As a children’s minister, your first year in the position can be both exciting and overwhelming.
You have the opportunity to impact the lives of young children and their families, but the responsibility of leading kids to Jesus can be weighty.
You want to do it right because communicating God’s love to kids is life-changing and can impact their future in wonderful ways.
However, being over-eager or too zealous can create some issues as you onboard in a new place.
That’s why it’s important to approach your first year with intentionality and a clear understanding of the dos and don’ts of the role.
Here are 5 dos and 5 don’ts in your first year as a children’s minister.
The 5 Dos
1. Do: Build Relationships with kids and their caregivers.
One of the dos of your first year as a children’s minister is to prioritize building relationships with the children and their families.
This means taking the time to get to know each child’s name, interests, and needs, as well as reaching out to parents and caregivers to establish open lines of communication.
You can’t connect with every family that is part of the church right away, but it’s good to have a meeting with at least 5 of the most committed families within your first 6 months.
Consider having a meeting over coffee or at a playground where you can ask questions about what they need.
I used these:
- Tell me how you got to this church
- What do your kids love about coming to children’s ministry here?
- How can I be helpful to you as you disciple your kids?
- When your kids leave my ministry, do you hope they have learned?
2. Do: Create a safe and welcoming environment.
Another important do is to create a safe and welcoming environment for children to learn and grow in their faith.
This can be achieved through intentional lesson planning, age-appropriate activities, and a focus on building a sense of community within the ministry.
Sometimes this already exists, so it’s more like maintenance.
Creating safety also requires establishing a solid safety plan.
Check-in, check-out, and emergency plans are so important to creating safety for everyone in a family when they drop their kids off at your church.
If they know you’re going to take care of the kids in your care, they will feel more connected to you and be more at ease at drop-off.
3. Understand the scope of your work.
You are responsible for so many things in children’s ministry, from event planning to execution, managing a budget, recruiting, training, and maintaining volunteers, as well as filling in gaps in the volunteer roster, on top of creating lessons and gathering supplies.
Make sure you know exactly what you have been hired to do and do that first.
I once had a co-worker in his first year as a youth director regularly say, “How can I help you?” after staff meetings.
I knew he was totally overwhelmed, but he wanted to be a team player.
I told him every time that he was so kind to offer, but he didn’t need to add to his plate. If I needed something specifically youth-related, I would definitely loop him in.
While it can be a good idea to help in other areas, your first year is such fertile ground for learning that you need time and space to do what’s in your scope of work.
4. Do: Try to worship at your church.
A lot of leaders aren’t able to worship because they think everything relies on them to run.
That is true, you are being paid to administrate a ministry.
However, you can equip others to lead during one service a month or if you have multiple services, one service a week.
Our church had 3 services, and I regularly attended the third service before AND AFTER we developed a children’s program for that service.
It meant a lot for some people to see me in church since they knew I was always so busy with the kids.
5. Do: Find other leaders to learn from.
You can’t do ministry alone.
If you think you can, you will burn out.
You need other leaders to link arms with and learn from.
That’s why you need to find other leaders in your first year to know and learn from.
Wherever your church is located, and whatever its demographics, you need to connect with other leaders to be encouraged, ask questions, and process hard situations.
You can find leaders who want to be there for you.
Consider finding other leaders in the following ways:
- Does your denomination have a network of children’s leaders that you can participate in?
- Can you have coffee with another leader in your town or region on a regular basis?
- Have you met any leaders at conferences or in passing that you could meet with on a call or video call?
If you don’t currently know anyone, reach out to INCM and we can connect you with other leaders.
The 5 Don’ts
There are also several don’ts to keep in mind during your first year as a children’s minister.
1. Don’t change everything all at once.
Assess your ministry to see the scope of the work, then focus on your biggest issues.
You might not like the curriculum the previous leader chose, or you might not want to have the same structure for volunteers.
You might not want to do a Christmas pageant.
But can you change everything all at once while creating buy-in with your new church community? Nope.
The people need to know you love them before you lead them anywhere.
So stick to taking care of what you can change – like updating safety issues, or creating a plan for the next Chrismas that doesn’t include a pageant.
2. Don’t complain about the way things used to be done; honor the investment.
You have no idea why someone would structure things one way, use certain props, set up rooms, or save VBS curriculum from the 1990s.
Whatever their reasons, saying that the way the previous person did it was wrong can create division between you and the community, especially if they loved the previous leader.
Honor the previous leader’s investment by pointing out good things you see in what was left behind.
When I became a children’s director, the previous leader couldn’t let go of old things in case it was valuable for a later lesson or could be repurposed down the road.
While I didn’t appreciate the weeks it took tossing out several tins of ancient VBS curriculum and various supplies, I did appreciate that she cared about saving money for our church.
So I organized the supply closet and kept items that we could use.
In three years, I only spent maybe $500 on supplies by using what we had in storage.
I honored her by seeing her heart, rather than complaining about her tendency toward keeping things.
3. Don’t overcommit.
One common mistake is to overcommit and take on too much responsibility, leading to burnout and a lack of effectiveness in ministry.
You must set boundaries.
You can’t do everything all at once. But you can build toward the future for what God is going to do.
What are the first few things that you can do to make your ministry successful right away?
What needs tending?
What can you actually accomplish in a program year?
I recommend making a year-long calendar with all the events and programs, then using that as a gauge of how many things you can add to your plate.
If you’re asked to start a family Bible study in September, but you’re launching two ministries and hosting a fall kick-off event, you might want to say no until you understand all that your role entails.
4. Don’t neglect time with Jesus.
Don’t is to neglect your own spiritual growth and development, as it’s important to model a healthy relationship with God for the children you serve.
It can be easy to feel like there are too many things to do and too little time.
But prioritizing time with Jesus is vital to your effectiveness in ministry.
Use it as a daily action item.
Start your day in your office with prayer and bible study.
Tell yourself, “I can work on this after I spend 15 minutes in prayer and bible reading.”
Get your staff involved if possible.
There’s no reason not to, even if you are busy.
5. Don’t spend all of your time at church.
As much as you love your job and the people at your workplace, it’s so important to follow Jesus’ examples of rest and work.
You need other things to help you stay whole and healthy.
If you have hobbies, do them.
Take care of your body and mind with exercise.
Don’t forget to take time with your family and maintain relationships with friends.
Over the 5 years I worked at a church, I heard kids say that they thought I lived there.
And while I did see them every week, multiple times a week sometimes, I never could shake the amount of time I spent at church which was more than I needed to.
The first year of ministry can be such a joy if you use wisdom as you begin.
Your biggest successes will be doing things that seem insignificant, making calendars, building relationships, setting boundaries, and getting to know the church culture.
But these are the most important in terms of setting yourself and your ministry up for flourishing in the long term.
By keeping these dos and don’ts in mind, you can set yourself up for a successful first year as a children’s minister.