As leaders, how do you measure the outcomes of your children’s ministry? How do you know that you have attained or exceeded required benchmarks? Whether you are in a full-time, part-time, or volunteer role, it is important to know to what degree you are fulfilling the goals of your ministry. It isn’t a matter of bringing undue attention to yourself. It is a matter of being a good steward of the resources entrusted to you. Think about your areas of responsibility. What finances, resources, facilities, programs, relationships, communication streams, personnel, and ministry teams do you oversee? What specific, realistic and measureable goals have you set to lead those areas and people forward? Have you broken the goals down into actionable pieces based on short-term goals which help fulfill long-term strategy? Have these goals been vetted by your team, the parents, the board(s) and your direct supervisor?
I know. This is a lot to think about. Those of you in large churches probably think naturally about these things since your full-time role requires constant accountability for time and money management. But even those of us who do not hold office hours are accountable, often in less tangible, but equally potent ways. The church expects us to do what we say we are going to do; rightly so.
Here are some suggestions which volunteer children’s ministry leaders might consider adding to their arsenal in order to upgrade their performance. These are in no particular order and you may already be doing some of them:
- Get feedback from both the church community and the community at large. Conduct surveys, have focus groups, interview families and children, interview community leaders, connect with your target ministry group (do you know who they are? are you sure?), and communicate with your church leadership. These conversations will birth dreams and goals.
- Set goals, both long and short term. Long term goals are typically three to five years. Short term are usually quarterly to one year. I recommend starting with quarterly goals and have each quarter build on the previous one. So, if in the Fall quarter you set and achieve a goal of training three master teachers/leaders–that is, teachers/leaders who are fully equipped to handle a class or program, plus train and mentor novice teachers/leaders –why not set a goal in the Winter quarter wherein each of those master teachers begins mentoring two novice teachers. Spring quarter could either be a continuation of skill development, or the novice teachers/leaders may be ready to begin teaching on their own. Whatever your goal, use the quarterly step process to build on the larger goal: let’s say in this case ten fully trained and functioning master teachers/leaders within three years.
- Measure performance Are you meeting your benchmarks? Let me give you a hint here. Remember, I said above that your goals should be specific, realistic and measureable. Here is where most volunteers go off track. Their goals are unrealistic. So, when it is time to measure them, they become frustrated by a lack of progress. Some of this might be due to pressure from parents or church leaders. You may need to educate them as to what you can and cannot do, as well as what support you need from them. Let’s go back to the training master teacher’s example from above. Let’s say you were successfully able to train one master teacher by the target date, not three. Your short-term goal was met up to 30%. This sets back your next intended short term goal of training six novice teachers. What to do? Rethink the goals. Make them more realistic and move on. So, this means you might have the one master teacher/leader take on two novice teachers/leaders, while you train one additional master teacher/leader in the Winter quarter. You may even tweak it a bit, allowing parts of your training with crossover appeal to be attended by new novices. Flexibility and creativity are important to solving inevitible roadblocks. The thing to realize is although you did not meet the original goal, you are able to demonstrate progress and a capacity to learn from your mistakes. This quality is of enormous value to your church leadership. You will need to communicate it clearly so they can perceive that value. The same is true with communicating with parents.
- Avoid becoming defensive If you are like me as a volunteer, it is natural to feel a bit sensitive when people start talking about your leadership performance negatively. Allow me to help you get over it. You, like me, made the choice to be under the microscope of public opinion when you chose to accept responsibility as a volunteer leader. Most people don’t care whether or not we receive an income or stipend from the church. They do expect us to lead the children’s ministry in a way that positively impacts children and families in the church and community. Sometimes their ideas of how that should be does can be at cross-purposes with God’s leading. I currently happen to receive a small allowance for housing from my church. It does not affect my job performance one iota. I work just as hard either way. Allow God to give you grace to endure what can sometimes be scathing and unfair criticism. If you do, you will be able to discern the nuggets of unvarnished truth hidden in those comments. This will help you become a long-term leader, rather than a burned out leader. Make sure you have positive relationships with your leader(s), such as your pastor. If you don’t, then I recommend reviewing things at a deeper level which exceeds the point of this post.
- Celebrate Attainment of Goals I have to admit, this is one area where I am weak, mostly because I do not like drawing attention to myself. I am quick to point to the successes of others, but I prefer silence as it pertains to anything I have done well. While there is good biblical reason for this ethic in terms of avoiding boastfulness, it also can lead to a perception in some folks in the church that I don’t do much of anything other than babysit the kids during adult church. There has to be a balance. I think allowing others to communicate what God is doing in the children’s ministry is a good approach. It brings glory to God and helpful attention to the positive things going on in the children’s ministry while allowing me to remain lowkey. God has a way of taking care of my needs, although I admit I do continue to chafe at the babysitting perception of some folks. The key here is to celebrate what God has done well through his people. This rallies people toward something larger than themselves. People want to participate in significant initiatives which they cannot do on their own. If the initiatives are characterized by excellence, respect, vision and excitement, they will jump on board. Yes, even in small churches where volunteers seem few.
I hope this article is helpful to some of you. Leave a comment for feedback. What would you add to my thoughts? What works for you in your church?