A couple weeks back I shared 8 Do’s for Volunteer and Staff Kids. Before we jump into today’s content, here’s a brief recap…
Growing up, my parents were the ultimate church volunteers. My mom was a Sunday School teacher, my dad the Sunday School Director and Associate Pastor. When I was a teenager, he announced his call to preach. As much as I loved Jesus, I came to resent the church building itself. I endured long hours inside those brick walls, bored and wishing to be anywhere else. Yet, at 19 years old, I felt God’s call on my life. It was very specific. He wanted to use my own experience to fuel my passion and make church FUN for kids. Over my 17 years in children’s ministry, I’ve strived to create environments that engage and attract children, especially staff and volunteer kids. Today’s post is Part 2 of 8 Do’s and Don’ts for Volunteer and Staff Kids. It will focus on those things that should be avoided in order to connect and minister to the families you see most often. I would encourage you to start with Part 1.
Up until December 2016, and for the past six years, my husband and I had led the family ministry at Elevation in Charlotte, North Carolina, a fast-growing church of 16 locations and nearly 30,0000 attendees. One of the areas in which we found success was called Clubhouse. Clubhouse is an environment designed specifically for staff and volunteer kids. At Elevation, parents attend one worship experience and serve during another. As a result, volunteer and staff kids are at church for more than four hours. Clubhouse ensures they don’t get bored or serve as a distraction.
Clubhouse is an area where kids can eat a snack, hang out with friends, watch movies, play boardgames, engage in video game tournaments, craft, and play with toys. Kids love the low key environment and parents appreciate the energy and effort expended to care for their children while they are busy serving Jesus.
Having a defined strategy is key. Here are 8 things to avoid when establishing a plan to better engage and minister to staff and volunteer kids.
DON’T expect them to be exemplary pupils.
- Kids are kids. While I strongly believe regular church attendance helps young minds develop a more defined and Biblically based sense of morality, it’s important to remember even great kids have bad days, weeks, and years. Believe me, my funny and sweet 11 year-old, Isaac, was not so pleasant when he was three. If I’m being honest, he was a terror. I wanted to apologize every time I dropped him off. If you’re creating a Clubhouse type environment and expecting the kids in attendance to behave like angels that treasure the space, put away games, and listen the first time an adult speaks, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. Clubhouse at Elevation is loud, somewhat chaotic, busy, and FUN! When children feel safe to be who God made them, they’ll start to anticipate that freedom. They’ll begin to look forward to the long hours at church.
DON’T punish them or make them an example because they are “tough enough” to handle it.
- The kids in your ministry will act out, especially in an environment in which their energy is allowed and encouraged. As with anything in life, a bad choice can result in unfortunate consequences. I’m not suggesting you should let volunteer and staff kids run wild, but make an effort to understand the stress and strain each child endures in order for you ministry to thrive and always err on the side of grace.
DON’T assume their parents are informed about what’s happening in your ministry.
- The most uninformed parents in your congregation are typically those on staff or serving in a volunteer role. Why? They’re too close to the action. Volunteer and staff parents assume because they spend so much time within the church walls they are “in the know.” These moms and dads rarely read handouts or emails, and they never pay attention to details because they know who to call when they need a reminder. As a ministry leader, it’s incredibly frustrating, but it’s also a reality. Find ways to keep volunteer and staff parents informed. Station a volunteer at Clubhouse pick-up to relay details through face-to-face conversation. Mail handouts directly to their homes with a personalized note. Create disposable take-home bags parents can grab with all the information they need for the week. Make it a point to keep them informed and watch as they begin to understand, support, and appreciate your ministry in a whole new way.
DON’T forget about attention span.
- Have you ever been in a car with a kid? Whether the trip is 10 hours or 10 minutes, as soon as your foot hits the gas those legendary words fall from their lips, “How much longer?” God gave us these precious, adorable, mini people with boundless energy and zero attention span. If you truly want to help kids love church, you have to keep their minds and bodies occupied. Having staff and volunteer kids repeat your Sunday morning programming multiple times will eventually create problems. When little minds and hands wander, they cause distraction and create mischief. In your Clubhouse environment, keep a steady pace of activities planned. When parents arrive to pick-up, you want their kids asking, “Can’t I stay just a little longer?”
DON’T treat them as you would all other regularly attending children.
- Staff and volunteer kids will, on average, spend 300% more time at church than a sporadically attending child. If you strategically use this time to invest in them, you’ll find these children will be your most effective marketing tool. They’ll understand the heart of your house and the systems of your ministry and will one day be your most passionate volunteers.
DON’T allow programming constraints to limit what you can do.
- Just because your main worship service is programmed for 60 minutes and held inside the brick walls of the church building, does not mean your Clubhouse environment should operate within those same constraints. Schedule a game truck. Turn your parking lot into a waterpark. Plan a Easter Egg hunt with mega prizes for your staff and volunteer kids during the Easter Clubhouse experience. Order Happy Meals and milkshakes from McDonald’s and sit on the playground or sidewalk for lunch. Find ways to make your Clubhouse experience feel not normal.
DON’T assume they love church.
- I shared how, as a child, I loved Jesus but hated the church building. I was often bored and couldn’t relate to the teachings. I’m sure your church is committed to creating fun, relevant environments but every child may not initially view your ministry in a positive light. That’s okay. Treat them kindly. Ask questions. Find out what his or her interests are and make adjustments that will strategically appeal to individual interests.
DON’T babysit them.
- We all love to be needed, to feel important, to believe that our opinion matters. Kids are no different. If anything, they are seeking validation and acceptance more than anyone else. When you schedule a volunteer and ask them to do little more than pass out gummy snacks, turn on a movie, and check tags at pick-up, kids have no motivation to be more than a number in a ratio. Instead, find adults who will take a vested interest in them as individuals. Make sure your volunteer and staff kids feel important and valued. The lengths to which kids will go to fulfill the expectations you’ve set will surprise you. Challenge them to assume leadership positions among peers. Offer incentives for scripture memorization, and find opportunities for them to take the reigns when possible and be the hands and feet of Jesus.
A successful Clubhouse environment is one of intentionality. Your strategy should be to engage kids, facilitate friendships, and bring laughter, as well as connect families on a more personal level.
In a Multisite Model, bring campus children’s director’s and Clubhouse leaders together frequently to brainstorm ideas and determine what is and is not working. Sharing supplies and strategy can save you time and money in the long run. The secret to success is not a secret at all, it’s collaboration.
Sample Clubhouse Schedule:
8:00AM Parent Drop-off / Free Play / Morning Movie
9:15AM Kids transfer to class
9:30AM Clubhouse kids attend first experience
11:00AM Clubhouse volunteers pick up kids from classrooms and transfer them back to the Clubhouse area.
12:00PM Free Play / Video games / Crafting / Art / Boardgames / OCCASIONAL SPECIAL ELEMENT
1:15PM Parent Pick-up
*Note: Clubhouse is available for volunteer and staff kids, ages 3 through 5th grade.