Editor's Note: This is part 2 of a four-part series on strategic outreach.
In my 30-plus years in ministry, I have seen amazing children's programs and not-so-amazing children's programs. But I have never seen a church that didn't care deeply about its children. Wherever you are on that spectrum, this article is not designed to help you have a better children's ministry. But what I would like to do is to show you some very practical ways to strategically grow your church through your children's ministry in very tangible and practical ways, whether you have 10 kids or 1,000.
Far too often, we don't make the connection between the parent experience and our children's ministry's outreach and retention potential beyond making sure we are providing safe, clean, fun, spiritual and educational environments. Those all matter, but really, these should be staples. These should be the goals of every children's ministry. These features are essential but will not set you apart beyond what a big church can afford as opposed to what a smaller church can afford. But I am here to tell you that there are things that matter just as much or more—and they have everything to do with strategic growth and retention, and nothing to do with the size of your church.
Church Growth Secret No 1: Numbers have names.
Personalization is huge and severely understated and emphasized. I'm not just talking about remembering names, although that is important. I am talking about leaving impressions on parents that have a profound effect on how they make decisions about where they plant their families.
Here are seven very practical ways that can personalize your children's ministry that will have a significant impact on the culture of your church and the growth of your congregation.
Re-think Volunteer Leadership. Intentionality is everything when the goal is personalization. Find ways that identify visitors to your volunteers be with a different color wristband or sticker. Then have a plan with your volunteers to find time during the service to connect and learn those names.
We tend to value supervision at the expense of relationship. Engagement is the key word to be taught and caught, especially during the opening and wrap-up times.
Teach your volunteers the language of connection and engagement and model this value. Debrief after services and ask about their conversations and their observations. Teach them to see the good and affirm the good they see.
Church Growth Secret No. 2: Eyes Out.
Teach your volunteers a simple expression: Eyes out. Volunteers tend to clump and visit with each other, but if they learn to speak the language of connection ("divine encounters," "no coincidences," "God brought these here today for a reason,' "Lord, speak and connect through me") and become intentional about their focus from check-in to check-out, it will make a difference. Teach them to find the visitors and learn their names.
Church Growth Secret No. 3: Take Notes: Check-out time is "go time." See something, say something.
This is where you need to spend a little money. Buy each of your volunteers a small notepad and teach them how to take notes. We see what we look for. Whenever they see an act of kindness or hear a word of encouragement, write it down along with the name. Catch the kids doing good or take note of those that are extra kind, those who share or care or help, and then at check-out time, tell on them to their parents. Don't be insincere and don't make stuff up, but teach them that when they see something, say something. As the leader, you need to be sure this gets spread around so every kid gets affirmed at least once over the course of a month.
Every parent loves to hear good things about their kids, and let's face it, some parents never hear a good word about their child. Some even dread that pick-up moment. Your last impression with that parent is the one they will remember the most. Make it count. Check-out time is go time!
The main teacher/leader needs to be the ones to check out those visitor kids and hopefully between your observation and the notes from your workers, you have a very personal and specific list of things to affirm in those children who visited. Pull those parents aside and tell them you need to speak with them, and then let them have it! Tell them why you were so honored to have that child in your group that day and what your team saw. This is what strategic growth is all about.
Church Growth Secret No. 4: You must personalize your parent communication.
Tell on kids—behind their back. If you are the leader of the children's ministry, or any part of it, then I would challenge you to write a minimum of five letters a week (less if you have a smaller program---scale accordingly). But every week you need to tell on some kids—behind their backs. Hopefully, over time you have seen the good in the children who come through those doors every week and can write a letter. A half page is all you need, more if you feel led, and tell that parent what you see in that child. That will have as great an impact as anything they might have experienced in a weekly service. My bet is, you are going to need to spend some more money here—for tissues. I dare you to try to write one and not lose it. Never tell in person—send a personal letter: To the Parents of—and give them something to put on that refrigerator.
Birthdays and recognitions matter. Whether it's waking up to balloons on their mailbox or a box of donuts on the pillow next to them---or anything that is personal and says "Happy Birthday" is huge! Even a phone call will make a difference. Track these, or better yet, assign this to a leader and make it big. It will pay dividends and matter more to some kids than others---but it will always matter to the parents. Big win! Same goes for awards or recognitions---set up a reporting mechanism for parents and help their big moment matter.
Here's a tip—call the mom or dad's number around supper time—so they have to hand the phone off. Now everyone knows they got a call from someone who cares about them.
Make your weekly calls. My recommendation is every child who has missed two weeks or more gets a phone call—not an email or a text, although you can add those. Also, every visitor parent gets a call within 48 hours. Make the call.
Go the extra mile or send. Allow the kids (or the parents) to turn in sports and concert schedules and go when you can or divide the list up between the volunteers. Look for the events where several kids are involved so you can catch a bunch with one event. This is going the extra mile, and for kids, it will be something special. But for every parent—it will be huge and show that you really do care. Actions always speak louder than words.
Build your base with events. The strategy for growth assumes this: You can nurture the ones you have for months and not grow by one child. When it comes to visitors, they will only come to your church for one of two reasons: Their parents decide to check out your church or they come with a friend.
Church Growth Secret No. 5: Give people a peek behind the curtain.
I recommend a minimum of one large event per quarter (one per month is even better) where your kids can invite their friends. Whether it's bowling, the trampoline place, an amusement or water park or even just a big movie night—anything works. The goal is to add names to your current list and then reach out to those new families over the next few weeks. After you have called, pass along the names and contact info to your adult outreach people if you have one to do follow up. Place those new names and contacts on your master lists for e-blasts and social media.
Better yet, have sneak preview nights where you do a live service on a Friday night, and the primary goal is for families to come and see for themselves all that goes on. I recommend two of these per year, and make them big. Now it's your parents inviting other parents and their children as well as those parents who bring their families to church but do not put their children in the children's ministries. I guarantee your ushers know who they are. Give them a peek at what goes on every week so they can see the value, and use your kids for everything from greeters to hosts and everywhere you can.
Bottom line is that you have to be intentional about retention and outreach, and I have seen hundreds of families choose our church because of their child's experience in our children's ministry. There will come a day when that family in your community feels the nudge of the Holy Spirit that it's time to get back in church, and then bam! They open their email, and there is your e-blast. That's the language of connection. No coincidences. Just divine encounters.
Rethink everything when it comes to your role in growing the church. How you pastor the children God sends you and your words of affirmation to their parents will extend deeply into the life of the whole family if you will simply make some small but profound changes in the way you do arrival and dismissal times, become far more individually observant and then tell on your kids. Build that base through your events and then allow the Lord to use the processes you already have in place to grow your ministry and have a profound effect on the growth of your church. Be the reason people choose your church.
The next article will focus on intentional outreach and retention in your youth ministry—can't wait! Look for part 3 soon.
Dr. Rich Rogers is the director of Strategic Outreach at Free Chapel, with eight campuses in three different states pastored by senior pastor, Jentezen Franklin. He is also the author of Next Level Living and Next Level Parenting (Charisma).
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