we help churches become more effective at reaching the next generation
a one . . . and a two . . . and a three . . .
The 1-Step, 2-Step, 3-Step, 4-Step: No . . . it’s not a dance class and we won’t be teaching you how to waltz. But we do think ministry should feel more like a dance instead of a slow climb up a very steep hill–sometimes dragging everyone up the hill behind you. So our consulting relationships provide church leaders with tools to help them dance again.
on your mark . . . get set . . . go!
A coach is like having an expert sitting on your shoulder to help you implement the next thing. For us coaching is a 6-12month relationship where we assign a coach to one key leader in your church. It’s not just moral support (although, anyone pioneering change will need a lot of that) it’s practical help from someone who has been in the trenches and implemented similar changes in churches just like yours.
any questions? anyone?
Sometimes you just need someone to come train your people–whether that’s training for volunteers, staff or maybe just the Senior Pastor. We will send a trainer to you for a one-day training event. Pick from a variety of topics including small group leader/teacher training, engaging parents, spiritual formation, classroom management, volunteer recruitment . . . If you have some topics you think we need to train on let us know.
stuff we are writing about
All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever. —I Peter 1:24
There is nothing like working on a family genealogy to right size your sense of significance. How many of us know the names of our great-great grandparents, much less what they did? In an attempt to track down my American Indian ancestry I found out that one of my great-great grandfathers was a man named Miles Caleb McDowell. He was born in Tennessee in 1854. He was one of 11 siblings. He moved with his mother to Romance, Arkansas after the Civil War and became a farmer. After moving there, he married Lula Owens. They had 9 children including my grandmother, Sallie Mae McDowell. That’s all I know. And the only reason I know that is because someone wrote a history of White County, Arkansas in which there is one paragraph on my great-great grandfather and his family. If no one writes a book about it, what will the next generation remember of us?
That’s one genealogy. There is another genealogy that is maybe even more significant. Everyone has one. It is a spiritual genealogy. We all have spiritual mothers and fathers and spiritual grandparents—people of faith who have been influential in our lives. People who have shaped our faith, maybe even people who led us to Jesus Christ. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see a family tree of the people who led the people, who led the person who led you to Christ? It would go back 2000 years—most likely (for us Gentiles) our family tree would go back to the Apostle Paul who was converted on the road to Damascus by Jesus himself. That gives another layer of meaning to why the Apostle Paul calls Jesus the second Adam. Not only are we a new creature in Christ, we gain a new family tree and our great, great, great … grandfather is Jesus.
How will the next generation remember you?
It’s been a few weeks since the Orange Conference. I find if I don’t put things into action I forget about them. It’s like opening a can of soda. If you don’t drink it now, it becomes flat and undrinkable. So here’s a little recap of some main session highlights on twitter from some of my friends. I hope they will refresh your memory and your passion. There’s a lot of them.
Don’t push kids to grow up too fast. Don’t wish away this phase~
Kids support what they help create. – Jim Burns
When you know how much time you have left, you’re more likely to make the most of the time you have now.
When your whole team understands phases it magnifies focus, synchronizes efforts and increases momentum.
“Blame is simply a change avoidance strategy.” -Andy Stanley
Jesus view of children and women was radical. In his day women were possessions and kids were invisible.
It’s not a question of whether kids will talk about their identity. The question is, will they talk to you about their identity!
Every kid needs someone on their side, to convince them that God is on their side.
Every child is made in the image of God…so treat them like it!
Church: we have the most important mission on the planet. Don’t apologize when asking 4 volunteers.
You can’t expect your volunteers to grow unless you’re growing too. So when you are planning your to-do list, put yourself on it!
“Maybe your leaders arent committed because you havent asked them to commit to something significant.” – Reggie Joiner
Except for the leftover spaghetti in the refrigerator and Disney stock, most things don’t develop when left unattended. Sometimes the way we do children’s or student ministry is like planting an orange tree. Every once in a while we may water it, but for the most part, because we are not a farmer, arborist, or citrus expert, we forget about it and abandon it in the backyard. Then, one day a few years later, probably while mowing the lawn, we wonder why the tree isn’t producing any fruit worth eating. We wonder why it looks short and stubby, why the leaves are brown and curled on the ends. We wonder why it doesn’t look like our neighbor’s tree with bright green glossy leaves and great orange orbs. In ministry we wonder the same thing. We wonder why so many students are walking away from faith in high school and college. We wonder why our kids’ faith seems anemic—stunted—why it cannot withstand the pressures of culture and society, why it buckles under difficulty and why the leaves are brown and curled on the end. Just as there are phases of growth we must attend to if we are to produce healthy, fruit bearing trees, there are phases of growth we must attend to if we are to produce fully formed followers of Jesus.
In the opening session of this year’s Orange Conference, Reggie Joiner identified four phases: Preschool, Elementary, Middle School and High School. He summarized each phase with a word and a question.
The question every preschooler asks is “Am I able?”
The question every elementary kid ask is “Do I have what it takes?”
Middle School: Affirm
The question every middler schooler asks is “Who do I like?”/ “Who likes me?”
High School: Mobilize
The question every high schooler asks is “Why should I believe?”/ “Why should I believe you?”
As every child and student seeks answers to these fundamental questions we must embrace preschoolers so they know they are safe and loved; we must engage elementary kids so they discover how God’s story intersects with their story; we must affirm middle schoolers so they can face challenging issues of transitioning through puberty; we must mobilize high schoolers so they can experience what God can do through them.
5 Truths We Need to Understand about Phases
#1: The phase determines how we teach truth.
The distinctive opportunities to influence a child or student future are related to what is happening in a child’s physical development, emotional development and mental development. Knowing the potentials and limitations of a child at each stage of their development is very important as we teach information—Biblical truth included. It also shapes the methods we use to teach. Preschoolers are made to wiggle and giggle, getting them all to sit still for us to get through “Our Utmost for His Highest” or the denominational quarterly will probably not work. Our method of teaching is determined by the way a child and student learns at each stage of their development.
#2: The phase determines what truth is taught and when it is taught
The developmental stages determine not only what a child can understand, but what they need emotionally and what is relevant to their age and stage of life. If we miss this it doesn’t matter how true the truth is. The beasts of revelation while true would not only be irrelevant to the average preschooler but incomprehensible and probably frightening. David and Bathsheba would just be inappropriate for elementary kids. Singing “If I Were a Butterfly” may get you a lot of “views” on youtube but shouldn’t be the opener for High School group.
#3 Phases represent important spiritual seasons in a person’s life.
The truth that is taught is not only determined by a child or student’s mental capacity and emotional needs but by their spiritual needs as well. At each phase God is doing something unique. A preschooler is learning what love is and what it means to have a heavenly Father who loves them no matter what. A elementary child is learning what it means to place their trust in their Heavenly father. They are discovering their need for forgiveness and the gospel. A middle school student is learning how their faith interacts with the world around them—how it informs their interactions with others, with God and with themselves; they are shaping their identity in Christ. A high school student is discovering their role in the Kingdom of God and a passion to do the things Jesus did when he walked on the earth. I believe God has hardwired these phases into human growth. In the same way it easier to memorize information before age twelve it is easier for faith development to occur when it is done during the right season. Nearly 100 years ago Albert Gage wrote:
God intents that we should win people in the days of their youth while their hearts are young and sensitive. But we are apt to let the springtime pass and then with great effort create a religious fervor by our own efforts and win men to Christ. We work hard, spend thousands of dollars and at best get disappointingly small returns. We have waited too long. That which we should do is to work with God in His seasons. (Evangelism of Youth, 1922)
#4 Phases build upon themselves.
In the same way that mental, emotional and physical development builds upon itself, spiritual development builds upon itself. The phases are not isolated events. For preschoolers, the way they are loved will be the way they love. Most importantly the way they are loved will impact the way they view how their Heavenly Father loves them. As elementary kids, the quality of their trust will largely be based upon the height and depth and width of their understanding of their Heavenly Father’s love for them. It is in the soil of this love and trust that their identity is developed during Middle school and it is what will fuel their passion for serving God in High school and adulthood.
#5 Missing a phase stunts growth.
It’s hard to say that any phase is more important than the next. Spiritual growth builds upon itself–we crawl before we walk; we walk before we run. God does something unique at phase which makes every phase important. When we miss something at one level we handicap the next. The things we miss along the way are typically the things that become “the hurts, habits and hangups” of adulthood. Maybe a better way of saying it is, “The phase we miss is the most important.”
I look forward to hearing more as the ReThink team develops Phases.
A few years ago, we decided to let my two boys participate in AYSO, our local soccer league. We have 5 kids and this was a monumental decision for our family. It meant three practices a week and Saturday games were being added to an already full schedule of music lessons and ballet lessons (for the girls). I went into the first parent meeting determined to keep my volunteer involvement at a minimum. Besides, there should be some sort of volunteer exclusion clause for large families. As I listened to the coaches talk about all the things my kids would learn this season about teamwork, sportsmanship and friendship I was steeling myself against the inevitable—the time at the end of the meeting when the coach would pass around the clipboard and ask everyone to sign up. Apparently you don’t want to make it to playoffs and be disqualified because of parent volunteer points! Could you imagine the disappointment on the faces of a whole team of 10-12 year olds who have worked hard all season for a chance at playoffs only to have their hopes dashed by a few deadbeat parents! I left the meeting having signed up to spend all day Saturday learning how to be a referee, to referee at least 2 games that season, to chalk the lines and put together goal nets the following Saturday, and provide snacks next month. No one was going to accuse me of being a deadbeat dad!
After that experience, I thought: “How different our approach to recruiting volunteers is!” Instead of casting vision and expecting people to volunteer for one of the greatest ministries in the church we apologize for asking people to help. We lower our expectations and make the job so easy a trained monkey could do it. The temptation is to lower the bar in hopes of getting more people to volunteer. We do that by expecting them to do less and show up less often. Leaders need to know they are doing something that matters.
Expect more, not less.
In one of my first ministries, I was blessed with several volunteers among whom were 3 extraordinary people. These three extraordinary people were beloved by the children in their classes and by many hundreds of others who had had them as teachers. One had been a Sunday school teacher for over 20 years. Two of them had been Sunday school teachers in the same age level for over 30 years. They were “old-school” Sunday school teachers in all of the best ways possible. These three people taught me two very important things about commitment. People make life-time commitments when:
- they see God use them to change another person’s life
- they are changed as a result of seeing God use them to change another person’s life
One of the ways that God grows our faith is when ministry becomes personal. Ministry becomes personal when people see God use them to grow another person’s faith and their faith, in turn, grows. This is the top of the pyramid. It rests upon everything else. Volunteers cannot experience accomplishment without the significance that comes from being a gifted, passionate presence and without the confidence that comes from support, training and recognition. This is the third and final level of the Hierarchy of Volunteer Needs. To learn more about Damon’s Hierarchy of Volunteer Needs go to Solving the Volunteer Commitment Problem (Part 1).
One of the saddest things I see in ministry are the volunteers who never experience the top of the pyramid. Neglecting the lower levels of the pyramid not only impacts volunteer commitment levels, it impacts our ability to lead kids and volunteers in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. It strikes at the very heart of our mission. However, armed with the ingredients of a great volunteer experience you can make a difference. You can recruit volunteers and help them experience their own faith grow as they see God use them to lead others in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.
Confidence: Supported, Trained & Celebrated
Many volunteers drop out because they lack confidence. While they may see that what they do is significant, there is a disconnect between how important they feel the ministry is and how to actually accomplish the task. You can think a job is really important and still have no idea about how to get the job done. Over time this erodes confidence, serving becomes a burden and volunteers burn out. While serving in your ministry, a volunteer needs to experience support, training and recognition. This is the second level of Damon’s Hierarchy of Volunteer Needs. To learn more about the hierarchy of needs see Solving the Volunteer Commitment Problem (Part1)
Supported: A sense of belonging fuels commitment. While we often look to adult small groups, community groups or adult Bible fellowships to provide community and belonging in our churches, one of the most powerful forms of belonging is being on a team that is working together toward a common goal. Teams create interdependent relationships. When someone is gone, the team feels it. When someone is hurting, the team feels it. When someone is struggling, the team feels it. Like community groups, this kind of interdependence creates a built in sense of care, accountability and belonging. We call the person responsible for this dynamic a coach.
Trained: Nothing can sap confidence more quickly than trying to console two screaming 3 year-olds and lead an activity at the same time. However, there are things that can be learned to help prevent this and skills that can be developed to get a group back on track when things like this happen. Classroom management, discipline, lesson preparation and connecting with kids relationally are all skills that can be learned and must be taught if a volunteer is going to be confident in their role. Training is not only necessary when a person first volunteers, but it must be ongoing.
Celebrated: Celebrating team members not only provides recognition, it reminds people of what is most important. When we highlight how a volunteer’s service changed the life of a child or student we are not only celebrating a volunteer we are elevating the reason why the ministry exists. Celebrating life-change creates a scoreboard that everyone sees and it inspires commitment. People like to be on winning teams. Wins should be celebrated and celebrated frequently.
Before a child can learn we all know that certain basic needs must be met. A child can’t learn if they are hungry or cold. They can’t learn if they are afraid or worried. They can’t learn if they don’t experience a sense of love and belonging. Abraham Maslow, a famous educational psychologist, called this a hierarchy of needs. In that same way there are certain needs that must be met if a volunteer is to commit to ministry. These needs fall into three main categories: Significance, confidence and accomplishment. Each of these three build upon each other. For example, in order to experience confidence a volunteer must experience significance; in order to experience accomplishment a volunteer must experience significance and confidence.
My Hierarchy of Volunteer Needs
Significance: A Gifted, Passionate Presence
When we talk about gifting we are not talking about special kid whispering powers—those are skills and anyone can develop them. We are talking about spiritual gifts. God gives every believer spiritual gifts. Many Christians go through their entire lives without knowing their gifts. Some volunteers move around a lot because they have been placed in an area they are not gifted in. Maybe they are gifted at connecting relationally but they have been placed in an administrative role or as a check-in person. Every time they print out another spread sheet a little bit of themselves dies inside because what really satisfies their heart is having a deep meaningful relationship with someone. They need to be a small group leader. It is our job as leaders to help people identify their gifts and place them in the right spot. According to Ephesians 4:15, 16:
Passion: While some people may have volunteered out of a sense of duty, or because someone begged them into the position and they just couldn’t say, “No”, most people are serving because they genuinely want to make a difference in the life of a child or student. We can help keep this passion alive by making sure that volunteers see how their job or position impacts a child or student. When they don’t see the connection between what they do and the mission it becomes easier for them to drop out. This is the second level of the pyramid.
Presence: Presence is the easiest of the three to overlook. It’s a piece of the puzzle that some ministries have actually programmed out by creating large volunteer rotations. Volunteers need to show up regularly enough to see how they make a difference. The steps in spiritual formation may sometimes be dramatic, like making a decision to follow Christ or being baptized. However, many aspects of spiritual formation are more subtle. It may be a subtle change of character, faith or behavior, like placing more trust in God for the circumstances that are outside of our control. These changes can only be seen if a volunteer shows up regularly enough to see the difference. Volunteers must be present if they are to be committed. We often think it is the other way around. Commitment comes from a volunteer seeing how their service makes an impact on the life of another.
We were all taught to believe that there used to be a ministry golden era (sometime in the 50’s) when people had more time and they were more committed to church. It was an era when Mom stayed home and served weekly in the Sunday school, attended women’s circle meetings on Wednesday nights and staffed summer long Vacation Bible Schools. It was an era when Dad went to work at 9am and returned by 5pm and spent the rest of his time throwing ball in the front yard, giving sage advice to his sons and chairing church finance committees. I don’t know whether that was true or not, but I’m guessing that since the Cleavers had to work so hard at it, I’m sure it wasn’t any more true then, than it is now.
When we say people are “not committed” we mean they don’t “stick around”—that they’re fickle. They’re not committed to one thing for very long before they move onto something else.
People are committed. They are just committed to something else.
They are committed to their favorite television program or their favorite sports team. They are committed to making sure their kid gets into the right school with the right teacher or on the right sports team with the right coach. They are committed to making sure their kid gets to school or to practice. They are committed to showing up at work. They are committed to three square meals a day (or at least two.) They are committed to living indoors. People are committed to the things they believe are important.
Not only do we need to show people that children’s and student ministry is worth committing to, we need to eliminate the things that sabotage commitment to serving in ministry.
Some common reasons why people don’t commit to serving:
• the role doesn’t seem to be significant
• they have a bad experience serving
• they are not properly trained
• they feel like they are serving alone
• they’re service is not recognized
• they’re not serving frequently enough to experience God use them.
• they are not serving in the area of their gifting
• they’re service is not helping them grow spiritually[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]
There are some kids who come to know Christ in our ministries. Their lives are changed in dramatic ways. We see their faith steadily grow strong over time. We walk with them through the good times and the bad and it seems everything they experience strengthens their faith. They graduate from our ministries and move on if not to full-time ministry to vocations that become a picture of a life dependent upon their relationship with Jesus. They have a huge impact–some local, some regional, some national and international.
And then . . . there is everyone else—60-80% according to the statistics.
Some of them attended our events. They even came to our weekly environments every once in a while, but their lives remained unchanged. Attending a student environment wasn’t much different than attending a party on the weekend or a football or pep. rally at school. Someone invited them. They came. They hung out. And every once in a while they came back. Even though they were there, it seemed to make little difference.
We’ve seen others who came to know Christ and their faith seemed to spring up quickly. It sprang up at camps and big events where they came forward and gave their lives to Christ. They gave up destructive relationships and bad habits.They started attending Bible studies or small groups. They were “all-in” at first, but then they experienced a crisis and their faith–like a fair weather friend–was just not big enough to absorb the bad along with the good.
There were others who couldn’t get enough of what we had to offer, but one day they didn’t show up. And that was okay, because they came back the following week. But then . . . they didn’t show up again. Before long they were gone more than they were there—and then they were just gone; they just faded until they disappeared. All of their other interests seemed to slowly choke out their faith.
Jesus described it this way:
A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, 6 but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Matthew 13:3-8
We have rightly described the disposition of the heart as different types of soil. After all, that’s how Jesus described it a few verses later (vs 18-24). There is the good soil, the hard soil along the path, the rocky soil and the soil with the weeds. The quality of the soil has a huge impact on the growth of the seed planted in it.
When we think of this parable from our modern perspective–where when we plant a garden we buy soil at the nursery–it is easy to assume the soil “is-what-it-is.” There is good soil, the kind we buy from the nursery, and there’s bad soil, the kind that is in our backyard. It just comes that way. However, when we assume soil “just comes that way,” we miss something that I think every first century listener and farmer would have picked up on. Not only does the farmer scatter the seed, he also prepares the soil. In a world where there were no nurseries, a farmer spent a significant amount of time preparing the soil before it was planted. The farmer determined what part of the field would be the path. The farmer tilled and fertilized the soil, broke up the rocks and weeded it. The farmer did a lot more than scatter the seed. And while all his work did not completely determine the success of his crop, how he prepared his soil before he planted the seed played a major role.
I think the reason why we are experiencing such a high percentage of students who walk away from faith when they graduate from high school is because we have not sufficiently prepared the soil when they were children. We must begin preparing the soil when they are babies. This kind of soil preparation will require much more than just Gospel information.