7 Biggest Mistakes Upward Directors Make and How to Avoid Them
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Joan and I have been with the Upward’s program since the year 2000. We have been in the kids’ evangelism world for much longer. Over the years we have found common mistakes made, mostly by newer directors. I have spoken with many Upward directors throughout the years, what their biggest challenges were in getting started. I asked what they would do differently in the earlier years. While most of these questions are answered in the Upward directory, it is simply human nature to skim over areas we feel confident in and study areas we lack in. Sometimes overlooking some of the simplest instructions can lead to unwanted consequences during the Upward season itself. While most of these issues will deal with the Upward ceremony night itself, I would like to start off with one important mistake that can even apply to well-seasoned coaches.

1) Volunteers

You can never have too many volunteers. There is always be something for them to do. Even if it seems menial at first, they can always be plugged in to something more important as time goes on. Let me give you a quote from a director just as he gave it.

“Don’t think you can do it all by yourself. You wouldn’t have ‘volunteered’ to run a league, unless you thought you could do it all by yourself… But that’s not the director’s ‘role.’ My biggest mistake is not having true/specific commissioners, especially advertising and marketing.”

He obviously knew the importance of recruiting coaches and the obvious staff you need. He apparently thought these other things he could do by himself. However, you will always have fires to put out. Your job will be very busy without having to worry about “smaller details” which will end up being very large in the long run.

Check the manual again and again. If it says you need a volunteer or a commissioner in a certain area, do not take that lightly. Upward is a well-oiled machine. The recommendations and instructions in the manual are there for reason, they work.

2) Assuming Your Coaches Know the Rules of the Game

When our daughter was of Upward age, my wife coached Upward soccer. The Upward director at our church did all the proper training, went through the manual did everything a director was supposed to do.

Only one thing was missing. The director assumed everybody knew the rules of soccer. My wife had never played soccer before, but she knew the rules were you had to get the ball to the other team’s goal. But when it came to specific rules she was absolutely clueless. Some of the basics of the game had eluded her. It was just a few simple things, but going over the rules of the game is always a good thing to do.

3) Underestimating the Crowd Size for Awards Night

When the award night comes, make sure you are ready. The pros at Upward always say however many kids you have, expect 3 to 4 times the number for the awards night. This would generally mean if you have 40 kids in your program, you can easily expect 120 – 260 to attend the awards ceremony. Likewise, if there are 800 kids in the program, 2,500 overall attendances would not be unreasonable.

A lot of directors will use school auditoriums for their award program. If the church sanctuary is of accommodating size, then naturally, that is your best option. Please remember, if the auditorium is much larger than the crowd demands, a certain amount of dynamics will be lost. If the auditorium is too small, then a lot of people will be standing. A lot of directors choose to have back to back awards nights. This means two programs in the same night. The first for younger ones, the second for the older ones. This works well if you are dealing with a smaller auditorium. Please be aware of performers who charge extra for a back to back program. It really does not cost them anything else to stay for a few hours extra. We never charge more.

4) Handing out Awards Early

Wow, this should not even be one on the list, but it is. If this is your first year or so, do not make the mistake of thinking you will get the kids to settle down once they get their awards.

I was recently at an Upward program and the awards were all in the front of the stage. They wanted to give the awards out first, so we would have more room to perform and the kids would be content. I let them kindly know once the awards are handed out, the program is over! This is why the kids come. They want their award. They will sit through the entire program attentively, but once they get their award that’s it, game over.

I was at one Upward award program and the director told me just how it went when he decided to hand out the awards early. The poor guy who was speaking never had a chance. This particular year, they were handing out basketballs! I did not envy the speaker’s position, but I’m sure he made the best of it.

Please, the awards should be at the very end!

5) Speaker/Performer – Choose Wisely.


It is always good to get an outside speaker/entertainer. This will be something new and fresh for the kids. Make sure they are reputable and can give plenty of references.


Six questions you should ask yourself before hiring entertainment.


a) Do they share the Gospel in a clear-cut way?
Make sure the audience is given the Gospel throughout the entire program. You can’t expect the audience to be moved to make a decision with a 5-minute presentation at the end of the program. When the time comes to make a decision, does your audience know why they are raising their hands?  Sharing personal testimony is always effective.


b) Do they appeal to the entire family?
Yes, you are putting on a program for the kids, but you want the entire family to come out. Make sure the special guest you’ve hired will appeal to the entire family.

c) Do they get the audience involved?
Make sure your entertainer/speaker can get your audience involved. It’s great to be a spectator; but when you or your friends are involved in the program, the event is something you will remember for a very long time! Give your audience more involvement than dreamed possible.

d) Do they have fun and humor in their program?
There are a lot of well-meaning ministers out there that just have trouble relating to an audience. They try so hard to get the message out. They lose the kids from lack of excitement. Make sure the program is well balanced. The program should be humorous and exciting as well as bringing an easy-to-understand Gospel message.

e) Do they have strong references? Be sure to ask for references. What do others say about their program? This is more important than a promo video or a brochure. Videos and brochures always make the performer look great, but what others say really counts!

If you have High standards for your Upward Awards Night look no further than Ned and Joan. 1-800-229-KIDS

f) Will they meet your needs?
Ask them what you expect. What do you want to accomplish? Make sure you both have a clear concept of your specific goals. Are you looking for someone who can follow through with a clear invitation? Are you putting on an event to make a mark in your community; with some fun and exciting entertainment, a Gospel theme; but not necessarily an invitation?  Make sure you are clear on your goals! Make sure you discuss in detail how you want the speaker to wrap up his end of the program.

6) Decision/Comment Cards

The decision/comment cards that Upward gives you is a tool. You should use it to the fullest. The comments parents leave can be very useful. Comments such as asking the parents what they like best and least about the program. These comments will be of great value to you in the future. Please note, there will always be someone who will make a snide comment or two because they were upset about something you did or didn’t do. Just disregard these comments, there is no need to get distraught over them. Look for the comments where people are actually making constructive criticism and of course soak in all the compliments you can handle.

These decision cards will also give you a good feel of where most of your kids are spiritually. This is important for any kind of follow-up that you may do. It is very important that the kids are instructed to check the correct box if they have accepted Jesus or just want to know more about him. By this time, the coaches should know pretty much where each of their kids are at. But many times a child just wants to confirm their relationship with the Lord or for some reason they just been holding out.

It is also important to realize these cards are not 100% accurate. One Upward program I was doing, the director’s son raised his hand indicating he wanted to make a decision, but he didn’t fill out a card. Some kids will just not fill out the card no matter what. This is why I always like to have a show of hands for those who have made that decision. I generally do not have them come forward unless it is the directors desire. But instead, I have the coaches get a good look at those who raise their hand and allow them to do the follow-up. They should know where their kids are at spiritually.

I also want to point out, when I have children raise their hands for those who made a decision to follow Jesus, I let them know it’s the most important decision they ever made. Something they should be proud of. They do not raise their hands as sinners, but as children of God who had just made the best decision they could ever make!

7) Not Enough Prayer

You cannot put on an Upward program without volunteers. You simply can’t do it by yourself, you need help. Likewise, you need the power of prayer. Prayer is one of the most important ingredients to a successful Upward program. Only the Lord can draw people to Himself. Your main goal should be to see kids and families won to the Lord Jesus Christ, and they would grow in the strength and admiration of the Lord. Without the Lord’s anointing and blessing upon teams, all the work and planning will be wasted. Please take this next part very seriously and implement these ideas!

Different ways to get people involved in praying

1) All prayer groups and home groups begin to pray for your Upward program.

2) Have people praying for specific individuals and families they want to invite to this special awards night.

3) Have prayer teams formed specifically for Upward.

4) Have children’s church and the adult congregation pray for Upward and its results.

5) Be creative in prayer. Add areas as you see fit.

The Basics; Things to Pray About:

God will touch the hearts of many to receive Jesus Christ.

Every person who makes a decision will be followed up properly.

Broken families will be restored.

That all physical arrangements will be perfect.

That promotion will be done in such a way that the maximum number of people will hear the Gospel.

That the Holy Spirit may reach many adults through the witness and prayers of the children.

All financial and material needs would be met. Etc…

The Pursuit of Excellence

I would like to conclude by giving you a few verses as encouragement to you and your leaders. They must realize, as most do, that each child is special and they deserve nothing but the best from the leader’s efforts. The first verse is in 2 Samuel 24:24. As the story goes, in brief. The Lord was angry with David for taking a census. The Lord sent a great pestilence which destroyed 70,000 men. As the pestilence was about to touch down onto Jerusalem, the Lord told David to make Him a sacrifice. There was a farmer, Araunah, nearby. The farmer was willing to give King David whatever he needed at no cost. The next words from David’s mouth is what I believed saved Jerusalem.

And the king said unto Araunah, No, but I will surely buy it of thee at a price: I will not offer burnt offerings unto the LORD my God of that which does cost me anything.

In short, the king was saying, I will not make a sacrifice that does not cost me anything. It is sad when a person who is called to ministry, decides to make the sacrifice, but puts little time into their calling. Whether a coach or even a Sunday school teacher, they make a sacrifice that does not cost them anything. As in any ministry, if you are going to be successful, it going to cost you.

In Malachi 1:6-8, the Lord speaks to his priests and says how they have defiled his alter by sacrificing crippled and diseased animals. He concludes by asking them to offer them to their governor. Would he be pleased? This is a commonsense question. But challenge your coaches with this: if your governor’s child was on your team, would he be pleased? Encourage your leaders to treat every child like they were their own or they belong to the governor. This will help them to be motivated to be prepared each week. With the coaches properly prepared and motivated your program will be a great success!