by Gina McClain
Parents of preschoolers seem to have a wealth of dreams for their child. They’re in a season of life where the possibilities outweigh the impossibilities. At this point, they could be holding the next president, a star quarterback or the first in their family to earn a doctorate.
As a ministry leader, how do we tap into this season… this natural bent toward dreaming… and help parents dream more about their child’s relationship with God, and the ministry God has for them? How do we help parents set the right trajectory for their kids? And how do we help them to remain focused on that trajectory through the everyday ins and outs of life?
In my season of ministry I’ve found that focusing (and maintaining it!) on the right ‘End’ requires intentional interactions that help parents discern the trajectory of their family and how to take hold of it. You see, every family ends up somewhere. Few families end up somewhere on purpose. How do we help our families end up somewhere on purpose?
We invite parents to Start with the End in Mind?
The biggest challenge we face as ministry leaders is our need to communicate a message to families that is counter to the culture in which we live. Today’s culture tells parents that our goal is to raise well-rounded kids that are provided opportunities for the very purpose of gaining a ‘leg up’ over everyone else. Our culture communicates that we parent for the first 40 years of life where education, career, and lifestyle are the trophies. And these cultural norms compete heavily for the attention of the families we serve.
In order to help my families Start with the End in Mind, I’ve discovered there are 4 primary things that must reverberate in my ministry. These are 4 actions and/or postures that I take to communicate a specific message over the indiscriminate noise of the world.
Like spokes on a wheel. These actions work in tandem together.
Like pushes on a Flywheel. Each push builds one upon the other.
According to Tim Collins in Good to Great, the Flywheel concept denotes the momentum that can build when a series of actions are taken. It’s not a single action and/or event, but a series of actions creating a predictable pattern of build-up and breakthrough. Eventually the effort is less but the build up continues and the message we work so hard to communicate in the beginning becomes a message that reverberates throughout our ministry.
Let’s look at each push individually.
Push #1: Unify Your Language
Understand that you are not the only ministry communicating to the families in your church. In fact, if you count the number of ministries represented in your church… that’s equal to the number of messages flooding your families. From missions to small groups to volunteering to worship… there is no end to the number of messages a church can unload on a family.
Wherever you have influence, work to refine the message by unifying your language. Use consistent terminology that parents will begin to weave into their own vernacular. Brian Haynes and Legacy Milestones uses the phrase ‘God Sightings’ as a way to encourage parents to look for the evidence of God’s work in their daily life. Reggie Joiner and Orange uses the phrase ‘Widen the Circle’ as a way to challenge parents to strategically surround our kids with other voices that communicate the same message we fight so hard to teach. Adopting simple phrases like these can help parents to make connections between theoretical concepts and applicable actions. The goal is to employ language to define viable stepping stones to help a family move from where they are to where they need to go next.
Push # 2: Look at what your church is already doing
Finding the opportunities to communicate your message can be trickier than forming the message itself! Families are busy. I’m hard-pressed to find a family that is looking for one more thing to do. So finding a great time to gain an audience with parents so we can communicate our message is far easier said than done.
In my time in ministry, I’ve found that most parents aren’t as willing to participate in a weekly parenting class at the church. However, they will attend a parent meeting in preparation for an event they want their child to be a part of like Vaction Bible School or Mother’s Day Out. They will attend a parent meeting as one step in a multi-step process in order to participate in Child Dedications.
Many times, finding opportunities to have an audience with parents is easier when you can integrate it into an existing event that generates it’s own hype and draw. Guard against the temptation to throw another activity on your calendar. Investigate what your church is already doing and ask yourself if a Parent Connection aspect would leverage you an audience. If yes, then make it happen!
Push #3: Look for ‘Natural’ bridges
This is a simple, subtle and very slow step. Why? Because it’s less comprehensive. It isn’t a mass email or text message. It isn’t a one-time blog post or a one-off parent handout that blankets multiple ages. Rather it’s considering what kinds of questions a parent is asking in the different stages of their family.
Consider for moment…
- What kind of questions is a brand new dad asking?
- What fears does a mom of a toddler struggle with?
- What challenges do parents of preK kids wrestle through?
Consider where you have heightened attention from parents then consider what tools you can put in their hands to help them.
These are ‘natural’ (i.e. organic) bridges that bridge your ministry to that family and effectively diminishing the gap between the two. The most important thing about Natural Bridges is the importance of meeting the ‘felt’ need. Don’t share vision for the future without first meeting the ‘felt’ need of the present. Like teaching a thirsty man to dig for water. Give him some water first, then show him how to dig. Meet the needs your families are feeling first.
- Recommend resources for teaching discipline
- Send them a book teaching them how to pray for their child
- Link them to great materials that will equip them for success in this season
But once you’ve addressed the need, take advantage of the attention you have. Pull them out of the ‘parenting weeds’ and remind them of the bigger goal. Help them view the challenges of their current circumstances in light of the bigger story God is telling through their family.
Watching for the ‘Natural’ bridges helps you leverage connection points where you can continually communicate the goal of parenting. To raise kids to love God with all that they have.
Push #4: Train Your Volunteers to be the primary trust builders for your ministry
No matter the size of your ministry, effectiveness depends heavily on your ability to work through volunteers. So, start today. Train your volunteers to build trust with your families. The more parents trust the volunteer, the more they trust you. The more they trust you, the more they trust the ministry you represent.
By leading your volunteers to steward and build upon the trust parents extend to them, the more of a voice your ministry has in the life of the family.
I like to train volunteers to look at these 3 key areas.
- The Doorway – Always, always, always have someone at the door of the room greeting, remembering names, telling each parent something about their child. Creating that welcome, warm presence when kids arrive and the excited, engaging presence when they depart. Never miss an opportunity to connect with parents at the door. Although this isn’t a great time for chit-chat, it’s the perfect chance for an encouraging smile.
- The Lobby – I joke with my volunteers and invite them to ‘stalk’ their parents in the lobby. Not in a creepy way. But with the intent of introducing themselves to new families, encouraging parents of irregulars to return soon, and simply touching base with families they see every week. It’s a great opportunity to find out what’s going on in their life Monday thru Saturday. And with each interaction, the bond of trust increases.
- The Living Room – There is only one unobtrusive way that I know of to get into the living room of our families that effectively builds loyalty and trust. Personal, hand-written cards. When a volunteer sends a note of encouragement to a child, it speaks volumes to the parent about how much your ministry cares for their child. When a volunteer sends a note of encouragement to the parent, the parent suddenly feels a sense of community and support.
There are so many levels of ‘win’ when you teach your volunteers the impact they can make in building trust with the families that attend your church.
Starting with the End in Mind is a message we have to fight to keep on our parent’s radar. It requires consistent, focused communication over a long period of time. These four pushes can take great effort at the beginning.
- Push #1: Unify your Language
- Push #2: Look at what your church is already doing
- Push #3: Look for ‘Natural’ bridges
- Push #4: Train your Volunteers to be the primary trust builder of your ministry
Yet with each push the flywheel of communication begins to turn. With each revolution, the more momentum the flywheel gains. And eventually your ministry will reverberate a penetrating message leading families to engage in the story of redemption God is unfolding through them.
Gina is the Children’s Ministry Director at Faith Promise Church. Her husband, Kyle and three kids (Keegan, Josie and Connor) keep her from taking herself too seriously. Her driving motivator is to lead Christ-followers to embrace and foster ministry in their home. If the living room is the hub of ministry, the neighborhood is different. If the neighborhood is different, the city is different. If the city is different, the church cannot be contained. “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Matt 5:13”