“Are we there yet?!?” Anyone who has ever taken kids on a road trip has heard this infamous phrase; typically delivered in a grouchy tone that indicates a lack of enthusiasm for the present location and a lack of patience for the remaining duration to be endured before reaching the much anticipated destination. This first question is often followed by, “How much longer?” When kids ask these questions, adults often interpret them as whining or pestering, but I would propose that what the kids are actually expressing comes as a result of a lack of control over their circumstances and a lack of insight into your travel plan. As the adult in the driver’s seat, you know how many miles you need to travel, how many hours it will take to get there, what landmarks you’ll pass along the way, and at what intersections you need to change roads. The kids in the back seat have none of that perspective. They are along for the ride, but they are not engaged in the details of the trip nor involved in controlling the speed or direction of the vehicle. They are strapped in for however long the ride lasts.
As the driver of your ministry you are in a similar situation; only this time it is your adult team members, leaders and volunteers who are along for the ride. The people on your team need to know where you are going in terms of ministry goals, what landmarks you expect to pass along the way, and how long it will take to get there. They need to know why you take the turns you choose and how their contribution fits into the big picture plan. Sadly, many kids leaders cannot articulate specific answers to questions about their goals because they don’t know what the goals are themselves. They are moving with direction and driving with passion and purpose, to be sure, but in many kids ministries there is no clearly defined and documented destination. In many cases vision for a ministry does not extend beyond surviving the present hour or the next service; as if driving in the fog. For others the goal is far away, and there is no road map explaining how to get there. Setting and tracking goals in kids ministry are as crucial as using GPS on a road trip. Here are a few tips to get you on the right track.
- Begin with the destination in mind. The first step to navigating with GPS is entering the address of your desired destination. When it comes to setting ministry goals, it is wise to begin by identifying and articulating your desired long-term outcome. In the case of kids ministry this might mean describing the spiritual characteristics of kids that you want your ministry to produce when they leave your children’s ministry for a middle school or high school program. I encourage you to describe these results in terms of a child’s heart condition and their sensitivity to God’s will, God’s Word and God’s way for their lives; not their outward behavior. While there should be fruit as evidence of a changed heart, if our ministries merely produce well behaved children who act the part without true heart transformation we will have done them more harm than good. Ultimately we are training up children to be mature Christian adults, not just well behaved kids.
- Write it down and talk it up. Once you have identified your goal, write it down. Committing your goals to paper (or pixels) is a great way to make sure they are clear, concise and can be easily communicated. It also lets you share them easily with others. Try to make your mission concise enough so you can print it on your T-shirts and plaster it on your walls. People are drawn to organizations with strong, clear objectives that they can connect with. Sharing the purpose of your kids ministry publicly gives others the opportunity to join you on the journey. It also commits you to carrying it out and provides accountability to stay the course.
- Set milemarker goals. The best way to insure accomplishment of your great big long-term goal is to set a series of short-term goals to mark the way. I recommend having a whole bunch of them. While you don’t need every one of these, there is much merit in segmenting your goals into increasingly smaller chunks to make sure that everything you do supports your stated purpose.
- Nine year goal – This is the full duration that a child could be in your ministry; from birth through sixth grade.
- Three year goal – This is a typical duration of the scope and sequence of a curriculum and covers large spans of development in a child’s life. Babies through kindergarten, first grade through third, and third grade through sixth.
- One year goal – What do you hope to accomplish this calendar year, or within each grade-level that kids are in this year?
- Quarterly goal – What are your emphases this quarter?
- Monthly goal – What is your focus this month?
- Weekly goal – What biblical truth, concept or principle do you hope to convey this week?
- Hourly goal – Within each week there are multiple ministry hours, including multiple services and mid-week times. Each program hour may serve a unique purpose in discipling kids and each should have its own goals.
- Segment goals – Each hourly time slot may contain multiple sub-segments for storytelling, bible memory, worship, and learning activities. Each of these has its own purpose that your teachers should understand.
- Stick with your plan. Once you have set a goal and identified a strategy it’s important to stick with it. When it comes to accomplishing goals, there’s a lot to be said for consistency. Kids ministers often get antsy and feel the need to keep changing curriculum on an yearly, quarterly, monthly or weekly basis. Kids forums online often have questions asking, “What curriculum are you using this month?” I believe this is a disservice to your ministry. Every curriculum is written from a different foundational approach to teaching and changing too frequently does not allow the full plan to be realized as the full scope and sequence are administered. Your long term goals should include a wise plan for discipling kids in regards to the materials you use. Committing to a curriculum with a three-year chronological scope and sequence like The Gospel Project for Kids would allow you to take a child all the way through the bible three times from birth to sixth grade before they leave your program. Bible Studies for Life: Kids is based on an age-specific teaching plan called Levels of Biblical Learning that customizes its language and the biblical concepts taught based on a child’s ability to comprehend concepts. (You can learn more about Levels of Biblical Learning and look for free training for your team on the way kids learn biblical concepts at different ages here.) If you are not pleased with the content of your current curriculum, by all means, look for something better, but as you evaluate any curriculum, do so with the intention of using it for its full cycle and choose one that you can commit to for the long haul.
Having clearly defined goals for your ministry will give you wonderful perspective that you can use as a filter to evaluate the activities, resources and strategies you choose to use or avoid. Communicating your destination will let everyone, from parents to volunteers, know exactly what they are signing up for. And giving your passengers regular updates along the way will help everyone better enjoy the ride.
Chuck Peters is Director of Operations for Lifeway Kids. A graduate of Columbia Bible College, Chuck, and his wife, Cris, have served vocationally & voluntarily in Student and Children’s Ministry for many years. They have four amazing children.