire to make sure volunteers did not get too burdened with teaching week after week. So they created a schedule with Mrs. Jones teaching the first week, Mr. Smythe doing week two, Miss Looly on week three, and Mr. Grober on week four. That way, each teacher only has to teach once a month. But then Mr. Grober announces that he would rather teach every other month. So we either have to ask one of the other teachers to teach twice, or we need to get another teacher. Miss Looly is willing, but only temporarily until we find someone else. Meanwhile, Mrs. Jones calls on Saturday night to let us know that her family is going on vacation, so we ask Mr. Smythe if he can fill in. He can, but he doesn't really want to do two weeks in a row. We manage to plead and cajole and finally recruit enough volunteers so that nobody has to be stuck with the kids more than once every other month. All our slots are filled and all is well. Until we get a phone call from Mr. Grober....

A weekly rotation sounds like an ideal solution to "spread out the work," but it doesn't take much to derail the schedule. It requires us to recruit two or three times more volunteers than we actually need on a given Sunday, plus it does not guarantee freedom from burn-out. And before long, most of the energy is spent on getting warm bodies and figuring out how to schedule them. Soon, you have a volunteer or even the coordinator herself filling in for two, three, or more Sundays in a row and all they can think about is, "I'm tired of doing this every week. I haven't been in church for the last four weeks!"And, of course, there is the idea that Mr. Grober is here only because no one else wanted to do it that Sunday. That is the best we have to offer our children?

I have a testimony about my journey out of this cycle.  One day I will share it.  But for now, here are a few suggestions:

  • Recruit to vision, not to need. Iimagine if children's church was regarded as "real church." Imagine if there were dedicated, sold-out volunteers who look forward to bonding with the kids week after week. Figure out what your ministry is about, what it looks like, and find volunteers that will buy in to that vision.
  • Have a dedicated teacher.  Normally, that would be the Children's Pastor or Director, but in any event, find a consistent teacher whose "job" is to prepare and present to the kids each and every week.
  • Watch your language. The phrases used in our scenario above are actual quotes from volunteers and leaders: "don't want volunteers over burdened," "stuck with the kids," "haven't been in (real) church for a long time," etc. Don't talk about children's ministry as duty or obligation. "If nobody else comes forward, then (deep sigh) I guess I'll do it" (doesn't that just bless your heart?). Instead, tell the leadership, volunteers, the congregation, and yourself about this great adventure called "children's ministry."

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


When it comes to recruiting, I'm a simple, rather naive kind of guy. I think if a person hears about a need and they have a way to meet that need, they should meet that need. Simple, huh?

For years, I believed a self-imposed lie that I was "lousy" at recruiting. But I found that there are plenty of helps in this area and that, chances are, you are better at recruiting than you think. Let's take a look at six principles of recruiting (there are probably more). There is nothing new here, but it may serve as an encouraging reminder of some of the nuts and bolts behind recruiting children's volunteers.

  • Bulletin announcements for volunteers are the least effective means of recruiting. If you use a bulletin announcement, make most of the announcement about how much fun and exciting your children's ministry is. End with contact information for any who might be curious enough to ask.
  • Ditto with public announcements. 98% of the out loud announcement should be about how cool the children's ministry is. The last little bit should be something like, "And if you want to know how to get involved, see me after the service."  And whatever you do, don't beg, don't threaten, and don't bring sad faced little kids up front and talk about these poor children who don't have a teacher.
  • Personal invitations are the best, most effective way to recruit. Some of the best children's ministry volunteers I've had the pleasure of working with are the ones I walked up to and asked if they would help. The downside of the personal ask is that a lot of people will also say "no." But for the "yesses", it is exciting.
  • Don't confuse personality with technique. You can practice solid recruiting methods even if you don't have one of those winsome, charismatic personalities (you know the kind I'm talking about: the gal who, after one short conversation about the latest fashion, can get Mrs. Jones to help with crafts after you've tried to recruit her for the last ten years!). Effective recruiting can be learned and practiced no matter how socially awkward you may feel.
  • Recruit recruiters. The beauty of recruiting is that you don't have to do it by yourself. Contact people who know people. Ask the leader of the mom's group to help you recruit nursery workers. Get in good with the high school leader to see if there are some on-fire teens who would like to get involved.
  • Pray.  Yes, this should actually be first on this list and part of every other point!

What kinds of recruiting principles would you add to the list?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


You've got questions? I've got answers! They're in the link above that says "A Little Bit About Teacher Tim" (right next to where it says "Home"). Approach with caution.

While I'm certainly not a man of mystery (international or otherwise), I tend not to say a lot about me. A little over a year ago, some folks were asking about my background because they didn't know anything about me or my relationship to Children's Ministries.  I suppose for a steak dinner, I could lay out more details about myself than anyone would ever want to hear. But I'll settle for this for now (although the steak dinner is not out of the question, mind you).
This is not a resume (although if you and your church is looking for a children's minister, I will be happy to send you one). It's not even a decent cover letter. It is merely and over-simplistic summary of stuff that has made me me. And as always, all that I've been able to do as been by God's grace and mercy.  It's not about how cool I am, but about how incredible and awesome God is.

So go ahead.  Click on "A Little Bit About Teacher Tim."  Go ahead.  You know you want to.  And if, after you are done, you are curious about anything, just ask.  There are no off-limit questions, but I reserve the right to not always give you a complete answer.

Meanwhile, thanks for dropping by my blog.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


Songwriter Bill Gaither once sang, "Let the church be the church. Let the people rejoice." While he was exalting the One True Church, there are many folks in local congregations today who are saying, "Let the church be the church, but what exactly does that mean?"

Even though the vast majority of churches in the United States have fewer than 100 members, the attention seems to be on the so-called "mega-churches" with attendance in the thousands each week. Smaller churches by the score have adopted some of the techniques and practices.  Many churches use (to some extent or another) contemporary arrangements in their music.  Their pastors have shed the suit and tie look.  There is a greater emphasis on looking, feeling, and being a church for the 21st century, where Christians and unsaved "seekers" alike can feel comfortable.

Already, the readers are taking sides. Let me state for the record, that I have no problems with "mega-churches." Obviously, those that reject the Word of God or otherwise clearly teach false doctrine need to be examined closely, but as I've read commentary about mega-churches, it's clear that a lot of criticism is based on envy, not on substantiated fact. A common observation is "since they've grown so large, so fast, they must be a cult." That's not the case. One could just as easily say that the small church is small because they are not being blessed by God. Bottom line: the size and style of the congregation is irrelevant to this discussion. Having been in a mega-church environment and having served in a small church environment, I can testify that both have very similar challenges, albeit on different scales.

Yet in spite of the whole "seeker sensitive", contemporary church movement, some studies have shown that people are leaving the church in droves. As Group Publishing's Thom Shultz observed in a recent blog,
"Over the last year, while working on a major documentary film that examines America’s state of faith and the condition of the church, I’ve talked with hundreds of people. Many of these are de-churched. They’re done with the organized church. In some cases, they’re wounded. In other cases, they’re simply disinterested."("The De-Churched: Why They Left," Holy Soup with Thom Shultz)
I'm certainly no expert, nor do I claim to have all the answers.  In fact, my thoughts today may very well be different a year or two or ten from now. But at the moment, I'm wondering if the very things that have attracted people to church might also be the things driving them away. I had a friend who professed no real faith and didn't care much for church.  But one Sunday, at the invitation of a friend, he visited a "seeker sensitive", contemporary church. I asked him later what he thought.  He said everything was good...good music, good atmosphere, nice people.  Even the speaker was engaging. But he would not go back, because it didn't feel like "church."

I believe, deep down inside, we want to connect with something bigger and grander than ourselves. I'm not defending the ultra-ritualistic church, mind you (and high worship is not my particular preference), but at least they've nailed the basic premise: God is bigger than us. Although my friend confused style with intent, his memories told him that church music was grand and a little hard to understand because God was grand and maybe a little hard to understand. The pastor wore a suit and tie because he represented the King of Kings. And when the pastor spoke from the Bible, it was eloquent because the subject matter was exalted.  There seems to be a need for tradition, for ritual, and for "deepness" in our hearts. We want to be overwhelmed by majesty.

Once again, this is not a criticism of the contemporary style of worship, for there is an equally legitimate purpose for this as well.  We do need to be sensitive to seekers and visitors, and we need to be aware that not everyone we're trying to reach speaks "church-ese." On the other hand, we need to figure out how not to alienate those who want, need, and feel comfortable with ritual, tradition, and the whole language of the church. This is the challenge of the 21st century church.

So to answer the original question: "Let the church be the church, but what does that mean?" I believe the answer is "yes."

Just thinking out loud....