If you have ever played a sport, you've probably heard your coach say something to the effect of, "Push hard until the very end," or "Don't quit until the game is over." Somehow University of Oregon runner, Tanguy Pepiot, missed the memo. In the final meters of the men's steeplechase, Tanguy let off of the gas and began celebrating his win. There was only one problem. As Tanguy waved his arm in the air, urging the crowd to cheer on his victory, Washington's runner, Meron Simon, passed him up and crossed the finish line just one step ahead. Doh! You can watch the short video above. Pay attention to the disbelief in Tanguy's face when he realizes what happened. It would be easy to shake our heads at Tanguy, but most KidMin leaders make the same mistake when "race day" comes. In my last blog, I talked about what you can do to make every minute count at the beginning of your Sunday morning service, but now it's time to focus on the finish line--the final moments of the "race." Here's a fairly typical scene in most KidMins: You're nearing the end of service time. The kids are engaged in some sort of small group activity, craft, or conversation. The leaders are running hard, pouring into the kids and helping to change lives. But then "Big Church" lets out, the first parent shows up at the door, and all organized activity comes to a screeching halt. Suddenly, the kids pop out of their seats like it's recess and the leaders congregate in the corner for post-game analysis.
It's almost like everyone is celebrating a victory. There's only one problem--they haven't crossed the finish line yet. Flashback. Here's what I said last week:
"In the mind of many volunteers, their "job" starts when the lesson starts, but that's not the case. Their job starts as soon as the first kid walks into the room."
The same can be said for the end of the service. The "race" isn't over until the last kid has left. That's the finish line! There are 168 hours in a kid's week. We only get one of them. That's why it's so important we take advantage of every moment we have with the kids. There is also a problem with the optics of letting the kids "loose" when the first parent shows up. Think of what the parents see. When they dropped their kid off, they were playing. When they picked their kid up, they were playing. Now connect the dots. You can't blame a parent if they think your KidMin is mostly playtime. But imagine how the optics change when a parent comes to pick up their kid and they're seated with a leader and engaged in conversation and/or activity. Suddenly the parents think, "Wow! They're really pouring into my kid." So how do you do that? How do you run hard through the finish line? Here are a few ideas:
Keep everyone seated and engaged in the group until the very last kid has left. I've been through this transition before. Start by casting vision and retraining your volunteers. Once they get it, let the kids know about the new rule. It will take 2 or 3 weeks, but everyone should adjust quickly. Encourage unscripted community. As the kids leave and group size slowly dwindles, the prescribed activity might lose steam. That's okay. Put it away and just talk to the kids. It's those unscripted moments between a leader and a kid that can have the biggest impact. In fact, as the group size gets smaller and smaller, the conversation often gets better and better. Invite parents into the room. If your pick-up process looks like the McDonald's drive-thru, it might be faster, but you can't make connections or build relationships. Instead of handing kids off to their parents through the door, invite the parents into the room. Then, take it a step further. Instead of letting them stop at the threshold and whistle for their kid across the room, tell the parents to go all the way to their kid's group to pick them up. Why? So the small group leader can meet them or talk to them. It's a great way to create a connection between church and home. Then, when the last kid has left, you can wave the crowd on in celebration. You ran hard all the way through the finish line! You earned that victory!