Take another first look
“What sign?” I was sure this visiting family was imagining things when they claimed there was a sign in the hallway with misinformation about what classes met in which classrooms. Yet, when I went to where they said it was, there it hung. Huge and in all its ugly glory. I’d been at the church for two years and I’d never seen it. I’d installed new modern signage over every room, but somehow I had never noticed this monstrosity at the end of the hall. Perhaps, I thought it referred to the adult classes down another hall? Perhaps, I was so preoccupied with my own improvements I never bothered to look at what was so obviously pointing all the visitors in the wrong direction each week. How could I be so blind?
I’ve discovered that blindness is common in ministry. It sets in slowly. If we aren’t careful, it can result in bland, confusing and stuck-in-a-rut ministry. Are you in danger of losing your ministry sharp sightedness?
Remember when you started your present ministry? You could see so many things wrong or in need of improvement! Your first thought was, “I’m going to have to change everything!” If you were wise, you knew that you had to move slowly and graciously or you’d soon be all alone. However, over time you managed to make many of the changes you wanted. As you got to know the ministry better, perhaps you learned that some of the things you initially identified for the chopping block were okay after all, or at least you gained a new understanding of why things were done the way they were.
In the end, some things you changed, others you either changed your mind on, or just never got around to it. Now you’ve been there for a while and in general, things seem okay. The blindness is settling in. Sure, you know there are things that could improve, but let’s be honest—your ministry is still better than the one down the street. You’ve got more important things to do, like keeping the nursery staffed!
The reality is, the longer you have been in a ministry, the harder it is to see your ministry with those same fresh eyes you had when you were new. But consider this. If you left, and someone new came in, they too would say, “Oh, my! I’ve got to change everything!” And you’d be the one defending how you’ve always done it. Have you ever asked yourself, “What would the glaring things be right now to someone who took over this ministry? Are you panicking? No worries. Instead of fretting over what this imaginary person would think, why not make that person you?
The fall is the perfect time to look at your ministry with fresh eyes. Imagine you were just hired and try to see your ministry the way you’d see it if it was your first day on the job. Go ahead. Fire yourself! (And quickly rehire yourself before your boss finds out.)
Here is your assignment should you choose to accept it. I dare you to take this assignment seriously, as though you’d just been hired. Don’t worry about hurting anyone’s feelings, because it is yourself you are trying to improve. You’ve got thick skin. You can handle this, right?
Get a blank pad of paper and a pen and go outside your building. Start in the parking lot where most visitors park. (For extra credit, get in your car and drive around the block and pull in as a visitor.)
- Come into your church building the way a visitor would. Do you even know where to enter? What if you enter through an entrance that is different from where you assume most families enter? Notice anything? How is that experience?
- Next, visit where families check in, and then every room in the children’s ministry. Look at everything as though you’ve never seen it before. With that “new children’s pastor” mindset, make a list of everything you see—things that need to be changed, need some attention, could be improved. What stands out? What do you like? What looks odd? Confusing? Old? Broken? Outdated? Dangerous?
- Fill your pad with as many things as possible. Look up, down, backward, behind things, on top of things (cabinets). Open closets and cabinets. Peer under tables and in and out of windows. Actually read all the signs and posters. Imagine you were a parent and that you were (gasp) church shopping! What would you think of this church? What would you like? What would turn you off? What would concern you? What messages would you get about the church from what you see?
- Imagine you had been hired as a children’s ministry consultant. What recommendations would you make? Because actually, you have been hired as a children’s ministry consultant. You are a consultant for yourself. Consider taking pictures as you walk around so that in the future you can look back and see how things have improved.
- Don’t get bogged down in mental blame games or excuses. Don’t make excuses either, saying “if only.” As a new leader, you don’t know any of those factors; you’re only observing. Solving problems comes later. This is a time for observing and noting what needs to be changed or be improved. You can address the challenges later.
3 Ds to consider as you walk through your building.
Directions. Can visitors find what they are looking for? Church buildings can be very confusing. Can families tell how to get around the building? If a family has multiple children, can they quickly see where they all need to go? How easy is it to find information about the children’s ministry and the church? If the children’s ministry is the best thing about your church, it ought to be the easiest thing to find.
Decorations. What do newcomers see as they enter the children’s ministry area or classrooms? What will be their first impression? Are they visually noisy? Cluttered? Dirty? Busy? Old and worn out? Dumb looking? This is admittedly subjective, but some churches look like they are stuck in the 1970s. If you’re trying to reach today’s families, make sure your facilities aren’t outdated. Give yourself extra credit for any outdated signs or posters that you find as you walk around. Finally, if you can handle it, look at every bulletin board! I know. It might be painful, but someone’s got to do it. If you can’t keep them up to date, get rid of them.
Dimension. How deep does your ministry go? Is there enough fun to hook kids, but enough meat to grow them? What attracts the unspiritual kid and what challenges the spiritually-minded kid? You need many dimensions to your ministry. Does your ministry area feel like a childcare facility or does it communicate vision, mission, purpose, fun and energy? What will make visitors feel like they need to come back again?
It can actually be a lot of fun to walk through your ministry with “fresh eyes.” Do it first by yourself. Take notes and pictures. Don’t change anything. Just observe and avoid a critical spirit at yourself or others. Next, do a walk-through with your leadership team. Compare your notes with what the team sees and observes. Encourage your leaders as well to avoid being critical. Instead, dream about possibilities. It’s one thing to fix what is broken. It’s entirely different to replace what is there with something new and exciting.
You may find yourself laughing at things you discover that you’ve been blind to, as you’ve gotten both busy and comfortable in your ministry. Ministry blindness has started to settle in. The cure is easy. Just set aside some time to open your eyes wide and do a walk through your ministry. Prayerfully ask God to give you some creativity and inspiration just like you had that first time you walked through at the beginning of your ministry there. He’ll do it all over again! Exciting new things are ahead this year.
You’ve got your assignment. Now get to it!
Karl Bastian got his call to kids’ ministry at the age of ten. Everything he needed to know about kids’ ministry he learned from his mom and from reading the back of cereal boxes. Visit his website, Kidology.org, for tons of creative kidmin help!