Ministry Warning Tremors
If you’ve ever lived in an earthquake prone area, you already know that in the majority of cases, the most massive of earthquakes are typically preceded by a plethora of much smaller quakes in the weeks and months leading up to the “Big One.” Fortunately, our modern technology allows us to predict some of these larger quakes, and when the smaller tremors start, we know to get prepared by planning wisely and shoring up our structures.
The same principle applies in children’s and family ministry. How many of us have seen a seemingly healthy, growing ministry be leveled to the ground, perhaps even ended, due to a massive “quake” scandal (sexual impropriety, crime, abuse, theft of money, church split)? It should not be surprising, however, that regardless of how random these “disasters” appear on the outside, the truth is that most, if not all, of the worst church fallout that happens does in fact follow several smaller warning “tremors.”
What do these “mini-quakes” look like? What do they sound like? Well, do any of these sound familiar?
“Wow, another child got hurt tonight playing that game in that room.” (preventable injuries = negligence)
“Sarah got lost tonight. We couldn’t find her for quite awhile.” (lost/kidnapped child)
“All the rest of this neighborhood lost power. I’m so glad that didn’t happen here!” (teachers unprepared for weather emergency)
“Oh, we didn’t background check her. She’s been in the church forever.” (lax screening/security practices)
“A kid got really sick today in the 3rd grade class. Nobody knew what to do!” (unprepared for medical emergency)
“We called and called the parent’s cell phone and they never answered.” (unable to quickly contact a parent in case of emergency)
Usually, when I ask children’s leaders if I can see their policies and procedures manual, I get a weird look as they try to remember if they have one and where it might be. I understand not wanting to worry about the detail stuff. We don’t want to worry about peanut allergies; we want to concentrate on the “big stuff” of kids’ ministry—drama, dance, worship. But our frenzied preparation for the services means nothing if the children who attend our church do not have a safe place to meet with God. Just one scandal, one injury, or one lawsuit can end our hard work. No, you cannot eliminate all risk nor ensure that nothing will ever go wrong. But you DO have the power and the responsibility to drastically reduce your church’s liability, limit damage to your ministry’s reputation, and more importantly, reduce the risk of a child being harmed on your property. You and your team are going to need to define specifically, preferably in writing, just how your ministry is going to operate—emergency procedures, classroom order, and service expectations. Let me share a few tips to get you started in building YOUR policies and procedures guidelines to last for the long haul.
Get the right people around the table.
Who really needs to be part of planning and writing your policies and procedures? We always have our kids’ ministry department heads—preschool coordinator, nursery coordinator, elementary person. Then, we invite a firefighter, a daycare owner, and a nurse (usually all from our own church). The firefighter helps us consider legal building code and severe weather preparation. The daycare owner gives us the professional voice from the state’s childcare laws (not all of which apply to us, but still good to know). The nurse helps us prepare for possible medical emergencies and prevent other medical crisis (food allergies, contagious viruses, injuries). And, of course, the lead pastor signs off on and is aware of (or changes) the final policy before it goes live. You will definitely need his/her backing if one of your policies is contested.
How often should you review and update your family ministry policies and procedures? I would recommend getting your team together to look it over once every two years. This gives you a chance to stay on top of newer laws and to rework your policies as your ministry changes. If you can’t remember when things were updated, or it’s been more than two years, the time to revisit them is NOW. Schedule your next update on your calendar far in advance as well!
Put it in writing and post it.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, I worked as a security officer at a certain very large mall. We were always taught that if something was not in writing it did not count. Putting your policies in writing helps protect you and your team from accusations of picking on a certain child. After you get your policies written out, you need to post them in every classroom and busy common areas, so you can point to them when needed.
Keep it brief.
In the event of an actual emergency, do you really think you or anyone else will be willing to flip through some giant binder looking for page 376A? No way! Huge binders stuffed full of every possible scenario in an attempt to be comprehensive are pointless. They cannot cover EVERY eventuality, and most children’s leaders report that they never actually read through the entire binder. I highly recommend you condense your policies and procedures to no more than two pages. This is easy to post in every classroom or to hand out to every parent. Keep it short, sweet, and to the point! If it’s going to be hung on the wall, then put it in a simple frame. If it’s going to be in a cabinet, laminate it so that it endures being relocated and moved around. Both framing and laminating give the document a sense of importance and make it easier to locate.
All your planning and writing and posting are worthless if you do not follow through. This means in every situation, with every child/family. It will take awhile to get your point across, in a positive way, but you must model a Christian ethic that shows we mean what we say. If the children cannot believe what you say on your walls, how can they take you seriously when you talk about Jesus?
Communicate, communicate, communicate.
After you finalize your policies and procedures and post them, you need to strategically communicate with staff, parents, volunteers, and the kids. Yes, there will still be those who say, “No one told me!” Just be gracious and keep communicating. Plan to send home a policies paper with each child, send one in the mail, and email it out to every family in your ministry. Have the pastor mention it from the pulpit. Make a video about it if you can! But this is where too many churches drop the ball; our job is not done until we have effectively communicated and promoted the vision behind what we do.
You have never “arrived” in your ministry. Your environment is always changing. If you really want consistency and quality in your classrooms then ongoing training is a must. Your volunteers need to be trained how to carry out the policies and procedures you have enacted. If there is an emergency or classroom disruption, they will be the first to respond to it, not you. How do you want them to respond? They won’t know unless you tell them and train them. This is such a huge part of our jobs, and it is never done.
If you want a ministry that will grow and last for the long haul, you’re going to have to do the hard work on the front end, writing out how your ministry is going to operate. Need more help? Go online to see what other churches have done for their policies and procedures.
The time to fortify your structure is now, so no big “quake” will shake you or your ministry. The work you do for Jesus and His kids is just too important to do anything less. Happy planning!