Have you ever stopped to think about what your volunteers really need?
Volunteers are the lifeblood of children’s ministry. Every time I talk with other children’s ministry leaders, I realize we all spend way too much time thinking and worrying about volunteers. Do we have enough for Sunday? Where can I find a few more for Wednesday night?
But seldom do we pause long enough to wrestle with the question: Are volunteers getting what they really need? We focus on providing volunteers with curriculum, supplies, and rules about classroom procedures. All of these things are good and necessary, but volunteers really need more.
In order to maximize the leadership potential of volunteers and greatly increase their enjoyment in serving, we need to identify what volunteers really need. This means thinking about their needs and how we can disciple them as they disciple kids. Here are a few ideas of what volunteers really need when they serve in your ministry:
They really need to be known and loved
Many people step into volunteer roles because they see serving as a way to get more connected with the church. Even those who step in for different reasons will often look back at the relationships they formed as the most influential part of serving. Volunteers want to make connections with you, with other volunteers, and with the kids.
This goes beyond just knowing their name and where they would like to serve. To be known and loved means listening to their story, asking them how you can be praying for them, and following up week after week. It means creating opportunities outside the business of Sunday or Wednesday night to connect with them.
Think about picking one day a week just for connections. Write down the names of your current volunteers and schedule time with one of them each week for the next month. This is what we want a volunteer to provide for the kids, so we need to provide and model this for volunteers.
They really need to be equipped
Most children’s ministries provide a training at the beginning of the school year to cover everything a volunteer “needs” to know. Those trainings are like turning on water from a fire hydrant and asking them to drink! If a volunteer misses this one-time download of information, they are left to persevere the year with little to no equipping or encouragement.
Volunteers really need to be equipped. This means training that is personalized to the questions they’re asking and to the season of ministry in which they are serving. A 10-year veteran is not equipped by a general training that only covers the policies and procedure manual. At the same time, a new volunteer who has never stepped into a classroom is going to be terrified when you lay out the 87 steps to classroom discipline for hyperactive boys. This has been the experience in the children’s ministry where I lead for some time. We are beginning to rethink this model.
We’re wondering what it would look like if trainings were more like a dripping faucet. It could be several smaller training meetings, a detailed email once a month, or training videos that can be watched from their phone. Instead of turning on a fire hydrant, what if we consistently and intentionally gave volunteers nuggets of information throughout the year when it is most applicable. We want to observe and listen to their comments throughout the year, so that we can craft training content that meets their needs.
They really need to know the WHY for what they’re doing
While this post is sharing four things that volunteers really need, this one need trumps everything else. Volunteers need to hear why they do what you’re asking them to do. If you follow the stories of the Israelites through the Exodus to Judges, you see a miraculous God who saves His people is forgotten by the very next generation. God had commanded them to share the stories of His wondrous works to the next generation, but they failed to do so. The result was a generation of God’s people who turned from Him.
Share this story with your volunteers. Help them see what’s at stake. They need to know why the role you’re asking them to play is important and necessary for the mission of the church. From the classroom teacher to the VBS snack team, their service is creating an opportunity for kids to hear about a miraculous God who loves us enough to send His Son into the World to save sinners! Every volunteer really needs to know that this is WHY you’ve asked them to serve.
They really need to know how they are making a difference
If knowing why is most important, then a close second has to be helping volunteers see and celebrate when they’re making a difference. Volunteers need to hear you tell them how they are making a difference. In the busyness of ministry, we usually only look forward. When Sunday ends, we immediately move into planning for the next Sunday. But volunteers (and you) need opportunities to pause and celebrate what God is doing in them and through them! They need to hear stories of life-change that God is producing because of their service. They need to hear how their role has helped a child or a family grow in a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Ask some kids to share what they love about their small group. Ask parents to share stories about how their child is growing through the children’s ministry. Ask volunteers when and how they’ve seen other volunteers making a difference. Then, take those stories and share them with everyone who will listen! Knowing that our service is making a difference is the greatest motivator for current volunteers and recruitment for future volunteers!
What would you add to the list of what your volunteers really need?