There is this moment I remember when I first started working in ministry. I had my 9-month-old son strapped in front of me, diaper bag on one shoulder, computer bag on the other, carrying a massively large storage container up a flight of stairs to the offices we were renting for the church. Before you ask–no. No one else was in the office, and no, we did not have an elevator. It was literally my breaking point. The point where I thought, “That’s it, I can’t do this anymore.” At least I can’t do this…this way.
We’ve all been there before. At the breaking point of ministry, feeling overwhelmed, underqualified, and tempted to throw in the towel. Yet, there’s a still small voice that gives us the courage to keep going, knowing it’s worth it. But here’s the thing: if we want to build something that will last, we have to build something that is sustainable.
It was at my breaking point that I knew I needed a better system. Carrying supplies up and down the stairs every week for our then-portable church while holding my infant son was literally going to be the end of me.
That was close to 20 years ago, and now, when I talk with leaders today who are just starting out, I share a few tips and tricks to create a system that works. My hope is that I can help them avoid a breaking point moment similar to the one I had.
Work month–to–month, not week-to-week.
When we first start with something new, it is tempting to tell ourselves, ok, let’s just take this one week at a time. But here’s the problem: one week turns into 16 weeks, and by the 16th week, you feel like a hamster running on its wheel. If we are so busy prepping curriculum week-to-week, we don’t have time to look at the vision of the ministry, to invest in our volunteers, or to make plans for how we can better partner with parents. Instead, prep at least one month at a time. It looked something like this:
- I would download the curriculum and edit which activities I was going to do for the entire month. I would get that to my leaders ahead of time. Sometimes, it was a hard copy, sometimes, it was emailed, depending on the volunteer.
- I would print out the activity pages, and the copier and I became close friends. I would stand there with my white and colored cardstock, white and colored paper, and make copies of all the activity pages. Tip: If you use Orange Curriculum, the instructions for each Activity Page are at the bottom of every page!
- The following week, I would focus on supplies. I would spend a day going through the month of curriculum and editing the Supply Lists. Tip: If you use Orange Curriculum and have never used this…they are gold! You can find them under Prelude/Monthly Planning. I would do inventory on my current supply situation and then plan another day to SHOP! Although this was 20 years ago, perhaps ordering is now more efficient.
- Okay, now this is still one of my favorite things I did. It worked from a start-up church to a large church with hundreds of kids. I bought magical plastic storage drawers. Maybe they weren’t actually magical! But after a few months of trying to prep supplies with baskets, bins, bags, etc . . it was too much! I know it sounds silly, but having the drawers stacked up one for each age group and each week. This allowed me to put things in each drawer quickly! It may seem like a small thing, but when you are efficient, you feel successful, and when you are successful in one area of ministry, you have the capacity to reflect on the other areas of your ministry. You should be thankful you can just order these from Amazon. I looked ridiculous walking through the store with 2 carts full of 35 plastic drawers.
- After my supplies were in their drawers, I would cut out anything from the Activity Pages and any of the examples. Tip: If you use Orange Curriculum, be sure to take a look at the very last page, Getting Ready. It will tell you all the things that need to be done ahead of time! If there was anything missing or anything that needed to be used in one week and then used in another, I would put a Post-it note to remind me. Done!
Is it a lot of work? Yes. If you got into children’s ministry thinking it wouldn’t be, I am sorry to be the one to tell you. Once you have a good system in place, then you are able to give pieces of it away. And that’s the goal. Remember, if we want a ministry that is going to last, it has to be sustainable, and that means it can’t rely on just what we can do. Your ministry will only grow so much if it’s built on what only you can do. Is it easy to give things away? Nope! In fact, sometimes it takes more work to explain the process than it is to do it yourself. But it is better in the long run.
Give it Away!
After I had a good system in place, I began to be strategic about the people I invited into the process. And you know what? They all loved being part of this process. They felt valued and excited to be part of something bigger than themselves. Here are a few ideas on how to bring strategic volunteers into this process.
- Some of my best volunteers were teachers. Now, a lot of them did not necessarily want to be with the kids on Sunday, which I totally understood. Instead, I had a few teachers who would get together once a month, and they would help pick out the activities for each age group. They loved having a way to contribute their expertise, and I, of course, loved the help!
- At the time, we had a few people who would either volunteer to answer phones or were employed as administrative assistants. They would often print and copy all my activity pages. They often had time during the day, and they knew how to be friends with the copy machine…a very important skill!
- I will never forget one volunteer that I had! She came in one day and said, “Bre, I want to help, but I’ll be honest, I don’t really want to work with kids. However, I love to organize, I love to create lists, and I don’t mind picking up any supplies you may need.” She was a God-send! And that’s exactly what she did. She would take the edited curriculum and make a list of what was needed. Then, she would decide what needed to be purchased and what we already had. She would shop for the supplies, put them away, and then put everything away at the end of each month. She owned that space, and as a result, my small group leaders always had everything they needed. Again, it seems like a trivial thing, but my small group leaders were able to focus on building relationships with kids from the moment they walked in the door. They didn’t need to worry about whether they had what they needed for the morning.
- Finally, my last group of volunteers were the ones who pulled everything together for me and cut out my activity pages. There was a group of moms who had young kids and were dying for some adult interaction. They would get together once a month. The kids would play, and they would put everything together, and then they would clean and pick up the rooms when they were done. They would take home the activity pages, cut them out, and bring them back. They loved their time together! And they were invaluable to me!
I learned through this process how much people wanted to help live out the vision of this ministry. And in return, the ministry grew, and years later, when I left, it kept going. There were systems in place that didn’t rely on me. It was a ministry fueled by volunteers who caught the vision and understood the significance of all the nitty gritty details to make Sunday the best hour of every kid’s week!
Interested in creating a better experience for kids and teenagers with a curriculum strategy that helps you spend your time where it matters most? Try one month of any Orange curriculum free at tryorangefree.com