Multisite Monday: Clothespins and Twister

If you follow my husband or I on social media, you know we recently relocated our family of six from Charlotte, North Carolina to Atlanta, Georgia. After leading the family ministry of Elevation Church for the past five years, we felt God calling us to something new, a journey that would require us to move more than 250 miles.

Most of you have experienced the stress and strain of relocation at one point or another. If you happen to be like me, a Type A control freak with a touch of obsessive compulsive, you understand “moving” translates into ground work. What can I do now to prepare for successful tomorrows?

Ten days in and I can say it’s been relatively painless. Frank and I have moved several times in our 16 years of marriage and none of those were as smooth as this one. Without a doubt God was at work, but we’ve always relied on God to guide us to what’s next. So for the past few days, I’ve been asking myself why this particular move was easier than those in the past. Today I had a lightbulb moment. The answer…my experience with multisite. When preparing to launch a new location, I begin by asking myself and my team several key questions. These questions help as I sketch layouts, design rooms, prepare systems and purchase resources. As I prepared our family for an interstate move, I found myself asking these same questions. I hope they help you as much as they’ve helped me.

How many rooms do we need? How many will we have?

Depending on your location, you may or may not have the ideal number of rooms you desire. You may have to combine age groups or make compromises based on your ministry values and priorities. Knowing what you have to work with is your starting point.

How will we ensure safety and standards in the allotted space?

Safety must always be a top consideration. If a classroom cannot be made safe or protected by your security team, it doesn’t make the cut. In a permanent multisite model, this means ensuring every room is thoroughly examined from as early as the blueprint stage. In a non-permanent model, the launching children’s director must see and measure each room before the first purchase order has been made. Excellence in the area of safety is the foundation in which you will build everything else.

What can parents and kids expect to see when they stand at the door of each classroom?

From wall and floor color palettes and furniture selections to age appropriate toys and supply needs, every detail matters. Are your rooms inviting? Are they bright and clean? Does it look like a fun zone or a school zone? It’s important to remember you’re trying to make a great first impression with kids and their parents.

What systems will we have in place to make drop-off and pick-up efficient and effective?

I talk about drop-off and pick-up procedures frequently. These two systems can make or break your ministry. Efficient drop-off systems take into account the quickness of your processes, while effectiveness allows for connectivity during each transition. When preparing to launch a location, its crucial to consider both.

How can we be prepared for anything and everything that may occur?

When a mom asks if you have an extra bottle because she left the one she prepared sitting on the kitchen counter, will you have one to offer? When a preschooler on the playground wets her dress because she was having too much fun for a bathroom break, will you have a change of clothes? When a boy in your 3rd grade small group shares that he woke up late and didn’t have a chance to eat breakfast, will you provide a healthy snack? What about rainy day activities? Vomit clean-up? Stainless steel wipes to keep water fountains sparkling clean? Extra vacuum cleaners for between service touch-ups? Gluten free and allergy considerate snack alternatives? Dissolving bottle labels to eliminate formula mix-ups? Wax paper sheets to protect the diaper changing pad cover? Dishwashing nets so bottle nipples and pacifiers stay in place and are sanitized thoroughly?

Maybe you’re thinking these items are excessive or a waste of money. I would contend that one or two fully engaged families will give more annually than all of these expenses combined. Families that feel well cared for will care for your ministry. Every detail matters. Every resource purchased creates an opportunity to serve those God has entrusted to you.

In a multisite model, it’s imperative to conduct a mock experience in every classroom or theater prior to launch. You need to know, in advance, your weak points, missing supplies and volunteer concerns. The only way to catch the smallest of details is to schedule a full run-through. Have volunteers check their children in and drop them off in their assigned rooms. Plan programming as you would during any normal weekend experience, and offer volunteers a way to communicate feedback and request additional supplies.

I’ve had the opportunity to launch the children’s ministry of 16 locations. My first launch for Elevation Church was a non-permanent campus in a local high school. We transformed classrooms into kid-friendly environments using pipe and drape to cover the walls and foam puzzle mats on the floor. During our scheduled run-through we noticed two major problems. In our baby and toddler rooms, curiosity had our young walkers tugging open the drape to peek behind the colorful makeshift walls. In our Clubhouse room (the area set aside for staff and volunteer kids) only a handful of children were interested in watching the featured movie or playing the video games provided. Most were bursting with energy and desired more interactive play. In the grand scheme of things, these two problems may seem inconsequential, but when safety is your #1 value and volunteers are the lifeblood of your ministry, finding viable solutions is a must.

Clothespins and Twister. One Walmart run and $20 later, we were set for launch Sunday. If you’re preparing for launch season, make sure to ask the right questions and schedule multiple run-throughs. Laying the ground work today will set you up for success tomorrow.

And if you’re moving, I wish you all the best. Remember…asking the right questions and laying the ground work is key to success in that venture as well.

I hope you’ll join me again next Multisite Monday as we discuss Clubhouse, an area designed to keep staff and volunteer kids loving church.

For additional Multisite Monday articles, click here.

Jessica Bealer

Multisite Monday – 3 Reasons I Prefer Non-Permanent Locations

In my tenure, I’ve launched the children’s ministry of 19 multisite locations, 13 of which were non-permanent. Each one holds a special place in my heart. Every launch was an adventure, a learning experience in which I’m grateful for. However, if I’m being honest, those non-permanent launches are just a bit sweeter. I make no excuses. I simply prefer non-permanent locations to permanent ones. Here’s why.

COST

In most circumstances, the expense to launch a non-permanent location is well below that of their permanent counterpart. At Elevation, the cost to launch a non-permanent campus is around 10% of the expense of constructing a new building or retrofitting an existing one. Imagine what’s possible with that kind of savings.

What this means for your ministry

  • You can reallocate funds to staffing or other resources.
  • You can launch additional locations with the money you save.
  • You can try “test run” campuses, in which you determine interest in a certain geographic location or with a particular demographic.

VOLUNTEER EXPERIENCE

Volunteers that choose to stand with you through a non-permanent launch season experience camaraderie and fulfillment unknown to volunteers serving at a permanent location. The work is hard, but the payoff is indescribable.

What this means for your ministry

  • You will never have to question your volunteers’ commitment or loyalty. If someone is willing to arrive early to set-up and stay late to tear-down, you can be assured he or she understands the vision and is committed to see it come to fruition.
  • Your volunteers will experience a greater sense of unity because it takes teamwork and harmony to make a non-permanent location happen each and every week.
  • Certain team members will grow to love the set-up and tear-down process. They’ll become fluid in all things pipe and drape and puzzle flooring. These “experts” will most likely be the first to sign up and lead the charge for your next non-permanent launch.

PARENT EXPERIENCE

When parents pull into the parking lot of a permanent church facility, they are expecting to be impressed. They want your building to be state of the art with a high end design. They expect classrooms to be beautiful and systems to be flawless. It’s often difficult to meet their unspoken demands. The exact opposite is true for non-permanent locations. Parents don’t know what to expect. They hope it’s clean and safe. That’s the minimum, but anything beyond that is often considered a bonus. Now imagine if you could create an excellent environment in a non-permanent setting. Not only would you meet parents’ expectations, but you would exceed them.

What this means for your ministry

  • When you exceed expectations, parents will make allowances they might not otherwise be comfortable with. Essentially, they grant you grace for the occasional mishap or mistake, and they overlook the school trophy case sitting just outside your classroom.
  • When they encounter unexpected excellence, parents will brag on your ministry to friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors. Positive publicity is always a plus.
  •  When parents notice the effort you’ve expended to create a great experience for their child, in an imperfect environment, they feel the need to contribute, and are more willing to sign up to serve.

If you’ve been considering a non-permanent launch, I challenge you to do the research, have a plan, and take a leap. In our small transient world of technology, where a company like Uber, with no storefront, is a global success, Amazon is the world’s leading retailer, and food trucks are all the rage, the legitimacy of the local church is no longer defined by walls or a steeple. If you’re committed to a multisite strategy, don’t discount the effectiveness or efficiency of the non-permanent model. It just might be the solution you’ve been looking for to advance God’s Kingdom and grow your church.

Note: Just like with anything else, every season must eventually come to an end. As much as I love non-permanent locations, I also believe there comes a time when the next logical step is to either shut down the non-permanent location because it isn’t seeing the level of success you anticipated, or it’s time to transition to a permanent location because it’s established a track record of growth. That timeframe is usually around the three year mark.

I hope you’ll join me again next Multisite Monday as we discuss Clubhouse, programming that ensures volunteer and staff kids at every location LOVE coming to church.

For additional Multisite Monday articles, click here.

Jessica

Multisite Monday – Make Church EASY. Remove These 5 Obstacles.

“We’re already running late, by the time we park at the back of the lot and get the kids checked in, we’ll miss most of worship.”

“I forgot to pack the baby bag last night. Even if I start now, we’ll never make it in time.”

“It’s raining and I can never keep the kids dry and get them in the building.”

“By the time we arrive, the kids will miss half the lesson.”

“I’m a single parent, and I’m embarrassed when I struggle to get my kids in by myself. I feel like everyone is looking at me.”

“I accidentally slept late and there is no way I can get my little ones changed and out the door in time to make it.”

“We don’t have time to eat breakfast and make it to church.”

“The good seats are always taken by the time I check my kids in and make it to the auditorium.”

and last but not least…

“We accidentally slept in, so we’re running late. My kids aren’t dressed. It’s raining and I can’t find the umbrella. I forgot to pack the baby bag last night, and now the dog is loose!”

I’m not sure how we can help with the family pet, but WE CAN AND SHOULD REMOVE all other obstacles.

Unchurched families (specifically parents) are unfamiliar with a Sunday routine that prioritizes your ministry. To be clear…they don’t know HOW to do church. Inconsequential delays often feel like insurmountable obstacles. Romans 10:14 says, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” In order for the Word of God to make an impact, one must first encounter it. Two thousand years ago, the problem facing the early church was a limited number of evangelists. In today’s society, there are a million things vying for the time and attention of every family that walks through your doors each weekend. In other words, your ministry has major competition.

If you want to connect with and make an impact on the families of today, you must intentionally remove as many hurdles as you can. Make it EASY for families to come to church. Here are 5 areas in which you can remove barriers and more adequately meet the needs of those coming through your doors.

1 – Family Parking / Assistance

Getting kids out of the car and into the church building can feel like a battle. There are a hundred things that need to be carried inside: bags, coats, car seats, strollers, toys, snacks, bottles, sippy cups, pacifiers, even favorite stuffed animals. Their kids are cranky or may be struggling with separation anxiety. Moving vehicles and tiny, unpredictable feet in close proximity to each other create another level of stress. In addition, families tend to run late, and this equates to a backlot parking space as far from the church doors as possible. But what if you could simplify the parking problem?

Solution: Designate a Family Parking area close to the church building and give families door hangers marked as such. Instruct them to place the hanger on the rearview mirror of their car. As they pull into the lot, have parking volunteers show them where to park and assist them as they unpack their car, wrangle their children and make their way into the building.

2 – Reserved Seating

One of the biggest deterrents for parents is not knowing whether they will get a decent seat or any seat at all during optimal worship times.

Solution: Since we know it takes moms and dads longer to find their seat (because of child check-in and drop-off), designate a “good” seating section just for them. As parents are checking their children in, have a kids’ volunteer hand them a special pog, marker or ticket that lets them know you’ve saved them a seat. This will take the stress out of the drop-off process. They won’t feel rushed or frustrated when they end up sitting at the back of the room or in your overflow area.

3 – Umbrella Brigade

If you’re anything like me, you cringe when the forecast predicts rain or snow on Saturday night or Sunday morning. You know your numbers are going to be lower than usual. But what if you could ensure a dry, safe way for families to get from the parking lot to the door?

Solution: Send an email to all families two days prior. Reassure them you are prepared for inclement weather, and you’re ready to serve their family. Assign additional volunteers to your parking team. Shovel sidewalks and sprinkle salt for snow. Arm your team with ministry branded umbrellas and ponchos. Have umbrella bags and hand warmers readily available. The next time the weather forecast looks dreary, consider it an opportunity to shine. Unexpected excellence is impressive and impactful.

4 – Start Times

If parents believe they are running too late…they won’t come. Church may already feel like a hassle, but if it feels pointless as well, you’ve lost the battle completely.

Solution: Don’t open doors too early, no more than 20 minutes before a worship service is scheduled to begin. If parents think they or their child is at a disadvantage, they won’t make the effort. Offer ice-breaker activities to early arrivers, but don’t start teaching until late comers have a chance to get checked-in. Hold the main auditorium doors until five minutes after kids classrooms have opened. This allows parents to check-in their children and still obtain optimal seating.

5 – Stocked Supplies

Parents forget…everything. We’ve all done it. At some point you’ve walked out of the house without something of significance. If a parent feels the need to turn around and go back home, it’s likely they’ll not turn back and try again. However, if you’re prepared for any and all needs that may arise, the trek back home may be avoided.

Solution: Stock everything from bibs, pacifiers, bottles, sippy cups and diapers, to extra clothes and underwear for every stage of development. Keep Lunchables, fresh fruit, and cheese sticks in a mini fridge, along with extra snacks in the cabinets that take into account allergies and dietary restrictions. Consider stocking odd things like sunscreen, screwdrivers, extra batteries or wrapped presents. You never know when a carseat might need a screw tightened, or a child’s favorite toy just ran out of juice. Give often and freely. Never ask or expect parents to return anything. Instead, consider it a good investment into fertile soil. When you say, “We can help with that! No worries.” or “No breakfast this morning? We’ve got you covered.” you convey preparedness and excellence.

In a multisite model, this can only happen if you’ve set clear expectations and created volunteer coaching strategies to support your teams. A recommended supply list should be offered to kids directors. Parking hangers, umbrellas, and reserved seating tickets should be designed and distributed centrally. Vision must be cast before changes are made, and the “win” must be clearly defined.

When everything else has gone wrong, church should be a safe place for kids and parents. Moms and dads should feel as if they can come as they are: messed up, scattered, stressed out, frustrated, on edge, tired, beaten down and forgetful. When you intentionally plan for any and all circumstances, you give parents the freedom to relax, set aside distractions, to-do lists and responsibilities and simply respond to the message of Jesus Christ. “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” Romans 10:14

If you want your ministry to grow, make church easy. Prepare. Prepare. Prepare. Remove all obstacles and offer parents a safety net. Your goal is to help them forgo the daily grind and simply receive God’s Word.

I hope you’ll join me again next Multisite Monday, as I share why I prefer non-permanent facilities to permanent ones.

For additional multisite articles, click here.

Jessica Bealer

Multisite Monday – The Magical Lanyard

So technically there’s nothing magical about the VIP lanyard that eKidz gives to every first-time guest during that initial check-in process, but what happens as a result is nothing short of a Diagon Alley or Hogwarts phenomenon.

It was designed for children, ages 3 and up, and serves four distinct purposes.

1 – The lanyard is a 4″ by 4″ square card printed with the VIP branding and secured by black plastic lacing. It’s bulky enough to grab the attention of staff and volunteers. It lets everyone know this particular child is a first-time guest and thus given extra attention, high fives, and dozens of warm greetings. It’s enough to make even the shiest of kids feel welcome and accepted.

2 – Kids are encouraged to take their lanyard and head to the information area to receive their First-Time Guest Gift, a custom slap bracelet branded with the eKidz logo. If kids head to the information area, parents will also. It’s a great strategy to engage with a first-time family, answer questions, and obtain feedback.

3 – Kids are encouraged to bring the lanyard back the next time they visit to receive their Second-Time Guest Gift, a custom glow-in-the-dark eKidz t-shirt. You may be thinking, “Aren’t you bribing them to come back?” Yes, that’s exactly the point. We want kids to come back and if a secondary prize achieves that mission, I’m okay with it.

4 – In large group, a kid wearing the VIP lanyard is automatically given bonus points for the game. Those points are “just enough” to give his or her team the edge over all other competitors to ensure a win. Yes…we rig the game. Remember, the goal is to create the best possible experience so kids will want to come back. In a kid’s mind, is there anything better than winning? Here’s where the magic happens. Regularly attending kids know that to win the game, they need a first-time guest on their team. That means as soon as a lanyard wearing child walks in the door, every kid in the room wants him or her on their team. Instant camaraderie. Immediate acceptance and belonging.

I LOVE an intentional first-time guest strategy, and my favorite part of the VIP process in eKidz at Elevation is the lanyard. In a multsite model, it’s important to synch your systems so that each guest at every location has the same experience and receives the same gifts.

Whatever your first-time guest process, it should serve to achieve the following.

  • It needs to make your guests feel special, as if you were waiting on them and are now celebrating their arrival.
  • It should have perceived value so there is incentive to return.
  • It needs to simplify the check-in process for subsequent visits.
  • It must, ultimately, help to establish a connection between their family and your ministry.

I hope you’ll join me again next Multisite Monday as we talk about family parking, umbrellas, and start times.

Jess Bealer

For additional Multisite Monday articles, click here.

Change Is a Process, Not a Position

I will never forget one of the first campus visits I made as children’s director at Elevation Church. I was newly promoted from kids’ campus director, and I was thrilled at the opportunity to lead the charge and make a greater impact on families. I climbed out of my car and skipped to the door. Okay, I may not have skipped, but I was definitely walking on clouds as I made my way in, clipboard in hand. It was going to be a great day, a start to an incredible journey.

It was most definitely the start of an incredible journey, but it most certainly was not a great day. Two hours later, head hung low, shoulders slumped, I traipsed to my car. How had it gone so dreadfully wrong? What did I do? I clearly made the campus director nervous. She kept glancing at my clipboard like I was making war plans, instead of taking notes, and that wasn’t even the worst part. I hadn’t held my tongue when a volunteer asked my opinion. I freely shared my thoughts only to be left dumbfounded when the volunteer and her husband picked up their personal belongings and walked out, leaving me and the campus director to deal with the kids. Let’s just say it was a learning experience.

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Multisite Monday – YOU get a t-shirt, and YOU get a t-shirt, and YOU get a t-shirt…

I believe language has the ability to destroy or unite. Your words can either undermine or advance your ministry. A strong set of values can give you a lens by which you measure each system, initiative, or strategy.

In eKidz, we tried to keep them simple and concise. Here they are, in order of importance.

We Will Make It Safe.

We Will Share Jesus With Passion.

We Will Bring The Fun.

We Will Connect The Family.

You may be thinking, “Safety comes before Jesus?” Yes, it does. Parents must feel comfortable with your environment before they are willing to entrust you with their child. Safety comes first…always. At Elevation, one of the ways we strived to give parents peace of mind was through the implementation of a t-shirt policy. Every kids volunteer at every location is required to wear a blue eKidz t-shirt while serving. It’s ingrained into the volunteer culture.

Of course, there were objections. With the introduction of any new strategy, there will be some level of resistance. However, if you have defined values and a common language, it’s much easier to create unity among your teams.

Here are four common objections you will encounter with a new t-shirt policy, as well as possible responses you might use to clarify the vision.

Objection: “I don’t want to wear the same thing to church every week.”

Your Response: “I understand. The t-shirt offers parents peace of mind. It says we trust you, as a volunteer, and it relays that you are operating on behalf of the church. Maybe you could bring another shirt to change into once your volunteer role is complete?”

Objection: “My shirt is faded, stained, too small…”

Your Response: “I’m so sorry! If you’ll tell me your size, I’ll go get you another one or I’ll ship it to your home this week. The t-shirt helps new parents easily identify kids volunteers, and we always want to simplify things for our first time guests.”

Objection: “I forgot it at home. I’ll remember next time.”

Your Response: “Ok, that’s no big deal. I keep a stash of spare t-shirts. If you’ll just bring it back to me at the end of the day, I’ll wash it and have it ready for the next volunteer who needs it.”

Objection: “It’s just so bland.

Your Response: “I understand. You are more than welcome to customize it. You can bedazzle it or accessorize it, or even wear a cardigan over it. We just want families to be able to easily identify the volunteers that will be caring and ministering to their children.”

Be prepared. If you’re planning to make this shift, I would encourage you to cast vision on the front end. Prepare your teams weeks or even months in advance. Allow them to suggest color options or even design. Clarify your reasoning and get your leaders onboard and able to communicate the why behind the shift. Remember to use your ministry’s unique language to create unity throughout the process. If you haven’t yet created a set of values, that’s your starting point. Bring your staff and key leaders together. Determine what’s most important. Then develop a common language that clearly expresses those intentions.

For multisite, a t-shirt policy can be an easy way to unify your campus strategy and prioritize safety. It’s also a source of comfort for parents when they attend a location that isn’t within their normal routine. It feels familiar and soothes anxiety. It’s a small touch that can make a big difference in a multisite model.

Have I convinced you yet? If so, you’re going to need talking points.

What’s the benefit?

  • It helps your safety or security team identify who should and shouldn’t be in your kids area.
  • It reassures parents the person they are entrusting with their child is a legitimate volunteer acting on behalf of and within the authority of the church.
  • It conveys excellence.
  • It surpasses parents’ expectations.
  • It’s a familiar comfort to the children you minister to.

If your church or ministry has implemented a kids volunteer t-shirt policy or you are in the process of doing so, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment below.

I hope you’ll come back to FamilyMinistry.Church every Monday as we continue to unpack multisite ministry.

Jess Bealer