How to Get Buy-in From Church Leadership

This post was written by Jeremy O’Neill, a member of the INCM Blog team.

Last month I had the opportunity to teach a breakout at CPC called Stepping Into A Turnaround Situation. When we got to the topic of getting buy-in, I could tell that it resonated with the leaders in the room.

I believe the reason this topic strikes such a chord with so many leaders is because buy-in is critical for every ministry and every church. Without buy-in, you cannot drive meaningful change in your ministry.

If you want to drive meaningful change in your ministry, it takes buy-in on multiple levels.

  • Senior Leadership: your pastor, your board, or your supervisor
  • Your Team: your staff and volunteer team
  • Everyone Else: kids, parents, and church members

Instead of trying to tackle all three, we are going to take a deep dive into what it takes to generate buy-in from the senior leaders in your church.

1. Speak at their level.

Senior leaders have a different vantage point than others. After all, their position determines their perspective.

I had a boss who once used the imagery of flight altitude. He used to say that senior leaders fly at 30,000 feet. When they look out the window, they see the whole church laid out in front of them. They are constantly looking at the big picture because that’s their job.

Most of us fly at a different altitude. We often have a 5,000-foot perspective. When we look out the window of the plane, it is our kid’s ministry that we see laid out in front of us. 

When pitching something to senior leaders, always remember to speak at their level. 

Think of it in three levels: why, how, and what.

  1. 30,000 feet → WHY should we do this? This is your big idea.
  2. 5,000 feet → HOW would we pull this off? This is your game plan.
  3. Ground Level → WHAT needs to be done? This is your execution of the game plan.

For example, if you are trying to convince your senior leaders that your church should host a VBS this summer, resist the urge to begin your presentation by sharing the theme you chose and the craft supplies you will need. Instead, start with why a VBS is worth doing, and help them see how it will be a win for the ministry and the church overall.

This part is important. Just because you start at 30,000 feet doesn’t mean that you don’t come prepared to descend to 5,000 feet and share specific details of the plan. You have to be prepared for the follow-up questions they may have. 

Here are some questions to consider next time you are pitching something to senior leaders:

  • How would this new program or project affect the rest of the church? Would this be a win for our church or just our kids ministry?
  • What would it take to convince a senior leader to invest valuable church resources to help pull this off? 
  • What are the follow up questions that a senior leader would have about what I am pitching? How can I account for those things in my planning process?

2. Speak their language.

My wife and I were watching The Imagineering Story on Disney+ and I was struck by the origin story of the iconic Indiana Jones ride.

“Michael (Disney CEO) had been given a million reasons why we shouldn’t do it. It was too expensive. The park didn’t need something in Adventureland. They had no room in Adventureland. And there was a whole document that came out.

“And as quick as Michael got that, he fired a document back saying, ‘Here’s why we can’t afford NOT to do it. It’s emotionally relevant. It’s a state-of-the-art technology that we have the jump on. We can’t allow Disneyland to not be regarded as the supreme repository of new thinking.’

“All of that was tremendously indicative of the way [Disney executives] thought.”

Spoiler alert. They built the ride and it was a hit!

They found the money, made space, and even moved the Monorail to make it happen. All because Michael Eisner appealed to the perspective and values of key decision-makers.

3. Lean into what matters most to them.

Have a vision for your ministry.

If you are a Children’s Pastor, then it is your responsibility to prayerfully discern the vision God has for your kid’s ministry and be the champion for that vision in your church.

Have a plan for accomplishing the vision.

This might sound trivial, but it’s true. Anyone can set a lofty goal, but it takes a plan to achieve it.

When I was interviewing for the role I am in now, I was asked to create a 5 Year Plan. It gave me a chance to demonstrate to my future leadership team that there are clear, practical steps for moving the ministry forward.

Have measurable goals.

Senior leaders love to measure things. I’m convinced it’s their love language.

I recently put together a quarterly summary for our leadership team. It was a simple, easy-to-read, highly visual one-page document that contained a handful of key measurables for our kid’s ministry. 

Less than an hour after I sent it to my boss, our lead pastor stopped by my office and said, “That was amazing!” Turns out my boss shared it in the middle of the meeting that he was in and everybody loved it – including the pastor. Why? Because it was speaking their language.

Define what winning looks like. 

I have heard more than one discouraged kid’s ministry leader say things like, “Leadership just doesn’t understand.” Or, “If they only knew.”

Don’t miss this. As a Children’s Pastor, it is your job to help senior leaders see what you see. Help them understand what it takes to build a thriving kids ministry. If you don’t advocate for your ministry, who will?

Northview Church is a great example. Their family ministry team created a resource called the Campus Pastor Toolkit. It is the go-to guide for their kids and student ministry at each campus. They share the vision and mission, outline their programming, set expectations for each campus, and give Campus Pastors cues on what to look for to assess how well their family ministry is functioning. There is full clarity on what is needed to build a successful ministry at each location.

Help the church win.

Last fall we had an intern named Isabelle join our team. Her main priority was to create a program for upper elementary kids that would allow them to volunteer in our ministry and introduce them to the concept of servant leadership.

Instead of using any old curriculum, she built a 6-week class around the six core values of our church. She chose to highlight what matters to our church and build around those principles. When I told our Executive Team, they were pretty fired up about it.

Isabelle could have just focused on the kid’s ministry aspect of this project. Instead, she found a way to align with our church-wide values and make something truly great.

If you are only focused on your ministry, people are eventually going to pick up on that. What matters to the church should matter to you. People will pick up on that too!


About Jeremy

Jeremy O’Neill is the Children’s Pastor at Skyline Church. Jeremy is a speaker, writer, and kid’s ministry coach. He and his wife, Kendall, are based out of San Diego, California.

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