This article was written in response to a question regarding a lack of volunteers specifically in the preschool department, but the principles apply to a lack of volunteers in any children’s ministry area.
Many children’s pastors/Christian education directors deal with a lack of volunteers. The difficulties with a lack of volunteers can often be overcome by more effectively expressing the need to the congregation and/or overseeing pastor (or whichever staff person you report to.)
With the congregation, it is important to emphasize the ministry responsibility of each believer as stated in scripture. This scriptural view of ministry responsibility should not only be the emphasis from the children’s ministry leadership but from the whole pastoral staff when referring to any ministry positions in the church. Ephesians 4:12-13 says that the purpose of the pastors, prophets, evangelists, and teachers are not to do all the ministry but rather to prepare God’s people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in knowledge of the Son of God and become mature. If God’s people are not prepared to do works of service or do not respond to God’s call for their involvement in ministry, the body will not have the unity, maturity, or knowledge of God that it should. Needless to say, God would not make it the purpose of the leadership to prepare God’s people for works of service unless it was essential that the congregation be involved in ministry. Verse 16 emphasizes this point again, saying that the body of Christ is only built up in love as each part does its work. Ministry to the children is part of the individual believer’s ministry responsibility to God and to the other members of the body of Christ and is vital for spiritual growth and unity. (It should be mentioned that the time in the nursery, preschool, children’s church, etc., should be made ministry so that the people feel it is important to be involved. Programs should be run in such a way that they give young children a positive, caring experience in church that will carry over into their feelings for God, as well as provide some Biblical teaching in each class. There are even Bible programs for infants.)
There are times where the problem with a lack of volunteers stems from the leadership that oversees your area not realizing the significance of the problem. This, too, can often be greatly improved by wisely expressing the need to the leadership. First, it’s important to realize that the problem with the lack of volunteers should be approached with the overseeing leadership not as a complaint but as an issue for the safety and well-being of the church body. For example, let’s say that your preschool workers are ready to quit because two of them are working with 20 kids instead of the required 4-5 workers for every 20 preschool kids. The leadership cannot possibly understand the frustration of the workers because of not being in the situation and not being the person directly responsible for handling the workers’ concerns. However, most leadership can understand the danger of litigation, and you expressing the concern in these terms puts the situation into a format that they can relate to. If any preschool child falls and gets cuts or bruises, etc., and there is less than the required amount of adults in the room, it is legally considered neglect. Not only can the church and volunteer be sued in cases of neglect, but the pastoral staff and board. This possibility makes the concern personal! Again, do not express the situation as a complaint, but as a matter of concern for the well-being of the church body. For litigation, all that needs to take place is for one child to fall or be hit by another child and the workers to not have seen what took place because there were too many preschoolers to watch every individual child at once. And that easily happens if just a couple of children are crying and the workers are focused on comforting them. Another point of concern with regard to possible litigation and the proper number of adults in the room is realizing that teenagers cannot replace adults when it comes to being legally safe; they are not considered to have the same level of experience and abilities to deal with emergency situations. When the leadership takes into perspective the danger to career and finances facing him and the staff for possible neglect, the concern becomes one that he/she understands and feels personally. In other words, you are now more wisely and effectively expressing the need in a way that the leadership can relate to and easily feel a personal motivation to see it resolved.
What about practical ways to implement changes? As mentioned earlier, after the pastoral staff as a whole can view the need in a way that creates an understanding of the needed change in the situation, it is still important that the leadership teaches the body about their responsibility to each other and God to be involved in ministry. Future recruiting efforts should be approached from the aspect of accepting God’s call to find their individual places in ministry and taking advantage of the opportunity to bless the body
and help it mature in Christ.
If, after all else, your congregation does not respond to the opportunity to minister to your preschoolers voluntarily, a mandatory involvement of parents is what most churches implement. [As with all workers for children, work through your church lawyer to develop a proper application form and screening program for all your church workers.] Scripture states that it is the parents’ responsibility to train up a child in the knowledge of God, so if there is a lack of workers, it is the responsibility of the parents of the preschool children to fill this ministry before it is the responsibility of congregation members with no children. Non-parent volunteers should be welcomed, but if there is a shortage of help, it is necessary for the parents of preschoolers to fill in the gaps. This usually involves one parent out of the family of each preschooler working one service a month. It can be a male or female parent, but one parent needs to serve. There will always be some ruffled feathers, but the transition can be reasonably easy depending on how it’s presented. Often, the mistake is made of first presenting it as a parental responsibility that’s being neglected. This is often due to parents who are refusing to work because they are tired of taking care of their children all day at home. It should be presented first as a ministry opportunity, second as a scriptural responsibility to the body, and last as a responsibility because he/she is the parent of the child and chose to have that child. If the parent still refuses to work, most churches implement the policy that the nursery is there for them to personally use (to change diapers, nurse, etc.), but they cannot drop the child off for others to take care of all month long if they are not willing to work one service a month and fulfill their scriptural commitment to their child and the body of Christ.
Lastly, if neither the overseeing leadership nor the congregation responds, there is the consideration of your personal spiritual well-being and that of your family. You cannot possibly fill in for everyone else’s lack of commitment to your church body and, hence, risk losing your health and/or the time that you need to minister to your own family (spouse, children, etc.). Your first responsibility, other than your personal relationship with Christ, is to your own family, then to your ministry. If anyone does not provide for his own family, he [she] has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever (1 Tim 5:8). Providing for one’s family involves more than financial provision; it involves time and care. You may need to draw boundaries to limit your personal amount of ministry responsibilities if others refuse to fulfill theirs so that you will still have the time/energy you need to minister to your family.