Strategic Ministry Models


By John Michael Sullivan
John Michael Sullivan is the children’s pastor at Cornerstone Church in Nashville, Tennessee. Originally from Chicago, John Michael came to Nashville after serving in children’s ministry in Oklahoma City. He remains a No. 1 fan of Chicago’s professional sports teams. 

Here is the question every children’s ministry leader wants an answer for: “How do we make our ministry grow?” But there should be a Part two to this question: “How do we sustain our growth?” Here are 7 systems you can implement and practically do each week to spur growth and keep it going, whether you have 50 kids or 1,000.


1. Vision Casting. This is the act of communicating your vision to your leaders and parents in a way so they can understand it and get on board with you. What is vision? It’s a clear mental picture of what could be, fueled by the conviction that it should be. Vision casting must be both aligned and concrete. It must be aligned with the mission and vision of your entire church. Everything you do within your children’s ministry should be under your church mission. For it to be concrete, there must be established goals that allow you and your leaders to see progress. For example, you may want to grow bigger, but what will you implement to achieve that? 

2. Ministry Positions. This system comprises three elements: 

a.    Chain of Command: This is simply your line of communication—who reports to whom, who communicates to whom. 

b.    Defined Roles: Each team member should be able to answer the question: What do you do in the ministry? This means creating clarity in job descriptions. People should know what’s required of them, with nothing sugar-coated. 

c.    Span of Care: This is all about creating “sustainable ratios” in all areas of your ministry, meaning that you have enough leadership at each position that your current leaders aren’t overwhelmed. 

3. Building Your Team. To do this, you will need to focus on three elements:

a.    Recruiting: I love this quote by Jim Collins, author of Good to Great: “Great vision without great people is irrelevant.” Your vision will go nowhere without the right people by your side. For successful recruiting, you’ll need to be able to take people from interest to involvement. How do you build interest? Well, by all means, avoid the “I need help!” route. It scares people off. Use positive marketing. Convince people that your kid’s ministry is the place they want to be. Get people thinking, Hey, why am I not involved in that ministry? 

b.    Training: Everyone needs to go through training. Create a training manual—and teach the training course yourself. You need to have face-to-face interaction and connection with those who potentially will serve alongside you in your ministry. 

c.    Retention: The best thing you can do for retention is to build connections with those who serve with you. When people feel like they belong they show up. First connect, then celebrate. I celebrate them on Facebook every Sunday afternoon. Have parties. Celebrate the work you’ve all done together. 

4. Safety and Security. This one is for the parents, not the kids. There’s nothing better you can do for a new family than to send them away believing their children are safe in your ministry. You should have a handbook that lays out all you do to ensure security. It should include information about background checks, your check-in and check-out systems, accident-incident reports, evacuation procedures, medication and allergies policy, and so on. 

5. Administration. The administrative side of your ministry is the 95% of the work you do during the week to support the weekend. If this isn’t being done well, then the weekend is not going to prosper. Ask yourself: Are we doing the necessary prep during the week to achieve weekend success? 

6. Communication. Regular communications with leaders and parents is invaluable. Let your communication be relational—show your people that your team goes the extra mile; informative—send weekly emails, start and end on time, be short but specific with your information; and consistent—regularly touch base, whether with phone calls or social media such as Facebook (plenty of parents use Facebook). 

7. Evaluation and Innovation. Evaluate your growth. I regularly have my leaders and parents answer these three questions: What are we doing well? (what is working); What do you think we’re not doing well? (where we can improve); What would you like to see from your children’s pastor? (what they want to see from me). But look toward the future too. For example, don’t just accommodate the kids you currently have in your ministry; also recruit for the number of kids you want to bring in. 

How to Create a Basic Working ‘System’ 

A “system” is what makes the behind-the-scenes ministry work. This includes all the practical things people don’t see you doing, but which bring about success in your public ministry. 

The four elements of a basic system are: Plan, Process, Procedure, Purpose:

1.    Plan: This is your “big idea.” This is where your idea is birthed and creativity begins.

2.    Process: This is how you will implement your plan. In this phase, you craft the details of needed to fulfill your big idea. 

3.    Procedure: This is the phase when you detail your process, such as planning for the unexpected and even trying to anticipate things that could go wrong in your process. For this, you should hold a team discussion in an effort to answer as many questions as you can about your process.

4.    Purpose: This simply asks and defines: Why are we doing this? What are we trying to achieve?

LeadershipRyan Frank