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Children’s and Student Ministry Turnovers: Expectations vs. Reality

If only every ministry position transition could be as sweet as an apple turnover.

Every week hundreds of churches are looking for that special Next Gen age-level person to lead their student or children’s ministry. The turnover rate is astonishing.

We believe in longevity for staff members and believe it has ramifications for long term impact. We coach leaders to that end. It’s disappointing to see a huge turnover rate but here’s a few thoughts on it.

Next Gen ministry focuses include:  recruiting and screening volunteers, check-in systems, guest connections, choosing curriculum, managing the age-level budget, connecting with parents, special needs ministry, safety and security, planning special day or summer events, facilitating camps, capturing attendance information, volunteer appreciation, and the list goes on. It’s a big job and there’s many positions to choose from in the employment marketplace—this week and every week.

But WHY is there is an enormous turnover in churches in these ministry positions? What is the recipe for a leader to stick around? 

A new hire is usually armed with passion and ready to make a difference in the lives of kids/students.  But often expectations about the job and the reality are very different.  Our experience in conducting ministry evaluations and coaching candidates in transition has led us to some questions to consider if you’re looking for a leader:   

  • Role Description and Expectations
    • Is the written job description all inclusive, clearly defining specific ministry responsibilities or are there vague “additional responsibilities as determined by the supervisor”? Are hospital or “on call” duties identified? What whole church events require participation (weekly or annually)? What are the expected office hours? What is the expected attire? (Even this varies from place to place.)
    • Unwritten expectations can lead to a wide-open palette of new tasks that the candidate is surprised by and may be time consuming in their schedule. And ultimately, may create unspoken frustration. The actual role isn’t the role the candidate viewed on paper.
  • On-boarding
    • A new hire often arrives at the office with a skill set he acquired elsewhere that’s not always transferable, i.e. office equipment, technology programs, and protocols. Database systems, i.e. Fellowship One, Church Community Builder, or Shelby Arena are very different programs. Often the assumption is made that the new leader will adapt overnight to new systems, copier and postage machines, reimbursement procedures, etc. Not true. There is a learning curve period and a need to provide someone to on-board this new person and be available to answer their questions beyond the first day.
  • Empowerment
    • Is the new hire empowered to do their job? Do they have the right to make decisions regarding their ministry or do decisions require another leader’s approval? Do they have an appropriate per child/student designed budget and the right to make budgetary decisions? Are they allowed to be responsible for moving the ministry forward as a leader or are they handicapped by roadblocks and discouraged by process? Are they equipped with opportunities to attend conferences or engage a ministry coach?
  • Value
    • Does this age-level ministry have important value to the bigger picture of the church? We have asked this question in countless churches to lead pastors. The answer: always a resounding YES. But upon further examination with volunteers, parents, elders, or staff, there’s often a very different response. The ministry may not be well-resourced, respected, or highlighted. Carey Nieuwhof says, “you fuel what you fund.”  Funding can both be financial resources and focused attention bringing significance.  What is the perception about the value of age-level ministries in your church?  This will affect a new leader.
  • Relational Support
    • A new passionate leader will find great satisfaction within the age level ministry, but most leaders are also looking for relationship within the leadership team they’ve joined. They’re looking for connections, conversation, and often guidance. Not because they don’t know how to do their job but because they want to be part of the bigger mission. They don’t want to feel as though they were hired and abandoned to run their ministry. And many do. Support comes from regularly scheduled meetings with their lead pastor or supervisor, and more informal gatherings designed for relationship building and appreciation for the paid team.

 A final thought:

According to Jeff Boss (2.26.18) in the article, Employee Turnover Is the Highest It’s Been In 10 Years. Here’s What to Do About It, “People want to be part of something great; they want to belong to something and work alongside like-minded individuals whom they like, trust and respect.”

What better place than the church.

We believe turnovers in the church can be sweet but the best recipe for the next hire will identify a comprehensive role, and offer empowerment, communication and relational support.  If you’re looking for a leader, we pray you will find him/her in short time. If you need assistance, we’re ready to help you. We can offer help in finding your next hire (in-house or nationally) and we have programs for onboarding and coaching to insure a successful transition.

Call us at 616-218-8895 or email us at


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