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 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.

Family Links Friday 2.9.18

Family Friday Links.png

Here's what we've been reading online this week:

Trevin Wax had a post on the Gospel Coalition site about spiritual practices that help kids into adulthood. While nothing on the list should surprise us, Wax does say, "But don’t underestimate the Spirit’s power to work through the environment you create for your home either." Our kids gain a lot of their practices through observing those they spend the most time with, their parents. This is a good read for those parents who are struggling with where their kids are spiritually.

Tom Ascol wrote a post on the duty of parents. He wrote, "Parents who are more devoted to Jesus Christ than to their kids leave a powerful imprint on their children." While acknowledging how hard this is, our kids need to see by our actions that there is noting more important than Jesus; which points out their need for Him.

Finally, because it's that time of year, here are helpful reminders for how to handle flu season. Jenny F. Smith reminds leaders of the need for and importance of a wellness policy. What are the conditions that parents need to be aware of where their children need to be kept out of children's ministry classrooms. As leaders, we need to think through this and then clearly communicate it.

What have you been reading online this week? Leave us a link in the comment section to check out.

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.

Four Essentials For Children's Ministry in Your Church Plant

He was a respected and closely followed movement leader. His influence was broad. His teaching was sound and biblical, but it was also relevant—not to mention controversial. As a result, his schedule was full. Crowds overflowed the venues where he spoke.

This movement leader had a team. The small entourage traveled with him wherever he went, and he poured his life into them. He discipled them with hopes that they would one day be church-planters and leaders just like him. But they weren’t as respectable as him. The team liked to complain and argue. They complained about how the movement wasn’t expanding fast enough. They complained about how they would do things differently if they were in charge. They played the comparison game—arguing about who would be the most successful when they finally got the chance to go out on their own.

Matthew tells us that these disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matthew 18:1). How would you handle such a dysfunctional group of trainee church planters? Jesus responded to their self-indulgent question with a counter-cultural answer—children’s ministry.

1. Pray. Be a Kid and Ask.

Jesus responded to his disciples’ self-indulgent question with a counter-cultural answer—children’s ministry.

Children’s ministry is one of the biggest challenges that a new church faces. There is so much to think about—location, curriculum, check-in, security, and recruiting/training a quality team. It’s hard to know where to begin. I’ve talked with church planters who have a clear vision preaching and worship, but children’s ministry somehow brings them to their knees. Jesus tells us that this is where we should have been all along.

Jesus called over a child and put him before his disciples. Then he said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3-4). Why must we be like kids to enter God’s kingdom? Why is childlike humility required for kingdom leadership? Jesus wants us to be childlike, because kids don’t pretend to have it all together. They poop and they cry and the get into things. Jesus wants his team of future church planters to see that they are just as needy.

Fletcher Lang serves with kids and families at City on a Hill, a young church in the Brookline area of Boston, MA. I spoke with him about establishing a new children’s ministry. He told me that step one is prayer. “Pray, pray, pray,” he said.  We can’t do effective children’s ministry in a new church plant (or effective ministry of any kind) unless God shows up, but we can expect him to show up when we humble ourselves, admit our need, and ask. A baby cries out for milk before she even knows how to walk. A good parent answers the cry and meets the child’s need. In Matthew 6:11, Jesus reminds us, “How much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!”

2. Welcome Kids!

As the wife of our lead pastor, Mandy Montgomery helped establish the children’s ministry at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY, when our church was getting started twelve years ago. She also helped research and write the chapter on children’s ministry in Ed Stetzer’s book, Planting Missional Churches, (Broadman & Holman, 2006). I asked her what she’d tell a church planter about children’s ministry if she were working on that chapter again today. She said, “[Create a] playful looking environment—parents want it to look like a place their kids will want to be!”

The most important way to welcome kids is to do so personally—with excellent hospitality.

Attractional environments aren’t always easy to pull off when a church is first starting out, but the planter can help paint a picture of what the ministry will one day be. Mandy told me, “People need to know that two pack-n-plays in a hallway are not the end vision but merely a stepping stone to what it will eventually become. There always will be skeptics but the church planter can be the vision caster!” One great way to cast vision is by celebrating children in church gatherings. Fletcher Lang told me, “We do this through having regular parent/child dedications and by making it a big deal when we have kids born in our church.” Big celebrations demonstrate to new families that kids are valued, and they encourage families to trust that their kids will be taken care of as the church grows.

The most important way to welcome kids is to do so personally—with excellent hospitality. Fletcher went on, “The biggest key to this is getting a few sticky families who are passionate about the mission and vision. These people can be evangelists for your church whenever new families visit. They can build relationships with parents who visit and encourage them to stick around.”

Over the past several years at Sojourn, I’ve discovered that our hospitality culture is most effective when key leaders model hospitality. When the pastors who lead our counseling and mercy ministries volunteered to serve in children’s ministry on Easter Sunday, it showed our team how much we value what they do on a weekly basis. Jesus tells us that leaders in his kingdom demonstrate their greatness when they “stoop low” to welcome kids. Jesus says, “Whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me” (Matthew 18:5).

3. Protect Them.

Jesus doesn’t just instruct his disciples to welcome children. He gives them a strong warning about the dangers of being a stumbling block: “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes” (Matthew 18:6-7).

Imagine how difficult it must be for a child to trust church leaders if he has been abused or harmed in a church setting.

By “stumbling block,” Jesus is speaks about anything that is an impediment to faith. We know that it is difficult for a person to trust God as their Father if their earthly father has abused them. Imagine how difficult it must be for a child to trust church leaders if he has been abused or harmed in a church setting.

I cannot stress enough how important safety and security is when you are first starting out. Consider these safety and security essentials for its new plants and campuses that I’ve adapted from Seacoast Church in South Carolina:

  • Run complete background checks on all children’s ministry volunteers in addition to completed applications, completed training on guidelines, and volunteer interviews.
  • Provide clearly marked registration areas where registration information is collected and a nametag and accompanying ID number can be assigned to each child for pick up. Volunteers must never release a child to a parent or family member without the proper ID tag or other appropriate identification.
  • All volunteers should have some sort of identification. This may be as simple as nametags or it may include a smock or t-shirt with the church’s logo.
  • Post and train volunteers on emergency policies, evacuation plans, diapering procedures, room schedules, and classroom-cleaning procedures. Toys, cribs, and other things that little hands and mouths touch should be washed or sanitized after each use. 
  • Post and follow appropriate volunteer/child ratios. Volunteers must never be alone with a child.
  • Never give children food that has not been approved by parents. Allergies can be deadly.

4. Value Kids as a Ministry Priority.

Our society’s approach to kids is often driven by a consumer mindset: “Having kids will fill a void in my life.” “I don’t want to have children, because they’re such a financial burden.” “I pour so much into my kids. I can’t wait until they get old enough to give something back.” Statements like these judge the value of children based upon how much can be gained from them.

Even in ministry, we can sometimes see children merely as a means to an end.

“If you want to reach parents, you need to reach their children.” “Ministering to kids is a necessary evil. After all, if the children do not like the church, the parents may not come back.”

In a new church plant, kids must be more than part of a strategy for reaching parents. They must be part of the mission.

Jesus sees it differently. Little ones are valuable to him. He doesn’t want even one of them to perish: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven… What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. So it is not the will of your Father, who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish” (Matthew 18:10, 12-14).

In a new church plant, kids must be more than part of a strategy for reaching parents. They must be part of the mission. I spoke to Trent Chambers, who is planting Sojourn Church in Woodstock, GA. Trent shared his passion for children’s ministry volunteers who will be effective at clearly communicating the gospel to kids and encouraging parents to do the same at home. I’m thankful for Trent, because his values reflect Jesus’ priorities.

Jesus is leading a church-planting movement (Matthew 16:18), and children’s ministry is a big part of it. If we’re going to follow his lead, we must welcome kids, protect them, and value them as a ministry priority. We do all of this in humble dependence on our Savior who has promised to go with us on mission (Matthew 28:18-20).

This post initially appeared at Download a free Sojourn Network that summarizes this article here.