Children's Ministry Volunteer Orientation Video

At Sojourn Church Midtown, the church where I serve as a pastor, we're now using a series of training videos both to equip parents as disciple-makers in their homes and to orient and update our children's ministry team on our ministry policies and procedures as well best practices when teaching kids. 

I'm planning to share these videos here at as we release them to our church community. This first video is designed to orient new volunteers in our children's ministry. It outlines three things: (1) a gospel-centered vision for children's ministry, (2) what is required to serve as a volunteer, and (3) what volunteers can expect.

Here's a brief outline of the content:


Jesus said, “When you welcome a child in my name, you welcome me.” That’s why children’s ministry exists. At Sojourn Kids we want to show kids Jesus so that they grow up to be like him and then in turn go to tell others about him.

We are seeking to do this in several ways. Here are two of our goals. (1) We’re striving to create safe and welcoming environments where we can build relationships with kids and their families. (2) Next, we want to connect kids and their families to Christ in the way we sing, teach, and play. 

That’s where you come in. Your faithful service as a member of one of our Sojourn Kids ministry teams makes it possible for us to accomplish this. And as you use your gifts serve children, I believe God will use that to grow you as well.  

Requirements as You Begin Serving

So, where do you begin? All Sojourn Kids ministry team members must be Sojourn members or members in process. In addition, middle and high school students who are involved in Sojourn’s student ministry can serve as a third person assistant in classrooms alongside an assigned mentor. You must complete the volunteer application that you can find here, submit to a thorough criminal background and reference check, and complete the required basic training videos or checklists that cover our ministry philosophy, safety and security policies, and abuse reporting policies. If you’ve already completed the application, you may have an invitation to complete one of these requirements in your e-mail Inbox right now. After these steps are completed, we’ll set up a time for you to observe in a classroom on Sunday to see what role might be the best fit for you.

What You Can Expect from Us

As you are serving in Sojourn Kids, here are six things you can expect from us as your leaders. 

  1. Expect to hear from us every week. We’ll send weekly communication that includes our schedule and the curriculum we’ll be teaching at our upcoming weekend gatherings. That communication will tell you what supplies we’re providing for the weekly lessons and tell you about any additional items you may want to bring as a supplement to your teaching.
  2. Know that we’re praying for you on a weekly basis as you live as you prepare to share Jesus with Sojourn’s kids.
  3. You can also expect that every open classroom will be staffed with at least two fully vetted volunteers.
  4. Then, we will equip you with educationally excellent, biblically faithful curriculum that focuses on Jesus.
  5. And we’ll create training resources like this video and conduct regular formal training meetings to help you grow your skills.
  6. Finally, if there is ever anything you need, please ask us, your Sojourn Kids staffers, as well as the coaches and coordinators that lead in your service areas each week.

What We Expect from You

 Last of all, before you begin serving, it’s important for you to know what we expect from you as well. Here are five quick things.

  1. It is really important that you arrive on time. Volunteer teams huddle before the service begins (times vary by Sojourn location) so that we can open the doors for parents early.
  2. Second, please prepare well. Read the Bible passage for the week. Think about it and pray that God will help you understand it. Even if you are not the primary teacher in the classroom, study the lesson and be ready to help out.
  3. Watch these training videos and read through our policy checklists. But don’t just read them, commit to follow these policies and implement them when you serve.
  4. When, you have to be away, post a request for a substitute in our online group at least two weeks in advance. And if you have to be out at the last minute because you’re sick (It happens. And please don’t show up if you have the flu!), just call or text your service leader.
  5. Finally, after you’ve observed at a gathering and found a volunteer role that seems like a good fit for you, let us know. We ask that all volunteers commit to serve for a covenanted time period (commitment cycles vary by Sojourn church location) This provides stability and continuity for the children in your classroom, and it gives you a season of service to consider whether or not you’d like to make longer-term commitment to children’s ministry or take a look at serving in a different Sojourn ministry area.

This is a 101 walkthrough of what it means to serve as a volunteer with Sojourn Kids. Hope it's helpful as you consider equipping children's teams at your church. Stay tuned for another Sojourn Kids 101 training video next month! 

Family Friday Links 1.5.18

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Happy New Year! Here's what we've been reading online lately.

Greg Baird has a post on volunteer training. He lists 13 ways to accomplish this important task. This well worth the time of any leader of any children's or youth ministry.

Jason Allen had a post on leading kids to Christ. He writes what every parent feels, "I feel the weight—and glory—of this stewardship daily and find immeasurable fulfillment and joy as I see my children taking steps toward Christ." He goes on to list 10 tips, and they are valuable, check them out.

The Gospel Coalition had a post reviewing a modern, secular view of marriage. It warns against selfishness in marriage. The post concludes this way, "To marry is to give yourself away to find that you gained another person, and that your union exudes more life than the calculated transactions between two allied individuals." This is a valuable read for those married as well as those thinking about it.

What have you been reading online lately? Leave us a link in the comment section and we will check it out.

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.

Six Training Techniques for Children's Ministry: An Interview With Pat Thayer, Part 2

Pat Thayer is the Area Children's Coordinator for Bible Study Fellowship of Missouri. I had the opportunity to correspond with her recently and interview her about training children's ministry leaders--both in a local church context and a para-church context. 

Be sure to check out the first part of our interview. This second section focuses on six training techniques Pat has found to be effective for training in the local church.  

Jeff:  What training techniques have you found to be effective in the local church?

Pat: Effective training sessions are interactive and informative. Team members want it to be worth their time. It is also best to give small amounts of information or layer the training so that the team member can absorb it. Here are some ways that we approach training at my church:

  1. INTERVIEW: After an application and screening, a welcome interview done by a service coordinator at the service where the person will serve begins the process of training. In addition to developing community and discovering the person's personal and spiritual background, basic safety and security procedures can be reviewed.
  2. OBSERVATION/HANDS-ON: Placing the new team member in the class room with a specially designated person who leads well and has been given some guidance on welcoming the team member and on what to show the new team member makes their first class experience a positive one. 
  3. WEEKLY: Two minute trainings at pre-service meetings on topics such as, "Greeting Children and Parents," "Separation Anxiety," and "Understanding Special Needs" continues to equip all team members.
  4. ONGOING: Additional layers of training on topics, such as, managing the classroom or specifics for your curriculum, can be done in larger doses by scheduling longer training sessions around the times of church services. It is important to create the expectation that each team member will attend these training sessions, so they can learn and grow. These also foster community for the team members.
  5. COACHING: At times, I also go into the classrooms to observe and coach team members. This provides them with coaching for their particular needs in each classroom.
  6. EXAMPLES:  Team members have said that it is helpful for them to see me or the children's ministry leaders teach the kids so they can see how the training looks when put into practice.

I think Pat's six training techniques are incredibly helpful. Is there anything we've left out? What do you do to train leaders? Leave a comment below to let us know.

The Need for Training in Both Church & Para-Church Children's Ministry: An Interview with Pat Thayer, Part 1

Pat Thayer is the Area Children's Coordinator for Bible Study Fellowship of Missouri. I had the opportunity to correspond with her this past week and interview her about training children's ministry leaders--both in a local church context and a para-church context. 

This first part of our conversation focuses on the need for training:

Jeff : Would you mind to share a little about yourself and tell how God has called you to use your gifts?

Pat: I grew up as a non-believer. In my early 30's, I was introduced to Jesus and the local church by my husband before we were married. I actually made my profession of faith at age 35. I grew in my knowledge of God through my very traditional church, but really felt like God put me on a fast track of learning when I joined Bible Study Fellowship (BSF). It was like God was telling me to "catch-up" quickly. After several years of Bible Study Fellowship, I was leaving class one night when God told me that He was preparing me for something. I was asked into BSF leadership several weeks later. I began as a Children's Leader then became a Children's Supervisor of a class, and now for the last 9 years have been an Area Children's Coordinator, coaching 12 Children's Supervisors in both preschool and school age (elementary and high school) programs. God has used my experiences of teaching in a traditional Sunday School setting, my BSF training and experience, plus my skills that He developed in my secular profession of healthcare to equip me for my current role at BSF.  Plus, God has allowed me to lead in the children's ministry of a young church that he called my husband and me to about 9 years ago. God has given me a passion for training and developing leaders who will serve Him.

Jeff : Your work for Bible Study Fellowship training people to teach kids the gospel and you use your gifts at the local church to help train up leaders. What are the similarities and differences between training leaders in BSF and at the church?

Pat: Similarities revolve around the need for training no matter what the level of experience, the effectiveness of training in layers or small bits of knowledge at regular intervals, and the fact that training equips leaders to serve more confidently and more effectively. Training is necessary as it allows us to serve God better! 

Differences are reflected by the different target audiences - the type of leaders in each setting. In BSF, each leader has been revealed by God to the leader of each class, interviewed, prays to verify the calling of God, then goes through 3 sessions of training and observations before they are given the task of teaching. Training continues through weekly 35 minute training sessions that are built into the basic structure of BSF. Training leaders for service in the local church is a significant part of the BSF Aims and Core Beliefs! As a parachurch organization, BSF desires to support the local churches through the training that the leaders receive at BSF. The initial call of God to the role of teaching children, plus the layer of training each week, sustains the BSF leader as they grow in skill and dependance on God.

In the local church, people are drawn to children's ministry for various reasons - called by God, feeling the need to serve and choosing the children's ministry  because it looks fun, or even perhaps, as an obligation as a parent of a child who attends the children's ministry.  Some have no experience and some have experience from other churches. Many times, training is a process of observing someone who is currently leading in a classroom.  Inexperienced and experienced leaders need to be brought into one common vision, with basic procedures being consistent. Gathering people for training at times other than when they are serving can be difficult.  Leaders may also feel unconnected to the bigger vision and the community of the children's program if they do not serve frequently. Churches need to be creative to find times to train and constantly create the vision of the importance of what we do in children's ministry.

Called to Encourage

If you are a ministry leader of any kind, then at least part of your job is to recruit, train and encourage to volunteers you lead. This is not only part of your job, but it's also a command.

Ephesians 4:12 tells us we're responsible "to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ." As a ministry leader you are called and commanded to be equipping the people of your local congregation for the work of ministry. This is THE way healthy churches grow. Why is this case and how do we as leader do it? This post will attempt to answer both.

The Why

Why are pastors and leaders called and commanded to equip the saints? The simple answer is found in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19). We are called to make disciples. Part of making disciples and part of being a disciple is helping those discover and exercise the calling God has placed in their hearts. God uniquely gifts each believer in a way that will be a benefit to the church.

Part of discipleship is helping people realize the necessity and value of serving. They need this is valuable to their growth, as well as those to whom those these gifts are serving. The believer grows through the process of preparing to serve; the sharpening of their skills and knowledge, and those they are serving learn through being taught within the context of community and relationships. Many have said that all ministry is relational. Equipping people is the way of making this reality.


So how do we "equip the saints"? I've found this simple formula helpful:

Good vision + curriculum + good training = encouraged teachers.

A good vision is worth putting your all into in order to see it accomplished. This vision needs to be communicated regularly and can always be refined. Helping those who serve see the aim will allow them to see how it's accomplished as well as how they themselves need to grow. The communication of this vision should be a regular part of any training we do.

Good curriculum, in my opinion, teaches the whole counsel of God in a gospel-centered way. There are quite a few out there. Four of the best I've seen are: Children Desiring God, The Jesus Storybook Bible, Gospel Story for Kids, and Gospel Project for kids. There are of course many more good choices (if you know of others, please leave a comment for me to check out). I like these because they introduce kids to Jesus, not just teach about Him.

Parents looking for good stuff to use for family devotions should check out books like: Long Story Short and Old Story NewExploring Grace Together, Training Hearts, Teaching Minds, and Big Truths for Young Hearts. If those aren't your thing, try catechisms like: the New City Catechism app, or the North Star Catechism (co-authored by our own Jared Kennedy). These are short, simple and fun helps that draw kids closer to Jesus. There are of course more out there (... and again if you know of them, please leave a comment for me to check out.)

Good training, comes down to a simple formula: I do, you watch; you do, I watch; you do. This is a simple way to see how to do what's being asked of them as well as how they can add their own unique personality to it. I don't want to just throw a new teacher or helper (or even parent) to the wolves of expectation without giving them a picture of how to successful accomplish the goal.

If these steps are followed, the result will be an encouraged teacher. Whether they are a new teacher or helper, a new parent or a parent that is new to family devotions, they will feel not only encouraged but equipped to fulfill what God is calling them to do; so much so that they will delight in the challenge.

With the proper encouragement, teachers will see ministry less as duty to perform and more as a blessed calling. And that is the way God designed it.