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3 Ideas for Prioritizing the Roster over the Roll Call

Do you know the importance of rethinking ministry leadership in the context of changing attendance patterns in churches, emphasizing the need to focus on the "why" of ministry? It advocates for a shift in mindset from valuing attendance numbers to valuing the individual connections with families, kids, and teenagers. The strategies include training volunteers to connect with those not attending regularly, structuring programming to accommodate sporadic attendance, and considering the needs and preferences of families to better engage with the community.

As ministry leaders, what we specifically do and how we lead people may vary, but one thing I’m confident we all have in common is why. How would you describe why you do what you do? 

We like to say it this way: 

We want a generation to grow up holding onto a faith that transforms how they love God, their neighbor, and life. We want kids and teenagers to develop an authentic, everyday faith in Jesus. That’s a big why, and we like to think the solution is actually small. Small doesn’t mean easy. Small doesn’t mean less effort. Small doesn’t even mean fewer people. We’re talking about small groups.

What’s a small group? A consistent gathering of a few for the purpose of growing in their relationship with God and each other. You might call it something different at your church, but the idea is when we lead small, we make a choice to invest strategically in the lives of a few over time so we can help them build an authentic faith. Giving kids and teenagers a safe place to belong and giving kids and teenagers a safe person to show them what it looks like to follow God can make a huge difference in developing that authentic, everyday faith. 

But a lot has changed over the last few years. If you’re experiencing anything similar to the ministry leaders I talk with daily, you might find that most families are not showing up to your church building as frequently as they were in years past. Many of us have built metrics for gauging our success in ministry around attendance numbers. If we’re honest, attendance numbers have never really been a great indicator of a healthy ministry. 

Applying the same metrics and deploying the same strategy while witnessing millennials and Gen Z disengage with church activity would be irresponsible. The why is the same. The small solution is still essential. But the moment calls for a different mindset.  

We assume some things when families don’t show up to church. Maybe we assume…

Faith is no longer important to them;
They’ve moved on to another church;
Sports are more important to them than church.

In reality, it’s possible that…

The family is navigating custody changes impacting weekends;
Money has been tight, and work schedules have had to change;
The kid has a shot at a life-changing athletic or academic scholarship opportunity that may impact an ongoing commitment to programming.

It would serve us better to be curious about what might be going on in the life of each individual family, kid, or teenager rather than assume we know their story. Maybe they are not coming to us because they can’t (or don’t want to), but that doesn’t mean we can’t invite them to engage in other ways. We won’t be able to solve this entire culture shift in one blog. But here’s one thing we can all start rethinking this fall. 

What if we…

trained our volunteers,
structured our programming,
and thought about families with this idea in mind: whoever is on your roster is more important than who showed up in the building? 

 

Training Volunteers

We do an excellent job of preparing our volunteers to have conversations with students or to lead activities with kids who show up to our buildings. What if when we handed a volunteer leader their roster for the year, we said something like: 

“Here are your 15-20 kids. They may only show up to the building once, but that’s only one of the ways you can connect with them.” 

What would it look like to develop systems so leaders could easily keep track of who they have seen in the building and who hasn’t shown up in a while or at all?

What are some simple ways those volunteers can stay connected to the kids not showing up in the building each week? It could look like sending a text message, mailing a postcard, making a video, etc. 

Depending on your church size, it may even make sense to have a volunteer team dedicated to staying connected to those kids or teenagers who have not been showing up. 

How your volunteers talk about kids who have not shown up to group shows the rest of the group how committed your ministry is to connection. If/when they become the kids who aren’t showing up as regularly anymore, have we said and done enough to communicate we value the connection over their attendance? 

Structuring Programming

As a former teacher and Enneagram Type 1, my annual ministry plan, calendar, and budget proposals were well laid out, beautifully organized, and intentionally executed. But all of that planning revolved around who was walking through the door.

What would it look like to teach a series knowing the week a kid or student shows up might be their only week present out of your 4-week plan? 

How do we make sure we are saying what matters most each week knowing it might be the only week for a while? 

How can we spend time in small groups thinking about those who are not there? This could look like having the group create notes for kids who have not been to group to let them know what they’ve been taking away from group time. 

Thinking about Families 

I’m not proud to admit I have quietly blamed or made assumptions when parents did not prioritize getting their children checked into our ministry programming. While it’s important to remember all families are different, being curious and finding out what most parents of your church community are looking for can set us to partner with them in ways they’re more likely to engage with. 

Can we plan for events in a way that meets the needs of what families in our community are looking for? And communicate about them in a way that gives families time to prioritize them? Looking carefully at the kids ministry and student ministry calendars for any competition or overlap is one way to ensure we’re not asking too much of a family’s limited time or money. 

How does planning events or opportunities for families to connect throughout the year impact our budgets? 

As we plan to gather groups of kids and teenagers this fall to create environments where they can discover and embrace a life of following Jesus, let’s not forget about those on our rosters but not in our rooms. 

If you’re taking the time to read this, you care about the people you lead. Creating a culture where everyone we’re leading understands whoever is on your roster is just as important as who showed up in the building will set us up to be the type of ministry committed to showing up tomorrow and the tomorrow after that. 

Have fun rethinking this idea with your team. Try things. Come up with new, creative ways to
Invite them into your space;
Show up in their spaces;
Get to know their individual personalities and preferences; all toward our common, shared goal of nurturing the faith and future of the next generation.

Interested in learning about the five big ideas we think every small group leader should know? Check out Lead Small today!

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