Church+Preschool: It Matters.

Image
My first experience in church as a kid that I can remember was not on a Sunday morning.

It was at Snellville United Methodist Preschool and I was 4.

My parents grew up going to church but after they were married, going to church wasn’t necessarily a huge priority.  My dad was working hard to provide for the family, my parents were young when I was born, and they were living in Arizon, far away from their families.  It was not and is not an unusual story.  It’s the story of young couples all over the country.

Finding a church home just wasn’t at the top of their list.

We moved to Georgia a few years after I was born and my mom enrolled me in SUMC Preschool because getting a head start on kindergarten was a priority for my parents.  While my parents may not have been jonesin’ for a church home, they had that sense that their kids should be in church which is why they opted for a church preschool instead of a day care center or community center.  

Preschool was the first chance for SUMC to show my parents that I mattered to God so I mattered to SUMC.  3 year old me loved it—the snacks, the dress up station, the play-doh, the new friends!

But what was more important is my parents loved that I loved it.

So we started attending the church regularly with my grandparents that year.  And the year after.  And the year after that.

I still remember the bright red carpet and watching my grandpop stand proudly in the back waiting to collect the offering.  Then, during the service, he would fiddle with his mints or butterscotch wrappers and offer me one (or seven).  When we moved to Ohio, the first priority for my family now was to find a new church.  Fast forward a couple of decades and now I’m a church leader.  In part, because a church preschool and a sweet lady named Miss Kay loved me.

New families will give your church’s preschool a shot before they’ll ever come on Sunday.  How’s your alignment and strategy between your church and your preschool?

One of the ways we began to align was through the use of Seedlings.  As a church leader, I was able to approach our preschool director with a program that taught the same Value Words during the week that aligned with our First Look and 252 Strategies on Sunday.

The preschool teachers synchronized their character development strategy.
The preschool director and I now shared a common language and goal.
The preschool parents were now reinforcing what was learned at school at home.
Our church (weekday and Sunday) now presented a united front for families who were looking for more.

The preschool that meets in your church during the week is full of parents asking questions without ever asking those questions out loud.  What you communicate to them as the children’s ministry leader is important.  How you interact with the preschool teachers is important.  If those relationships are not there, they need to be so go buy them some coffee and start loving them intentionally.  What you do on Sunday is awesome and so vital to the faith and character of a child, but don’t miss the opportunity to invite new families into the conversation.  If it’s not already, make your weekday preschool a part your church’s ministry strategy.

Fly in a V

Image

During migration season birds fly hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles to get to a warmer climate for the winter.  In order to get where they are going they fly in a skein (or, as the Mighty Ducks call it, a “flying V”).  One bird leads the pack and faces the wind while the others fall in behind in a V formation flying in the draft of the lead bird.  Because they do this, the rest of the birds limit flight fatigue and as a result, the whole group can fly further than they would if they were just flying on their own in the same direction all fighting the wind at the same time.

Over the course of a migratory trip, every bird takes its turn as the leader — fighting against the wind and directing the course—and every bird takes its turn somewhere in the V, using that time to rest without slowing up the whole operation.  When the lead bird falls back, there’s always one to move in to take its place; they aren’t jockeying for position, though, they are simply working to their capacity and then allowing others to do the same.  There’s no need for the group to ever stop, reset, or bring in an outsider to lead them since they all share the burden of facing the wind at one point or another.  They are all able to be replaced and are all replaceable.

What’s more is that every bird has a role that is specific for a time but can change positions easily for the preservation of the whole group.

A lot of ministry teams have leaders that are all flying in the same direction, but some teams fly together in a V formation and others are just all flying together, all fighting the wind at the same time.  Here are 3 things to think about to decide whether or not you lead a team of migrating birds or a team of birds that just fly in the same direction:

Your team believes in a shared vision.
Are you all synchronized around the same vision? I’m not talking about individual ministry goals that need to be specific to the age groups being served, I’m talking about the end game. The thing that you’re all working towards tirelessly, the thing that everything else filters through before making it into your team’s individual game plans. For example, if your goal for your family ministry is to connect kids and students to consistent, caring adults is your whole team leading their individual ministries in a way that can accomplish that?  One way to test that is to ask them what they think the end game of your ministry is–you might be surprised at the varying answers.

You hire legacies, not people.
When you grow, you need more staff.  When you need more staff and you’re in a crunch sometimes the hiring decision is made based on current, not future needs.  When you hire legacies, you’re looking for someone who isn’t going to build something that will crumble as soon as he or she leaves because he or she did it all, all the time.  Rather, you’re looking for someone who understands that their time on your team, whether it’s 2 years or 20 years, will always need to be about working toward the shared team vision, not their own.  Someone who spends just as much time developing others as he or she does developing the ministry.  Sometimes, this also requires a little flexibility with you because you’ll want to be able to recognize when your leader needs to move to a different role within your team to stay engaged and enthusiatic about accomplishing the vision. This is especially important when hiring milllenials: they will get itchy and want to do something else but are loyal to the organization (most of the time).  The trick is to lead them in such a way that they can feel free to move around within the team structure because they’ve developed others to replace them and they want to do something new.  When you approach it this way, you’ll find some of the greatest leaders because they will not feel trapped or defined by their role, and they’ll be free to lead and fall back during different seasons of their time with your team.

Each team member leads their own flock of birds.
Every member on your team likely works within the framework of your larger church structure, but the best leaders and best teams build their own flocks within their ministry areas.  The stronger your structures, the less likely you’ll have to rebuild when one moves out or moves on.  Don’t sugarcoat it, make it part of your culture and hold your team accountable to it.  Those on your team who lead this way are going to leave the team well (if they ever do) and the ministry as a whole will thrive.  When this works well, sideways energy is eliminated and the vision of your church/ministry/organization is protected and nurtured.  Everyone wins and ownership increases.

What are some other things you do to make sure that your team is in a flying V?  Love to hear your thoughts!