September came quickly, which, according to our Safe Church policy, meant that it was time to offer an annual training. As the Children’s Ministry Coordinator at our small church, and one of very few staff, I usually took this training on myself and tailored it to meet the needs of our children’s ministry volunteers at the time. Taking the definition of an annual safe church training rather loosely, I had focused in the past on things like behavioral challenges in children, developmental needs based on age, and curriculum development.
This is not to say we had never held a training on our actual Safe Church policy. We had, maybe about 6 years ago. And quite honestly, I was not looking forward to another one. Not that it had gone badly, but it was held at a time when we had just drafted a new Safe Church policy, and felt it important to communicate that to all of our volunteers. And rightly so! But this year I was hoping to focus on another important aspect of creating a Safe Church environment: teamwork. I wanted to focus on creating healthy teams and lines of communication with our volunteers who work in the same age groups. But I wasn’t quite sure how to go about this.
Enter Anna: our newest staff member, youth group director, and newly minted inaugural member of our safe church team. After reading through the policy, she was ready to lead a Saturday morning training focusing on the details of our policy. I’ll admit, I was not as excited as she was. But after talking with our pastor, I was reminded of the importance of new blood on our team. So after quickly Googling "how to make boring information interesting", I found some good ideas, one of which Anna quickly jumped on board with: a Safe Church Jeopardy game.
We created five teams, centered around age groups that participants each worked with (and had everyone sit at tables accordingly). Anna created questions based on our Safe Church policy, each covering different sections and each assigned different point levels. The questions were then entered into a free jeopardy website (jeopardylabs.com) that created the game for her via projection onto an overhead screen. We also left 1 to 2 paper copies of the policies on each table as a reference and used fake flower bouquets to raise up in the air as a buzzer system. I acted as a judge while Anna manned the PowerPoint and read the questions out loud.
It turned out to be a huge success. Did I mention that we also fed them breakfast during the game? A continental yogurt and fruit bar that they could graze on as the morning progressed. Teams worked together and really got into it - actually laughing out loud many times (which helped break the ice between people who don't know each other well), as they worked to build up their points and win the game. But at the same time, amidst the laughter, we were also able to bring up some serious points of policy, points that help to keep our kids safe. And we got a ton of feedback, which was actually very helpful. People brought up questions and suggestions in non-threatening ways, because it was centered around a game and teamwork, which, turns out, was my original goal.
After the game, teams split up into their rooms they worked in and either went through a lesson (with one volunteer being the teacher and the rest "children"), or had a discussion about ways to improve the nursery (including policy), which was information I had been wanting to gather for a long time.
I left feeling like I actually had a really good time, and appreciated just being together with everyone, all while doing this important and serious work. And I think everyone else did too. One person even mentioned that this was ‘the best training they had ever attended’ at our church, And the next day our training made it to the prayer cards (which our church uses to share gratitude). This all goes to show that you never know how much fun, laughter, love, and of course, helpful knowledge, one can experience at a simple annual Safe Church training.