A Look at Family Ministry in the US West By Acts 29 US West February 3, 2020
Acts 29 - A diverse, global family of church-planting churches

Have you ever wondered what another church’s take might be on ministries like those for children or youth, worship and the arts, discipleship, community, or more? Maybe you wish you knew what a position like yours looks like in another church. Perhaps you haven’t yet started certain ministries at your church and want some ideas of how to do that well. Whatever the case, welcome to our new blog series where we’ll interview staff members in similar roles across Acts 29 US West churches, allowing you to learn from each other and get a glimpse of life as a staff member at another network church.

In the below blog post, you’ll hear from three individuals working in family, children’s, and/or youth ministry. Andrew Sullivan (AS) is the Director of Children’s & Youth Ministries at Grace Bible Church in Bend, OR. Cindy Garcia (CG) is the Kids’ Director at Garden City Church in San Jose, CA. Laura Bolton (LB) is the Kids Director at The Well in Longmont, CO. 

How did you come to be in this position and how long have you been in your role?

AS: I have a Bible and Theology degree, but started working for Grace Bible Church of Bend (GBC) as their contract graphic designer. When the church had grown to the point where they needed a full-time Children’s and Youth Ministry Director, the pastor asked if I would consider the job.

CG: I was the Kids’ Director for 7 years at our former church, and when God called us to Garden City Church, a church plant birthed out of that church, I thought my role as Kids’ Director had come to an end. But, after serving 3 years as a volunteer in Garden City’s children’s ministry, I was asked to take on the same role at Garden City and that was 1.5 years ago.

LB: I came to this role via a Masters in Biochemistry and then 7 years as a stay-at-home mom. Our pastor’s wife did the great work of creating a healthy children’s ministry for our church, and I began in my role around our church’s one year anniversary in September 2019.

Who is your ministry mentor or someone you look up to in ministry?

AS: Both my dad and my father-in-law were pastors. My father-in-law pastored the same church for 37 years, and it is a blessing to be able to call him with ministry questions. His perspective is decades wider than mine, and he approaches issues with the long game in mind. Also, the network of former professors at Multnomah College and Western Seminary have been really helpful for theology questions that pop up.

CG: Growing up, I saw my great-grandma and grandma serving in any way they could in church. I also learned a lot from my friend Jan Fuller, a pastor’s wife. She has taught me to always assume the best of others, which helps me keep my eyes on Jesus and loving people well, especially working with so many volunteers.

LB: Both our pastor and his wife have experience as K-12 teachers and in leading children’s ministries, so I have been extremely blessed to have them partner with me as I have taken on this role.

Tell us a bit about your ministry context.

AS: Bend, OR is a weird mix of suburban and rural. There has been a huge migration from Southern California and other parts of the west coast over the past 10 years or so, and the population has swelled to more than 100,000 pretty recently, though just 20 years ago much of this area was farmland. GBC was planted in 2011, and our Sunday attendance is around 400. We serve 90 kids from 0-5th grade in our Sunday morning kid’s program, and 70 students from 6th-12th grade on our Wednesday night youth program. We have around 110 volunteers that make up our Children’s Ministry, and 15 volunteers that run our Youth Ministry.

CG: Our 8-year-old church currently rents a church building in a suburban area. We meet on Sunday afternoons at 4 p.m. We have about 50-55 kids in 6 classes, utilizing 14 volunteers each week.

LB: We meet in the heart of downtown Longmont, a town of about 100,000 that is rapidly growing (it was recently named the number one “Boomtown” in the U.S.). We rent space from a childcare center located adjacent to the church building for Sunday’s The Well Kids classes. We have around 30 children, birth through 5th grade, each week. We run three classrooms during our first service: Nursery, Preschool-1st grade, and Elementary, and a combined birth-1st grade class during our second service. I am part-time and all of our teachers are screened, trained volunteers.

What does a normal workday (or week) look like for you?

AS: It really depends on the season! Summer camp, other retreats, and big children’s events like VBS really change the routine, but in general I get to spend time lesson planning for youth group, leading our Wednesday night youth program, leading our Sunday morning children’s program, meeting with various ministry team leaders under the umbrella of Children’s & Youth to help them move their strategic plan for their team forward, and then there’s the ever-present need of recruiting and training new leaders.

CG: As a part-time staff member, a “normal work” week for me includes working on Sundays at the building, and then during the week, I attend our staff meeting, work on emails, communications, Planning Center, curriculum, and send out lessons to the volunteer team. I also meet with moms or people that serve on my team for coffee, lunch, or walks.

LB: During the week, I am responsible for taking our curriculum (we use The Gospel Project) and adapting it to fit our ministry. Our small ministry size gives me the freedom to tailor our lessons to our particular children. On Sundays, volunteers help me set up (and then tear down) our classrooms within the childcare center’s classrooms to ensure we use all of our toys and materials and not theirs. I also purchase supplies and coordinate scheduling (and sometimes, rescheduling) our volunteers.

What is something exciting going on in your area of ministry right now?

AS: We just launched a second service, and that’s been taking a lot of energy and focus for the past several months. It’s been awesome to see God provide the extra help needed in our children’s ministry to make that transition. The ministry model we’re trying to maintain for our youth ministry is for every single student to be personally shepherded by a youth leader, and we’ve recently been able to bring on several new volunteer youth leaders to help make that dream of personal discipleship more of a reality.

CG: We are training new Kids’ Ministry volunteers, and ensuring that they see their role as making a difference in our kids’ lives and their families’ lives. I am excited about how God is building up our classroom teams and making our classroom teams stronger in sharing the gospel each week.

LB: For our 2nd-5th grade class, we just started alternating weeks using The Gospel Project and The New City Catechism curriculums.  I am excited to see how God grows both the Biblical knowledge and the theological framework for these kids who are developmentally at a stage of expanding their worldview. We also just started passing out prayer bookmarks for parents with a daily suggestion of a prayer topic for their child(ren). The suggestions range from focusing on a fruit of the Spirit a day to praying for the other adults in their child’s life.

Where would you like to see your ministry grow in the next 6 months to a year?

AS: I would like to see both the children’s and youth ministries having more regular and meaningful communication with parents. Almost all of the discourse between the ministry and the parents is one way–email blasts or lesson review sheets for at-home discipleship–with only sporadic “real” conversations about the discipleship of individual children and students.

CG: We have had some outstanding curriculum that was written by some amazing people in our church, but our kids have been using that same curriculum for many years now and our 1st graders know it all by heart. I am excited to begin using The Gospel Project curriculum soon.

LB: Personally, I would like to grow in my ability to delegate tasks so that I have the capacity to address other priorities, including better support for my volunteer teachers. Practically, I would love our team to grow to the point where we can offer classes for all ages at both Sunday services. I want to ensure we are presenting the full gospel, clearly and concisely, going beyond a quick mention of one particular facet of the gospel that ties in with our Bible story and strengthening our presentation so that kids will know the gospel and be prepared to share it with others.

How do you see your ministry/role assist in furthering the mission of your church?

AS: GBC exists to be the Family of God on the Mission of God for the Glory of God in Central Oregon. Our children’s and youth ministries are a tool that the families here at Grace use as they disciple their children, creating a gospel family culture in their homes to be seen as a light to the world around them.

CG: I am a firm believer that if we want our church to grow, we have to have a great Kids’ Ministry. It doesn’t have to be big and flashy, but it does need to be safe and teaching the Bible, not just moralistic stories.

LB: The Well’s mission statement is: Proclaim the gospel. Make disciples. As we seek to make disciples, we want to reach those who don’t yet know Christ with the gospel and come alongside them as they grow in Him. Children’s ministry gives us an opportunity to do that, specifically with our youngest disciples.

How does your role/ministry connect with the mission of church planting?

AS: One of the big emphases in our youth program is global missions. Every year we go as a group to a missions conference in Portland, and we’ve begun an annual rhythm of sending service teams to the missionaries that we support both locally and globally. My prayer is that we will regularly be graduating students who recognize the calling that God has put on them to take the gospel to the nations, helping to plant churches that make disciples.

CG: Our church is 8 years old and we are sending out our first church plant this coming fall. We will be talking about the church plant with our kids in their Sunday classes, encouraging them to be praying about whether God may be leading any of their families to go with the new plant. I know some of our families and kids will be going and I’m hoping our prayer times in our classes will speak into the sadness and joy that the gospel brings through church planting.

LB: We want to raise children who love Jesus deeply and who can become leaders and church planters themselves one day. Kids ministry teachers get to regularly practice telling other people about Jesus and steering conversations away from distractions, back to the heart of the gospel. That experience and resulting confidence can empower these teachers to be witnesses outside of the faith and/or to be ready to step into greater leadership in a new church plant.

What are some of your favorite “tools of the trade” that you use on a daily, weekly, and/or monthly basis?

AS: Logos is great for sermon prep. Also, if you’re a youth leader and you’ve never taken a look at The Bible Project, you need to. There’s no better resource for quick book design/main idea overviews and they also have a ton of videos on biblical-theological themes. I’ve been listening to This Cultural Moment, a podcast from Jon Mark Comer and Mark Sayers, and that’s been insightful for getting into the mindset of non-believers in urban settings.

CG: The Bible Project Podcast is incredible, and has me growing more and more in the understanding of the Bible. Also, Planning Center is amazing!

LB: We utilize CCB for both our scheduling and check-in system. To help keep parents involved with what the children have covered in class, we send home the Gospel Project activity pages with the Bible story summary and family discussion starters. We have also pointed parents towards the New City Catechism’s free app to help them follow along as we work our way through the catechism.

What practical tips would you give to someone setting up a role/ministry like yours at their church plant for the first time?

AS: We’ve seen growth and health in our ministry directly linked to the growth and health of our volunteer leadership team. This might be a no-brainer, but breaking out your ministry responsibilities, and then investing in leaders and releasing them to carry out the responsibilities you’ve given them (provided that you have a system in place to train, evaluate, and regularly follow up with them) has been a huge blessing to our Children’s and Youth ministry.

CG: Avoid burnout by giving yourself the freedom to not be the one that does everything on a Sunday. I utilize Sunday Leads that serve 1x a month. They know my vision for the ministry, our heart for the kids, what we want to happen in the classes, safety policies, and they contact me during the service with any questions or needs. Once a quarter, I try to meet with them as a team and one-on-one. Similarly, do not schedule yourself in Kids’ Ministry. You will usually end up in the kids’ ministry in some way during a Sunday service each week, and it adds too much stress if you’ve locked yourself into a certain room. Lastly, give yourself permission to sit down and attend church; it is for your good and the good of your team and ministry.

LB: Build your kids’ ministry gradually. You don’t have to have children’s classes for all ages every single week if your church isn’t big enough to support that; don’t discount the value of children sitting in the service, with their families, in the child’s spiritual formation. We very slowly increased the frequency and ages for which we offered classes over the past year. One other thing that I would encourage you to consider is slowing down the pace of the curriculum, especially for your younger children. We have seen good fruit from covering the same lesson for 2-3 weeks with our birth-1st grade classes. The children retained the lesson better and it reduced the level of preparation work that I had to do for each Sunday.

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