The playbook for a great ministry

Jeremy O’Neill is the Kids Ministry Director at Skyline Church in San Diego, CA. He shares his playbook for growing and making changes in ministry.

Chris Holland
May 3, 2021
Kids Ministry Leadership

Jeremy O’Neill is the Kids Ministry Director at Skyline Church in San Diego, CA. Jeremy has experience leading vibrant ministries at Skyline, Sandals Church, and other locations. He shares his playbook for growing and making changes in ministry.

Getting people to come to your church

The people coming into your church give it life. If you read marketing for ministry, you know that you can take lots of actionable steps to make sure your ministry is getting noticed. Jeremy elaborates on ways Skyline Church has drastically increased attendance over the last year.

Staying in the press

Skyline’s lead pastor is featured frequently in San Diego media. Skyline also made the unconventional choice to stay open in California since last summer- giving in-person church seekers a place to go.

Be a beacon of community positivity

Unchurched people don’t usually visit because things are going great and they want a new weekend hobby. People usually make the step of visiting a church for the first time (or the first time in a while) because something is wrong. They need community, support, and family. Keep this in mind and understand that your ministry supports the emotional needs of new visitors before they open up to engaging in faith.

Hone in on the first-mile experience

Web & Mobile app designers obsess over the first-mile experience. The first mile is when a new user signs up for an app and gets everything set up. It is critical for apps to successfully onboard new users, or they will all drop off. Getting lots of people to visit your church won’t matter much if they don’t stick around. It is critical to hone in on the first-mile experience for new visitors at your church. This is not exactly revolutionary advice, and many churches do an excellent job at providing lots of support to first-time visitors. That said, it is critical to measure the retention rate of your first-time visitors. How many return for a second weekend? Who’s still around one month later? What about three months?

Once you have data points on weekly retention- where does the most significant drop-off occur? What could you do to decrease this drop-off rate?

Jeremy O’Neill is the Kids Ministry Director at Skyline Church in San Diego, CA

Gradually engage retained members

Once your visitors are officially new members of your church- it helps to increase their engagement in your ministry. Jeremy is very precise about engaging with retained members. Significant changes take time- so Skyline Church employs people with a gradual system.

The first day- Engage the Kids with a scratch-off prize.

Give new kids in kids ministry a scratch-off ticket at the end of service. Let them know that they can win a prize if they scratch the ticket to reveal a winning combination. They can come back next week to get their reward. This “contest” may be fixed so that all kids win a prize- but it will encourage them to come back next weekend.

The first month- Get adults involved in a small group.

Adult visitors are more engaged by fellowship than prizes. Proactively encourage new members to join small groups soon after they’ve made it to a couple of services.

2-3 months- Recruit volunteers

Chad Koke at The Creek mentions that small groups are a great place to recruit volunteers. Have members in a small group who volunteer invite new members to join them in volunteering.

Measure it all with Ministry vital signs

A medical professional will check a patient's vitals- several key health metrics that give you an overview of the general health of a human. If one of the vitals is off, it is time to dig deeper to determine the underlying issue. Jeremy has a few ministry vital signs he uses to ensure everything is running smoothly at Skyline Church.


Everyone tracks attendance, and for a good reason. Jeremy mentions that it is essential to compare year-over-year attendance for progress. For example, it is better to compare January attendance to January attendance of the previous year than to compare January attendance to December attendance.

Volunteer coverage

In a perfect world- we’d have 100% of needed volunteers in our ministries. However, any volunteer coverage at 90%+ is an A in Jeremy’s book. When volunteer coverage starts slipping to < 70%, you’ll be encountering a lot of issues.


Ministry is the most critical part of kids ministry- it’s even in the title :-) Jeremy is adamant about tracking the number of kids that begin a relationship with God. One tangible way to measure this is with baptisms or devotional engagement.


This is a slightly non-standard ministry metric tracked at Skyline Church. If you want to know something- just ask. As a Playlister partner, you’re probably used to getting lots of surveys from the Playlister team. You should be just as adamant about learning more from your church family. Let’s look at safety for an example. Safety is the most important thing for parents bringing their kids to a new church. If you survey parents saying, “rate the safeness of our kid’s min from 1 - 5,” and they all answer 5, you can rest assured that you’re meeting all safety requirements. You can also let new parents know that your kid’s ministry has a 5-star safety rating. Surveys also give you a chance to dig deeper. If a parent gave your church 3 / 5 stars on safety, it is essential to talk to them and discover the perceived issue.

Making a change in your ministry

It’s not always easy making changes in ministry. There are other people to work with; things are not budgeted for, approval needs to be granted for projects. You can start on change by putting things in two buckets: pain to fix now or opportunities for later.

Look for pain points to fix now.

“When I joined Skyline, we were spending hours downloading curriculum and running USB sticks to TVs.” Jeremy immediately invested in Playlister to fix this issue so his team could focus on more impactful activities. Investing in Playlister might seem like a significant change, but you need to act swiftly when a problem is urgent. This is why Jeremy encourages leaders to identify changes that need to be made NOW because they solve an immediate problem.

Identify opportunities to plan for

After putting out fires, it’s time to plan for the long term. If your ministry’s vital signs show that you have 90% volunteer coverage- it’s not time to get comfortable. Examine why you’re doing well and plan so that this success continues. Taking the time to think about the best way to proceed with a non-urgent decision will give you the time to make sure that you don’t end up regretting the outcome.

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