Sometimes the most profound truths are the most common. In our race to find the next big idea, it’s easy to toss aside the ideas that are really going to make the biggest difference to your ministry.
The truth is that nearly anyone can run a successful kids’ ministry—there’s no great mystery to it. You might wonder, “If there isn’t a carefully guarded secret to running a successful kids’ ministry, then why don’t more people do it?” That’s easy. It’s because very few people take the time to define what success looks like.
Do you have an end in mind?
When a carpenter builds some shelves, he doesn’t simply run down to Home Depot, randomly buy some resources, and then come home and start sawing and hammering until he has shelves. He considers the space they will fill. He plans out how it will look, what materials it will be made out of, and he draws up the plans he’ll follow to create it.
In his hugely successful 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey calls this habit “beginning with an end in mind.” He observes that everything generally has two creations; there’s the mental creation where we imagine what something could be, and there’s a second, physical creation where we bring that vision to life.
We can see the correlation between the two creations when we’re baking a cake or planning a wedding, and we can understand how helpful it might be in planning a budget or creating a shopping list. But with long-term responsibilities that don’t have an absolute end, like parenting, our ideals can get lost in the daily grind.
It’s easier to define success when you’re working toward a specific end. It’s easier to know when you’ve been successful planning a wedding because, when you’re finished, you can judge how all the pieces came together. It’s a lot different to plan for a successful marriage because you’re always trying to judge it from the inside.
The same is true of ministry.
A children’s ministry director has to keep so many plates spinning: you have to orchestrate volunteers, stay on top of curriculum, plan for special events and holidays, and take care of all the tools and resources the ministry needs to keep running. On top of all that, there are unplanned, pressing issues that need to be dealt with regularly.
If you haven’t created a clear and understandable map for success, you will never know when you’ve arrived—or when you’ve gotten off track. Even if you have a plan, it can be easy to lose track of it when you’re overwhelmed by urgencies.
It becomes easy to judge how you’re doing based on whether you accomplished all the urgent things on your to-do list—which may not really be leading you any closer to success.
The key to victory in ongoing ministries is to define what success looks like. Once you have that down, you have something to measure the day-to-day by, and you can make decisions that complement your long term goals instead of working against them. It gives you goals to rally and encourage people around.
And when we talk about success, we’re not just talking about a vague, one-sentence mission statement. We’re talking about having an idea of what it looks like for your ministry to thrive in many different areas. It considers what success looks like in relation to the kids in your care, their parents, the church, the community, and ultimately God’s kingdom.
If your children’s ministry has been running for a while and feels kind of aimless, it’s okay to hit reset. Pull together some of your key volunteers, including any church staff that needs to be part of the discussion, and redefine the purposes for your ministry.
Remember you’re not setting goals (e.g., “We need to have 35 kids signed up for camp in June.”). You’re defining what a successful ministry looks like for you, and you’re using that definition to set goals.
For example, maybe you’ve decided that a healthy children’s ministry is a place where kids are enthusiastic about Jesus, their parents are involved on some level, and kids are excited to bring their friends. This might change the way you define your goals for an event. Maybe instead of aiming at getting 35 extra kids showing up at camp, the goal would focus more on getting kids to bring their own friends and less on marketing the event, or maybe a stronger focus on getting parents involved.
10 questions to define success in your kids’ ministry
Here are some questions you can use to begin the process. As you read through them, remember the key is to be a specific as possible. You don’t want vague, unclear answers. You want to be focused and clear.
For instance, the first question is “If someone from another church was to hold your children’s ministry up as an example, what would they say you do well?” It’s easy to answer with something like “that we really teach our kids how to love Jesus.” But anyone could say that. What specifically would you want them to notice? How you choose teachers? How you involve families? Your VBS?
The way you answer this exposes your passions and how to prioritize your energy so that other churches can say that about you.
You’ll also notice that most of these questions assume that you already are a success. That’s just part of the process of imagining your ideal kids ministry. Like the carpenter envisioning the table he’s building before he gets started, you are trying to get a clear vision in your mind of the ministry you’re creating.
These questions should be able to get your team started:
- If someone from another church was to hold your children’s ministry up as an example, what would they say you do well?
- On a Sunday morning, what part of children’s ministry are the kids most excited about?
- What safeguards do you have in place that make parents feel most secure about your kids’ ministry?
- The most important element of children’s ministry is . . .
- When adults remember being children in your ministry, what do they remember most fondly?
- What do children understand about their relationship with Christ from your ministry?
- The ideal curriculum includes what facets?
- Our volunteers share what qualities?
- How do parents partner with you in educating their children?
- What does the church do to help your ministry be successful?
Ultimately you want to consider every element of your ministry and consider what success looks like. What does success look like in regards to areas like:
- Auxiliary functions like VBS or camps
- Parental involvement
Once you’ve defined what a win looks like in these areas, you can begin to reverse engineer success by making decisions and setting goals that reinforce your vision.
Once you’ve defined it, you’re not married to your success rubric. You can amend it at any time. The key is to have a clear vision you can communicate and work from. Once you know where you’re going, you’ll find it’s a lot easier to make decisions on how you’ll get there.
So set aside a couple hours with your key volunteers or church leadership and go through these questions. Decide what success looks like in various areas, and begin setting goals that will reverse-engineer that success in your ministry.
Remember, your definition of success should be unique to your ministry. It will have many of the important elements of other ministries, but the way your vision combines with your church’s mission will make it distinct—and incredible.