One of the biggest challenges in my 13 years of Children’s Ministry is recruiting and retaining volunteers. I like to check things off my to do list and having all the volunteersI need to run a thriving Children’s Ministry is a task that never seems to be completed. “Find someone to teach the _______ class” is always on my list. In my early years, I just wanted to have it done. One teacher and one assistant in every classroom every Sunday. Check. Done. But as I’ve grown in leadership, God has shown me that people will “stick” if they feel like they are a part of something bigger than just filling a position. Building a TEAM may not fill your volunteer roster for good, but it will make a place where people love to serve and will continue to do so for years to come.
Creating an environment where volunteers are equipped to do the job will make them feel like they are worth the time it takes to train them. The prerequisite for serving in Children’s Ministry is a love for God and a love for kids. Any other skills can be learned. Of course there are those who are “natural” teachers, but by modeling and with practice, anyone with a desire to share Jesus with little ones can become a vital part of your team. Training can take on all kinds of different forms. By reading through a book and discussing together to role playing classroom situations to emailing weekly training tidbits, there are many creative ways to train a team that has a growing desire to learn as they teach those in their care.
Gone are the days when I resort to tactics of guilt or obligation to coerce people into volunteering. I don’t want to threaten to close a class if I don’t get volunteers or require parents to take a turn in their child’s class. I don’t want just a warm body so that I can meet the child to adult ratio in a classroom. I once heard someone say, “no one wants to join a sinking ship, they want to join a cruise ship!” I want to put together a team that people want to be on, because it’s fun, challenging, and engaging. People will join a team with a clear vision and a united goal. They will thrive in an environment where their ideas are heard and where they have the freedom to try new ways of doing things. Providing opportunities of fellowship outside of Sunday morning will foster lifelong friendships and the team will begin to take the shape of a family. That is the kind of team people will line up to be a part of.
A little appreciation goes a long way! If I feel like what I’m doing is making a unique contribution to the cause, I will be more likely to stay with it. The ways to show appreciation to volunteers is endless. Here are a few ideas:
- Candy treats with a note (Pinterest has a gagillion ideas for this!)
- A handwritten card sent in the mail pointing out something specific you saw or heard them doing
- Whenever you hear positive feedback about a child’s experience from a parent, pass it on
- Give out specific awards at training events
- Bake a homemade treat
- Give out little gifts when serving on a holiday
- Serve them a continental breakfast on Sunday before the service
- Bring a coffee cart around to the teachers while they are teaching
- Host a volunteer appreciation dinner
- Create a “Volunteer of the month” parking spot
Nothing means more, though, than a kind word or a “thank you” face to face.
People will want to be on your team and will stay on your team if they feel cared for. It’s so important to know the people who serve on your team and also take the time to know who their people are. Know the names of their spouses and kids. Ask them how you can pray for them during the week and then follow up with those requests. Take a meal, visit in the hospital, pray with, take out for coffee—and do it with sincerity and humility. Volunteers need to be known and shepherded.
If you can implement the TEAM approach—offering engaging training, creating an exciting environment, showering appreciation, and ministering to the needs of your volunteers—you can stop writing desperate sounding bulletin announcements and talking your Senior Pastor into giving pleas from the pulpit. You will have a group of fulfilled, enthusiastic volunteers who together celebrate the win of serving.
Written by: Becky Medley
Becky has been serving at Westerville Christian Church as one of the children’s ministers for the past 13 years.