What NextGen Leaders are Saying
By Nick Blevins
Do you ever feel alone in ministry?
Do you ever wonder if the challenges you’re facing are unique to you and your church?
I sure have.
It’s one of the many reasons I love to connect with other ministry leaders. I try to learn from them personally and learn from what they’re doing in their ministry that might translate to our church. Sometimes it’s helpful just to know other leaders are in the same boat I’m in at times. In other cases, I’m excited about something we’re working to improve and I want to hear how others are approaching it in their ministry.
A year ago, I created a survey for anyone who leads or serves in Family/NextGen ministry. My primary goal was to get input surrounding two projects I was working on that I believed would be helpful in our ministry and to other church leaders. The survey basically asked about three things:
- The topics related to family ministry they were most interested in hearing about;
- The biggest challenges they’re facing;
- If they listen to podcasts to learn and grow as
The topic leaders are interested in most is partnering with parents.
This was a bit surprising as I expected volunteer recruiting or volunteer training to be #1. They were #3 and #4, respectively. It was not completely surprising, however, as almost every family ministry leader I talk to wants to do this better. We all believe it’s important, we all want to do it well, and none of us have it figured out. We’re
all experimenting in different ways in hopes of improving the relationship between the church and the family.
A great relationship between a child’s leader and that child’s parent is the best way to partner with parents. How well we communicate with parents matters. The resources we give to them matter. The events, groups, and classes we offer matter. However, a partnership is primarily a relationship, and the volunteers who lead kids and students are in the best spot to connect with parents because, hopefully, they know that child best.
The second topic leaders are interested in is small groups for kids and students.
Along with partnering with parents, this is another focus I hear about often when talking with other ministry leaders. More and more churches are seeing the value of having consistent leaders in the lives of kids and students. They’re swapping out classes for groups. They’re moving from more volunteers who serve less frequently to fewer volunteers who serve weekly. This is a difficult transition to make, but leaders believe it is best and are trying to figure out how to make the shift.
Personally, I believe the small group approach is better, mostly because I’ve witnessed it firsthand. However, it is also much harder. That’s why the transition to small groups is a difficult one to make. Small groups for kids and students are complex and messy, but they’re worth it. I encourage every family ministry leader to do what needs to be done in order to get consistent leaders in the lives of every student. I’m incredibly grateful for the leaders who were consistent in my life at the church I attended growing up. I can’t imagine where I’d be without them, and I want every child to have the same opportunity.
Volunteer recruitment and training is a challenge for everyone.
While it was surprising to see these weren’t the most requested topics, volunteer recruitment and volunteer training still came in the top 4. Not only that, it was the number one challenge leaders said they face. Children’s ministry leaders, in particular, were the most likely to say this was their biggest challenge with 75% of them indicating as much (versus 42% of youth leaders and 62% of family pastors).
I could write for days about this topic simply because there is so much involved when it comes to leading volunteers. Think about everything involved with volunteers.
• Recruiting new volunteers
• Walking them through an onboarding process
• Placing them in a role
• Developing them as leaders
• Communicating with them
• Appreciating them and their unique contribution
• Caring for them
This doesn’t even account for all the other things that impact volunteerism: staffing, calendar, budget, strategy, weather, sickness, punctuality ... (you know what I mean).
My one thought would simply be to prioritize this over everything else. The more progress you make here the more time you’ll have to invest elsewhere. Volunteer issues are urgent because Sunday comes every week. Therefore, you’ll be spending time here anyway. The difference is, it might be more reactive than proactive. Stop doing some programs. Stop doing some things you do during the week that aren’t absolutely necessary and carve out intentional time to invest in this area.
One of the projects I’m working on that I mentioned in the beginning is all about this issue. I hope it can be a helpful way for all of us to go from this being the number one challenge to it being the number one catalyst for everything else we do. A simple step you can take right now is to read Ryan Frank’s book The Volunteer Code and apply those principles to your ministry.
Different church sizes bring about different challenges.
As people filled out the survey, the size of their church didn’t really impact the topics they were interested in hearing about. The responses were similar across the board. However, there were some trends in the survey related to church size and the challenges they face. Generally speaking, the smaller a church was the more likely their challenges would include volunteers, budget, and clarity. The larger a church got, the more likely they would list knowledge, rest, and buy-in as their top challenges.
This confirms something I have believed for a long time—churches experience different challenges based on their size. Many challenges we face in our churches are the same across all sizes, but different sizes bring about unique issues. It’s not about one size being better or worse. It’s not about one is right and one is wrong. Church size doesn’t come with a health rating or a righteousness meter automatically attached. Embrace the strengths that come with your church size and work on the weaknesses, all while recognizing it will never be perfect.
I’m excited for what’s ahead in NextGen Ministry in our churches. The challenges are big, but the opportunities are bigger. You’re not alone. There are other leaders all around who you can connect with and learn from. We can and should help each other.
If you would like to see the full results of the survey, visit nickblevins.com/2016Survey for more details.
Nick Blevins leads the children and student ministry staff at Community Christian Church in Nottingham, MD. He and his wife Jennifer have two amazing kids who keep them laughing, busy, joyful, and usually tired. nickblevins.com