By Bekah Stoneking
Childhood is a crucial life stage. Kids’ brains, skills, abilities, and perspectives develop at exponential rates.
Childhood is also a season where spiritual soil is rich, too.
Providing safe, loving, theologically-rich, and developmentally-appropriate spaces for children to learn about the love of Christ is vital to the life of the church.
But with such an opportunity comes challenges. Ask any children’s ministry leader what their top three challenges are; volunteer recruitment and retention is almost guaranteed to make the list.
Hearing brothers and sisters say “no” to something so meaningful can be discouraging. Here are five common objections people have to serving in children’s ministry, along with tips to navigate the “Nos” and create a ministry culture where serving kids becomes an accessible and spiritually-enriching experience.
1. “I don’t have time.”
This objection takes many forms:
The workweek is too busy to prepare a lesson.
My kids have games on the weekend.
Sundays are our only days to rest.
Family, sabbath, and work rightfully demand our time. But as humans, our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him. As Christians, we’ve been saved from sin and brought into the family of God—the church! Involvement in the life of the church is central to our identity.
Kid’s ministry leaders can make disciples of the adults in their churches, too. This includes helping them find a place to serve, exercise their spiritual gifts, and participate in the Great Commission by becoming disciplemakers, themselves.
As you help new volunteers assimilate into your children’s ministry, consider how to carry a portion of their responsibilities as they learn the ropes.
For example, offering to prep for crafts or activities up front would allow them to devote time during the week to preparing to teach. As their study habits and time usage improve, they’ll be able to carry a more complete set of tasks.
Another idea is to delegate tasks to certain leaders. Since each classroom should be staffed by at least two adults, divide the preparation and leadership tasks between them.
When we work together, not only is the load lightened and more manageable, but more people have ownership and buy-in of children’s ministry.
Go one step deeper: Evaluate your church’s Sunday morning and adult discipleship schedules. If your church offers only groups for adults on Sunday mornings, you may be harming your kids’ ministry.
Adults will rightly want to protect their time in their own discipleship groups (and, you want your adults to be adequately fed before teaching kids). Consider how and when to offer adult discipleship opportunities outside of Sunday morning.
2. “I don’t relate to kids.”
Some of us are just naturally great with kids. Some of us aren’t. Others could be good with kids, but might be worried they don’t know what to say or how to act. This fear could make a person say “no” to kids’ ministry.
As you recruit men and women to serve children, take the pressure off of them to be “cool,” energetic, or funny. Reassure them they don’t need a degree in elementary education or puppetry arts or have kids or nieces or nephews.
What they do need, however, is to be genuine, kind, and accessible. Encourage your church members to simply show up and be faithful and loving big sisters and brothers—because, in Christ, that’s exactly who they are to the children in your church!
A genuine love for God, an open heart, and consistency always trump jokes and big personalities.
Go one step deeper: Seek out the introverts, the gamers, and the bookworms in your church and ask them to serve kids, too. There are children with similar personalities and interests in your ministry who need these kind of role models!
By recruiting diverse volunteers, you’ll create heroes out of your church members, help your kids build friendships across the church, and help the volunteers become invested members of Christ’s body.
3. “I don’t know how to teach kids.”
Teaching is a spiritual gift and the ability to teach will be a requirement for many volunteers. But is this person actually bad at teaching? Or has he or she simply not yet developed their teaching skills?
As you call new teachers into your ministry, consider not immediately asking them to teach, but verbalize how you’ve observed them growing spiritually. Recall a comment they made during Bible study. Affirm the ways you’ve seen them walk alongside their peers.
Identify the teacher-like traits you see in them, casting a vision for how those qualities support your church’s children’s ministry efforts. Share your plans for training and equipping, and then make the ask—help them understand how their gifts may be used to serve your church.
Then, offer a “trial period” where a new volunteer shadows other leaders. Be available to support them along the way. Then talk at the end of the “trial” about victories, questions, and plans for the future.
Go one step deeper: Curate a resource library for your volunteers. Have a commentary set available for checkout, gift your teachers with a great study Bible, make a playlist of theologically-rich songs, and use resources like Ministry Grid to provide additional study and training. As volunteers build good Bible study habits, not only are the children blessed, but your volunteers will also grow.
4. “I’m not confident.”
The Bible is full of people who felt small and insignificant. Perhaps there was a time in your own ministry journey where you lacked confidence.
As you share these stories with your potential volunteers, remind them of some great news: As Christians, we’re indwelled by the same Holy Spirit as our mighty biblical heroes!
Instead of viewing someone’s lack of confidence as a “No,” help your church members to view this hesitation as a chance to rely on the Lord, encouraging them from Acts 1:8 which says we will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon us and this power will equip us to be God’s witnesses.
Go one step deeper: Don’t just give your recruits a pep talk. Offer practical ways to walk in the Spirit and cultivate confidence in Him.
To do this, remember the acronym MAWL: Model, Assist, Watch, Leave.
- Model: The veteran, Spirit-driven teacher models how to prepare for and lead a class while the recruit watches and learns.
- Assist: The veteran teacher prepares for and leads a class while the recruit assists.
- Watch: The recruit prayerfully begins to take ownership of some tasks until, eventually, they assume all duties. The veteran watches and offers guidance,and prayer along the way.
- Leave: The veteran leaves the new teacher and each lead their own classes.
5. “I don’t actually believe children’s ministry is important.”
You won’t likely find people who say this explicitly. Instead, people imply this when they view kids ministry as “childcare,” or they think it’s all fun and games, not recognizing that active learning and play are developmentally-appropriate, research-based teaching strategies.
In this way, people assume children’s church is not discipleship and that it’s just a holding tank until “big church.”
The fact that we never seem to have enough volunteers is evidence that church members haven’t caught the vision for the eternally important things happening in the children’s department.
And, in our desperation to fill empty rosters, we sell the ministry short by saying things like, “Don’t worry! This will be easy! We’ll do everything for you! Please; just sign up for once a quarter!”
Kids ministry is not easy! People should be deeply concerned about study and preparation. Church members should be committed to getting to know kids, building relationships, and sharing the gospel with them.
Because children’s ministry is eternally significant, set the bar high. Ministry is literally a life-and-death situation. We need to communicate this importance to our people.
As you cast this vision for ministry, equip people to meet expectations and to serve as workmen approved. Clearly state objectives and expectations you have for ministry workers.
Resource your volunteers for success: Provide tools, training, support, and mentoring. Be an accessible and transparent leader. Create an environment where workers can cultivate their gifts and skills.
Go one step deeper: Don’t be the only mouthpiece for your ministry. Ask other leaders to be co-champions for the children’s ministry. Share stories about your own experiences as kids in church. Ask your volunteers to invite friends to serve alongside them.
Create a culture where serving kids becomes a spiritually enriching experience
Volunteer recruitment and retention aren’t just about staffing needs—as real and as important as those needs are.
Serving in children’s ministry allows people to participate in both the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. Studying the Bible deeply for the sake of effectively teaching kids is an exercise in loving them—and loving God with one’s heart and mind.
And serving in children’s ministry is a step in fulfilling Christ’s commission to make disciples of all peoples. The teaching skills, biblical knowledge, and conversational confidence you build can be carried outside the walls of the church as you seek to form relationships and share the gospel in the community.
Do you want to see the world changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ? Walk down the hallway of your church building, crack open a can of Play-Doh, and share His good news with your congregation’s little lambs.
Love God and others there, then walk in the power of the Spirit from there to the ends of the earth.