Where would we be without the awesome volunteers on our teams? Personally, I don’t even want to ponder the answer! Our committed partners who generously give their time, their energy, and their gifts are the hands and feet of our ministries.
We often speak about ways to appreciate or express gratitude for volunteers. There is such great value in prioritizing this. Those who serve on our teams deserve recognition and admiration for the work they do. There is no denying the importance of volunteer appreciation.
However, what if we take this value one step deeper? What if we went beyond valuing volunteers for what they do, and instead intentionally showing them that we value them for who they are?
Building and sustaining a healthy volunteer team will take more than appreciating your volunteers, it will take honoring them.
When I hear the word honor, my mind paints the picture of bowing down before someone. Maybe your mind thinks of something heroic or dramatic. This does not always have to be the case. To honor someone means to show them respect or to show them that you greatly value them. This can be done in the ways that we show up for others every day.
There is a key difference here. Appreciating a volunteer is a way of showing them that you value the work that they contribute to your ministry. Honoring a volunteer shows you value who they are, not just what they do.
This seems like a simple concept, and it is! But it is not always easy. In the midst of volunteer shortages and needs, it can be easy for us to slip into a mindset of caring more about how our volunteers can fill our ministry needs than we do about who they are.
Honoring our volunteers starts by trusting that God has a plan and a purpose for each of them in His Big Story. His wonder lives in each of them.
Volunteers are More Than What They Do on Sunday
This seems easy enough to accept, but it can become challenging in a moment where a volunteer needs to draw a boundary or chooses to take a break from serving.
These moments sometimes sound like, “I’m sorry, I wish I could help out on Sunday! But I have plans to go to a family member’s birthday brunch” or “Work has been a lot lately. I think I need to step back from volunteering for a month to care for myself.”
These are the small moments when we all have the opportunity to recognize the priorities our volunteers have outside of our ministries and encourage them selflessly. My advice—cheer them on in what matters to them, even when it’s inconvenient! Remember, healthy teams need healthy volunteers.
As in any other area of their life, we want our volunteers to model God honoring lives in all areas. This includes caring for themselves and stewarding their priorities well.
Here are 3 ways to begin honoring volunteers:
1. Expand Your Conversation
How often do we fall into the trap of being satisfied with surface-level conversions with our volunteers? Or just sticking to conversations about their serving role?
Let’s move beyond Sunday morning small talk and become great question-askers. Our volunteers will feel valued when we show up to see them and seek to know them.
2. Respect Their No
There will be times when your volunteers let you down. It is not helpful of us to expect that our volunteers will be able to fill every need, every time. It is helpful to remember that your volunteers have families, jobs, friends, and commitments outside of their serving role.
Seeking to show respect and grace when a volunteer sets a boundary is a greatly important way to honor them and their needs.
3. In Honoring Volunteers, Encourage Their Growth
While we often focus on helping volunteers grow in their serving role and leadership, we often forget to prioritize what is most important. Investing in the spiritual growth of our volunteers is vital to the spiritual growth of our kids.
A team of volunteers that is actively growing in obedience will not only be able to teach what God’s Word says, but they will also be living it! This value may change the focus on some of your volunteer huddles, training, and one on one conversations. Encourage them in the wonder of God.
Show Up Consistently
As you read over these three ideas, they may seem daunting. Honoring someone is not always as easy as throwing together a thank-you gift or asking the senior pastor to give your team a shout-out from the pulpit. To show someone that we value them, we need to think about how we consistently show up for them.
The impact of a ministry leader who honors their volunteers is evident as soon as someone steps foot in the doors of your ministry. In my experience, volunteers who feel honored show a greater level of optimism, commitment, and ownership in the ministries they serve.
As a result of feeling valued, their desire to be a part of Kingdom work tends to grow and grow!
I’ll close by saying this: honoring your volunteers is not always easy. I give you full permission to admit that, and I have felt the same way.
Over time, I have found that by choosing to honor volunteers on my team, our relationships have strengthened. I see more of an openness for volunteers to come to me as a friend. And as I think we have all experienced, leading ministry is such a joy when you are amongst friends.