We’re in Children’s Ministry, and the best way to reach more kids is to equip more volunteers to reach and disciple kids and families. When I’m coaching leaders of kids’ ministry volunteer teams, one of the first questions I ask is, “Do you like your volunteers?”
We’re called to shepherd those in our care, so it’s not just about the kids. In order to build healthy teams, we must understand the high value of our volunteers and see them as our sheep.
As we build teams, we must be ready to give responsibility and authority away to our teammates. This may even involve giving up control to others who may do things differently than we would. Ministry isn’t meant to be done alone.
Even in the Old Testament, ministry leaders were encouraged to spread the joy and the responsibility. In Exodus 18 Jethro said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning ’til evening? … This isn’t right.” Jethro encouraged Moses to teach others the rules and instructions and show them how to live and what to do.
In other words—train others.
Growing volunteers is a lot like growing a garden. We prepare the soil, take care of the plant, and observe the life cycle of the garden—recognizing what is needed at each particular stage. By doing this, we can grow a vibrant, healthy garden and vibrant, healthy volunteer teams.
Let’s look at the volunteer cycle and focus on each area while we consider what our volunteers need or are looking for. We’ll use the acrostic of G.A.R.D.E.N. to identify each step. Much like a garden, we’re nurturing, weeding, and making sure the soil and environment is a good place to grow and thrive.
Get ready: Before you actually plant, there is much preparation that must be done.
Preparation includes determining what plants are needed and where they should be planted. The same is true when growing a thriving volunteer team.
Assess the needs. What kind of seeds, or volunteers, are we looking for? If we don’t know what we’re looking for or what we need, we’ll never know if we find it.
Make a list of the open volunteer roles and the attributes or experience needed for each role. Then look at overall team needs. If you have a lot of student volunteers, recruiting adults may be a priority. If your behind-the-scenes volunteer team is healthy and strong, you may need to focus on volunteers who will serve directly with kids.
“Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Matthew 9:38.
Prayer is one of the most important steps in building volunteer teams. Ultimately, God brings the workers.
Pray that He puts people in your path who are looking for a way to use their gifts while building into the kingdom. Invite others to join you in praying for new volunteers. Form a Kids’ Ministry Prayer Team who regularly prays for specific needs.
Recruit: Jesus approached people. Don’t wait for people to come to you.
While making an ask during weekend services may get the word out to many people, personal invitations are much more effective in building and recruiting teams.
Create a culture of invitation where volunteers naturally invite friends to join them serving. As people want to be a part of something that is thriving, celebrate in public. Tell stories of life change that is happening in the kids’ ministry.
Provide opportunities for prospective volunteers to try out serving without a long-term commitment. Examples are Easter when attendance is high, summer when volunteers are vacationing, and big events when you are serving a lot of people. These are great times to elevate the need and invite others to check out the team.
Then invite them to make a long-term commitment to the kids’ team. When we approach recruiting with an abundance mindset and ask for a commitment, rather than “serve when it’s convenient,” we are more likely to get committed volunteers.
So, we’ve recruited and have some brand-new volunteers, little tender plants. What are we going to do with them?
Dig and Plant
Dig and Plant: We must get to know our new volunteers, so we plant them in the best place.
I love to garden, but I’ve killed some plants by putting them in areas where they don’t get the right amount of sun and water to keep them thriving. It’s the same with volunteers.
We must help volunteers find the best spot for them to grow. Develop a process that will help each volunteer find the right team. The on-boarding process should include an application process as well as an opportunity to observe different areas within your children’s ministry.
After each observation, talk with the volunteer to see what they did and didn’t enjoy. Use these conversations to find the best place to serve.
Once you find that place, get them planted. Make sure they know what a win looks like. Pair them up with an experienced volunteer who can answer their questions and help guide them.
Encourage and appreciate: Once a plant is in the ground, there is still work to be done.
We must tend to the plant, and we must also tend to our volunteers through encouragement. I believe if more time were spent tending to the volunteers we already have rather than spending a disproportionate amount of time recruiting, our teams would be healthier. And volunteers would stick for longer.
So how do we encourage?
Train them. As the world gets busier and social distancing is still a thing, offer training remotely. Give bite sized training through short videos or sharing stories of volunteer wins. Encouragement can be as simple as a weekly round-up before the teams go into rooms to serve.
Remind them of the vision, share information they need to succeed today, then pray for them as they go to serve kids.
Next steps: Just as in a garden, you don’t plant and walk away.
Even after everything is in the ground, we have to take more steps to keep our plants healthy. Here are a few next steps we can use to continue to build into our volunteers:
- Listen: Ask for specific feedback. What is bringing them joy? What’s their biggest frustration as they serve? Jesus often debriefed with His disciples. We must do that with our teams too.
- Give Feedback: Feedback is a great way to encourage and build into our volunteers. Tell them what they’re doing great and also share how they could be a better teammate. Challenge the hearts of those you are developing.
- Growth: Are there new things they’d like to try or additional responsibility they are ready for? Do you see something in them that they may not see in themselves? Encourage them and invite them to learn new skills or take on more leadership.
Also remember some volunteers are very happy where they are with no interest in moving, and that’s great. Others may be ready for more. Setting up regular times for you—or a volunteer leader—to talk with each volunteer is key to a thriving ministry and volunteers who stay.
God entrusts our volunteers to our care. We must shepherd them well.
We shepherd them by equipping them, then giving them authority and responsibility. Just as Jesus knows us, we must know our volunteers, so that we can guide them in the way that is best for them.
As leaders, building into our volunteers is one of the best and most important ways to reach more kids and grow an army of disciples to help kids grow in their faith.