By: Kyle Goings (Student Ministry Pastor of First MB Church in Wichita, KS)
(Part 1 of 2) Implementing Check-in Style Attendance in Your Student Ministry
Taking attendance in most student ministries is usually a weakness. Either it’s not being done, done poorly, or if it is being done it’s not utilized as best it can. This two-part blog post will focus on the theoretical and practical applications of taking weekly attendance for your student ministry. Part one will focus more on what is needed both culture wise and behind the scene to take attendance effectively. Part two is a practical approach on building your own check-in cart for those ministries who are looking for inspiration (click here to read part two).
How do you take attendance? Are you still kicking it old school style with a paper sheet and checkboxes? Do you have a cool looking check-in station next to your state-of-the-art youth room? For most youth ministries attendance taking systems usually is never where it should be. This isn’t an article about the importance of taking attendance, but rather an example of how to make your life easier if you do check students in. FYI… follow up is almost impossible without taking attendance, so if you don’t already you should seriously consider starting. Taking attendance means every week (or every time you meet) each leader and student is tracked in a database. The days of keeping an excel spreadsheet are over so we are talking about online base systems. So let’s begin…
Why take attendance anyways:
Most times what’s holding back a student ministry from making taking attendance a priority in their youth ministry is they just aren’t convinced there is a need for it. I mean they have lasted this long without it, right? Here are a few reasons you might have not thought of utilizing a strong attendance system.
- By knowing who has checked in and who hasn’t it increases safety for your ministry if… God forbid something happens. (another reason why excel spreadsheets won’t work… if there is a fire)
- It helps with assimilation and your guest ministry. By collecting guest’s information and entering into a database correctly when that student returns it will help them feel like part of the group (because their data is treated just like everyone else’s). There is nothing worse than a guest returning for the second time and told their information is not in there.
- It’s impossible to do an effective follow-up ministry without it.
- It shows which areas are growing and which areas you need to address. Attendance with juniors are way down this past six weeks, maybe something needs to be addressed. It’s hard to notice for bigger groups without a system of tracking.
- It helps to see your yearly schedule ebb and flow. Is there a week that is consistently low attendance every year? Maybe try doing something different that week.
- Increases trust with parents. I hope this doesn’t happen to you but there have been situations a parent has asked: “Was my child at youth group last week?” Without an attendance tracker that answer might be more awkward than it already is.
Here are some steps that are needed to create attendance taking system:
Step One: Choose the program you will be using. There a lot out there: Planning Center Check-In, Ministrytracker.com, Fellowship One, Stuff You Can Use: Grow Numbers, Downloadyouthministry.com, or the program your churches already use. You must determine this first because that would dictate what hardware you will be able to purchase. Talk to the data manager at your church to see what software and hardware is compatible with the software you use.
Step Two: Do some research, then make a plan. Talk to some people who might be knowledgeable about this. Decide how you want your students to check in (self or volunteer). Decide where you want them to check in (if it’s a hallway how are you going to keep them secure during the week)? Once you have a plan and answer some of the questions below then you are ready for step three.
- How many people do you need checking in each week? (1 tablet for every 25 people is a good rule of thumb)
- Do you go with Apple’s iPad’s or PC’s tablets? (Based on your check-in software)
- Do you want stability or flexibility? (Attached to a wall which is more secure but limits what you can do with it)
- Are you going to have wireless or wired internet? (Can your church’s wireless handle 4 tablets all at once?)
How are you going to keep them secure? (Locked onto a wall or onto a cart)
Step Three: Build your check-in station. (More details are in part two of this series)
Some build it on the wall, others need a more mobile station. Either way, you purchase and build the station near your youth room. Once built make sure it is thoroughly tested before it launches. The last thing you want is a mistake-filled launch!
Step Four: Launch your check-in system and utilized your database! Build your greeting and follow up ministry around your database. Strive for perfection, and don’t let time pass entering new members. Our rule of thumb is within 48 hours. Clean up your database once a year by doing an evaluation and seeing if everyone’s information is correct. Because no one ever changes their email… right?!
Tips on Creating a Culture Where Students Use a Check-In System:
- Test it out multiple times before you have your check in cart go live.
- Train your leaders/greeters thoroughly. If the adults don’t know how to use the system why would the students do it differently? Students follow the example of the adults.
- Create an “everyone does this” mentality. Leaders, students, volunteers. Everyone the more exceptions you have to the rule the weaker the rule becomes.
- Place your check-in system in a location where most students enter and cannot pass it without checking in. It should be in the hallway before you enter the room or near the door.
- Go nuts with welcome signs and directions. Assume no knows how to do it each week.
- Send an email to parents or share why you do check in at a parent information meeting.
If students/leaders push back (creating something new usually does) here are some ways that worked for us:
- We use “incentives” like you cannot purchase anything at our Snack Shack unless you are checked in. The first couple of weeks we even gave them candy right after they checked in! We also offered a free bowl of cereal during our Sunday school hour (given a bowl only after they check in).
- Give out prizes or call students up front for games but only from those who have checked in.
- Contact students (even if you know they were there) after 3 weeks of them not checking in, explaining why you take attendance.
- Don’t let things slide – even for one week – for two months and you should be over the hump of a new habit. Each week enter new people so they can feel welcomed the next time they come there.
For building a check-in station, read part two of this series.