6 Reasons We Should Pay Children & Student Ministry Staff More

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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.

The 6 Things We Value In Our Family Ministry Coaches

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In the previous post I wrote about our plan for developing Coaches within our family ministry team. Coaches are volunteers who lead teams of leaders, as defined in our leadership pipeline. Part of our plan for developing Coaches involves meeting with them regularly throughout the year and holding up the 6 values we believe every Coach should live out.

Family Ministry Coach Values

Coaches in our children and student ministries can have very different responsibilities. Some lead teams of small group leaders while others lead teams that create large group experiences. One thing they all have in common is they lead teams of leaders. Here are the 6 values we created that tap into what they have in common (in no particular order). They’re written in terms of who we want Coaches to be.

Connector

Connects with kids/students and knows them. Coaches primarily lead volunteer leaders, but all of them interact with kids and students on some level. We’re interested in Coaches who value that interaction and work to develop those relationships.

Developer

Develops their team members and helps them grow. This is one of the more difficult roles of the Coach, and that is to help their team members grow individually. This requires them knowing their team and challenging them to get better.

Partner

Establishes a relationship with parents. Our entire family ministry is built on the belief that parents are the primary spiritual leaders for their children and the church’s job is to help them thrive in that role. Coaches should always seek to meet parents and build a relationship with them.

Communicator

Communicates on time with great clarity. The core essential for every Coach is to communicate with their team. Communicate weekly via email to provide updates. Communicate about volunteer schedules. Communicate with their team individually to serve them best. Being a good communicator is key.

Recruiter

Recruits new people to the team. The best volunteer recruitment happens through an invitation. Coaches should model the importance of that by getting to know people and recruiting them to join the team.

Care-er

Cares for each team member and knows their needs. We had a little fun with the wording of this one, as you can tell. Every Coach should provide great care for their team members. People might first want to serve out of a sense of mission, but they’ll love serving because of a caring community.

Those are the 6 values we came up with. The job certainly isn’t easy and Coaches will naturally be better at some values than others.

What do you value in a volunteer Coach?

Our Plan For Developing Leaders of Leaders in Family Ministry

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In a previous post I wrote about the importance of establishing a volunteer leadership pipeline in our ministries. Leadership pipelines provide a clear leadership path and a structure the entire ministry can be built on. As I network and work with other churches I’m encouraged to see so many churches doing this, many for the first time. One of the key roles on the pipeline, whatever you label it, is a volunteer who leads other leaders. Often times this is the highest volunteer role without being on staff. We call them Coaches.

Our Plan to Develop Coach Level Leaders

We’ve had Coaches for a long time in our children’s ministry, but it’s fairly new in our student ministry. Recruiting the right leaders for Coach-level roles is difficult because the expectation is so high. The role might require 3-5 hours/week if done well. Another challenge I know churches have is developing these leaders. We were facing that challenge too and rolled out a new plan that I want to share with you in the hopes that it can help your ministry.

The Challenge

One of the challenges we faced is that most of our Coaches had no leadership training or experience. Some had, but most of them were not used to leading a team of leaders. They had served as Leaders (the level on our pipeline, not the generic term), but most people on that level are leading small groups of kids and students. Some lead teams of adults, but there’s just so much more required to be a Coach.

Another challenge we had is that some of our family ministry staff were not naturally gifted and wired to develop coaches. It was not one of their top 3 passions and we saw the impact of that as the ministry grew. Our Coaches led less and managed more. We needed a system, even if it wasn’t long-term, where we could train and develop coaches in some type of rhythm and hold them accountable for the role they served in.

Coach Trainings

Our first move was to start having Coach Trainings with all Coaches from our children and student ministry teams. I am passionate about developing leaders and I love to create training content, so I led them. We had them about every other month and I simply created the content based on what we felt was needed. However, we knew this wasn’t a sustainable solution.

Coach Meetings

After having a few Coach Trainings we had a good feel for what was needed going forward. We transitioned from having Coach Trainings to Coach Meetings. Three times a year we gather all family ministry Coaches and we primarily focus on these 6 things:

  • Share Wins/Stories – We do this at every staff meeting, volunteer circle up, or team training, so we do it here as well.
  • Provide Shared Accountability – One of the responsibilities every Coach has regardless of their specific role is to meet 1-on-1 with their team members throughout the year. At Coach Meetings they share who they have met with and who they still have to meet with. They track it in our church management system.
  • Listen to Feedback – We want to get feedback regularly from every volunteer on our teams, and the same is true with Coaches. They know more than we do about how well it’s working (or not).
  • Cover Our Values – We created 6 Coach Values and we cover those at each meeting. They help reinforce the culture we want to create among Coaches.
  • Teach / Train – We pick one thing to focus on from a training perspective and we teach on that. Last time we taught the details of our assimilation strategy and where they lead within that.
  • Vision – We re-cast vision because vision leaks, but also because Coaches are vision-casters themselves.

Coach Meetings aren’t everything, of course. There’s the apprenticing of new Coaches and the 1-on-1s they have with their directors, but the Coach Meetings have been a helpful supplement. My favorite part about them is the power of having them in the room together and what comes out of that.

I’m grateful for our Coaches and the significant role they play in our family ministry. We couldn’t do it without them.

How do you develop volunteers who lead other leaders?

8 Measures of a Healthy Family Ministry

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I read a great post over on Tony Morgan’s blog last week about focusing on health instead of growth. I completely agree with that line of thinking and one of the big questions that comes up when it comes to church health is – How do you measure that?

I think the ultimate measure of health is stories. But, stories aren’t the only measure and it’s hard to see trends, patterns or shifts with stories alone. My approach is to measure everything we can measure and let Metrics + Stories be our health gauge.

8 Family Ministry Metrics/Measures

Here are 8 metrics or measures in family ministry that I believe give a good window into the health of your ministry. Again, you want to listen for stories regularly and pay attention to what you hear and how often you hear it. But, keeping these metrics and watching them regularly is helpful as well.

Volunteer Ratios

Every church should know exactly how many volunteers it has, meaning people who have a specific role on a ministry team. Tony would encourage you to look at your total # of volunteers as a fraction of your average worship attendance (click here for details). But, in family ministry I like to watch the ratio of the # of volunteers to the average attendance. For instance, you might have 200 children’s volunteers and 600 children attending on average, so the ratio is 1:3 (1 volunteer for every 3 kids). You can read my thoughts about what is healthy in this post. Don’t use my guide as the goal. Figure out what yours are and watch it over time. You’ll know if it’s not healthy.

# of Students Serving

We care a lot about students serving. I personally think serving in ministry may be the thing that grows a student’s faith the most during that season of their life. We want them to be invested in the church and know it’s their church. For this metric, take the number of students serving and divide it into your average student attendance (at your main student environments). So, 100 students serving and you have 300 on average in your student environments means 100/300 = 33%. I want to see 50%+ in our church and we’re getting close.

Children’s Ministry %

This will be largely driven by the demographic you reach, but take the average kids attendance and divide it into your average total attendance. For instance, 300 kids / 1200 total = 25%. So, 25% of your attendance is kids. Tony’s metrics show the average church has 21%. If you primarily reach families I like to see that number around 23-25%.

Student Ministry %

Same concept here as you try to see students as a percentage of your overall attendance. This is more nuanced as your student gathering may happen during services, on a different night, only in small groups, etc. Take your average student attendance and divide into total average attendance. So, 100 students / 1000 total = 10%. Tony’s metrics show the average church has 10%. That’s a pretty good number to aim for. Keep in mind your demographics matter.

Family Ministry Staff

I think it’s important to know where your staffing is as a church overall, and Tony’s post here is a good guide. But, I like to watch the number of full time equivalent staff specific to family ministries as well. I can’t give you much to compare to, but a survey I did (and will re-do soon) showed the average church had 1 full time equivalent children’s staff for every 126 kids attending on average. Every situation is unique, but more than one full time equivalent for every 100 kids or more than one full time equivalent for every 80 students would be a red flag for me.

Baptisms / Salvations

Depending on whether baptisms or salvations is what you primarily track (or both), I would track it over time and see what seems to be a healthy guide. The average church baptizes about 6% of it’s average attendance in a year. So, a church of 1000 might see 60 baptisms. I can’t translate that into guides for children and student ministry, but my point is just that you should track it and learn from what you see over time.

Frequency of Attendance

I talked about frequency a bit in this post as recent trends show church attenders attending less. Here you look at how many times kids or students attend in a month. For us, the average kid attends about half the time. I’d love to see that increase and finding ways to cross-reference that with small group health would be telling.

Leaders of Volunteers / Ratio to Volunteers

A healthy ministry can’t grow without sufficient leadership. In the bible we see Moses delegate to more leaders (Exodus 18) and the apostles do the same (Acts 6) and ministry expanded. It’s simply impossible for one leader to care for too many people. In our leadership pipeline someone who leads a group of leaders is called a Coach. I like to know how many Coaches we have and what percent of our overall volunteer teams they are. So, if we had 20 coaches and 200 leaders, that’s 1 coach for every 10 volunteers. That’s sustainable. 1:30, not so much.

What do you measure?

I’d love hear what you measure as well. Most of these are lag or output indicators, meaning they measure what is already done. If you can it’s good to have input or lead indicators as well, measuring what you’re doing that leads to those lag/output numbers. For instance, you always watch the number of Leaders apprenticing to be Coaches so you know how many Coaches are on the way.

Any questions, comments or input? Please share in the comments.

5 Family Ministry Implications From The 2015 LeadNet Church Report

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Last month I read the Recent Shifts in America’s Largest Protestant Churches report from Leadership Network. If you haven’t read it yet, I would encourage you to follow that link and fill out the form to download it. The report compares findings to a similar study they did 5 years ago (and beyond), so we can see any trends.

5 Family Ministry Implications

As I read through the report I thought about implications of the findings on the church where I serve, but also on family ministry in general. Here are 5 things I see in the report that should matter to those of us leading in family ministry.

Multisite Is Growing

The multisite movement (having one church in multiple locations) is continuing to grow. The number of churches that are multisite increased from 46% in 2010 to 62% now, and the average number of sites per church went from 2.5 to 3.5.

Implication for Family Ministry

I think we need to continue growing in our ability to define and document reproducible systems. We need established leadership pipelines where new people are stepping in and and experienced leaders are sent out. In children’s ministry we have to adjust to having more, smaller rooms and environments and being able to staff those well. Student ministries that have small groups as the foundation are the easiest to multiply over many campuses. We can continue thinking about how to bring campuses together once/month or once/quarter for large group events.

Small Groups & Spiritual Formation

79% of churches indicated small groups are central to their discipleship strategy. There was a direct correlation between churches that indicated small groups are a huge emphasis and churches who said their church had high spiritual vitality.

Implication for Family Ministry

We should continue to build our children’s and student ministries on the foundation of small groups and change our structures to match that foundation. I think we should resource small groups more and depend less on classes, events, and other things that might dilute small groups.

Internship Program

72% say they have an internship program. That is only a slight increase (from 69%) in 2008, but it’s a large percentage.

Implication for Family Ministry

This is in line with my multisite comment in that I believe the importance of developing leaders cannot be overstated. In family ministry we must be able to recruit, train and retain volunteers. We need a system for taking new volunteers from the onboarding process all the way through different leadership levels to the point where they’re ready to lead huge aspects of ministry on their own and be considered for staff positions as the church grows.

Attendance Frequency Declines

This isn’t news if you’re dialed in to any conversations in church world about this topic. Some of the best content and conversations can be found at Carey Nieuwhof’s blog and podcast. In this study and prior studies they looked at the attendance each church sees on a given week as a percentage of total attenders. That number has dropped from 95% in 2008 to 82% in 2015.

Implication for Family Ministry

I run frequency attendance reports to see how often children and students come in a given month to our church. I recently emailed Frank Bealer, Family Pastor at Elevation Church, about this specific thing. I know Frank has attendance frequency reports and I wanted to compare notes. Frank talked at the 2015 Orange Conference about the connection between great small groups for kids and students and a higher attendance frequency. I think we need to make the experience in small group so good that kids and students don’t want to miss. It also puts greater emphasis on the need to plan content knowing the average kid might be there half the time.

Decline In Willingness to Change

One of the sharpest changes in the report was the decline in a church’s willingness to change to meet new challenges. It was 54% in 2010 and only 37% in 2015. That could be because the senior leadership teams are getting older or it could be something else. I think of the changing music culture and how it impacts worship music. Those who ushered in a change in music style 2 decades ago may be unwilling to change style now when it means sacrificing their preference.

Implication for Family Ministry

The report said something I completely believe in, “Innovation and willingness to change are strongly correlated to growth and health.” In many ways the concept of family ministry is very new, partnering with parents is new, small groups as the foundation for kids and students is somewhat new, so it’s important that we’re open to change because we certainly don’t have it all figured out.

What stood out to you in the report?