Joshua Gagnon

thoughts on Jesus, leadership, and the Church.

Ep 169: What It Takes to Be a Great Kids Ministry Volunteer

Welcome to the 169th episode of the Joshua Gagnon Leadership Podcast!

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Today's episode features an interview with Danielle Hazlett, the Kids Director of Next Level Church. You can reach out to Danielle directly at danielle.hazlett@nextlevel.church.


You can read the full transcription of this episode below.


Daniel King: Welcome to another episode of the Joshua Gagnon Leadership Podcast. My name is Daniel and today I have the awesome privilege of sitting down with Danielle Hazlett. Danielle, thank you for being on the podcast today.

Danielle Hazlett: Thank you for having me. Hello.

Daniel: Danielle is our NLC Kids Director here at Next Level Church, that means she’s responsible for a good sized school worth of children each and every weekend across all of our locations, doing an incredible, incredible job of building teams and leading leaders. You want to just explain to people your job? What would you say you do? I mean, it’s easy to say you’re the kids director, but what does that mean? What does that look like?

Danielle: Sure. It means a lot of things, actually. I oversee all of the kids’ program at all of our locations. I work closely with our leaders at each location within the kids program. We call them our kids coordinators, and then also with our location pastors, to just make sure that they are providing the best possible experiences for our children who come through the doors and so we just work together to make sure that we’re having great culture and doing things with excellence.

Daniel: Yeah, one of the things that I really appreciate about you, Danielle, I think you’ve done a great job with is coming from not a ministry background before this. What was your job before this? I forget the title of what you did.

Danielle: I was a mental health counselor for children and adolescents.

Daniel: Yeah, so you were used to working with kids directly and with their parents and you don’t do a whole lot of working with kids anymore but one of the things that I really appreciate that you brought to the role is that organization and structure and systems where you’ve been able to really focus on how do we develop people and what policies are needed and how do we train well and those kind of things rather than just somebody who really likes kids, although I know you like kids, but you don’t need that day to day with kids, you really are spending most of your time with adults and with leaders.

Danielle: Yes, it’s very different for me now, but I’m loving it and it’s great to be able to pour into adult leaders and know that in doing so I’m having an effect on children and their families as well.

Daniel: Yeah, so over the last couple of years, Danielle has been doing a fantastic job of like we said, leading the leaders, and in our kids departments at all of our locations, what we call NLC Kids, and that encompasses everything from picking cirriculum to training people to visiting locations to when we’re opening a new location making sure they have the right equipment and how do they need to decorate and what do we need to change to constantly be getting better and checking in and all those kinds of things that go into it. Just doing a wonderful job of that. So on today’s episode I asked Danielle to join us because I think one of the unique things about kids ministry is that you need a lot of volunteers. We call them team members but we’ll probably call them volunteers because that’s what most people call them. It takes a lot of people to pull of kids ministry. Every experience we have, we have a full kids area and fully staffed and there might be more or less kids at some experiences than others, depending on time of day, weather, all of those things, but at the end of the day we have to have the same amount of volunteers at that minimum standard, no matter what. So that’s a unique thing about kids ministry is people aren’t going to stay in there and serve two or three experiences on a Sunday, they’re going to do one and so that means you need a whole other team over again. How many volunteers would you say it on average it takes a weekend right now across all of our locations, a couple hundred probably?

Danielle: I would say, yeah, easily.

Daniel: It’s too early for math.

Danielle: It is. We require 22 team members per experience that we have, to be fully staffed and to provide the best that we can for the kids.

Daniel: Yeah, so you’re easily looking at a couple hundred people and of course not every person serves every weekend, either, so there’s probably 4 or 500 people who are background checked and trained at this point across all locations, which is incredible, so I wanted Danielle to talk to us a little bit about how she works with her leaders and what has made good team members and volunteers, how we’ve developed them, and some of those things. So first question, out of the box, well I guess I asked you some questions already but first question related to that topic, what are some of the key qualities or characteristics that you’ve noticed, just a couple of them that you’ve noticed make for a great kids team member? Because I know, to give context, in the church I grew up in and probably a lot of our listeners’ churches, kids tend to be that thing where it’s like, let’s just find the people who loves babies and who’s willing to be with children, you know, you attract people who love kids, which isn’t a bad thing, of course we want people who like children, but that doesn’t necessarily make them a great leader, that doesn’t necessarily make them great at connecting with parents or leading a classroom, and so those can be two different things. So what are some of the characteristics you look for, if you picked our best team members at our locations, what do they have in common?

Danielle: Sure. I think first I would say is passion. We definitely want somebody who’s in our ministry to have a passion, not only for working for children, but also helping them to learn about Jesus and the hope they can have in Him and to come alongside parents and how they disciple their kids on a weekly basis or daily basis.

Daniel: So how do you identify passion? How do you know, obviously, once they’re serving you can probably see that, but before somebody starts volunteering, they say I want to be a volunteer in kids, how do you kind of figure out if they have that or not?

Danielle: Well, I think the first thing we ask them is “why”? Why do you want to serve in kids? Where does that come from? We don’t want anybody in kids, you can tell a volunteer that you have that is just not passionate. You can tell they don’t want to be there. One of the things we say, and that’s very important to us in NLC Kids is we’re not a childcare service, we disciple children, so we want people that are really going to want to pour into kids as young as a few weeks old, you can still mention Jesus and sing to them about Jesus and just even be that trusting adult figure in their life. And we want our volunteers to know that they’re not just a caregiving service, that they’re doing so much more than that and passion is an important part of that.

Daniel: Yeah, so I think, there’s a little side tangent I’m take us on there, because you just mentioned that. I think that’s a great thought and something very important that you’ve really gotten all of our teams to say a lot. We’re not here to babysit, we’re not here to provide childcare. So I can’t let that go by without asking you, what does that look like? What’s the difference between what we’re doing and what childcare does? Childcare is focused on safety and letting parents go to work and all those kind of things, I understand the schedule part, but obviously we care about safety too, and so what is it specifically, the goal, what are you hoping happens? Is it about connecting with parents? Is it about getting to know a kid on a personal level? What is it that makes it not childcare but makes it successful?

Danielle: Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s both of those things and more. Connecting with parents, engaging with the child in their day to day lives, getting to know their strengths, getting to know what their interests are. Also we provide a really good curriculum that is for all ages that is fun and exciting and engaging and provides kids with a great learning experience that’s appropriate for them in their age and the development that they’re at. So we want them to learn in a way that’s going to want them to come back and know how fun church can be and how great Jesus is and so it’s all those things.

Daniel: So how do you know if you’re succeeding at that? Like if you walk into a location this Sunday morning that you’re visiting, how do you know if that’s a discipleship environment or a childcare environment? What are the things that you notice?

Danielle: If it’s a discipleship environment, you can see the energy in the team members, you can tell they’re happy and having fun, that they’re on the floor playing with the kids, that they’re engaging the children in worship, that they’re providing them with the curriculum that has been provided by us, they are talking to families as their parents are dropping their kids off, asking how was their morning, how was their week, anything helpful to know about today that can help me to provide a great experience for the kiddo, and then making sure that they’re sending resources home with the parents at the end of the experience and following up with them throughout the week. So some of that I can’t see going to a location, obviously, but those are some of the things, we can just see it’s an exciting, lively environment.

Daniel: As a parent myself that’s one of the things I appreciate. When they’re asking me and specifically when they’re remembering something we’ve talked about before, right? It’s like if I’m picking up my kid and they say, “How did his spelling test go? He mentioned that two weeks ago.” If they remember something, it feels like they’re caring about my children’s development, not just they got here and they didn’t choke on a goldfish cracker and we sent them back to you safely, you know? There’s a big difference there in just the perception that you have as a parent and the handouts that get given as you leave that say, this is how you can follow up and engage during the week. When the volunteer team member is giving you that and saying, “Hey, Josiah bring this back next week. I can’t wait to see activity number three.” That makes me so excited as a parent because I feel like they’re caring about my child’s growth and them as a person.

Danielle: Yeah, absolutely. When they bring, we encourage kids to bring what we use are challenge cards that have scripture on them that we can reflect on during the week and an activity, when they bring those things back we know they’re learning, so it’s been really cool to see that happen.

Daniel: Cool. So let’s get back from that sidetrack I took us on. So passion was one. What’s another characteristic that comes to mind of another great team member?

Danielle: I would say...there’s so many different things. I think being relational is really important. Having the ability to build positive relationships with parents, with the children, and with one another. I think that’s really important to build team unity and for leaders to be able to be confident in approaching families and being able to connect with them is important and I think the more relational we can be, the more change you can see within a child or their family. So I think that is really, really important and it helps build trust when kids feel accepted and when they’re poured into, it can be a really positive thing. So I think that’s also very important.

Daniel: Yeah, you probably know more about this than me given your background, but I know one of the things we’ve talked about a little bit before and just being relational reminds me of this is culture or child development or I don’t know what it is, food we eat or I don’t know what it is, but kids are different today than when I was a kid and I think because of that, ministry has to change, right? And so one of the things, I know a conversation we had before is what used to be great for youth group when I was in youth group is now great for a third grader, a fourth grader, a fifth grader, not a sixth, seventh or eighth grader. And what used to be great for a third, fourth or fifth grader is now good for a first grader or second grader. Culture has just shifted where kids are getting exposed to more sooner, maturing or developing sooner, yet not necessarily having the emotional development to handle those things but the things they’re surrounded by. And so that’s where I think that relational piece really comes in is I remember the reason I loved youth group when I was in eighth grade was because of my youth leader, right? They came to my basketball games, they knew me, right? I was with the same eight people and the same leader every time I showed up there. And I think when you say relational, that’s what I think of is the best team members for a third, fourth, or fifth grader are the ones who are in that kid’s life and in that parent’s life in the way that used to be for a seventh grader or eighth grader is now for a fourth grader or a fifth grader. And so do you encourage team members to be in touch with parents, with kids outside of Sunday morning? To reach out to them? To go to their basketball game, whatever that looks like?

Danielle: Absolutely. We definitely want our team members to be doing that. We send out welcome cards when they come and inviting them back, we send cards out when we don’t see them for a while and in addition to that, they can also reach out during the week. One of the things we’ve just created that we’re going to start implementing is a card that is for team members that says, hey let’s connect, and it actually will be their space for the team member to write their contact information so that they can give it to a parent to say, “Hey, I’m Tommy’s small group leader, he keeps talking about his baseball game, I would love to come and check it out and be in the stands cheering for him.” So that’s something that we in the works.

Daniel: I didn’t even know about that. I love that, that’s awesome.

Danielle: Yeah, that’s brand new. So we want to really try to figure out those connections. I think what we see a lot of today is a lack of connection in relationships. And a lot of that, I don’t want to go on a big tangent about technology and all that.

Daniel: Yeah, we can just blame Facebook and move on.

Danielle: Yeah, it’s really been challenging I think to have connection in person, face to face, connection. A lot of kids and even adults are behind a screen or on a phone and can’t even be in the same room together without being on technology, so I think that’s a challenge that in ministry we face and I’m learning as I go how to navigate through that, even in ministry and as a parent. It’s tough, but we’re just really trying as hard as we can to kind of brainstorm how we can help build those relationships.

Daniel: Yeah, I think that’s awesome. That’s a great idea. Alright so we’ve got they’re passionate, they’re relational, is there maybe one more that comes to your mind? Or two more stick out to you? Characteristics you look for in a great kids team member.

Danielle: I think urgency is important. I think lack of urgency can equal missed opportunity. And by urgency, I mean making those connections with families. I think sometimes in ministry we can think, oh, it’s church, it’s not a big deal, it’s not as serious as other things, but it is. This is something we do to affect kids’ eternities. It’s a big deal and I think every minute matters. Every moment you pour into a child matters. Every moment you pour into a fellow team member matters, and so I think urgency is important in that respect. And just knowing that excellence matters and having the urgency to create that environment of excellence for kids and their families. I think when we don’t do that, a kid comes to church and maybe doesn’t have the best time because things weren’t excellent. Now, by excellence I don’t mean they have to be perfect, because people make mistakes.

Daniel: Yeah, especially with kids.

Danielle: Yeah, exactly. But I think a kid can come to church and he or she may not come back again. And that’s a big deal. And so the way we present church to kids and their families can affect whether they come to church again, how they perceive church to be, and not only impact that child’s eternity, but a parent’s as well, so that’s really important.

Daniel: Yeah, I totally agree. Urgency’s one of those words we use on our staff, too. We only get one chance to make a first impression, right? And particularly if you’re reaching a large percentage of people who didn’t grow up in church and aren’t going to church like we are at all of our locations, the fact of them coming and trying out church is a big deal. And if it’s awkward, it’s uncomfortable, they don’t know where to go, a sign’s out of place, a volunteer seems unsafe, the thing that seems so small to us because we do it each and every week could be the very thing that closes off their heart to hearing the message or causes them to be like, ah I don’t feel quite, you know, they might not be able to put their finger on why, but just I don’t feel quite comfortable dropping my kid off so I’m just going to take them into the experience with the adults with  me. It’s those little details like you’re saying and I think that’s what we say about urgency all the time. Today is somebody’s one opportunity to hear about Jesus and we have to urgently be bothered by things that aren’t correct and that aren’t the best they can be and know with confidence that God has entrusted us with sharing the message of His love with these people and create the best environment we possibly can to do that so I think that’s a great one. So I’m going to shift gears a tiny bit here. So I know there’s probably a hundred more characteristics that we could go through of great volunteers but I think a question that I’m wondering, genuinely, and I think our listeners probably are wondering as well, so are any of these things things that somebody can learn? Like if you’re talking to somebody, they sign up to be a volunteer, right off, is it just like they’ve either got it or they don’t? Or do you think you can develop some of these characteristics into somebody?

Danielle: Absolutely. I think some of them you can develop. I think some of them are just there or they’re not. I think if you don’t have a passion, you don’t have a passion and I don’t know if you can lead somebody into that. But I think like with urgency, I think that can be taught. Yeah, I think, and again that’s part of the leaders pouring into their team, and identifying their strengths, where they’re at, and then kind of helping to nurture those things that maybe they need some more support around and can get better at and so I think some things definitely can. Some things just might not be there.

Daniel: Yeah, so I don’t want to go off and start a whole other episode. Maybe we can have you back again and talk about this another time, but what, just in a very basic sense, what does developing a team member look like? I know we do initial training when they first come on, all of those things, but on a week to week, day to day basis, if you said, I have a great kids coordinator at this location, they’re constantly developing their team, what are the things that they’re doing to keep cultivating these characteristics and keep essentially growing their team in its quality? Making their team better.

Danielle: I think the relational part is very important, pouring into them as a person, not just as a team member. I think that’s really important. These are people who have their own experiences and they’re not just a body that we have on our team to fill a spot, they’re human beings with real lives and who go through things just like everybody else. So I think being relational, checking in on the team member on a regular basis, prayer, getting together, just doing life together is most important. And then I think frequent meetings and like I said earlier, identifying strengths and weaknesses and pouring into them, what leadership development could look like. Going through a book together and answering questions together or a podcast or it could be bringing them to the location and showing them how to do a particular part of the role, and giving ownership and delegating to the team, I think, is important. So giving them responsibility, I think, can be really important. And so that can be having them take on a particular task or role.

Daniel: That’s really good. I think one of the things that I was taught early on was to ask this question of my leaders a lot, whether that’s a location pastor, a coordinator, whatever it is, is simply, when was the last time you reached out to, blank, whoever that person is...when is the last time you reached out to Jane and it wasn’t about church? It wasn’t about what you needed them to do, it wasn’t to ask them, hey, could you fill in because somebody called out today? Or hey, do you mind serving an extra time this weekend? Or do you mind coming in on your week, like, when was the last time it wasn't about ministry? When was the last time it was just like, hey, how’s your kids doing? Hey, how’s work today? Hey, I was thinking of you, I was praying for you this morning. When was the last time you reached out to somebody or that person and it wasn’t about what you needed them to do for you to fulfill your role? And that question has always stuck with me, and now I ask people all the time when I’m visiting locations, when I’m talking with leaders on my team, I ask them all the time. And it has to be genuine. It’s easy to just be like, hey, praying for you. Like, sure. We could text that to 80 people in a row, and that’s not bad if you mean it, but being fake isn’t the solution, but genuinely caring about people as people like you were saying. I think that’s a very important part of development. So I think that’s a good spot to wrap it up, unless you got anything else you want to add? She’s shaking her head “no” at me. So, Danielle, thank you so much for joining us on this week’s episode. We’ll make sure your contact info is on the show notes. I’m sure people have tons of questions about all sorts of kids related things we do. Listeners, again, thank you so much for tuning in, and if there’s any way we can serve you, particularly if you have questions about kids ministry, please feel free to reach out to Danielle. She’s absolutely killing it, has created some awesome structures and systems and really taking our teams to a higher place and just doing a wonderful job. So Danielle, thanks again for being here.

Danielle: Thank you.

Daniel: Listeners, thank you again for tuning in and don’t forget to take a second and leave a rating or review or share this with somebody who’s a kid ministry person or who you think might benefit from this episode. See you again next time on the Joshua Gagnon Leadership Podcast.