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Hottest Team in the Midwest

Christine Yount Jones

Find out why these volunteers at East Tulsa Christian Church are so on fire.

1. I've never seen another group of people like this. I think God has blessed this church tremendously.


2. So the more I can talk to them, the more time I can spend with them, the better off we all are.


3. We eat a lot. Sometimes we shop a lot. We're always doing something for the church.


In the spring of 1995, my husband and I led a Children's Ministry Workshop at East Tulsa Christian Church. The team of volunteers there impressed us with their excitement about ministry and their enjoyment of one another. We decided that if we lived in Tulsa, we'd want to go to this church so we could be a part of their children's ministry volunteer team.
Now, how many times have you heard that from potential church members!


I've looked forward to introducing you to this team's leader, who's also the church's children's pastor-Cheryl Hall. This dynamo, by the grace of God as she's quick to point out, has created a hot volunteer team that's smoking in East Tulsa.


And believe me, where there's smoke, there's fire!
Listen in on a conversation I had recently with Cheryl.


Q: Tell me about your volunteer team.
A: I've never seen a group of people that has the energy or the vision that this group of people has. We have 17 coordinators for nursery through worship. These gals are the glue that holds it all together. Outside of that, we have 142 volunteers in our children's ministry for an average of 200 kids.


Q: What's so incredible about this group of people?
A: High energy. Creativity. Dedication. Always go the extra mile. They give until they hurt. It's just unbelievable the amount of hours they put in. We've been in the building anywhere from 9 in the morning until 3 the next morning. I've never seen another group of people like this. I think God has blessed this church tremendously.

Q: How long have these people been with you?
A: I'll be here five years in March. Some of them have been with me through the very beginning stages of creating the ministry, and some of them are just coming in. We've got the old and the new merged together, and the neat thing is that no one knows who's new anymore.


Q: Would you say the team personality has evolved?
A: I think it's evolved. They were pretty burned out. The same teachers had been back there for a bazillion years. We still have some of them, but that's by choice. They really didn't have anyone to say, "This is where we need to go" or "This is how we need to get there."


Q: How did you turn the program around?
A: Basically, Chris, I didn't do it. I just came in and shared some of my concerns. The building was dirty. So I said what about if we paint? What if we do primary colors? What if we do scenery on the walls? What if we do learning centers? I've never seen a group of people so willing to try so many new things. They did and they loved it. When you're doing that, it builds relationships.


Q: Tell me what recruiting is like for you.
A: I really don't have the problems other people have or that I've heard. These people are servers. If I can come up with the right match-and that's what I try to do is match the right person for the right job-and have a decent rotation system, I've been very fortunate.


Q: Tell me how you do the right match.
A: We pray a lot, and I try not just to grab a body and put them in a class or into a program. I try to get familiar enough with people, or have the coordinators become acquainted with them, so we know what areas their interests lie in and where their giftedness is. If it's your gift, it's going to be easy for you to succeed in this.


Q: Do you use any formal tools to determine gifts?
A: You know, I tried a formal tool-the paper fill-up-the-question kind of thing, and it's real intimidating to people. So the more I can talk to them, the more time I can spend with them, the better off we all are.


Q: You said something about a decent rotation. What is that?
A: In several of my elementary classes, we have a month on and a month off. We try to do a month rotation in our preschool area as well. We're trying something in our JOY University Wednesday night program. We have four weeks on and two weeks off all the way through. On the weeks off, the coordinators, volunteers, and I do service projects or a fun night out with the kids. So it gives the teachers a good break.


Q: How do you keep your volunteers focused?
A: I'm not sure that I do. I love these people. We have become a family. When one of us hurts, we all hurt. If one of us is in the hospital, we're all at the hospital. We just care about each other.


One of our preschool teachers was also the janitor of our church. Her husband became very ill. Our volunteers took food in. They cleaned the building. They made sure the janitorial duties were covered. Let me tell you-that's a labor of love. I was just so impressed with the way that family had been loved.


Q: What motivates your team?
A: I think the desire to share the vision with so many children. They have a burning desire to make this the best children's ministry that there is. We want to reach as many children as we possibly can.


Of course, you know I can't pay my volunteers. I wish I could pay them all what they're worth, but that's never going to happen. So what I try to do is compensate with something.
I had a retired gentlemen down here yesterday; it was gorgeous-75 degrees. He loves to golf, so it was a real sacrifice for him to give up his golfing time. He painted our kindergarten room. We have a really neat restaurant that's open here, a wildlife-type thing that he's real into, so I'll give him a gift certificate from there so he and his wife can enjoy a dinner for coming to paint. I think I could own stock in Pippin's Pie Restaurant because we constantly give pie certificates for little thank yous.


Q: It sounds like you really know people well.
A: We try.


Q: How do you help your team search for truth?
A: These people are committed to spending time in the Word. We recently had a day of fasting and prayer. We have two or three days throughout the year to keep us focused and to keep us listening to what is true.


Our team gets real excited about a child coming forth and making a decision because they know they're making a difference. We have a Garden of Prayer in our Sunday morning service for children. When those coordinators come in and they grab a small hand, I've seen tears trickle down the faces of the coordinator and the child. They are really and truly making a difference.


Q: Tell me about your philosophy of leadership.
A: I try to spend as much time and get as involved in people's lives as I know how.

Q: How do you manage that?
A: It's real hard.

Q: Would you say that's your primary thing-you build relationships with these people, and then they carry out the ministry?
A: Basically, yes.

Q: On a typical week, what would you be doing with your time to connect with these people?

A: We eat a lot. Sometimes we shop a lot. We're always doing something for the church. Maybe it's a work day. Soccer. I've been to a lot of soccer games. You know various things like that. Or, if their child is having a problem, I'm involved with that at school. It's more of a family ministry.


Q: Tell me more about that.
A: We specialize in children, but with the children comes a family. And you have to meet those needs. That is what we try to do here at East Tulsa.

Q: As a leader, do you focus on relationships with your coordinators and hope that they're doing that with their teachers, and on down?
A: They need to be doing that with their teachers.


Q: It's like you're modeling what you want them to be doing, so your ministry multiplies through your people.
A: Right. And there's not a time that I don't try to touch base with every teacher on Sunday or Wednesday night. It may not be for very long, but you have to be visible. You have to make those people feel like you care.


Q: I've volunteered in churches where you get your curriculum, you go down in the basement, and you never see another adult. That doesn't happen at your church, does it?
A: We are our own small group.


Q: Do you find that people who haven't volunteered yet really want to get on board just because of who you guys are?
A: Yes. We've had one couple who said, "This is just so fun we want to be a part of it. How do we get to be a part of it?" That happens. Then you've got others who've been burned out from other churches, and they just want to kind of sit back and see. And then they say, "Okay, that looks like fun."


In fact, we had one of those ladies come up on Sunday morning and she said, "Tell me more about this JOY thing." So we've picked up another teacher. It's just caring about people.


Q: How do you stay connected to children?
A: I try to touch base with each child-whether it's at school or in their home-because I want them to feel like they're important. Of course, in a crisis situation, you're always front and center. I want them to know that I'm there no matter what.


What I like to do is sit down and have my quiet time in the morning. I'll designate a certain month for each class. This is kindergarten month, and I'll pray for each of those kindergartners. And then my sweet, sweet secretary will help me write letters to the kindergartners that tell them I've prayed for you today. You've been on my mind. We hope you have a great day. I eventually get through all the ages. I want those kids to know that there's somebody in their corner who's for them.


Q: How have you empowered your volunteers? It doesn't sound like they have to check in with you for every decision.
A: It hasn't always been like that. It's only been in the last couple of years, because we had to build expectations. I have a lot of expectations-especially over the way things are handled or the way things appear to visitors. I'm real particular about that. My coordinators and I spend a great deal of time together, so they know exactly what I expect. They have those same expectations now. I think in the beginning, Chris, to be very honest, they thought I was just picky. But I had reasons for being picky, and now they can see those reasons, and they've experienced it firsthand, so they also expect excellence. That kind of filters down to the teachers. We give our teachers a lot of leeway to go in with curriculum. We give them a list of things they can add or suggestions as far as learning centers. They have the freedom to go any direction that they want to.


Q: How do you train your staff?
A: I'm really weak in this area, and I need to do a lot better. We do lots of teacher training. We have more fun at our trainings than anything else. It's a time to come together. And I encourage the coordinators to become grounded in the Word daily. I also encourage them to join women's groups.


Q: Getting people to teacher training is a challenge for most of our readers. How do you get people there?
A: We do a lot of themes. Like the last thing I did was a circus theme. It happened to be one of our teacher's birthdays, so we had a big birthday cake with all the candles and, of course, balloons everywhere. I had a sign-in sheet at a table with a clown tablecloth. Whatever the theme is, we build around that. I had three chairs that had numbers underneath, and whoever had that chair received a gift. And I try to make it as cool as possible. I try not to be cheap during those things. And then I have a button for the one who speaks out the most. I try to do fun, crazy things like that.


When my volunteers come in, they may end up sitting on the floor, and then we bring the chairs out because I want them in centers or whatever I'm trying to put across. They have to get down on the floor and do something, or they have to put a puzzle together, or they have to be in a music group. So they never know what they're gonna get.


Q: It seems like a lot of people will exhaust all of their creativity on the children but then they forget that the adults want that kind of exciting party atmosphere.
A: Exactly. It's not fun to be bored. Really, we're all just big kids with bigger bodies.


Q: You have people banging down your door. Tell me how to do this.
A: I want them there. If nothing else, for the fellowship, so we can touch base. Whether they come out of the meeting with nothing else, they're gonna have a friendship that comes from that. And we really need to do more because we have new people coming in all the time.


Q: Imagine that you're talking to a children's minister who's saying I've had it with volunteers, and I don't know how to do it. Is there anything you'd want to tell that person?
A: The bottom line is that you can't ask anyone to do what you're not willing to do yourself.

If it means spending mega hours, you spend mega hours. I've been covered with paint. I have been drenched with water. I've done it all. I would never ask someone to do something that I was not willing to do myself. You've got to be in the trenches with them.™



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