When Beginning A new cm leadership position – How to create a healthy cm structure

Your Question:

“I am directing a CM that hasn’t had a CM director before me. How do I create a healthy CM structure (processes, leadership, etc.)?”

The Issues:

Building a CM structure is critically important for future growth. You are restricted by the budget and possibly philosophical differences. The church leadership may not understand your views regarding safety policies, adding staff members, or increasing the budget. You may need to take the time to assist your direct supervisor or senior pastor in understanding the need for building the CM structure.

Scripture Foundation:

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the new piece will pull away from the old, and a worse tear will result. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. Instead, new wine is poured into new wineskins.”  Mark 2: 21-22

Short Answer:

You have been hired to lead the children’s ministry (CM). This simple fact tells you that the church leadership understands the need to organize the CM.  The church leadership may have had to deal with some sort of confusion or consequence created by the lack of CM organization or leadership.  Before you begin to propose the building of the CM structure, it would be good for you to understand the “history” of the CM at this church.  Ask your direct supervisor or senior pastor to share a lunch or coffee with you. During that time together, ask questions about the CM. Ask about its beginning, its volunteers, the use of the facilities, the parents’ opinions, and the hopes for improvement.  In the first part of this time together, do more listening than talking. 


If the person with whom you are meeting doesn’t ask you, “So, tell me what you think,” or “What are your plans for the CM?” then, you should briefly express your initial plans/thoughts. You should tell him/her about the need for structure within the CM.  Share your thoughts about the value of policies, a budget, and a paid CM staff.  Assure him/her that you will build this structure carefully, and with his/her guidance.  Based on this initial meeting, you should be able to begin building the CM structure.


The first phase of this building process must be “in the background,” unless there are urgent things that need to be fixed right away. This “background” work begins with talking with those who are volunteering in the ministry.  These conversations should be informal encounters in the CM hallway after the service. During the conversations, ask God to let you hear what needs to be fixed right away, and what needs to be added. Do the people you talk with feel safe, trained, and equipped to do what they are being asked to do? Are they happy or exhausted?  Do they need a break?  Are they happy with the curriculum? This first step in adding structure to the CM is much like what Nehemiah did before he began building the wall in Nehemiah 1, 2. It is also what Paul did before he addressed the people in Athens. In Acts 17, we see evidence that he walked around town and looked for indicators of “who” the people were, and what he needed to address. 


There are some basic principles of what goes into a healthy CM structure, but you need to do all you can, with God’s inspiration, to build the structure to suit the specific “demographics” of the community and the church.  After you have spoken to some of the current CM team members, ask the church financial director to let you see the financial records for the CM.  The records may not be specifically organized so that you can see specific expenditures for the CM but do all you can to understand what has been spent for the ministry in the past year or so.  You should see expenditures made for supplies, curriculum, and possibly equipment or furniture.  These are all good, basic things that the CM needs; but what about CM leadership?  Has there been any money devoted to the CM leadership or CM training?  Begin to build a “picture” in your mind regarding the financial needs of the ministry, and where more money should be spent. 


Ask your ministry supervisor, the senior pastor, or the church insurance agent about the safety policies that protect the children, the CM team, and the church.  If you can see some evidence of policies, that’s great; if you don’t see any evidence that safety policies or procedures have ever been created, this is good information.  Take note of any comments from the church leaders to the effect of, “We’ve never had any problems here. We’re a small church, and everyone knows each other…” If you hear these sorts of statements, you may be dealing with a “paradigm” or “philosophy” that needs to be adjusted to reflect the current threats posed by a society that is dangerous or litigious.  The urgent parts of the CM structure are the safety of the children and the support of those who are currently serving in the ministry.  If you lose volunteers, or if a child is abused, the ministry will be bruised severely. 


Plan an appreciation banquet for the CM team as soon as possible!  During this banquet, do all you can to thank those who are serving for their faithfulness. Share some of your plans to build the CM structure.  Talk with them about policies and curriculum.  Let them know that you will work hard to protect them and to support them.  Begin writing safety policies. There is a sample CM Policy Manual available on this website. Download it and begin adjusting it to suit your ministry.  Let your direct supervisor or senior pastor see the manual as you create it.  When you feel the manual is finished, ask your senior pastor to let the church attorney and church insurance agent review the manual.  Their critique is critical!  If the senior pastor balks at spending the money to pay the church attorney to review the manual, that is a good thing to hear.  In the conversations you’ll have with the senior pastor about your request, you can help the senior pastor understand the seriousness of not investing in the safety policies.  Help him/her understand what could happen if a child is abused or injured during church time.  Ask him/her to tell you what might happen if the local news does a story on the church’s safety.  Ask him/her to imagine what would happen if he/she were included in a lawsuit regarding a child’s safety.  Once he/she agrees to let you pursue the establishment of safety policies and procedures, do all you can to create and establish them quickly.  Then, after the policy manual is created, call another all-team meeting to review the policies and to discuss their impact on the ministry. 


Soon, you should also discuss adding at least 1 part-time assistant for you.  This will be a significant step in the ministry structure!  The first part-time staff position is the most challenging for a church that has basically enjoyed a “free” children’s ministry.  In your proposal for the staff position to your ministry supervisor or senior pastor, connect the expense to your ministry goals.  Explain to the leadership that the ministry will not grow past its current condition without an increase in the CM leadership staff.  (Hopefully, they didn’t hire you to simply maintain the current ministry condition!). 


These first steps will help you begin building the CM structure.  A healthy CM structure is never finished!  Each year will bring new challenges that require an adjustment in the CM structure.  The important thing is for you to begin building the structure!  For more help, click on the links below.

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