An Emerging Approach to Children's Ministry

A friend of mine recently encouraged me to write something about my approach to Children's Ministry, really my approach to organizational structure in general. So I thought I would give it a shot.

When I graduated from business school in 2000, I left there convinced that flat organizational structures are more effective and efficient than vertical ones. I am a huge fan of empowerment, of giving the workers on the ground floor the power and resources to make decisions. They are the ones in the trenches, working with the customers, with their hands on the equipment. Sometimes it is possible to eliminate entire levels of middle management by simply empowering the employees to do their jobs.

For many years I had been advocating this type of approach for our Children's Ministry at Our Place. My idea was to do away with the traditional Children's Director position. For us it had been a middle management position between the teachers in the classrooms and the pastoral staff. And the primary role for the position was as a volunteer coordinator and supply purchaser. Children's Ministries almost universally suffer from a volunteer shortage, and much of the Children's Director's time was spent recruiting and scheduling volunteers to teach and help in the classrooms each week.

I proposed that we do away with the Director position all together and use the freed funding to hire multiple part-time Teachers. The idea being that each teacher would be in charge of their own classroom, would have their own budget for supplies and decorations, would do their own volunteer recruiting and scheduling, and would teach in their classroom each Sunday and Wednesday. They would meet regularly as a team with our Equip Pastor for planning, big picture decision making (like curriculum, events, etc.), and training.

In 2006, our Children's Director left for a calling with our latest church plant, Church! at Bethany. So that Fall we were able to hire five teachers to work in our Children's Ministry. Here are the raw numbers:

Salary per teacher: $500 per month
Supply budget per classroom: $100 per month
Payroll expense estimate: 10% of salary ($50 per month)
Total monthly expense per teacher: $650

5 teachers hired at $650 per month
= $3,250 per month
= $39,000 per year

This amount is right in the ballpark for what we might pay for an experienced full time Children's Director, and it includes the Supplies budget for the entire ministry!

These teachers work a six hour day on Sundays, from 8am to 2pm. They work a three hour day on Wednesdays from 6pm to 9pm. That's roughly 40 hours per month of "in classroom" work.

Here are some of the benefits:

1. VOLUNTEER RECRUITING. There are no more struggles for a Director trying to schedule teachers each season. We have a paid teacher in each class each week. That is huge! The teachers then schedule additional volunteers in their classrooms as needed to help with ratios and to provide some teaching support so that they can attend a worship gathering each week. In the past there was one key person developing relationships with potential volunteers, the Director. Now the volunteer recruiting and scheduling is divided among five teachers, creating five relationship pools from which to draw on.

2. CONSISTENCY. Each class has the same teacher each week. In the past it was VERY difficult to get volunteers to commit to teaching three gatherings a week for a full school year. Now the kids have the same teacher each week. Even if their parents don't consistently attend the same gathering, their kids have the same teacher from week to week. Relationships develop between teachers and children like they never could before. And even more so, relationships between teachers and PARENTS also develop. And the dividends from growing these relationships are immeasurable. Communication, connection, involvement... all at a higher level than was ever possible before.

3. OWNERSHIP. Teachers own their classrooms. They decorate them. They clean them. They stock them with supplies. They rearrange them as they see fit, for what works best with their teaching style. It has been awesome to see the amount of work and effort that is now put into our classrooms. And the perceived quality level of the classroom experience has gone up enormously. Parents and kids notice the difference.

4. ACCOUNTABILITY. Paid teacher are held to a much higher standard of training and availability than unpaid volunteers. Team meetings are actually attended! Leadership and risk management training sessions are much easier to implement. The classrooms are staffed on time. No more waiting for late volunteers who sometimes never show or call.

Perhaps the best outcome of this shift for us has been moving away from the typical bloated middle management church structure toward an "empowered team" approach. I have been doing this for years now with my ministry teams, which I will probably blog more on later. Anyway, this is my first crack at writing up a description of what we're doing with our Children's Ministry at Our Place. I hope you find it useful.


Waiting for the Rapture said...

Pastor, thank you so much for writing this. I have been one of those teachers for almost a year now, but never knew this is where the idea started. Convicts me to step up and do an even better job!
Connie J

Kathi said...

Ken: What a great and unique way to look at children's ministry. I can see how this would work wonderfully. I'm glad it works for Our Place and hopefully some other churches can pick up on this too.