The Secret to Leading a Growing Family Ministry


As everyone who works in ministry knows, it’s hard. You never get it all done and every week there are urgent things that have to be balanced with the important things. In the midst of it all it’s easy to fall into the trap of simply managing what we have going and feel like the ministry is stuck.

All of us want to lead growing children, student, and family ministries. As I use the term growth here, I mean in health and effectiveness. I don’t mean numbers, but we absolutely care about connecting more people to Jesus. A growth in health usually goes along with growth in numbers. In my time serving in the local church and learning from tons of other healthy family ministries, I’ve observed something I think is the secret to leading a growing family ministry, or leading anything to grow.

Habitual Learning

Every great leader I get to know in ministry is a life-long learner and it has become a habit that is completely interwoven in their life. They’re not all the same, however. They learn in different ways and through many different channels. But, they all have a posture of humility and believe they can learn anything from anyone. Here are a few things I have learned about how we can make a habit of learning.

Build Learning Into Your Existing Schedule

I think the reason many leaders don’t have a rhythm of learning is because there is so little time. They’re overworked and treading water to get through each week.

I get that.

So, to start I recommend finding a way to learn weekly by using time that already exists in your schedule. One example might be reading and discussing a chapter of a book each week with your team so the accountability helps you follow through. Build that into your existing meeting schedule even if it means cutting something else out.

Get Around Other Leaders

One of the greatest ways I have been able to learn is by getting around other leaders in family ministry. I can learn so much from a short time with another leader. You can get around other leaders at conferences, on social media, or by emailing them. Sure, some won’t have time to spend with you, but don’t say “no” for them. Some of the best relationships I now have with great leaders started with a tweet or an email.

Ask Lots Of Questions

Get in the habit of asking lots of questions. As you get around other leaders, ask about what they do and why they do it. After that, ask how they do it. Sometimes you might be tempted to share what you do because you’re proud of it. Resist that. Use the time wisely to learn everything from them.

How do you learn?

How do you learn? Is it a habit? What tips can you share about how to make learning a habit?

Five Ways To Train Volunteers and Which One Is Best

Live to Serve training event for children’s ministry volunteers – see

In the survey I recently didvolunteer training was one of the top topics family ministry leaders were interested in. Training volunteers is crucial and I believe it is something many leaders struggle to do well. It’s also something that isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, so each leader has to determine what their ministry needs.

5 Ways To Train Volunteers

In addition to figuring out what our ministries need, something we can miss is the importance of using different training methods. I think we should use multiple training methods and pay close attention to which ones fit us best based on our team, our gifts, our rhythm and our ministry size. Regardless of those factors, I do believe one of these methods is the best and every ministry should have it as a foundational part of their training plan.

Large Group Setting

This is probably what most of us picture when we talk about training volunteers. We think of a large group setting where somebody teaches content to the group. The advantage is we can train a lot of people at one time. The disadvantage is that it requires a gifted communicator to prepare and deliver the content. I think this option is helpful for orientations and vision casting.

Small Group Setting

In my opinion we don’t take advantage of this method enough. This method is just like leading a small group with the content being whatever we want volunteers to be trained with. The advantage is it doesn’t require a gifted communicator/teacher and community can be built in the process. The disadvantage is that it does require an existing structure and a lot more leaders. It also needs content that’s written and created with small groups in mind. I think this is helpful for training around specific roles, specific skills, or when we want to develop a team all together.

1-on-1 Mentoring

If you were to poll top business leaders you would find the vast majority of them receive regular coaching and mentoring. Most of us will only reach our potential with the help of a coach. The advantage to mentoring is the training can be very specific to what the person needs. The disadvantage, of course, is that it requires the most leaders and the most commitment from those leaders. In an ideal world every volunteer is led by someone who is pouring into them. I think this method should be used by every leader with the people they lead at least once or twice a year.

Distributed Self-Learning

In the world we live in this is a great training option. Essentially we create training content in some format and distribute it to volunteers for them to go through on their own. This could be training videos, articles, audio teachings, or even pushing content through email and social media. The advantage is the content lasts for a long time. The disadvantage is there may be less accountability and little relationship building. I think this is best for ongoing development and for training early on in the process.


The best churches I have learned from all use apprenticing in a big way. In fact, I think it is the best training method there is. The advantage is, as Andy Stanley says, that “leaders learn on a need-to-know basis.” Putting them in an environment where they must learn helps them retain more. Also, people typically learn and retain more by doing it and teaching it, both of which can happen through apprenticing. The disadvantage is that it’s harder to control and ensure apprentices are getting the experience you want.

What methods do you use and prefer?

Did I miss a method? What methods do you use and which one do you think is best?

2016 Family / NextGen Ministry Survey Results


Thanks to everyone who participated in the 2016 Family / NextGen Ministry Survey. I primarily did the survey to hear from leaders in family ministry so I can understand how to best serve them. I have a couple of big projects in the works for family ministry leaders, and this survey also helped me determine if there’s a need for those projects.

Survey Results

Scroll down if you would like to download the full results of the survey along with a number of cross references to see how that impacts the responses. Here’s information about the responses as well as what stood out to me.

Survey Responses

  • 256 people completed the survey
  • 161 Women & 94 Men (1 skipped this question)
  • Role Breakdown
    • 153 are Children’s Ministry Staff (60%)
    • 46 are Student Ministry Staff (18%)
    • 40 are NextGen / Family Pastors (16%)
    • 14 are Children’s Ministry Volunteers (5%)
    • 1 Student Volunteer & 1 Volunteer not in Family Ministry (1%)
  • Church Size
    • 0-500 – 46%
    • 501-1000 – 29%
    • 1001-2000 – 15%
    • 2001-5000 – 8%
    • 5001+ – 3%
  • 17% of the churches represented are churches planted in the last 10 years
  • 22% of the churches represented are multisite

What Stood Out To Me

  • I was a bit surprised how hard it was to get student ministry input. In fact, if it weren’t for advertising this specifically to student pastors on Facebook, the response rate would have been so low it wouldn’t have been helpful. I’m not totally surprised, however, because I’m aware that my connection in the student ministry world is not what I’d like it to be.

Helpful Topics

  • The #1 topic people say would be helpful to them is Partnering with Parents. #2 was Small Groups for Kids/Students. Volunteer Recruiting and Volunteer Training came in at #3 & #4, and I was pleasantly surprised to see Partnering with Parents and Small Groups as a high priority.
  • Strategy was close at #5, and those top 5 were far and away the favorites with a big gap between them and the rest.


  • 67% listen to podcasts, which is probably higher than I thought. The bulk of that is Andy Stanley’s and Carey Nieuwhof’s.
  • 82% would listen to a podcast featuring top family ministry leaders, while another 16% said they might.
  • Only 2% said they wouldn’t listen to a podcast with family ministry leaders. People are more open learning from podcasts than I thought.


  • Not enough volunteers was by far the biggest challenge leaders are facing. That was not surprising.
  • Not enough time was the second biggest challenge.
  • Men were twice as likely to say one of their challenges was not enough clarity (32% vs 16%).
  • Children’s Ministry Staff, Student Ministry Staff, and Family / NextGen Pastors were almost identical in the topics they were interested in.
  • 75% of Children’s Ministry Staff listed Not enough volunteers as a challenge versus 42% of Student Ministry Staff and 62% of Family / NextGen Pastors.
  • Whether a church is multisite or not did not impact challenges much, with the exception of budget (far less likely to list it as a challenge).

Church Size

  • Just like you’ll find in any recent multisite report, larger churches are predominantly multisite (75% of churches 2001+).
  • Church size did not really impact people’s responses about the topics they were interested in.
  • The larger the church, the more likely the leader was to list Not enough knowledge as a challenge.
  • Not enough rest also becomes more common the larger the church size gets.
  • Not enough budget is the opposite, being the most common in the smallest churches and becoming less common as church size increases.
  • Almost 3/4 of leaders in the largest churches (5001+) listed Not enough buy-in as a challenge, far greater than any other

Survey Results Files

Use the links below to download the full survey summary along with cross-referenced versions.

What’s Next?

I’m excited about the two projects I’m working on to help family ministry leaders. I know they’ll be helpful to me and I’m hoping the same is true for you. If you’re interested in hearing more about them, be sure to subscribe to email updates.

How to Partner With Parents Without Adding More


Everyone who subscribes to my email list to get weekly updates from the blog also receives a specific email from me right after they subscribe. In that email I share the 3 things they can expect from me and 3 things I’d like their help with. One of the things I ask them to do is fill out a short, 5-question reader survey. A recent subscriber asked a great question in that survey.

How do you partner with parents without adding more?

That’s a great question. I want to offer up some ideas, but please know I am like most of you, still trying to figure this thing out. We’re experimenting all the time. Some things work and other things don’t. Here are my thoughts on how we can partner with parents more without adding more programs and events to what we already do.

Communicate Well With Parents

One of the best ways we can partner with parents is to communicate clearly and consistently with them. Just like any relationship, communication is key. What good is all the work we do if many of our parents have no idea what we do and why we do it? Come up with a simple communication plan for parents. Maybe it’s a weekly email and 2 posts on a Facebook page. Start simple and let it grow from there.

Orient New Parents

If you’re like us, you may provide resources on Sunday for parents to use at home. One trap we can fall into is giving out those resources without ever explaining them to new families. I don’t have a perfect answer for this challenge, but one thing we’re trying now is a series of on-boarding emails for new families before they’re added to our regularly weekly parent email list. The emails are designed to explain what we do, why we do it, and how they can benefit.

Tap Into The Small Group Leader

If you don’t have a small group structure for kids and students, this will look different obviously. If you do, you can read this post about my belief that the best partnership we have with parents is the small group leader. Instead of adding a new program, event, or resource, we can equip small group leaders to make a connection with parents. Draft an email for them to send to their parents individually. Text them the phone number of a parent and ask them to text the parent. Carve out time while leaders are serving in their environment to allow them to write a note to a few parents.

Use Weekly

Weekly ( is a resource created from the great folks at Orange to help family ministry leaders develop their small group leaders and partner with parents in just 2 hours/week. It’s basically a yearly plan broken down into a weekly checklist that’s emailed to you. Now, you may notice it takes 2 hours a week and that is certainly more. But, this is something you can recruit a volunteer to lead and with some work on the front-end, you can hand it off completely.

Your thoughts?

I hope those ideas are helpful, but what would really be helpful is if you would share some of your thoughts in the comments below. We’re in this together and I don’t think any of us feels like we have it figured out. So, let’s share what’s working and what’s not so we can go further, faster.

If you’re interested in Weekly, here’s a video about it.

[vimeo width=800 height=500]

6 Reasons We Should Pay Children & Student Ministry Staff More


Almost anyone who works in children’s ministry or student ministry understands what it is like to be underpaid and overworked. That comes with ministry in general, but for various reasons churches often pay children and student staff even less than other roles in the church. What we pay those people says a lot about how much we value them and the ministries they lead.

Yes, I serve in Family Ministry and this post could seem self-serving. I do not lump myself in with what I write here and my impression overall of staff who serve in my role (Family Pastor / NextGen Pastor) is that pay is not as much of an issue.

6 Reasons We Should Pay More

Instead of just focusing on all the reasons we don’t pay children and student ministry staff like we should, here are 6 reasons I believe we should pay them more.

Education Isn’t The Best Predictor Of Success

Don’t get me wrong, I value education. I believe the best leaders are life-long learners. The problem is when we put too much value on candidates having specific degrees and then pay far less to children and student ministry staff when they don’t have them. Education is valuable, but it has not proven to be a great predictor of success in ministry. Paying a little more for more education is fine. Paying $10K-$20K more is not.

They’re Pastors Too

One thing I see is children and student ministry staff not being labeled as pastors and then they’re paid far less than pastoral staff. Yes, there are roles that are not pastoral in nature and I believe it’s fine to differentiate those roles. However, I do think we’ve missed it when we have directors of Preschool, Elementary or Student Ministry and they’re not considered pastors. They pastor tons of kids, parents, and volunteers and we shouldn’t value who they pastor less than who other staff are responsible for pastoring. We should expect more and pay more.

They Must Be The Best Leaders

Children and student ministry staff are responsible for leading massive teams of volunteers. In most cases, they lead the largest number of volunteers of anyone on staff. Our job as leaders in the church is to “equip the saints for the work of ministry.” If your children and student ministry staff are thriving, then they’re leading really well and carrying out ministry through others. In church world we’ll pay the best speakers, the best artists, the most educated, and give far less to the best leaders if they lead in family ministry. That is a mistake.

Their Ministry Impacts Well Over Half The Church

In many churches, children make up about 23% of attendance and students make up about 10%, and their parents make up another 33%. Add in the volunteers they lead who don’t have kids and you’re looking at about 70% of the church being impacted by their ministry. The main services in our church impact about the same percentage, but if you compared how well we pay staff who serve in each of those departments, unfortunately, it’s usually not even close.

Home-Grown Doesn’t Mean Less Deserving

This applies more with children’s staff than students staff, but you’ll find far more home-grown ministry staff in these ministries than you will in others. What that leads to is continuing to pay them just slightly more than the terrible pay they received to start out. Conversely, when we need a worship leader or groups pastor we’ll hire from the outside and sometimes pay twice as much. Knowing someone is rooted in our church and grew as a leader in our church does not mean they are less deserving on the pay scale.

In all honesty, I could probably have written 20 reasons, but if you’re looking for some more helpful content related to this issue, check out these posts on the Vanderbloemen Blog.

3 Reasons You’re Struggling To Find A Children’s Pastor & How To Fix Them

Why High Capacity Children’s Pastors Are So Hard To Find

Has your church done this well? Comment and tell us about it.