As a new church plant we are blazing new trails in many areas, not the least of which is our children’s ministry. We’ve been meeting publicly each Sunday now for seven months. Up until now, our ministry for children has run on good intentions, but over the last month we’ve taken things up several notches—professionalizing and standardizing what we do for our littlest attendees.
I’ll share many of our new policies and practices here, in hopes of encouraging other church planters or children’s ministry leaders who want to care well for their young ones (or for moms and dads who may want to ensure that their churches adhere to best practices!). I must add, though, that the key to raising the bar has been the enthusiasm and cooperation of a few key people. Our elders, our key children’s ministry volunteers, and one invested mom in particular (she loves kids and kids’ ministry and she’s a lawyer--total dream for this pastor's wife) has made it all happen. Without the investment from the “top,” as well as the legal and ministry know-how of our key volunteers, we would have had no choice but to remain “mom and pop” in our approach.
The backbone of our kids’ ministry is our mission statement:
Our desire is that the Gospel would bear on the hearts and souls of the youth in Parker during their very important trajectory-setting years. We believe parents are the primary spiritual leaders for their children, so our ministry seeks to impact and equip not only youth, but also families. Therefore, kids ages 0-6 are invited to worship in service or join us in our kids’ ministry room. In kids’ ministry, we will rehearse the Gospel by retelling a story from the Bible and allowing the children time to explore that lesson through hands-on activities to help them understand and remember the story.
Our current ministry philosophy and church size allow us to serve only 0-6 years olds during the Sunday morning worship service. In the sanctuary we do provide clipboards with colored pencils and sermon notes for all children who would like to use them during the service. They’ve been a big hit! While the idea of keeping kids in church is new to many families, we believe that children learn best from witnessing their parents worship. As a family, and now church, we appreciate the wisdom of John and Noelle Piper found here. Outside of Sunday morning, we do have a Youth Gospel Community, which is attended by our middle and high school students twice a month. Other than that, we encourage families to worship, serve, and study the Word together.
- With the guidance of best practices in Child Safety, as well as input from our aforementioned kids’ ministry volunteer who is a mom and a lawyer, we have a handful of rules that we’ve implemented for the protection of our kids and our ministry servants. All rules have both parties in mind—they’re meant to keep children safe, as well as provide for accountability amongst adults and additional eyes on all situations, should allegations ever be made by any party.
- All adults who serve in the kids’ ministry must complete a background check. As a church we’re using the Planning Center website to coordinate a number of things during our services, such as worship and kids’ ministry. The site has very reasonable fees for conducting background checks on volunteers. For only $8 per person numerous checks can be run nationwide within minutes. Nationwide searches are necessary, we feel, for our transient population.
- Two volunteers, ages 18 and over, must be present in the kids’ ministry room. This allows for better interaction and crowd-control with the kids, as well as an added layer of protection for both the children and adult volunteers.
- Kids’ ministry servants will ask parents to take children to the bathroom before they drop them off. In our current facility, the bathrooms are down the hall and very secluded, leading us to feel like only moms and dads should do bathroom duty. Volunteers may change diapers, in the kids’ ministry room, in full view.
- In accordance with accepted Child Safety practices, we have asked out volunteers to refrain from holding children on their laps. Instead, we encourage them to sit next to them on the floor or at the activity table. Babies can definitely be held, as necessary, but once a baby is out of diapers we’d like our volunteers to maintain safe touch without lap sitting.
- Youth may serve in the kids’ room with the adults, at the request and discretion of the adults serving each week.
- All kids and adults should be in full view at all times from the window in the door to the kids’ room.
Pickup and Drop-off Procedures:
- We purchased an iPad just for the kids’ ministry. It is located in the sanctuary and manned by a kids’ ministry volunteer each week. This is where parents can check-in their kids before the service starts. We’re using the Check-in system offered by the Planning Center, which includes both a database for all the kids and families, as well as a label printer for name tags. At check-in each kid and one caregiver gets a stick-on name tag with matching security numbers.
- Kids and volunteers enjoy one worship song in the sanctuary and head down the hall to the kids’ ministry room together after the first song. Side note: while we would love for the the kids and adults to enjoy all of the worship songs, we have found that it’s nice to maintain continuity between the worship music and the sermon. Having the children and volunteers exit between songs and the sermon seems to break the worshipful spirit in the room, which is why we have them exit earlier.
- Our community partakes of the Lord’s Supper each week at the end of the service. After parents have had a chance to take theirs, we ask them to promptly walk down to the kids’ ministry room and pickup their children. By having them exit the sanctuary just prior to the closing of the service allows for all of the children to be picked up on time for the volunteers to be in the sanctuary at the close—often in time for the Benediction and to enjoy fellowship directly after the service (no one likes to be stuck in the kids’ room while parents chat the morning away!).
- When kids are picked up, the adults volunteers must take the tag from the parents and take the tag off the child and match their numbers. They must keep both labels on a piece of scratch paper until the end of the morning, to confirm that all kids are accounted for. While this measure may seem extreme in a small community it does a few things: it shows visitors we are serious about protecting their children, it prevents parents in the midst of a custody battle from swooping in and taking their child from the other parent, and it ensures overall safety and security for all kids. All tags must be matched each week for each kid, no matter what!
We have plans in the event of either a fire or intruder. While these are worst case scenarios and unlikely to be needed, volunteers do need a plan for both. Obviously, the children, as well as kids’ ministry iPad, must be taken out of the building if there’s a fire. The iPad serves as a roster for all checked-in kids and provides all the contact information necessary to reunite them with their parents. Intruder plans will depend on each building, but in our case we have instructed our volunteers to barricade themselves and children in a corner away from doors and windows and try to maintain silence and to be unseen until the situation is over. It’s horrible that we have to think about these things, but such is our world.
Nuts and bolts of teaching each week:
- We are using the Gospel Project at our church and we love it. Our ministry leaders have access to the pre-school curriculum online. Each week, our ministry leaders check out the lesson, prepare all of the activities, and email the lesson to the volunteers for that weekend. The leader prep time is not too cumbersome—they gather the crayons or toy animals or glue or globe or whatever is pertinent to the lesson and they bring those items to church on Sunday. This allows for the volunteers to do VERY MINIMAL prep, making serving more doable and less intimidating to many volunteers.
- Each week calls for: Welcome time; introductory activities (active, hands-on, engaging); teaching the story (read it, then watch it, talk about it, sing about it); and object lessons or illustrations.
- Other tips and ideas: youth can hold babies, engage them in play, sing – our goal is that they are loved and well cared for; Keep it moving; Finger plays (itsy-bitsy spider; ten monkeys jumping on the bed; pat-a-cake; peek-a-boo; Jesus Loves Me with sign language); Simon Says, Mother May I, Follow the Leader, dance party.
- As for discipline—we don’t do it. If a child is struggling repeatedly to obey and is causing significant issues in the classroom, volunteers are encouraged to text his or her parents to come pickup their child. We don't, however, encourage parents to stay in the classroom, as only adults with background checks are permitted to be present.
We have managed to recruit five pairs of adults to serve once a month in the kids’ room. With a community of around 90 attendees and about 10 kids ages 0-6 each week, the above practices have made for a very doable and low-maintenance program. We thank God for those he has brought to our community and we fervently pray that the Gospel may be impressed upon the hearts of our kids. Our prayer is that our adult attendees would serve our littlest attendees with great joy and appreciation for the eternal significance of their role. To God be the glory!
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