Seven Essential Policies for Children's Ministry… And a Free Sample Checklist.

At Sojourn Church Midtown where I lead, we use several different checklists for training. This first one covers the essential policies and procedures we want every volunteer who serves in children's ministry to be aware of. These are the most basic things that you don't want to leave out of your training. I've attached  a free sample checklist of general policies and procedures that incorporates each of the basics overviewed below.

  1. Check-in & Check-out Procedures. Deepak Reju reminds us, "In addition to teaching children, Christians also have a fundamental responsibility to protect them. We learn this... from God, who throughout the Bible has a special burden for the young, weak, and oppressed in society." A key area for protection is check-in and check-out. It's a key security pressure point. One tool we've found helpful are security sticker name tags. Check-in software systems like KidCheck or the check-in modules for church management systems like The City from ACS Technologies print security name tag labels with alphanumeric security codes and matching pick-up tags. For churches who have chosen not to use a computer system, there are great three-part security tags available from vendors such as ChurchNursery.com. The security name tag is placed on the child, and a pick-up tag with a matching code is distributed to the parent or guardian at check-in. Teachers record the code on the classroom role sheet as the child enters the classroom. They then match the pick-up tag to the child's name tag at check-out so that the child is only released to the same person who dropped her off. We train our classroom teachers to collect the sticker name tag as the children are checked out. This is a signal to the parents that we have released the child from our care.

  2. Food Policies & Allergy Precautions. It's essential to ask about about allergies on a child's first day in the children's ministry. Check-in software systems usually have a database for keeping track of allergies and they will sometimes print an allergy alert on a child's security tag. My daughter Lucy's tag has an alert for her teachers that she's allergic to strawberries. It prints on her sticker every week. I've also found it helpful (both for budgeting and safety purposes) to feed the kids the same snack every week. For us, this is usually Goldfish Crackers and water. I know some churches that have a similar policy but use Animal Crackers instead. There will be times when you want to mix up the snack as a teaching tool. During Advent, we'll sometimes have a birthday cake for Jesus for our entire children's ministry. When you do something like this, be sure to post Allergy Alert signs. These should list what is being served instead of the regular snack, and they should include any major allergens that item may include. Major allergens include dairy, gluten, soy, tree nuts, eggs, and peanuts. We don't allow peanuts at all. And we keep some allergy alternative snacks on hand for kids who can't have Goldfish as well; these are usually raisins or veggie straws.

  3. The Two-Person Rule. This is a big one. Gone are the days of having a lone ranger children's Sunday school teachers. Many church insurance policies now require that churches adopt the "two-person" rule. One adult should never be alone with a child or in a classroom, and, under no circumstances, is a child to be left in a classroom or anywhere unattended. This protects children from abuse, and it protects our children's ministry volunteers from accusation. Our policy is that two or more unrelated volunteers will staff all classrooms. It's not a problem if a husband and wife want to serve together, but we assign a third person to serve alongside them in their classroom. Often this provides a great discipleship opportunity if a more seasoned couple is serving with a younger single person. The most difficult time to enforce the two-person rule is during restroom trips. This means that another leader (such as a coordinator, director, or Sunday school superintendent who is free to float between classrooms) must be available to help out during these times.

  4. Sickness Policy. It's important to have a clear policy about when children should not come to children's ministry. When a child has been sick, the most loving thing for a parent to do is keep the child home so that other children are not exposed. We publish our sickness policy in our Parent Handbook, and we include it in our training checklist. During the Fall (when cold and flu season is beginning), we make posters that explain our sickness policy and post them near check-in and registration areas in our children's wing. If a child has been sick (temperature, vomiting, diarrhea, severe coughing, nasal drainage, etc.) in the last 24 hours, we ask that he not be checked into a children's ministry classroom. Also if a child gets sick during children's ministry, the parent is immediately paged so that the child can be removed from the classroom.

  5. No Photography Rule. With the advent of smart phones, everyone now carries a camera with them to their class. We make clear in our training that children's ministry volunteers should NEVER take photographs of children and post them online. In addition to the fact that this is a violation of privacy and upsetting to some parents, it is also potentially dangerous for some of the kids in our care. For example, when a child is in foster care, there is a need for added privacy. A child may have been removed from a previous guardian who is a danger to her safety. Photos posted online could inadvertently expose the child's whereabouts.

  6. Diapering & Toileting. The "two person" rule definitely applies when diapering children and during bathroom trips. Also, it's important to train children's ministry volunteers on how to change a diaper in the most sanitary way possible. Many young people are eager to serve in children's ministry, but they may not have much experience with young children. It's essential to train, equip, and prepare them. We have two other policies for diapering and toileting as well. First, for the protection of children and adults, we do not allow male volunteers to provide toilet assistance or change diapers. Lastly, we do not change the diaper of children over age 5 who are not potty trained. When a child with special needs requires additional toileting assistance, we will page their parents or another certified guardian. Often church insurance companies are careful to only allow a certified nurse or guardians to provide this kind of intimate care to children who are particularly vulnerable.

  7. Rules for Cleanliness & Sanitation. When I worked at McDonald's, I was trained on thorough hand washing practices. I think it's essential that we do the same in children's ministry. Moreover, I think it's essential that we train our teams to clean and sanitize all toys and areas that are in contact with children. It's essential that we keep disposable gloves and the necessary cleaning supplies on hand at all times.

Once again, here is the free sample checklist of general policies and procedures from Gospel Centered Family. Our goal in providing a resource like this for free is to serve you. Please take it and use it as you are thinking through policies for your own church community.

What key policies have I missed? What would you add? Leave a comment below to let me know.

Grace-Based Classroom Management

This post first appeared on the Sojourn Network website.

One of the most important skills for a children’s ministry teacher to learn is how to manage behavior. I’ve found that this is particularly tricky for classroom teachers who are conscientious about the gospel. We know that we’re not saved by our performance so creating a list of classroom rules or giving too much attention to how well behaved children are can seem harsh or legalistic. On the other hand, if a teacher doesn’t think about managing behavior at all, the class can get completely out of control, kids are difficult to teach, and the joy is completely sucked out of a ministry role. So, what can we do?

How DO I manage my classroom? Should I use incentives?

Many ministries use an incentive system—a candy jar or ‘Bible bucks’—to encourage attendance, bringing your Bible, memorizing verses, or appropriate behavior. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. After all, work and reward is one of the basic structures of life. The trouble is that a classroom culture built on rewards for performance doesn’t fit with gospel message we’re hoping to teach. As Bible teacher Jack Klumpenhower explains in his book, Show Them Jesus:

It wouldn’t do to teach that God’s rewards in salvation come freely, by grace, but that rewards in the church come by being good and memorizing verses. Nor would it work to teach that God values faith over superior churchy behavior, and then give prizes to kids who excel in churchy behavior. I couldn’t say that Jesus is better than absolutely anything else, but reward what kids learned about him with a slip of paper redeemable for candy.

In place of incentive-based environments, we’re looking to create classroom environments that are grace-filled. Klumpenhower goes on to describe the following four goals. We want classroom environments that are:

  • Sin-Aware. We don’t pretend that kids are basically good and just need a little direction. Instead, we expect absolutely everyone (including ourselves) to arrive with big problems only Jesus can fix.
     
  • Delighting in Jesus. We won’t let kids use Jesus to get something else they want more. We don’t approach teaching, prayer, and worship as things to be done because they’re important and necessary—after which we turn to more ‘fun’ activities when it’s time to enjoy oneself. Rather, we communicate that nothing is more enjoyable than Jesus.
     
  • Grace-Aware. We celebrate and model the work of Christ for us and in us, and we give God the credit for every good change that happens in a kid’s life or our own life. We expect God to bring growth. This creates a place of mercy and openness, because, when God gets the credit for spiritual progress, there’s no need for either one-upmanship or defensiveness, only deeper faith.
     
  • Focused on the Heart. We’re never satisfied with merely manipulating outward behavior, but instead we recognize that kids who look obedient still need Jesus. We don’t let either rule-keeping kids or rule-breaking kids use their behavior as a way to avoid Christ. We seek heart-level growth in both.

I love these goals. They give a great picture of what we’re aiming for in grace-based classrooms. But it’s possible to come into the classroom with the right heart and still do a poor job handling Johnny when he’s disruptive during the Bible story. In fact, some teachers I’ve talked to feel that if I take away incentives, their classroom culture will spiral into a war zone. This begs the question. Within a grace-based environment, what do I do to manage negative behavior? 

9 Key Strategies

  1. Be well prepared and organized. Know your lesson. Be structured and well paced. Half of classroom management is knowing exactly what you are doing. If you are prepared and organized, children will have less of an opportunity to get out of hand.
     
  2. Give clear expectations. Make instructions clear, and repeat them. Model gentleness, and use a firm tone only when necessary. Some of the best preschool teachers I know, have only four simple rules in their class. They use interactive hand motions to remind the children of these expectations. Here are the four rules: (1) First-time obedience (hold up one finger), (2) Hands up means be quiet (hands up), (3) ‘Five’ means give me your attention (holds up five fingers and explains that full attention—all five senses, though tasting and smelling aren’t necessary—should be focused on the teacher. Sometimes these teachers just say, “Give me five.”), and (4) Keep your hands and bodies to yourself (wiggle hands out and then quickly pull them in).
     
  3. Be consistent. Follow the same rules and same schedule every week, and repeat the rules every week. Week to week consistency helps children to feel safe and secure.
     
  4. Model the way. If the children are singing and doing hand motions during worship times, teachers should be as well. Don’t ask children to do activities that you are not prepared to do yourself. Watch your example, because children are great imitators.
     
  5. Praise children for good behavior. Encourage kids when they do well. Removing prizes and candy incentives does not mean that we should also take away verbal encouragements. You might say, “Thank you, Rachael, for being kind to Lucy.”
     
  6. Give the reason why. Discuss the importance of obeying and being respectful with your class often, even with young toddlers. We want to motivate kids to sit quietly and listen, be active participants, and engage the lesson. Stress the importance of listening to God’s Word, obeying God by obeying teachers who are in authority, and loving others by listening to friends. You might say, “Johnny, it’s important to sit and listen quietly, because God is speaking to you through the Bible.” As we teach kids to participate in Bible study and worship gatherings, they are learning skills that they will carry with them into adulthood.
     
  7. Have a strategy in place for involving parents when a child persists in negative or disruptive behavior. You can download the attached ministry guide that summarizes this post. On the second page, there a sample policy for how to manage particularly disruptive or persistent negative behaviors by getting parents involved.
     
  8. Don’t motivate by comparison. We don’t motivate kids to express better behavior by comparing them to others, and we don’t motivate with shame. Don’t ever say, “Trey, I wish that you could be more like Ashley.” Maybe you’re thinking, “I would never say that.”  But motivating by comparison has a subtle way of sneaking into our teaching. More often I hear: “Boys, let’s listen up and be quiet like the girls” or “Everyone walk quietly. I want us to be the best-behaved class in the preschool department.” Instead of motivating our kids by comparing them to one another, we want to motivate them by the intrinsic good of what we’re asking them to do. As I wrote earlier “We sit and listen quietly because this is God’s Word.”
     
  9. Finally, here are a few last DON’T’S: No children’s ministry leader should ever use corporal punishment. Spanking is not appropriate for someone else’s child. Also, never ridicule, humiliate, or deny a child food or drink.

Here’s the truth: The effective formation of our children requires a stable environment. For this reason, it’s important for a children’s ministry to supplement parental training by upholding high standards for behavior, respect, and discipline. I hope these four goals and nine strategies are helpful for you to that end.

Three Reasons to Use a Training Checklist Instead of a Training Manual

A few years back, I had the privilege of working alongside a young man named Andrew. Andrew served for one year as an intern with our church, and he brought expertise I'm really grateful for. Before his internship at Sojourn, Andrew had been a lead trainer for local Chick-fil-A restaurants, and he had created training checklists that were used at a few of the Louisville CFA locations.

Before Andrew's time as an intern, we'd put all our training materials into manuals. We had a 40-page policy book that included our vision, general procedures, and safety policies. One of the first things Andrew did as a member of the team was suggest we transition our policy book into a series of checklists. Moving to checklists has had the advantage of making our training more individual and personal as well as more efficient.

Here are 3 reasons to use a training checklist in addition to (or even in place of) a training manual:

1. simplicity

According to Andrew, an ideal checklist is one page with text on the front and back. If you are going to keep your checklist to that size, you have to state your policies and procedures simply. Checklist brevity means minimal explanation and digestible chunks. Instead of saying everything there is to say, checklists communicate the minimum and depend on the trainee's personal relationship with the trainer to fill in the gaps. This kind of simplicity encourages questions and interaction instead of information overload. In other words, it encourages engagement and true learning.

2. portability

Before the checklists, our training was primarily event-based. We'd invite our entire Kids team into large training gatherings. We'd use time to print the large booklets before each gathering so we could work through all of our policies carefully. As our church grew, we found these kinds of trainings were ineffective. It's rare everyone can come. So how can we ensure all volunteers have been trained on the policies? Enter the checklists. Checklists are easily printed, and they are highly portable. I can quickly print a checklist, pull aside a new volunteer on Sunday, and walk through it before or after a service. A service coordinator, coach, or deacon can meet a new volunteer for coffee and work through the checklist. We haven't dumped training events all together, but, as a supplement, we've found the checklists to be quick and easy in addition to being more individual and personal. 

3. accountability

On our resources page, you'll find a number of helpful ministry guides and checklists you can download for free.  At the bottom of the Kid's Ministry Policies & Procedures checklist you'll see a signature line. This is a place for both the trainer and trainee to sign off that training has been completed. Because the checklist is brief, the signed document doesn't take up much filing space. That is true whether you're using a filing cabinet or a digital file. In the past, we've used two different systems. At one time, we uploaded and attached a scanned copy of the completed training checklists to each volunteer's profile on our church management software. After changing software programs, we've used a spreadsheet to keep track of when training is completed (each volunteer's profile includes a training completion date). These systems allow me to see both that a volunteer has completed training and what version of the training they received (because policies are updated and change over time), so I can track when a training update is needed on an individual basis. 

I'm grateful for Andrew's training genius, and I hope it's been as helpful for you as it has been for our ministry. Do you use training checklists? If so, leave a comment below and let me know of some advantages I may have missed.