Transitioning volunteers into paid staff roles
A staff team can be a critical next step in God’s plan for your church. Yet, the path to adding your first children’s ministry staff member may be unclear. I’m a children’s pastor, and while I currently have a large paid children’s ministry staff working with me, I didn’t start out that way. I systematically developed a process by which key volunteers transitioned into paid staff roles. This took time, intentionality, and discernment in voicing my needs to the right people at the right time.
Understand the call and equip the saints.
I’ve been called to be a pastor. Paul makes an astounding statement in Ephesians 4:11-12 about pastors. “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.”
Start with the faithful.
Jesus said, “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much.” Look around your ministry. Find those who currently demonstrate faithfulness, diligence, and godliness. If these people have been devoted doers, even in small things, the Bible says that they will be faithful if given more. Your job is to identify “the faithful few” in your ministry and invite them to a greater involvement.
Cast bold vision.
Personally share with your identified volunteers what sets them apart. Then, boldly invite them to join you on a leadership adventure. For example, you may share the following: “You are clearly qualified, highly committed, and able to do great things for the Kingdom of God. My job as a pastor is to equip you for works of service. I envision you as a key decision-maker and an empowered leader who oversees major portions of this ministry. You have been faithful with little; Scripture informs me you will be faithful in much. You will not do this alone. We’ll do it together. Will you join me?”
Create now what you want in 5 years.
Direct the volunteer leadership team as though they were the exact full-time staff you dream of having someday. Establish structures, rhythms, and personal habits. Conduct weekly staff meetings, quarterly off-site meetings, and annual mini-retreats, just as if these faithful few were your full-time staff. Create meeting agendas that follow a simple platform—the 4 Ps.
Pray. Spend time praying about your lives, the current roadblocks in your ministry, and God’s hand of blessing on your work. Praying brings people together.
Personal. Find out their history, their life right now, and their dreams. Laugh, cry, eat, and play together. Consider using 1001 Questions by Dr. Gary Poole as an initial springboard.
Prepare. Learn from seasoned leaders. Leaders are learners. Work hard to create a leadership culture.
Plan. What problems need fixing? Who is best qualified on this team to fix that problem? Tackle practical problems in your ministry area head on.
Do you want paid staff in five years? Get busy today by setting up a leadership structure so that you know what to do with your staff if God supplies that opportunity.
Guide your volunteer team through the StrengthsFinder test and literature. Study each other as leaders. Find out who people are, and who they aren’t, as individuals on this team. Based on each individual’s strengths, tackle tasks and assign problems in a way that maximizes your unique group of leaders. Now, treat these volunteers like the leaders they will soon become.
Share your progress and your “Top-Tier Leader.”
By sharing actual success stories, tell your church leadership how you have been leading. For example, here’s something you could share with church leadership: “Initially, I identified the most qualified, committed and faithful individuals already serving in our ministry and invited them to go deeper. I took my role of a pastor in Ephesians 4:11-12 to heart, so I’ve been developing key decision-makers and empowering lay leaders to overseer major portions of ministry. One individual stands out from the group as a ‘top-tier leader’ and shows great ministry potential. I feel it’s time to invest more time and resources into this individual.”
Create a ministry support plan (code word: Money).
Now that you’ve begun your leadership development, it’s time to ask for funds to carry on your progress. Your initial monetary ask is best if you request conference registrations, lunches, and resources (books, DVDs). Many smaller churches don’t have conference or expense budgets for those leading in children’s ministry, so this might be an unprecedented ask. Come to this meeting with exact dollar figures in three incremental categories.
#1 – The Big Dream – Shoot for the stars!
- Conferences: National conference, hotel, travel for all
- Lunches: Expense account for weekly lunches for all
- Resources: Multiple leadership books for all participants
#2 – What You Really Want – The choice you hope they pick.
- Conferences: Regional conference, hotel, travel with the “top-tier leader”
- Lunches: Expense account for monthly lunches with top-tier leader
- Resources: One leadership book for all participants
#3 – The Bare Minimum – Something is better than nothing!
- Conferences: DVD of the national conference speakers
- Lunches: Expense account for quarterly lunches with top-tier leader
- Resources: One leadership book for all participants to share
FIRST STAFFING STEPS
Through interactions with your faithful volunteers, you have identified one top-tier leader who has a particular acumen for ministry. Research children’s ministry conferences and arrange to take that person to the one that fits your ministry best. An investment for registration, travel, and housing is a simple yet powerful way to take them to the next level. A conference will do wonders for relational bonding and will solidify your commitment to this individual.
A weekly one-on-one lunch is a great way to bond with your top-tier leader. You can discuss leadership, ministry, kids, teaching, and your personal lives in depth. Share with this budding leader the “why” behind everything you do in ministry. Give them appropriate insider information, and allow them to be a part of the decision-making process.
Quality training resources
Take your team through Ryan Frank’s short and practical book, 10 Things Your Professors Did Not Teach You About Children’s Ministry. Focus on a chapter a week, ask your team to come prepared, and discuss strategies as a result of what they’ve read. Jump in and start more specific discussions about leadership and best practices.
Staffing budgets vs. Operational budgets
The church budget is divided into two main categories. There is a “staffing budget” for staff salaries and an “operational budget” covering curriculum and supplies. Senior leaders are often wary of adding employees, thus inflating the staffing budget. However, a children’s pastor, even in a small church, has discretion over their operational budget. Lay out a detailed plan for how to leverage a small portion of your operational budget to develop a “stipend staff member.”
Consider paying your top-tier leader a stipend of $25-$50 per month. A small monthly stipend achieves two important things. First, it acknowledges commitment and hard work. Second, as the leader you have slightly turned the tables by making them an employee, and in a very subtle way, they feel deeper ownership and responsibility to the ministry.
There is an interesting psychological transformation that happens when you begin to pay an individual, even a nominal amount. The individual feels an intrinsic sense of value, as well as responsibility. Since they know this is being paid to them by the local church, not a fortune 500 company, they will not expect thousands of dollars a month. However, a simple monetary “thank you” can actually work wonders for their psyche and carrying capacity.
A STRATEGY THAT WORKS
Build the program.
I followed the exact strategy laid out in this article and took my top-tier leader to lunch every Monday for two and a half years. We traveled to a national conference. He was leading and expanding the ministry to a level of excellence I was incapable of achieving alone, because we built the ministry around his gifts, passion, and abilities.
Fill the gap with staff.
After five years of leading the 5th and 6th grade ministry, this top-tier leader moved on. He left behind a ministry that was so healthy and vibrant that it necessitated a staff person to fill the gap. The ministry grew because of the efforts of the stipend employees. The vision came full circle, and the dream of a paid staff happened. I was able to make a strong case to hire full-time paid associates from the staffing budget. I threw in the amount I was paying in stipends to the staffing budget to help hire an employee. This decreased my operational budget but provided a tremendous gain in productivity due to the new staff person.
Commit to the long haul.
This process took years of hard work, patience, and God’s grace. I sought to aggressively build toward a future that did not originally exist. Don’t quit. Don’t give up. Through this process, you may find that you’re the leader who grew the most.