Find out what captures and keeps volunteers with these exclusive survey results from Children’s Ministry Magazine. Learn from real experts on volunteering — volunteers themselves!
“Yes, is Michael there, please?”
“Michael, this is Karen from Church on the Run. How are you this evening?”
“Fine. What can I do for you?”
“Michael, I’m working with our preschool department, and we’re currently looking for a teacher for our 3- and 4-year-old class… “
Sound familiar? Perhaps you’ve been the person making a call like this. Your ministry is to identify and contact potential volunteers to ask them to get involved in ministering to children. You contact people and wonder what in the world you can do to get them to say yes. If only you could understand what goes on in a potential volunteer’s mind as you’re making the request.
What can you do to get volunteers to sign on? (Okay, let’s just get it out in the open — you can’t get or keep volunteers — only God can. But you can use methods to work hand in hand with God to invite people into a world-changing ministry to children. Now that that’s clear, let’s go on!) Almost all children’s ministers wonder what they can do to ensure that volunteers stay around long enough to add more depth to their ministry-not to mention the fact that long-term volunteers make your job of recruiting easier.
One of the greatest challenges in children’s ministry is to have the right people in the right place to accomplish the seemingly insurmountable task of ministering to children and families. Seminars and training sessions on recruiting are never lacking in attendance. Children’s ministers quickly devour any opportunity to glean a new idea or innovative recruiting method. Jesus himself recognized that there weren’t enough ministry recruits when he declared, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.” (Matthew 9:37) And his first solution to the problem was prayer!
If you oversee a team of volunteers, your ministry can appear to be the open door of opportunity or the revolving door of ministry entrances and exits.
Thanks to the 200 volunteers who responded to the Volunteers Speak Out survey in Children’s Ministry Magazine, you can ensure that the door to your ministry is one that volunteers won’t quickly exit. These 200 volunteers told us how they were recruited, how their children’s ministry overseer supports them, changes they’d suggest to make their volunteer experience more enjoyable, and why they continue to serve children in their church. Read on to learn from the real experts on volunteering-volunteers themselves!
Recruiting that Works
If only there were a packaged recruiting formula that we could sell to children’s ministers. We’d be rich overnight. The problem is there isn’t a formula, but there are distinct patterns that emerge from the survey responses.
Popping the Question — The #1 recruiting method used to involve people in children’s ministry is to simply ask. Because someone personally asked most of these volunteers, they got involved. Relationship was a key factor for our surveyed volunteers when being recruited for ministry to children. An inspiring 74 percent of the survey respondents said that they’re serving as a result of conviction and/or because they were personally asked by someone with whom they already had an established connection or relationship.
“I was asked by the pastor to help with our nursery program,” says Marti Murvin, a toddler teacher at First Presbyterian Church in Lakeland, Florida. “I love children. I enjoy meeting the parents. And I feel needed and appreciated.”
You’ve got to personally ask people to get involved if you want to call out their passion and gifts for ministry. “The children’s minister asked me if I would be interested,” says team leader Cheri Davis of Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Indianapolis. “I think it’s a great thing to have my own kids see me helping out in a positive way. I not only want to tell them to help others, but also show them.”
Creating Awareness — The second way most of these volunteers came into children’s ministry was that they responded to an opportunity for service. Susan Cook, a ministry overseer at Solid Rock Christian Center in Ventura, California, says, “I wanted to commit myself to the church. I prayed and decided that the children’s ministry is where I would like to be.” Then she volunteered.
First-grade teacher Amy Peetz of St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, says, “I responded to a poster placed in the gathering area of our church. Volunteering helps me feel connected to my parish, it helps me grow in my faith and relationship with Jesus, and it helps me be a better witness and helper.”
Many volunteers mentioned finding about a need from a public announcement, church newsletter or bulletin, or a training seminar, church foundations course, or gifts assessment class. However, only 3 percent of the survey respondents mentioned responding after attending a class. Offering training classes doesn’t necessarily entice more people to get involved, but the training may confirm and affirm an individual’s ministry role.
Giving a “Cattle Call” — One of the most trusted avenues of recruitment found in the responses to the survey was the public invitation. In fact, 23 percent of the volunteers surveyed responded to an announcement from the pulpit, in a flier, or during a drama or media presentation. The public announcement technique is relied upon because it quickly communicates the need and also provides a far-reaching opportunity to raise awareness.
“I took a class which showed teaching was a spiritual gift of mine,” says Sandy Kendell who teaches fifth and sixth grade at Hill Country Bible Church in Georgetown, Texas. But she waited to get involved until she knew of a specific need. “When a need in children’s ministry was presented, I volunteered,” she says.
Once you pop the question and volunteers say yes, how do you get them to stay around? Obviously, you make their volunteer experience so enjoyable that they never want to leave. But how?
Authentic Relationships — Just as the best way to recruit volunteers is through a relationship, keeping them is just as dependent on connecting them to relationships. Relationships exist at many levels, from a basic acquaintance to a close or intimate friendship. People connecting and sharing in a mutual human experience brings relationship. The depth of that connectedness for the believer is the difference between relationship as defined by the world and living in true authentic community. You have to move your volunteers from being basic acquaintances to being intimate and supportive friends.
Ongoing Encouragement — Approximately 75 percent of the responding volunteers noted a variety of ways they receive support, some of which are notes, cards, calls, prayers, informal gatherings, personalized gifts, team-building opportunities, and the fulfillment of developed friendships. For example, Donna Brown, a nursery teacher at Central Church in Memphis, Tennessee, says of her ministry overseer, “Debra is always willing to do anything we ask of her. She is also thoughtful-sending birthday cards and bringing refreshments. She has been a joy to work for.”
Administrative Support — Besides the relational support, our survey participants cited that the organizational and administrative support they receive allows them to better fulfill their various ministry responsibilities. Most appreciated having curriculum and supplies, phone lists of other volunteer team members, and volunteer schedules made in advance.
Here’s how volunteers say they’re supported at the Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Fort Collins, Colorado:
Eileen Fee, who teaches 3 year olds, says, “The leaders are always available for us. We have quarterly meetings plus fun nights. As a teacher, I feel appreciated and wanted.”
Mark Dempsey, a kindergarten teacher, says, “We have craft supplies, training, and support through a great curriculum supplied to us free!”
Substitute Bette Manes says, “The leaders encourage me. I’m starting out as a helper to get my feet wet, but I’d like to be able to handle a class myself if the teacher needs a time out.”
Volunteer Libby Stoddard says her leaders provide “training programs, teacher appreciation month, cards and small gifts, availability to discuss any problems or discipline questions, classes to train us, and value placed on kids.”
Sunday school teacher Annalee Brakefield says, “They’re always making sure everything is going well and that we have supplies. They give us food and coffee! They take good care of us!”
And, finally, John De Graaf, who teaches third grade, says his leaders support him through “prayer, team-building, curriculum, information about teaching my age group, classes to train me, and help with teaching.”
These — and other volunteers — strongly acknowledge that in receiving this support they felt appreciated and understood. This shows them that they’re valued not only in their ministry, but also because of who they are.
To our amazement, the least recognized or acknowledged area of support was in curriculum ideas and creative methods of implementation. Less then 5 percent of those who responded to the Volunteers Speak Out survey mentioned that they appreciated receiving support in the areas of creative input, alternative activities and ideas, puppets, music, or drama.
What would these volunteers change to make volunteering more enjoyable?
Mo’ Volunteers — Without a doubt, volunteers’ #1 request is more volunteers. Fifty percent of the surveyed volunteers stressed that their ministry needs more volunteers. It’s encouraging that a major portion of those concerned about the need for more workers suggest that the solution is in making others aware. Many volunteers expressed great hope that if more would only hear and understand the simplicity of a child’s faith, they too would be compelled to draw close to the children.
“Maybe we could ‘require’ everyone to volunteer to see how much fun it is and how rewarding,” says Diane Cunningham, an aide at Living Word Outreach Church in Lansing, Michigan. “Of course, then it wouldn’t be ‘volunteering,’ would it?”
Linda Parks, the nursery department leader at Central Church in Memphis, Tennessee, says, “If there was one thing I’d change it would be that more people would be yielding to the call of the Lord. They would be richly blessed for it.”
To make more people aware of what a great place your children’s ministry is, communicate the reality of the vital and authentic faith these children own and the need for volunteers to guide and protect that faith.
Annette Gelispie, a teacher/coordinator at Living Word Outreach Church, says, “I think it’s good to post reports of the good things that are happening in children’s ministry.” This allows your church to get excited about God’s work in kids’ lives.
Marsha Kiel, a nursery worker from the Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Indianapolis, agrees. She says, “We need to tell about what a blessing it is to be a part of the children’s ministry team on Sunday mornings.”
Communication with Parents — A significant number of volunteers desire more communication and stronger relationships with parents of the children they serve. This desire was often declared with an edge of resentment and demand for change as these volunteers were challenged by their own perception of parents abandoning their children in the area of spiritual development.
Of those who are concerned by the lack of parental involvement and support, some would like to have a policy that would require parents to participate in the care and teaching of their children. This expressed desire regarding parental involvement was rooted in the base-line concern and need for more workers.
Every time you hang onto a volunteer, that’s one less volunteer you’ll have to recruit. It’s worth figuring out what it is that retains your volunteers. There were two primary reasons given by the survey respondents when asked why they continue to volunteer.
Joy Like a Fountain — The first and most frequent response was that they experience joy in their ministry to children. Seventy percent of the volunteers stay around because they love children or enjoy being with them. Their commitment gives them a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction.
Norma Malone, a teacher at Solid Rock Christian Center in Ventura, California, was recruited “by the children for the children” and she continues to volunteer because it’s “easy and fun. I enjoy every minute!”
The fun factor also motivates teenager Brian Kemp, an aide from Living Word Outreach Church in Lansing, Michigan, to continue volunteering with children, “I have fun. I love seeing the children grow spiritually, and it helps me grow as well.” Brian is discovering that serving not only benefits the children, but blesses him as well.
Personal Growth — Approximately 25 percent of the volunteers talked about how their spiritual growth and development is connected to serving these little people. They recognize that by contributing to the faith development of a child, their faith increases and grows substantially.
This group also sensed that they possess the calling or gift to specifically work with children. “I feel it’s what God wants me to do. And I learn more about my own relationship with God as I teach,” says Sandy Kendell, a teacher at Hill Country Bible Church in Georgetown, Texas.
God blesses volunteers with joy and the discovery of a newfound love, with recognition and challenge by the simplicity of a child’s faith, and with acknowledgment that from week to week they encounter one of God’s freshest creations.
For the child who is in relationship with a special kind of volunteer, life will never be the same. When a volunteer gives a child love, acceptance, forgiveness, a shared life, care, and nurture, the child is able to experience the very presence of God.