Download the gift tags below, cut them out, and use them to attach to fall gifts for your volunteers!
By Aaron Armstrong
Let me tell you about why I serve in kids ministry. Correction: let me tell you about the one really good reason I serve in kids ministry. I’ve been serving in kids ministry more or less from the time I started following Jesus right to the day I’m typing this, with only a few small breaks in between (so, give or take, about 14 years).
That’s hundreds of lessons taught to hundreds of children, all with particular needs. It’s hundreds of times being asked for a snack or a drink of water. Hundreds of times being asked for a trip to the bathroom. And, of course, hundreds of times being interrupted with a non sequitur about a pet, sibling, or something fun that happened that weekend.
For a lot of us, kids ministry is exhausting. It’s the place where we work the hardest to find volunteers and always come up short. It’s the place where we are never sure if kids are actually getting anything from our teaching. It is so often seen as little more than an add-on, as childcare at best—glorified babysitting where kids do a craft, hear a story, and maybe get a snack, too.
So why do I serve there? Simple: I serve in kids ministry because it is valuable—it matters! Kids ministry matters because it is all about making disciples of Jesus! It’s a place to make sure kids are getting the same things we all need to grow.
THEY MUST BE FED
Spiritually speaking, children need all the same things we do in order to grow: they need to know the Bible, too, and sometimes in even greater abundance! But we must remember the command Jesus gave to Peter, to feed His lambs (John 21:15).
Like Peter, we are commanded to instruct people in the faith. We are to teach them the truth; to “feed” them from God’s inspired Word. And that necessarily includes children.
WHAT KIDS NEED MOST
Kids need the truth in order to grow, just as much as adults do. No truth, no matter how big or small, should be excluded from their understanding. They need to know:
How God judges the world
How He demonstrates His love through the sending of His Son Jesus to die for us
That all stand before God guilty of sin, and only Jesus can take it away
That Jesus is coming back to judge the living and the dead, and bring about the new creation
That God sends His Spirit to live within all who believe, giving them new life and desires that please God
Kids need to know all these truths and many more besides. But whether kids realize this need or not isn’t the point. It also doesn’t matter if they respond right away or not.
And while we should never make the gospel or the Bible seem boring, our goal isn’t to be entertainers when we teach. The children in our ministries aren’t here simply to have a good time—they’re here for good news. Just as children need healthy food in order to grow physically, they need sound teaching to grow spiritually. Teach “the little ones the whole truth and nothing but the truth,” as Spurgeon wrote. That’s what kids need most.
And here’s the good news: they can handle it! Taught in an age-appropriate way, they can handle the tough truths of the Bible. They can handle the big story of Scripture. They can handle the passages that sometimes make us adults uncomfortable. What God has revealed, kids are capable of grasping.
But what kids need often challenges what we desire. We are shaped by an instant gratification culture where social media, important leadership wisdom, and, let’s be honest, our own sin, have transformed us into dopamine junkies, itching to get the next hit of temporary satisfaction.
But kids ministry, properly understood, is opposed to the quick hit or the easy win. Kids ministry is intentional, relational evangelism and discipleship. It is a slow burn, with a capital S-L-O-W, where we truly do live in light of the parable of the sower, scattering the seed of the gospel indiscriminately, not knowing what sort of soil it will ultimately fall upon.
GETTING A GLIMPSE
Nevertheless, even though instant gratification isn’t a thing in this ministry, it doesn’t change the goal. And it doesn’t mean we don’t get little glimpses of what God is doing in the hearts and minds of the kids we serve. Sometimes, God, in His kindness, does exactly that.
A few years ago, the Christmas before I moved to the U.S. from Canada, one of the girls I taught stopped me in the hall. She handed me a little card she had made. Inside it simply said, “Thank you for teaching God’s Word to us.” At the time, she hadn’t professed faith in Jesus, but she understood at least one thing: that I cared enough to teach her about Him.
And that’s enough. It has to be.
Aaron Armstrong is the Brand Manager of The Gospel Project, and the author of several books including Epic: The Story that Changed the World, Awaiting a Savior, and the screenwriter of the documentary Luther: the Life and Legacy of the German Reformer. Follow him on Twitter.
Remind your volunteers how much you appreciate them! Download instructions and tags here.
With VBS season approaching, it’s important to make sure your volunteers feel appreciated. This simple appreciation gift will get volunteers excited about VBS and let them know you’re grateful for them! Click here to download the instructions and tags.
By Jenny Whitaker
Last summer, Vacation Bible Schools (VBS) around the country were mostly either done virtually, in homes and neighborhoods, or not at all. I love VBS, and the idea of cancelling it—for any reason—was never an option.
We had to find a way to do VBS because it’s an important and fruitful tool in the hands of the local church, especially in this day and age when statistics show that the average regular church attender is coming to church one to three times a month as opposed to one to three times a week just a couple of decades ago (It’s Worth It, pp. 107-18).
Still, the thought of trying to do a virtual VBS seemed daunting. As I thought about the many small churches around our community and region, I wondered if virtual VBS was even a possibility for many of them. So I reached out to some of those local churches and asked if they’d be willing to partner together to reach as many kids as possible, and graciously, they said yes!
I was among a small group of leaders who hosted a virtual VBS for more than 45 churches from around the country. We know of at least two children who accepted Christ that week, and I’m certain many more seeds were planted not only in the hearts of the children who participated, but in the families exposed to the gospel we shared every day that week.
Without that partnership, what we did wouldn’t have been possible—not for my church or for the many others who partnered with us.
This year, I’ve traveled across my state, Florida, and talked to other kids ministry and VBS leaders around the country, and while many of us are opening or beginning to open back up for in-person ministry, VBS is still on the chopping block for many churches due to a lack of volunteers, budget resources, or perhaps other reasons.
Even before the pandemic, 61% of churches did not host a VBS due to a lack of teachers and volunteers (It’s Worth It, page 98). How many more churches will be forced to cancel VBS this year for the same reason?
Based on what we learn from Lifeway Research’s 2018 study on VBS, I would argue that we can’t afford to cancel VBS this summer, for a number of reasons. But most importantly, VBS is one of the largest evangelical outreach opportunities a church will have in a given year.
Additionally, even in the COVID-era, with its lack of volunteers and lower attendance numbers, VBS is one of the only events all year long that offers discipleship engagement and mobilization for the entire church body; there’s a way for everyone in your church to get involved.
This Lifeway Research study also revealed that 80% of those attending church one or more times per month believe they have a personal responsibility to share their faith, but only 39% of people are doing so. VBS is the perfect opportunity for people to do what they think they ought to be doing.
And in 2018, Cigna found that younger generations reported they were the loneliest generation, with loneliness levels reaching epidemic levels. How much worse must that statistic be given the isolation kids around the world have faced this past year due to COVID? Kids are in need of connection, even if it is virtually or on a smaller scale, and the church has an opportunity to offer it this summer through VBS.
If cancelling isn’t an option, what should local church do if they don’t have the resources to host VBS this summer? I say the solution is working with other local churches for a combined gospel-focused effort.
It seems like an obvious solution, but working together comes with its own set of challenges. Logistics aside, we must admit that working together will require some adjustments on the part of the local church when it comes to how we define success.
VBS is often a ministry that provides the numbers and metrics that many of us value and often use to measure our success in a given year: How many unchurched people in the community did we reach? How many church prospects were identified? How many people were reached by the gospel through the church? How many baptisms did we do?
These metrics aren’t bad. In fact, these are the very metrics we’re using to show how valuable VBS is to the ministry of the local church. But when those metrics keep us from working together because they might lower or alter our numbers, then perhaps we need to reconsider how much value we put into them.
In 2017, VBS reports showed that more than 2.4 million people were enrolled in Vacation Bible School, and that of those, 65,301 salvation decisions were made, and 160,926 church prospects were identified (It’s Worth It, page 73). Those numbers aren’t likely to change if we give people the opportunity to attend VBS.
That said, working together will require some creativity and flexibility when it comes to reporting the victories, as well as launching a successful follow-up strategy. Follow-up is a critical part of Vacation Bible School. It is essentially a mission trip in your backyard. And like any mission trip, it is important to extend that week of discipleship by connecting the unchurched and new believers with a local church.
Last year, our team planned with the end in mind. By knowing the importance of connecting people to the local church after VBS, we developed a strategy we felt would best serve those we were ministering. As people registered, we made sure to get their address, and based on their proximity to a given church, we shared the information of any family without a church home to the church closest to them and let that church do the follow-up. Did it alter our numbers? Of course. Was it worth it? Absolutely. But what does working together look like? And how do we do it successfully?
I wish there was a formula every church could follow, but like anything in ministry, it really depends on your demographics, the community you are serving, and what gifts God has blessed your specific church with.
For our church, we’re struggling to find enough volunteers to staff the same size VBS as we’ve hosted in the past. Truthfully, even with reducing the size of our VBS, we’re struggling to get enough volunteers—and that’s not uncommon this year. Almost every other children’s leader I have talked with has a similar story.
What we do have, however, is a facility that can house hundreds of kids, if we can find the volunteers to teach and serve them. By simply partnering with one or two smaller churches in our community, we can safely welcome as many kids from our community as will come by using the combined team of volunteers from our three churches.
We’ll get creative about identifying prospects, we’ll celebrate every child who makes a salvation decision and worry about whose report it will go on later, and maybe we’ll get creative about baptisms and have a joint service one day to see all our VBS kids follow through in the step of obedience together. The point is this: We’ll work together in humble submission to the Father to further His Kingdom instead of getting caught up in the growth of our individual churches.
At VBS, statistics show it’s not about if we reach a child for Christ; it’s about how many we’ll reach. The 2018 Lifeway Research study showed that 95% of American parents agreed that VBS positively influenced their child’s spiritual growth. With that much fruitfulness, we can’t afford to cancel VBS without putting up a fight. And in this battle, we are stronger together than we will ever be apart—especially with the challenges we face in this season of ministry.
Whether you pool human or financial resources with other local churches and do VBS in person, virtually, in a neighborhood, at home, or some combination of the above, VBS offers an opportunity unlike any other ministry all year. Children and families need to connect with Jesus and the local church; it’s worth considering how working together can make VBS possible during a summer when it might otherwise not be.
Lifeway offers numerous resources to help equip VBS leaders to do VBS strategically in this season of ministry. To find those resources and more for a “kids ministry from anywhere” time visit lifeway.com/kmfa.
This post first appeared on lifewayresearch.com
Jenny is the children and family ministry director of Bradfordville First Baptist Church in Tallahassee, Fla., where she lives with her husband and three children. Jenny is a writer for Lifeway Kids curriculum and enjoys training children’s ministry leaders across the state of Florida.
Print out the tags below. Attach them to carrot-shaped cellophane bags filled with candy and hand them out on Easter to teachers or volunteers. If your church is meeting virtually, consider a porch drop-off for volunteers.
Celebrate your teachers and volunteers with this small token of appreciation! Print out the tags below and attach them to a pack of gum. Pass out these gifts in classrooms at church or consider doing a porch drop-off if your church is meeting online.
by Lynley Mandrell
Confession: I have zero stage presence. In every church, there are those anointed few that God bestowed with a bubbly, magnetic aura. You know who I’m talking about. The lady that can command the attention of seventeen squirming kids, recounting an Old Testament story like it happened yesterday, and even break out into a silly dance that causes the kids to cackle.
I’ve always wanted to be that life-of-the-party person. In fact, for many years, my New Year’s resolution was to suddenly turn on the “fun” switch. Well, God hasn’t morphed my personality but I have grown to accept that the gifts He gave me are enough, and my passion is to help others find their sweet spot in ministry. That’s why volunteer ministry stirs my heart like nothing else.
A quick word about my background. Years ago, my husband and I launched a church in the West. Since God placed us in a land flowing with little kids, it was obvious that we needed a first-class children’s ministry. Since I had four of my own involved, this felt like a natural place to dig in. At first, I was terrified by the title of Director of Kids Ministry (lack of fun factor mentioned above), but with time I realized how thrilling it is to see families engaging and enjoying church.
Though the job was fulfilling, it was also very challenging. The greatest challenge, of course, is the monstrous job of finding—and keeping—volunteers. Loving on the volunteers should be at the top of the list for kids ministry pros. It took time for me to learn this lesson, but I would love to share a few tips I discovered:
Finding and Keeping Volunteers
- Avoid the temptation to hire it out.
Utilize volunteers for as long as you can. Stay lean and avoid the temptation to pay people. There are so many gifted people in your church, able to serve, if you cast vision and empower them.
- Don’t be afraid to ASK!
Asking your pastor to pressure the people from the pulpit is always a temptation but the better way to build a strong team is by recruiting them yourself, through personal invitation. There is power in the personal. Ask people to serve. Pick up the phone, shoot a text, or even better—approach them face-to-face. All you have to say is: “You seem like a really fun person…have you ever thought about serving in the kids ministry?” All the person can say is no. They won’t hurt you.
- Be a gift giver.
Monthly, or quarterly, give them a thoughtful gift. Don’t leave it in a room for them to grab. Roll a cart around to each room, fully stocked with snacks and drinks, and smile. In doing this, you are screaming “You are seen! You are needed! You are appreciated!” People don’t need another snack. They need a leader that cares about them.
- Host “office hours.”
Rather than emailing pdfs, or shouting in the hallways on Sunday morning, choose a better route. Invite the volunteers to pop by during the week. When things are calm, you can slowly show them around, hand them a copy of your policies and procedures, explain how Sunday morning works, and simply spark a relationship. Become their friend. Remember the old adage: “People want to work with you, not for you.”
- Invent opportunities for those who are “tired of kids.”
Create jobs in your kids area for those who don’t enjoy the classroom. Many young moms, for example, feel the burden to pitch in, but are coasting on fumes every week. Invite them to write monthly birthday cards, or to lend a hand in follow-up. They could be classroom cleaners, restockers, or craft-builders. These types of things can be done during the week and they are still making a difference on Sunday.
- Watch the back door.
If you have a volunteer coordinator, communicate often about those who are drifting away. Call that person and check on them. Be sensitive to the battles they may be facing in life. Ask if they have any ideas or suggestions on how things could be improved for the volunteers. Assure them that if they’re feeling disillusioned, others probably are as well and you need their feedback in order to grow as a leader.
Many hands make light work. I hope these tips are helpful as you strive to build a solid team in your kids area!
Lynley Mandrell is the wife of Ben Mandrell, the new president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Before coming to LifeWay, Ben and Lynley spent five years in Denver, CO, planting a church designed to reach the unchurched. She is a mother of four and a fan of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Dr Pepper, and silence.
Remind volunteers how much you appreciate them AND keep them germ-free with this fun volunteer appreciation idea!
Supplies: Hand sanitizer, ribbon/twine, tags
Instructions: Print out the tags below and attach them using ribbon or twine to a bottle of hand sanitizer. If your church is meeting in person, hand out these gifts in person. If your church is meeting online you can leave a bottle on each volunteer’s porch!