Mistakes You’re Making in Your Weekend Experience (Part 4)
Nearly every pastor would agree that children’s ministry is a key part of their church’s ministry strategy.
However, we can unintentionally undermine our own efforts when we neglect this area or hire the wrong leaders to oversee it.
COMMON KIDS MINISTRY MISTAKES
In this episode, I sat down with Stephanie Moreno, Director of Ministries at Christ Fellowship Miami, to discuss five common mistakes churches make when it comes to their children’s ministry and how they can effectively create a fun, safe, and secure environment for kids.
Stephanie spent 10 years in kids ministry prior to her current leadership role and has a wealth of experience and knowledge when it comes to how churches are successfully engaging young families and ministering to kids. We unpacked:
- Overcoming a volunteer scarcity mindset
- Why curriculum is not the most important thing
- Hiring the right leaders for kids ministry
- How to equip your volunteers and parents
This Episode Is Sponsored by The Church Lawyers:
The Church Lawyers’ Client Member program was created for organizations just like yours. Their team of Christian legal professionals are personally called to empower and protect churches, ministries, and their leaders to fulfill their mission by providing biblically informed and ministry-focused legal solutions.
Whether governance, employment, litigation, or other matters, let The Church Lawyers walk alongside you as you navigate legal issues facing your ministry. Sign up for the The Church Lawyers’ Client Member program today at thechurchlawyers.com.
Other Episodes in This Series
- 5 Mistakes You’re Making with Your Weekend Services – Episode 303
- 5 Mistakes You’re Making with Your Guest Services – Episode 304
- 5 Mistakes You’re Making with Your Physical Space – Episode 305
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Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we are exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. Nearly every pastor would agree that kids’ ministry is an important part of their church’s strategy, but oftentimes, we can unintentionally undermine our own efforts when we focus too much on some areas and not enough on others. On this week’s podcast, Tony and Amy wrap up our series on Common Mistakes Churches Make on the Weekend with a conversation about the five mistakes churches make when it comes to their kids’ ministry strategy. If you’re brand new to The Unstuck Church Podcast, before you listen, we wanna invite you to go to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast and subscribe to get the episode show notes in your email. When you do, you’re gonna get resources to support each week’s episode, including our Leader Conversation Guide, as well as access to resources from all of our past episodes. Again, that’s theunstuckgroup.com/podcast to subscribe. Now, before this week’s conversation, here’s a word from Tony.
The Church Lawyers Client Member Program was created for organizations just like yours. Their team of Christian legal professionals are personally called to empower and protect churches’ ministries and their leaders. They want to help you fulfill your mission by providing biblically informed and ministry-focused legal solutions. Whether it’s governance, employment, litigation or other matters, let The Church Lawyers walk alongside you as you navigate legal issues facing your ministry. Sign up for the Church Lawyers Client Member Program today at thechurchlawyers.com.
Well, thanks for joining us for The Unstuck Church Podcast. Today, we’re wrapping up our series on mistakes you’re making in your weekend experience, and each week, we’ve been talking about the five common mistakes we see in a church’s worship experiences, the guest services and facilities. And this week, we’re gonna focus on kids’ ministry. And Tony, like the previous three episodes in the series, we have a special guest joining us. Do you wanna introduce our guest?
I do because, you know, I really don’t have any kids’ ministry experience. Amy, do you have kids’ ministry experience?
No, you know, I volunteered in kids’ ministry for a short amount of time.
But that is about the extent of my kids’ ministry experience.
Well, I thought it might be wise for us to bring in an outside voice for this particular topic. So I did, and you’re gonna love this conversation. I had a chance to visit with Stephanie Moreno. She’s the Director of ministries now at Christ Fellowship in Miami, and Christ Fellowship is a great church. It’s a multi-generational, multicultural church and really an international church because not only do they have multiple locations in Miami, they also have locations in the Caribbean, Latin America and online. And I’m trying to convince their team that I need to visit the Caribbean location, but I don’t know if that’ll ever happen, Amy. Stephanie has spent, before her role as the Director of Ministries, though, she spent 10 years in kids’ ministry. And so she comes with a wealth of experience and knowledge when it comes to how great churches are engaging ministry to young families and specifically to kids. So with that, here’s my conversation with Stephanie on the five common mistakes we’re seeing in kids’ ministry.
Well, Stephanie, thank you for joining us for today’s podcast. We’ve been over these last few weeks talking about some common mistakes we’re seeing around weekend services. And today, I wanted to focus on children’s ministry because it’s such a key area of ministry for churches but specifically related to the weekend experience. And when I started to ask around who should I talk to about children’s ministry, your name popped to the top of the list. So before we dive into the specifics of our conversation, can you give us a little bit of your background story, including your time in kids’ ministry?
Of course. Thank you so much for having me. And I feel honored that you guys thought of me when you thought of kids’ ministry. Children’s ministry is such a special role in our church, and I’ve had the privilege of being in children’s ministry, prior to the role that I am in now, for 10 years at our church, which is Christ Fellowship in Miami. And I served in many different roles in children’s ministry during my 10 years there. And now, I’m currently on the executive team of our church, and I get to serve as the, a Director of Ministries. And part of my role still has children’s ministry cuz I just couldn’t let it go. It just, it’s so special to me. I love it so much that I still get to be a small part of it.
You know, Stephanie, I’m glad people like you are not only committed to following Jesus and serving the church in leadership but specifically around kids’ ministry. One time, years ago, we were short in the kids’ ministry area, and I was on staff at a great church. But they pulled me in to help without, with the element one of the elementary grades. I can’t remember which it was.
And I did that for one, one time, and for whatever reason, they did not ask me back after that experience. So maybe that’s one of the mistakes is getting the wrong people on the team. I don’t know.
Well, what I wanna do is kind of walk through five common mistakes that our team at The Unstuck Group is seeing in the area of kids’ ministry and maybe just have you react to this and maybe provide some coaching on how we could improve in these five areas. And so, let me just dive in. The first area that we see as a challenge for a lot of churches is that kids’ ministry ends up competing with adult ministries, or adults that could potentially serve in kids’ ministry, because it’s either happening at the same time as adult Sunday school classes, as an example, on Sunday morning. Or there are other kids’ ministries midweek like Awana, just as one example, that compete with the best volunteers that we need serving in kids’ ministry. So, how have you seen that happen in your past, too? And maybe what coaching could you give us on how to improve in this specific area?
Yeah, for sure. I think having enough volunteers is always a topic of conversation across all ministries, not just kids’ ministry. But specifically in kids’ ministry, I think it’s very unique because we’re kind of like a small church within the church because as adults experiences are happening, we have a whole like church service for kids in different ages happening at the exact same time. And so a really big shift in the way that we view volunteers, specifically in kids’ ministry but really all the ministries at our church, was, we read this book The Volunteer Effect. Have you read it? It’s so good.
I have, yeah.
Okay. It was phenomenal, and we read it recently as a church team. And one of the biggest things that stood out to me, Tony, was just how he focused on inviting people to the mission of our church and really focused on how everyone in our church has a very unique calling. And one of the things that kind of like switched in all of our minds was really like there’s no like limit of people in our church. Like there are tons of people in our church, and inside of them, they have a calling and a gifting that God has placed inside of them. And really, we all kind of like worked together like as a staff team, and we really realized that it’s not about getting kids in kids’ ministry or about getting kids into production or in the worship ministry. It’s really about the people that God has entrusted to us in like carving out time to create like connections with these people to figure out what it is that they’re gifted with, what is it that they have a passion for, and connecting them there. It’s like the competition like fades away cuz there’s like a bigger win here. And the win is like connecting people to where God has for them. And so specifically for kids’ ministry leaders, I know this is so hard, but my recommendation is like intentionally carve out time on a Sunday. I know it’s so hard cuz Sundays in kids’ ministry we’re like in the trenches holding the crying babies, like funneling kids back and forth. I know it’s a lot, but really carve out time occasionally to be intentional to step outside of the kids’ world and spend time like in the adult realm, like creating connections with people, like genuine connections where you can affirm in them like gifts that they have and then inviting them to the mission of children’s ministry, which is so special. Like what’s more life-giving than investing in the generation that will be sharing the gospel when we’re not here anymore? Like there’s nothing more life-giving and impactful for that. So my recommendation, even though it’s really hard, is to try to carve out that time to do that and also to break away from the mindset of it being a competition that we’re all trying to get people because we can all work together and plug in people where they belong.
I love that. So The Volunteer Effect, actually, well, a friend of mine, Jason Young, is one of the authors of that book. And so if you haven’t read it yet, you should pick that up. Here’s a second mistake that we find is that sometimes (this is related to kids’ ministry staff) the, the kids’ ministry staff gets really focused on curriculum development for the kids’ ministry area rather than building and leading effective ministry in that area. And that some of that’s related to building volunteer teams, but some of it is just kind of leading out and making sure that effective ministry is happening. So, what, what advice could you give us related to that, Stephanie?
This was a great mistake and something that I have to keep tabs on all the time because I personally love kids’ curriculum. And it’s probably cause I came from a background in education, and so I enjoy it so much. And if I don’t keep tabs of it, if I am not careful, it can definitely encompass the majority of my week. And I know that that is not the greatest impact that I can make as a children’s leader. In fact, most of the time, kids will forget about the lesson and the game and the snack like two days after Sunday anyways. Right? But what they do remember is they remember how they felt when they were in church and so they remember the feeling of: did I belong? Was I safe? Was there someone there to care for me? And what parents remember is did I drop my kids off in a safe environment? Were they happy when I picked them up? And so, really the curriculum portion, while it is important, it’s not that it’s not important, it’s not the most important thing that we should be focusing on children’s ministry. It’s really pouring into the leaders of our church and making sure that we have the best volunteers, that they are equipped and trained and that they are in the right roles. And also that relationship with the parents because kids can’t just get into a car and drive themselves to children’s ministries. Even if you promise them games and candy and the most fun things, they cannot drive themselves there. Their parents are the ones that bring them. And so really making sure that the parents have a connection, that they feel safe here, that they see our children’s ministry as a valuable part of for their family—that is the biggest win. And so, really, oftentimes, I kind of do like an inventory of my calendar, like what am I spending the majority of my time on? And the majority of my time should be on that leadership development, on that parenting part. And a very small percentage should be on the curriculum. Maybe in your church team, some people have the ability to have like a whole kids’ curriculum team, which is great. But for other churches that maybe it’s just one or two like kids’ staff team members; it’s like find a curriculum that’s kind of like, open the box, press play and go, and spend your time on the people, on the people that God is entrusted to your ministry. That will be the biggest win for you and your time.
That, that, that’s good. And, and the reality is there are several opportunities with existing curriculum programs out there that we can use. And they may not be perfect, a hundred percent perfect, but they’re very good. And that will then free up your time to focus on these more important areas. So the third mistake is kind of related to that. And it’s, and we see this happen in great churches where when the church is smaller, they hire people who love kids to lead kids’ ministry. And then the church grows, and because of that, there are more and more and more kids. And sometimes, we have found rather than focusing on the time that we’re actually spending with the kids, we actually need to find staff at that point that are focused on hiring great leader or finding great leaders who can build teams and minister to kids. And so, it’s just kind of as the church grows, sometimes the children’s ministry leader, when the church was smaller, we need kind of that leadership to look a little bit different when the children, children’s ministry grows.
And so, this is a, this is a challenge I know many, many churches deal with, Stephanie. So, give us some coaching in this area.
Yeah. I have to admit I definitely made this mistake. The moment, like early in my first couple of years of being in children’s ministry and having the ability to have a kids’ staff, I kind of fell into that mistake that, “Oh, this volunteer’s amazing. For sure they’ll be the best like kids’ elementary person.” And really, what I found is that’s not always true. And the reason why is because so much of our role has to do with adults and building leaders. It’s not necessarily like with the children, that’s such a small part of our week. It’s just Sunday. It’s like the go-day, right?
But during the week, the majority of our time is with volunteers who are adults, parents who are adults and with staff members who are adults. And so it’s so important that we find the right person that has leadership qualities. And so something that we incorporated in our church, something we have in our children’s ministry is we have volunteer, what we call volunteer coaches. And they’re kind of like volunteer service leaders. And so let’s say I see a volunteer, and I’m like, “Okay, this person is faithful. They’re available. They have time to invest in ministry. Like, let me see if they’d be willing to be a leader of a service hour.” And if the person says yes and we kind of start that like leadership relationship together, it allows me to kind of give them like a little piece of the pie without giving them the whole pie, right? And I get to see like, “Hey, does this person have the qualities, the leadership qualities that I’m looking for, for the staff role that I have available?” And what it’s kind of done over time is it’s kind of, we’ve created like a leadership pipeline where like at each of our campuses we have like a pipeline of volunteer leaders who we know their strengths. We know their weaknesses. We’re going through our leadership development curriculum with them, so we know kind of how they’re wired. And so when a role opens up, we have someone ready to go into that role. So we haven’t, by the grace of God, had many like holes in our kids’ ministry we’ve had to wade. We’ve been able to hire within our organization, which is great cuz these people have the DNA of our church. Their culture carriers already, which is wonderful. And so that’s a recommendation is like, hey, start with the volunteer leader, and see if they are the right fit for the role that you’re looking for.
That’s fantastic. I, I know enough about Christ Fellowship. My guess is those volunteer coaches exist in children’s ministry, but they, that same role is probably across every ministry of the church, isn’t it?
It is. It is.
Yeah. All right. So the fourth mistake is, and it’s, you know, everybody, well, just about every church we’ve gone into, the kids’ ministry is focused on helping kids take their next steps towards Jesus. So that’s a given in almost every, every church that we’ve worked with through the years. What’s not a given is that in some children’s ministries, they’re also not focused on the fun factor for kids or they’re not paying enough attention to the safety and security of those environments for kids. And so the focus is so much on pointing kids towards Jesus, which is a good thing. We don’t wanna lose that. But in doing so, we kind of neglect these other areas. So help us think about that, Stephanie.
Of course. So we have such a unique opportunity in kids’ ministry because we get these children when they’re little and they’re moldable and they’re teachable and soft. And we have the opportunity from such a young age to show them that church is a fun place. That God is fun. And something I wanna say is that fun looks different for kids. Like, like, let’s say I grew up in the nineties, like what I thought was fun as a kid in the nineties isn’t necessarily what kids now think is fun. Like, I have a nine-year-old and a four-year-old, and what they play with and what they do is completely different than what I was playing with when I was younger. And so, it’s so important to carve out time where we’re, we’re able to like research and find out what is it that kids like? What is it that they enjoy? And it’s not because we wanna make our ministries like fluffy. Like we know that the kids when they come, they’re going to receive God’s word, but we wanna show them already from a young age that God is creative. That God is fun; it’s not boring. He’s not boring. And so we have an opportunity to create an environment where they get to experience that. And so my recommendation is to do research, is to spend time figuring out what’s fun. I know I’m so thankful that our church has poured resources into our online kids’ ministry. So much of kids, like nowadays, they just wanna be online. They’re on their tablets, on their iPads, on the TV. And so we have a kids’ service online, and it’s really awesome. It kind of feels like Disney Channel injected with Jesus. And our kids, whether they’re onsite or they’re not here on Sundays, they get to watch that. And we’ve invested in it because we believe in it. We want kids to see even from home that there is something, a fun resource, a way that they can connect to God from home that is really fun. And so I’m really thankful for that. And then safety and security that is a need. That is a basic need for children, for our parents, what parents look for. And it’s kind of like, it should be a pillar in every single children’s ministry because children are a very vulnerable demographic, and parents are really, they are giving us, for an hour and 15 minutes, their most valuable treasures. And the Lord has entrusted us with them. And so we need to be good stewards of them. And so, investing in safety and security should be a priority. And I know a lot of times our mind, when we think of safety and security, our mind goes to like, “Oh yeah, like we do background checks at our church,” and that’s not what I’m talking about. That’s like the bare minimum of safety that you can have at your church is background checks. I’m talking about investing in like policies and procedures and training your team members to identify things like abuse for them to be aware of the danger that could be around them and setting up your team members for success and making sure that we’re creating environments where kids are safe, where there’s two adults in a room, where we have bathroom policies. Where as parents walk through, they can see, “Oh, our children’s areas are monitored. Not anyone can just walk in. They have to have a badge to walk in. We match badges at pick-up time.” Like we want to show parents, first and foremost, that their treasure is going to be safe with us while they’re here. And also, we know that we are held, most importantly, accountable before the Lord and what he’s entrusted to us. And we wanna be good stewards of our kids. And we know that all it takes is just one mistake to jeopardize so much. And it’s, it’s definitely not worth it. So it’s, my recommendation is to pour in your resources to making sure you have a safe and secure children’s area.
I couldn’t agree more. And this is in the list of “Not to do” related to safety and security in kids’ ministry. Part of our Unstuck Process at The Unstuck Group, we have kind of a Secret Shopper Experience. And this was years ago, and I’m sure this church has fixed it since then. But one of the bigger guys on our team was kind of doing the Secret Shopper Experience, and he was concerned about the security in kids’ ministry. And so he decided to test it out. And not only did he, was he able to walk into the children’s ministry area without anybody stopping him, he was able to walk into one of the children’s ministry rooms without anybody saying a word to him. And then he sat down with the, the kids in the room without anybody saying anything.
My nightmare, Tony.
But I say, I share that because, and I, I’m seeing this firsthand. My, my volunteer role at my church is welcoming new people to the church and especially young families. What I’ve noticed time and time again is dads, when they drop off kids, I think, are just, to be honest, in many cases, looking for an opportunity to have a reprieve from being a parent for at least an hour. Moms, on the other hand, you can see it on their face almost every time. It’s like they, they just wanna make sure that if they’re going to allow their kids to be a part of the kids’ ministry experience, that it, they’re gonna be safe and they’re gonna be secure. And I don’t blame them. I mean, this is, unfortunately, our culture; there are just too many stories that we’ve experienced in recent years where the appropriate security wasn’t there for kids. And as a result of that, it’s become, it’s just we’ve seen some sad stories. And so, I mean, just about every mom of every new family that walks in the door, this is gonna be the one of the top things that they have on their mind. All right. Let’s jump to a happier topic.
And that has to do, and you mentioned it earlier, but this is again another common mistake we see with kids’ ministry is we’re so focused to ministering to the kids that we neglect equipping parents. And so could you elaborate on that just a bit, Stephanie?
Absolutely. Something that I remind our team of often is that as children’s ministry leaders, we have such a small amount of time with a child while they’re with us; we get max one hour a week, which is like unheard of cuz most people don’t go to church every week. Right? They go, what is it? Once a month now is a new norm.
So we get them for such a short amount of time, and parents have the majority of times with their children. And so if we really want to make an impact in the life of a child, if you want a child to come to know the Lord, to love him, to follow him, our biggest win is to equip parents in order to do that. Because not only are they called by God to do that, right? We see that in Deuteronomy; parents are called to be the spiritual leaders of their homes and to their children, but they’re the ones that have the most time with their kids. So it doesn’t matter how amazing our kids’ ministry is, if we want our kids to know God’s word, we have to target mom and dad. And in addition to that, being a parent is hard. Like I’m a parent. I have two little kids, and I’m so thankful for our children’s ministry and how they’ve invested in me and my children. Like I could not be the parent that God has called me to be without the help of the children’s ministry of people coming alongside me in loving my children and teaching them God’s word. It’s like we’re a partnership together. And so my recommendation is always to make sure that we are carving out that time to invest in the parents because they’re the ones that have the majority of time with the children and the most influence over their children, as well. And so it’s definitely extremely important.
Well, related to that, I wanna go back to something you shared earlier because I have a feeling the pastors that are listening are gonna be interested in this. You mentioned that you do a weekly service specifically for kids online. How, how could, if, if pastors or church leaders wanted to see an example of that, where on the website or where should they go to check that out, Stephanie?
Sure. So we have, we call our kids online. It’s called CF Kids Online. And there’s multiple places where you can watch the episodes for that. You can go to cfmiami.org/kids, which is our kids’ website. You can find us on YouTube; you can go to our CF Miami on YouTube, and there’s a link there to our children’s ministry that has all of our videos on it. You can also go to our Instagram, which is CF Kids Miami as well, which will kind of take you to those videos that you can see them. But our videos are posted on YouTube for our kids to watch. And I think they’re so fun. Our kids love them; my kids watch them. And I’m really thankful that we’ve carved out and made it a priority in our church to invest in that resource.
Well, Stephanie, I really appreciate you joining us today. And more than anything, the great coaching that you’ve provided all of us, really appreciate that. I think as pastors and church leaders we understand the value of great kids ministry, but just getting some of that practical wisdom today from you has been really helpful. So thank you for joining us today.
It’s been my pleasure. Thank you for having me. This was so fun.
Whoa, Tony, Stephanie is a sharp leader. That was fantastic. What stood out to you from that conversation?
This is the key thought that stood out to me, Amy. Stephanie said, “Kids will forget about the lesson, the games, the snacks, especially the goldfish, but they’re going to remember how they felt. And they’re gonna be asking themselves questions like, did I feel like I belonged? Was I safe? Did someone care for me? And then their parents, their parents are going to remember, did I drop them off at a safe environment and were they happy when I picked them up?” And I think we tend to forget, because we’re so focused, obviously, on helping kids meet and follow Jesus, we tend to forget that these are the key questions that parents are asking and that their kids are asking as well. And because of that I think the key thought from this conversation is first, we really do have to prioritize the safety of the environment and the, the fun that we’re creating in those experiences for kids.
And secondly, we need to prioritize our relationship with the parents because the kids don’t drive themselves to church. And so if we’re going to engage with more kids in kids’ ministry, we have to figure out how to develop, connect with more parents, develop more stronger relationships with them, help equip them. The churches that are going to reach more families with young kids, it’s less about the changes that they’re making for their kids and, more specifically, the changes that churches are making to reach their parents. And because of that, we need to make sure the worship service is designed with young adults in mind. We need to make sure communications, facilities, the guest experience is designed with young adults in mind. And then, we need to make sure the kids’ environments and the kids’ programming is designed and prepared for young parents to bring their kids to our churches. And it, if you don’t have many kids in your church, it’s primarily because you aren’t reaching young parents. And that really needs to be the priority that you should be focusing on in this season.
Yeah. As you’re sharing all that, Tony, I think back to our experience, my husband and I, when we were in our late twenties with three kids in tow. And one of the key reasons we kept coming back is because our kids loved their hour at church. And when we’d drop ’em off, we had time and space to think and to learn and hear from the Lord. And then, of course, when we picked them up, they were joyful and happy and just such a key ingredient for young parents. Well, any final thoughts, Tony, before we wrap up today’s conversation?
During the conversation with Stephanie, I mentioned the Secret Shopper portion of our Unstuck Process, where one of our ministry consultants helps you view your services through the eyes of an unchurched member of your community. And this is just one small part of the Unstuck Process, but pastors often share this perspective from someone with fresh eyes—it’s eye-opening, especially if one of our consultants walks into a kids’ classroom without anyone stopping them, like I mentioned in the conversation with Stephanie.
Not saying that has happened before.
Right? That’s right. But if you wanna learn more about what this process looks like, you can, you can reach out to us at theunstuckgroup.com or start a conversation at theunstuckgroup.com/start.
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