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Alignment Assignment

Larry Shallenberger

3. Map the Same Pathway

Many churches use a tool called a ministry pathway for their church members to monitor their progress along their spiritual journeys. Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, is famous for its baseball-diamond metaphor. Saddleback's members know what the church expects of them. Their task is to "run the bases" by attending certain courses that equip them spiritually. Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois, prescribes a seven-step pathway. A person begins by visiting the church and moves toward serving in meaningful ministry.

Think of a ministry pathway in educational terms. Develop 12 manageable tasks to accomplish-one for each grade. Discipleship is a lifelong journey. By providing milestones along the way, your church can keep its disciples from becoming overwhelmed.

Check to see if your church has a ministry pathway. If so, consider creating a kid-friendly version to help your kids understand spiritual growth. Grace Baptist Church in Erie, Pennsylvania, uses a Three Bridge pathway. Every adult is responsible to build a bridge to God (transformation), a bridge to the world (evangelism), and a bridge to the church (mobilization). Our children's ministry is currently reorganizing its services and programs in a way that helps children understand that it's their job to also build these three bridges in their lives.

4. Listen for Similar Music

Out of the thousands of Christian songs that've been sung over the course of 2,000 years, your church has chosen several dozen of those songs that reflect its culture. These songs have the power to evoke deep emotional responses within people. Some songs remind your congregation of times of victory. Teardrops stain the pages of hymns sung to comfort during the mourning of a loved one now in heaven. These songs forge the culture of your church. Do these songs shape your kids' faith at all?

By sharing common songs with the adult ministry, you can help your kids and volunteers feel unified with Big Church. Your children can enter the worship service and have some sense of mastery over what's going on in the worship center. New volunteers can enter your ministry without everything being totally new to them.

Whether you align your worship ministry by adding a few hymns or adult praise and worship songs, make the music kid-friendly. You can find kids' worship CDs filled with hymns that crank up the bass and drums. Alignment is a good thing. However, don't prioritize alignment over being learner-based. Turning children's church into an adult worship service is counterproductive. Work for just enough commonality so that it's noticeable.

5. Build a Reflective Infrastructure

Every church has some form of a constitution that outlines how decisions get made. The constitution prescribes how people should organize themselves into the groups needed to get the job done. Some churches organize in boards and committees, while other churches prefer to organize around teams. What's the difference between boards, committees, and teams?

Many churches that were established more than 25 years ago use the board system. The church delegates major functions of the church to several committees. These committees report to one central board for accountability. The

board model values strong checks and balances, formalized procedures, and task orientation. What the board system gains in stability and accountability, it loses in speed and efficiency.

Younger churches tend to use a team model to shape their organization. The team model biases toward speed, flexibility, and community. The model acknowledges the relational needs of its members and attempts to meet some of them.

Do your organizational flow charts mirror the infrastructure of the Big Church? Attempting to operate a team-oriented ministry in a board-driven church could create the perception that the children's ministry operates impulsively without discipline. Attempting to operate your children's ministry with the formality of the board system in a team-driven church will create the impression that children's ministry is slow, rigid, and unresponsive.

By aligning your children's ministry with the organizational culture of your church, you'll promote a harmonious environment because you use a common process. This builds trust, which, by the way, comes in handy during budget season.


Larry Shallenberger is a children's minister in Erie, Pennsylvania, and the author of Instant Puppet Skits: Big Hairy Issues Kids Face (Group Publishing, Inc.). Please keep in mind that phone numbers, addresses, and prices are subject to change.

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