When I was a pastor, I would track our growth. Historically, the increase of adult attendance would track alongside the increase of children’s attendance. They would run in parallel to each other.
Then I noticed that trend diverging. Children’s attendance had plateaued while the adults were still growing. In part, it was because we were starting to reach singles, couples without children, and empty nesters. Our demographics were broadening out.
But that only explained part of the trend. I dug farther and realized we were starting to see higher turnover among volunteers in our children’s area. Our teachers were burning out. They felt like they were serving life sentences. In a sense, we were asking the children’s teachers to make a stronger commitment to teaching than I did to preaching: I took more Sundays off than they did.
So what we decided to do was to give all the teachers the summer off. I recruited a special team of children’s workers for the summer and I helped simplify our programming. We called it the “Summer Spectacular.” The curriculum involved rotating the kids between a craft, a teaching time, and a game, so any adult involved would only have to learn how to do one of those things well.
From then on, we’d recruit teachers only for the school year. Your commitment was nine months, with a three-month break, then you could decide whether to serve again the following year.
We also recruited summer-only children’s workers, and I was surprised to find that a lot of public school teachers volunteered in the summer. They didn’t want to during the school year because that’s what they did all day during the week. But they were glad to work with kids once a week in the summer. We were also able to mobilize teens and college students over the summers. In some cases, our quality level actually went up over the summer with our temporary staff.
On any team, recognize that people need sabbaticals– scheduled time off. They serve for a certain term and then can renew if they want to. Some of our children’s staff were lifers. They were happy to teach year after year with summers off. The time off left them refreshed and re-energized.
Once we made these changes, our children’s ministry started growing again and we mobilized more people to work with kids. I know there is often a fear among pastors that everyone will quit if you give them an out. But that’s counterintuitive. Having a clear length of time for commitment with scheduled breaks encourages more people to volunteer in the first place and keeps them fresher.