The Journey to Enhancing Our Children's Ministry Program Featured

Written by  Ken Baskerville -- Philadelphia, PA, USA Tuesday, 14 March 2017 00:47
Philadelphia Children's Ministry

Accepting the charge

"Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?' And I said, 'Here am I. Send me!'" – Isaiah 6:8

I am a member of the Greater Philadelphia Church of Christ (GPCC) which is located in Pennsylvania. In August 2013, I was appointed a deacon and accepted the responsibility to oversee the GPCC Children’s Ministry (CM). I was given the charge to enhance our children’s ministry program to better meet the growing challenges of this generation and to update our processes to incorporate modern technology.

Upon starting in the role, I spent the first month evaluating what was already in place; visiting each of our church regions and reaching out to neighboring churches (i.e. Delaware and New York) to see how they conduct their children’s ministry programs. I interviewed our church leadership, CM staff members, parents, and obtained feedback from our children to identify the strengths and weaknesses of our program.

Setting priorities

"But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." – Matthew 6:33

I uncovered numerous needs and a variety of opinions as to what matters should be addressed first. To help me prioritize the various needs, I developed the following priority list:
  1. God: To ensure that biblical principles are applied throughout our children’s ministry program.
  2. The Law: To ensure that our children’s ministry complies with the laws of the land.
  3. The Church: To ensure that we are supporting the direction and needs of our church.
  4. The CM Staff Members: To protect our volunteers as they serve and to provide them with the needed resources to enable success.
  5. The Children: To provide a safe and spiritual environment for our children to develop their faith in God and to build a relationship with Christ.
  6. The Parents: To provide the parents with resources that enables them to support their child’s spiritual development by creating a godly atmosphere at home.

Developing standards

"He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When the flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built." – Luke 6:48 

Now with clear priorities in order, I focused on developing the following:
  • Updated our Children’s Ministry Policies and Procedures to provide a standard by which our children’s ministry program would operate and to create unity and consistency across all of our regions.
  • Designed clear and manageable CM roles required to meet all of the needs within our Children’s Ministry. When all of the roles have been filled, it will allow for an organized and efficient atmosphere that provides a greater joy for members to serve in; thus, avoiding burnout amongst the CM staff members.
  • Created a Job Profile document to list the responsibilities and expectations of each role as well as to list the skills needed for the ideal candidate to be successful. When volunteer candidates consider serving in the Children’s Ministry, this document provides them with a clear understanding of the role. Thus, allowing us to match respective candidates with the roles that best suits their knowledge, skills, abilities, and passions to create an atmosphere in which the entire team thrives.
  • Strengthened our background screening process to ensure that every member is properly vetted.
  • Developed supporting documents to compliment the new processes being incorporated (e.g. the Children’s Ministry Application form, the Permission to Obtain Background Certification form, the Initial Screening form, the Student Registration form, the Incident Report form, etc.).
  • Implemented a new rotation schedule adopted by most regions within the church to enable our CM Staff Members to get refreshed and to ensure their spirituals needs are being met.
  • Trained CM Regional Coordinators on the policies and procedures to empower them and to provide them with the ability to train their teams.
  • Collaborated with others to provide Mandated Reporter and Child Abuse Awareness Training for the GPCC ministry staff leaders and CM Regional Coordinators. This created an awareness of the real risks that our children face and of the laws, resources, and legal obligations that our church members are required to comply with when serving with minors.

Broadening the horizons

…For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

It was at this point when I was introduced to Steve and Vicky Bergem during their visit to Philadelphia and was offered the opportunity to attend the 2015 THRIVE Children’s Ministry Conference and to present a class titled, “Turning It Around” which outlined the above steps taken to transform our children’s ministry program. Aside from the privilege of sharing what I learned in the prior two years overseeing the Children’s Ministry, I was eager to learn how other churches were conducting their children’s ministry programs and to gauge if our program was headed in the right direction.

At the conference I attended the following sessions: “Effective CM Leadership,” “Creating a Budget,” “Policies or Rules,” “Curriculum,” “Risk Management / Screening,” “Is Your Children’s Ministry Safe?” “Importance of a Special Needs Ministry,” “Starting a Special Needs Ministry,” as well as listening to the messages of several speakers addressed to the entire group.

The classes that I found most impactful were: “Policies or Rules” taught by Steve Bergem and Susan Wedin and the “Risk Management / Screening” class taught by Robert and Susan Wedin.

Some of the topics discussed in these two classes were:

  • Defining the difference between policies and procedures
  • The importance of establishing directives approved by your church’s Board of Directors
  • Creating policies
  • Creating detailed procedures
  • Developing roles and responsibilities
  • Establishing security and safety procedures
  • Understanding the two types of incident reports (and developing workflows for them)
  • Developing evacuation procedures (and practicing them)
  • Understanding risk management (as it relates to the church)
  • Minimizing the risk to our children and the church
  • Establishing a Risk Management committee
  • Recognizing the importance of background screening
  • Maintaining and archiving Children’s Ministry records (and for how long)
  • Preparing for the worst case scenario

The information covered in these two classes were very sobering. I was encouraged to see that several of the topics discussed we had either already addressed or was beginning to address within our children’s ministry program. However, I left determined to focus the next year on developing our security protocols and to address some of the areas we needed to improve. This was especially noteworthy as it addressed the top three areas on my priority list: God, The Law, and The Church. Time spent focusing on these priorities would provide a strong foundation in which to build our Children’s Ministry upon. It was also great to build new relationships with other members serving in the Children’s Ministry and to share various thoughts and ideas surrounding the information gathered in the classes.

Applying the knowledge

"Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says." – James 1:22

It has now been a little over a year since I attended the THRIVE conference. Since then, I have implemented the following initiatives.
  • Developed general regional CM evacuation procedures for our regional locations.
  • Developed detailed church-wide CM evacuation procedures for our church-wide location.
  • Collaborated with the deacon overseeing security to conduct security walkthroughs of each of our facilities to draft a security and evacuation plan.
  • Practiced the church-wide evacuation drill involving children from Kindergarten through the Fifth grade classes to determine what improvements (if any) were needed before conducting full scale drills in all of our regions.
  • Collaborated with the deacon overseeing security to identify communication equipment needs that will help to improve the collaboration between the CM Staff Members, the Security Team, and Ushers during church services.
  • Adopted a new rotation schedule across our entire church to enable our CM Staff Members to get refreshed and to ensure their spirituals needs are being met. This schedule also allows us to better screen, train, and prepare CM Staff Members before their serving rotation.
  • Enhanced our background screening process to ensure that every member is properly vetted before they begin service. I also provide a report to our CM Regional Coordinators listing the approved members that can serve in our Children’s Ministry and when they need to be re-screened.
  • Collaborated with other youth ministry program leaders to streamline our vetting process; thus, saving the church time, money, and human resources in processing background certifications for volunteer candidates.
  • Transitioned to a digital record keeping process of all Children’s Ministry data to reduce physical storage space, improve file sharing of necessary forms with the church office and CM Staff Members (e.g. incident reports), and to enable us to reduce the time it takes to locate necessary documents.

The following are initiatives currently in progress:

  • Enhancing the layout of our policies and procedures document to clearly outline our policies and to list the procedures we have in place to comply with them.
  • Drafting a proposal to establish a Risk Management Committee to establish guidelines for all of our youth ministry programs.
  • Developing evacuation procedure packets for all of our children’s ministry classes within each region.
  • Preparing to conduct regular full scale evacuation drills (both regionally and churchwide) which includes having parents pickup their children from the meeting check point.
  • Organizing our CM digital records and converting all of our paper files to a digital format.
  • Scheduling CPR training for our CM Regional Coordinators to better enable them to handle emergency situations.
  • Collaborating with other youth ministry programs to offer Mandated Reporter and Child Abuse Awareness Training to all members working with minors within our church.

The fruits of your labor

"And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God..." – Colossians 1:10

It has taken a lot of work to establish these guidelines and implement these procedures across the entire church. At times the tasks can seem overwhelming; however, do not be discouraged. I have learned that change is slow and steady. Choose “Quality” over “Quantity.” Once these guidelines and procedures are in place, the peace of mind that follows is priceless and well worth the effort. Our Children’s Ministry is already experiencing the fruits or our labor.

I hope that this article provides encouragement to those serving in other youth ministry programs and serves as a blue-print to those looking to develop (or enhance) a children’s ministry program in their congregation.

To God be the glory!

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