Employing a Children’s/Families Worker

This is one of the things I get asked about a lot. As a general guide, you can’t beat Paul Godfrey and Nic Sheppard’s book on the subject, which you can find here.  Usually, if you’re in St Albans Diocese, we’ll send you a free copy if you ask.

And for questions about terms ofemployment employment, supervision, pay and benefits, etc., you should always go to an HR professional and not your Diocesan Children’s Ministry Advisor.

But here are a few of the things I’ve learned in advising at least a dozen churches in this process over the years.

(As always, there are exceptions. There are no hard and fast rules.)

Motivations:

Think about why you’re hiring someone now. Is it because you have no children and need to build up from scratch? In this case, you’ll probably need a visionary leader with entrepreneurial skills, who can help get things off the ground, help existing leadership to inspire the congregation, make changes to worship, programmes, etc, to make them more child-and-family-friendly, and probably start entirely new initiatives. Or is it because you have a great team of volunteers and just need someone who can pull it all together, support them, make sure everyone’s singing from the same hymn sheet, and resource and equip the volunteers? In this case, you’re probably looking for a facilitator, an encourager, a manager, and a mentor. Those are two very different people.

Very few people have skills to be a pastor, a visionary leader, a detail-oriented team manager, a mentor, a facilitator, an administrator, a teacher, a liturgist, a specialist in children’s spirituality, a theologian, a preacher, a musician, and a communicator/marketing person who can get your church noticed in the community. Yet when I go into meetings and ask “what are you hoping for from this appointment?” I often get a list of skills that include all of those and more.

Think of the top three skills that you’re looking for, and prioritise those. A children’s worker cannot be all things to all people, and cannot singlehandedly save your church. Especially if yours is a part time appointment.

Which brings me to …

The Tooth-to-Tail Ratio:

This is something I heard from a friend who served in the military – in deploying personnel, the army considers how many “behind the scenes” people you need (the tail) for every one soldier on the front line.

The same is true in terms of how you deploy your time. Children’s ministry – especially in smaller churches without large staff teams – requires a lot of behind the scenes TIME for every one hour of actual contact with children.

Here’s an example: a family whose child was baptised at your church a few months ago walks through the door on Sunday morning. They have three children – the baby, and then a four-year-old and a seven-year-old. The four-year-old goes to your Diddy Disciples Group and the seven-year-old goes to your Junior Church. The baby stays in church with its parents. That’s a total of three hours of contact – one with each child.

What’s it taken to do this?

A welcoming phone conversation at the initial baptism enquiry, sending the baptism form (with a box to tick for permission to be added to the mailing list), preparing and running baptism preparation alongside the vicar, sending multiple follow-up emails reminding them of other things happening in the church, recruiting volunteers to run those Sunday morning groups, training the volunteers so that Junior Church is spiritually nurturing and not just “here’s the moral, here’s a colouring sheet, done,” setting up the Junior Church spaces on Sunday morning, buying resources for Junior Church, planning the session you’re running, working with the congregation as a whole to make sure they won’t stare daggers at the family if the baby makes a tiny bit of noise, developing and maintaining a Pray and Play area for the baby (if you have such a space), and encouraging people to talk to new families after church.

That’s a LOT of work for three hours of in-person contact.

And remember that any community contacts – schools, uniformed organisations, etc – take huge amounts of time to build before you start to see any real results.

So if you’re hiring someone for sixteen hours a week, that’s maybe eight hours of actual programme time – Sunday morning, and one other thing every week. A 16-hour contract is Sunday morning, toddler group, and maybe some special events at Christmas and Easter. So often, I have seen jobs that claim to be 16 or 20 hours a week, which expect the person to run Junior Church (and all its volunteers), Messy Church every month, Toddler Group every week, build relationships with schools and do assemblies and support RE learning, do community events and holiday clubs, plan and lead All-Age services, start teatime Sunday services for families, and more. That’s a full-time job. Allow at least one hour behind the scenes for every one hour actually leading something. Building mailing lists, keeping in touch, planning and publicising events, and building relationships with the community all take time.

As a general rule, full-time posts get more applications. If you can’t afford a full-time worker, be prepared for the fact it may take a while to fill the post.

Boundaries Are Good:

I’ve seen several posts that are advertised as providing housing – sometimes in a parishioner’s spare room.

First of all, if you’re providing housing as part of compensation, speak to an HR professional. This can count as payment in kind, and there are tax implications.

Secondly, while I respect the generosity and hospitality inherent in the offer of accommodation, I would advise against providing it with a parishioner, or in the house of another member of staff. This blurs the boundaries between work and home, and limits the children’s worker’s ability to relax and be off duty.

The relationship with parishioners is a pastoral one – imagine if the vicar stayed in the home of someone they pastored, 24/7. You would need to continually be in “vicar” mode. That boundary between pastoral role and human being is one that needs careful protection, or burnout can happen.

Also, despite best intentions, sometimes living arrangements don’t work out. And it’s easy for a problematic domestic situation to then spill over into how the parishioner and children’s worker treat each other at church/work, as well as at home. The end result of this can be factions, cliques, rumours, blame, etc.

And finally, it’s not healthy for the children’s worker to be so dependent on someone outside official line management and complaints procedures.

Providing housing in the home of a parishioner or fellow member of staff could end up creating problems that require a huge amount of time, sensitivity, and money to sort out.

Speaking of Dual Roles … :

When I became a children’s worker, I lost my priest.

Because I was now worshipping at the church where I served, and the priest there was now my boss.

There are things I would happily tell my priest that I wouldn’t feel comfortable telling my boss. So when they became the same person, it presented a difficulty. I ended up with nowhere to go for spiritual and pastoral support. For years.

Think of what opportunities your children’s worker will have for spiritual and pastoral support that are not provided by their line manager.

And think about what opportunities there will be for retreat and reflection – especially if your children’s worker is leading a Junior Church group almost every Sunday. The same problems that can arise with clergy – always leading, never simply receiving – can affect children’s workers. But they don’t have the official support networks that clergy do (which are often meagre enough, let’s be honest).

In St. Albans Diocese, the SIM (Support In Your Ministry) scheme is available to paid children’s and youth workers as well as to clergy. And Sheldon retreat centre offers its minister’s discount to lay ministers as well as ordained ones. But it’s also worth thinking about who in your area could be on hand to be your children’s worker’s go-to person for pastoral care – it could be someone in your own clergy team who isn’t their supervisor, or it could be a neighbouring priest, or someone else.

Practicalities:

Where to advertise: don’t overlook your local area, especially if you’re a village or rural area. But we will also put your advert on our Diocesan website and social media, and on the Going 4 Growth national church website (especially if it’s full time). If you have a budget to pay for advertising the post, then consider Youth and Childrenswork Magazine and/or The Church Times.

How much to pay: The Living Wage Foundation recommends an hourly rate of at least £9 nationally and £10.55 in London, to meet the actual cost of living. Considering that you are looking for specialist skills and possibly for anti-social hours, I recommend you do better than this if at all possible. Most posts I see are between £20,000 and £27,000 for a full-time role. This is an enormous sacrifice for most churches, and still provides barely enough for someone to really live on. That disconnect is a problem nationally.

How to choose: I recommend including children in the hiring process if at all possible – in drafting the job description and person specification, and in interviewing. You will definitely get a different perspective and a better understanding of their needs.

If you don’t have a clear front-runner, or you have someone towards whom you’re feeling, “well, I guess they’ll do, I suppose,” then don’t appoint. Go through the interview process again. It may feel like you’re failing, but it’s much better to hire the right person after six months than the wrong person immediately.

Starting Rite

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One of the best books I’ve read in the last few years has been Starting Rite: Spiritual nurture for babies and their parents, by Jenny Paddison. Jenny has also come down to do some introductory training for the Diocese at two of our events. Starting Rite is a 5-week course based around play and conversation, introducing parents to concepts of Christianity and encouraging them to engage with and bond with their babies.

It can also be used as a baptism preparation/follow-up course.

Here’s what the publisher has to say:

When Anglican priest Jenny Paddison became a mother, there were numerous activities for new parents and their babies on offer: baby yoga, baby massage, baby swimming – but nothing from the church.

In response, she created this five session programme that connects with the immense sense of wonder and joy that new parents experience and provides spiritual nurture from the outset, recognising the innate capacity for spirituality with which we are born.

Starting Rite is designed specifically for babies up to a year old and their parents. It provides a complete practical companion to offering the programme locally, including story scripts, simple songs, ideas for multi-sensory play, as well as lists of equipment needed and how to create a welcoming atmosphere. It explores Christian themes though activities like peek-a-boo, blowing bubbles and splashing in water.

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Starting Rite enables local churches to offer a welcome to all new parents, and can also be used as a baptism preparation course.”

Starting Rite is excellent for reaching out to unchurched people. It’s a great place to start if you have few or no children and want to make your first steps in children’s ministry. Or it can be a fabulous way to refresh and expand on existing baptism or toddler group ministry.

Feedback from Jenny’s sessions was very positive, but a lot of people said, “it’s a lot of work to put the resources together to run the course – and a lot of money.”

So, very slowly, but surely, I’ve started putting the resources together. By the end of this year, I hope to have a set of 5 boxes, plus the book, available to be borrowed all together by churches who want to run this course. We’ll then get Jenny down to do some proper training on the course and address any questions or concerns you might have. So WATCH THIS SPACE, and if you’re not subscribed to Children’s Ministry News, contact youthoffice@stalbans.anglican.org to be sure you hear about the training when it’s scheduled.

All-Age Prodigal Son Prayer Stations

On Saturday, I was asked to lead an hour and fifteen minutes of worship at a retreat/meeting day for the Readers in our Diocese. The ideas I used were supposed to engage the adults present on the day while also inspiring them with things they could take home and use with children in their churches. So they had to be TRULY All-Age!

I led about half an hour of worship at the beginning – the slides for this can be downloaded by clicking here: Readers Retreat Day. For the story, I used Bibliologue, which I’ve written about on this blog before. The song I used is a Hebrew melody, using language from Isaiah as a prayer for reconciliation – appropriate to the story of the Prodigal Son. If you don’t know it, you can hear a tinny recording of me singing it in my office here. The two parts can be sung together, as well – I had the congregation try this. The Lego prayers referred to in the slides can be found here.

Then we had about half an hour to explore prayer stations, which I’ve detailed below. During this time, I played my YouTube Lent playlist, to create a contemplative atmosphere.

In putting together the prayer stations, I was loosely guided by three things:

  1. The different parts of the story. Some had quotes on them from the story to show a focus on that particular element. Some were more general.
  2. The four spiritual styles detailed by Dave Csinos in his book “Children’s Ministry That Fits,” and based on work by several others: Word, Emotion, Symbol, Action.
  3. A model from a colleague who told me her prayer life operates in three ways – inward (ourselves), outward (others), and upward (God). (She may have got this from someone else – if so, please let me know!)

At the end, I gathered the group back together and talked about how the Prodigal Son is an apt parable for Lent – it shows a time of alienation, ending in reconciliation. Just like the son and father are reconciled at the end, we are reconciled with God at Easter. I read the following from an essay by Debie Thomas on the “Journey With Jesus” blog:

“How exactly did Jesus spend his time?  Was he tempted 24/7?  Did he walk for miles each day, or camp out in one spot?  Where did he sleep?  What was the silence like, hour after hour after hour?  Did he break it up by humming, laughing, or shouting?  Did he star gaze?  Play with birds?  Chase lizards?  As the days stretched on and on, did he fear for his life?  Question his sanity?  Wish to die? Mark — given, as ever, to brevity — leaves all of these questions unanswered.  But the few details he does include in his account are telling, and they give us much to cling to as we face deserts in our own lives.  I’d like to focus on three:

  1. Jesus didn’t choose the wilderness.
  2. The struggle is long.
  3. There are angels in the desert. “

Then I said that we are still in that desert time of Lent, but we know Jesus is with us even there, even in the desert. We closed with this wonderful video and some wondering questions.

So now, on to the prayer stations …

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I focused several stations on the opening part of the story – the idea of leaving home and going to a distant land. Here, I invited people to think about those who are forced to leave home because of war, and to reflect on what they would bring if they had to leave home quickly. There were then ways to take action on refugee issues.

With children, I might not provide a “donate now” text code.

You can download the leaflet here.

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Lots of people wrote prayers for countries where they had connections, or where there is violence. When I’ve done this with children, they often pray for the places their families come from, or places they have been on holiday.

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This was a very popular station. The cardboard outlines of people are available from Baker Ross, and are a very flexible resource to have on hand.

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This was also a very popular station … I can’t imagine why!

There is not just solemnity in the story, but also rejoicing. So I thought of the image of a party, and went with cake and balloons. Participants were asked to think of something that was going well, and write it with a Sharpie on a balloon. The balloon was left on the altar as an offering of thanksgiving, and then people served themselves cake.

I provided one cake that was Gluten/Dairy free.

readers13One thing I learned … make sure you have a plan for what to do with all the balloons afterwards! If you’re not able to pop them afterwards (we had lunch, then a Eucharist, so I couldn’t), bring a big bag to carry them out in! I did multiple trips to the car, and my back seat is now full of unpopped balloons …

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For people who prefer contemplative silence, we had a side chapel available, with the words of reassurance given to the older brother – “child, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours” – and some glittery candles. These are electric candles, also available from Baker Ross, and great for staying safe with under-5s. Older groups may wish to use real candles, but still make sure an adult is on hand.

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For those who pray best by talking and sharing with others, the Table Talk sets are great! These are available to borrow from Diocesan office – we also have special sets designed for use with Messy Church and for use with teens. Because this was a bought rather than custom-made resource, this prayer station wasn’t specifically about the story. But the fact that it has questions about the nature of God, and friendship/relationship, means it addresses some of the same questions the story does.

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This station was about the story as a whole – and again, all these resources are available from Diocesan office. We had fuzzy felt, “The Lost” storybag with its wooden figures of the story, and the wonderful knitted pigs made for us by the Mothers’ Union. I printed out a copy of the story and encouraged people to read it and play with the materials.

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And finally, there was a very general open-ended art table, with some ideas to encourage people who might feel stuck when told to “make anything.”

Many of these ideas can be adapted VERY easily for use with other stories – and could be used in Junior Church, Messy Church, All-Age Worship, and more.

 

Messy Church klaxon!

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We’re having a study day on the 3rd of March to look at the topic of WORSHIP in Messy Church.

How can you do worship that engages all ages?

How can you make worship accessible for those new to church?

How to connect worship well with your activities?

And more!

The day is FREE for those paying out of their own pocket – clergy and readers with a training allowance are expected to use it to cover the costs of their place. Lunch is available for a small extra fee.

Book your place now!

Slides from Leading Your Church into Growth and BELIEF Bedford

Recently I had the privilege of doing a workshop on Starting Children’s Ministry at the Diocese’s “Leading Your Church Into Growth” conference, and also a lecture on “From Childhood to Maturity” in BELIEF Bedford’s “stages of life/faith” series.

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The slides for both these talks are below.

The LYCiG slide makes reference to a few “rules” when it talks about communication with families. Since I don’t explain those on the slides themselves, here’s a short summary:

The First Date rule: you can find more about that here. Basically, the idea is that after a first contact, like a first date, SOMEONE has to make the call to see if you want to see each other again. With the church/family relationship, that might as well be you! The family might be nervous about approaching the church, or just might keep forgetting to get around to it. Send them an invitation to something – make it as easy as possible for them to come back.

The Debenhams rule: I stole this one from Sandra Millar’s Baptism Matters talk – when you go to a shop and buy something, if you give them their email address, they will keep you on their mailing list until YOU ask to be taken off. They will never say, “oh well, Jane Smith hasn’t been back to Debenhams for two years, guess she’s not interested, let’s take her off our list.” The church, however, often does just this – and when many families say they come to church for Christenings but then won’t come back regularly until their children hit school age, this is really self-defeating.

The nightclub lesson: Another one from Sandra Millar. We who are used to going to church, and feel comfortable there, need to remember how scary it is for people who aren’t familiar with the culture and what happens there. You might feel unsure of yourself going into a betting shop or a hot new nightclub (or maybe not – I don’t judge), so remember those feelings of uncertainty and think how you can help people feel comfortable and like they know what to do when they come to church.

The catch and release rule: This is about the importance of getting contacts at every event where you have families. Your crib service, your Harvest festival, your Messy Church – get the details of families and then add them to mailing lists, inviting them back for whatever events are family-friendly. Invite your Messy Church families to your crib service, invite your Christening families to Messy Church – if someone finds you from one part of your church, grab their contact details and then invite them to everything.

Here are the slides:

LYCiG (Leading Your Church Into Growth)

Belief Talk – from childhood to maturity