Hey Mr. (or Ms.) Children’s Pastor! Do you have problems recruiting people to serve in your children’s ministry? Do you have problems retaining people once they volunteer? What can you do to find and retain volunteers? In the end, it all boils down to one very important question – What is it that your volunteers want?
1. Vision. Your volunteers want a vision that they can buy into. They want you to have a plan and a goal. They want to know that you have a destination in mind that your entire children’s ministry is pointing towards. Your volunteers want to know your vision, and the good ones really want to buy into and support that vision. Don’t fall head first into the trap of just assigning duties to your volunteers. Make them a part of your vision. Make your vision their visions, and you will see them soar!
2. Direction. It’s not enough to just have a destination in mind. A vision is great, but if you haven’t figured out how to make the trip from here to there, or at least how to get started down that path, your vision isn’t very useful. You need to give the people you lead a roadmap – a way you envision getting from here to there. They don’t want you to micromanage every step (we’ll get to that later), but they would appreciate you pointing them in the right direction and nudging them on their way. When it comes to your vision, you are the compass for your volunteers.
3. Training. No matter how good, how smart, how talented, or how independent your volunteers are, they would appreciated having some training. Imagine being back in high school and sitting down for a Calculus test when you never heard of a derivative. Imagine going to take your driver’s test to get your license then you have never been behind the wheel of a car. The unknown can be scary, and training helps to ease the unknown. Furthermore, make sure your training is not just any old standard training. Your volunteers are unique, and they have unique needs. There are basics that they will all need to know, but as much as possible tailor the training for the position and for the individual.
4. Guidance. Your volunteers want a leader. They want someone to guide them through the ups and downs of children’s ministry. They want someone to turn to when they have a question. They want to know that when something comes up, they have somewhere to turn to for an answer. They want policies and procedures and manuals to refer to when they have a question. Don’t assume that your volunteers know how you want them to handle various situations. If it is important enough to you that there is a certain way you want things handled, convey that to your volunteers.
5. Input. Your volunteers want to know your vision, but they also want to have input into the ministry. They want to be heard. They spend every weekend in the trenches and can be a great source of information for you. Talk to your volunteers and find out what is on their on mind. Find ways to solicit input. Have weekly or monthly meetings with your key volunteer leadership team just to discuss what is going on, what’s coming up, and what could be done better.
6. Responsibility. Put your volunteers in charge of something. If they have something to take ownership of, they are much more likely to place value on it. And, if they place a high value on it, they are much more likely to invest time in it. And, it they invest time in it, they are likely to feel more like they own it. It is a viciously wonderful cycle that is good your volunteers and great for you! When you give your volunteers responsibility though, make sure you give them authority to go along with it. Responsibility without authority is like mashed potatoes without gravy. It tastes good, and it can even be enjoyable, but it will never reach its full potential.
7. Autonomy. People (and your volunteers are people no matter how they might act sometimes) want autonomy. Your volunteers want some control over what they’re doing, and they don’t want to feel like every breathe they take you are watching them (If you caught the vague reference to The Police in that sentence, you are definitely my age or older. If you read that last sentence and wondered what law enforcement has to do with anything, let’s just move on.) Anyhow, your volunteers want to feel like they have some control. Step back and let them learn from both their successes and their failure. Stand back and, In the words of Jim Wideman, “let them sorry all over a group of children.” Oftentimes, this is the best way to learn.
8. Advancement. When you have volunteers who are doing well and are really good at what they are doing, try to find additional things for them to do and supervise. This is not to say that if you have a volunteer that has reached the maximum level of their ability that you should promote them into a position they have no chance of succeeding at, but don’t assume that your volunteers want to, or should, stay in the same position for the entire time they are serving in your ministry. Look for chances to give them additional responsibilities and authority.
9. Resources. Here is a secret that many people may not really understand about their volunteers. You have passionate people working for you. Not all of them fall into that bucket, but they are there. These are the people who are passionate about reaching kids for the Kingdom and God and discipling them. They will give their time, their sweat, their finances, and everything else to speak Christ into a child’s life. Those people want, and need, the resources to be able to do that. Whether you are a mega-church or a small church struggling to survive, your volunteers need resources in order to do their jobs. Whether it is making sure that they have the technological gadgets or just making sure that there is enough construction paper in the cabinet, its not about what resources are necessary, but just about making sure that resources which are available are actually available.
10. Time. Your volunteers need time. They need your time. Your ministry is not only to children but also to the volunteers who serve alongside you in your ministry. Make time for your volunteers. Get to know them. Find out what they are passionate about. Get to know their spouses and their kids. Figure out where they are spiritually and ask if there is anything they need from you. Have a Bible Study with your core volunteer leadership team. Talk about God together. Invest the time necessary to build a relationship. Time is a precious commodity in this day and age, and no matter what else you throw at your volunteers, they will not know that you really care unless you invest your time in them.