The temptation is real. Every Sunday at about 8am I want to turn off my phone and put my email on auto-reply to say, “It’s too late. If you’re emailing to say you can’t come today, I might have to cancel church.”

The irony to those Sunday morning anxieties is that in 20 years of doing kids’ ministry, I’ve never had to cancel church. I’ve combined a few classes and prayed that more kids would show up at one service than another. But we’ve never cancelled church because my volunteers called in last minute or didn’t show up.

You might give the credit to the pure tenacity of a Kids’ Pastor, but there is something we must never forget. I remember realizing it one Sunday as despair started to creep in and I made “my plans” to cover the morning. . .

God loves His church, this ministry, these kids—even more than you do.

You cannot “out love” God on this—His plans and purposes will prevail. He will use the people who are in your ministry during any given service time to accomplish those purposes. You can trust His provision in the midst of your calamity. Even the last-minute soccer game or sickness cannot thwart that.

That statement may calm you in the midst of the struggle. But once the crisis is over, it’s a good leadership practice to step back and consider the whole picture. Here are some questions to consider as you assess why “no shows” may be an ongoing struggle for you.

teacher playing with toddler ministry volunteers
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Do volunteers understand how important they are to your ministry?

We may ask for less commitment or preparation to make a volunteer position sound easy or palatable when we’re recruiting. But it’s my experience that leaders who serve weekly and are asked to prepare for a specific small group of children are the least likely to cancel. These volunteers know exactly which kids are counting on them. And because they put in the preparation time, they don’t want to miss unless they’re facing a dire emergency.

  • Do your volunteer leaders understand the purpose of their roles?
  • Do they have enough responsibility?

Have you defined your expectations for volunteers?

Each year, our volunteers sign a covenant. The covenant lists our expectations—including letting us know a week in advance if they need to be gone. In return, we commit to doing everything we can to facilitate their serving. Because we both signed the covenant, I feel a responsibility to meet with people who come late or don’t show up, because I have agreed to a role in their discipleship and accountability.

  • Where do you have your expectations laid out?
  • Do you and your volunteers make commitments to each other and agree to hold each other accountable?

Do you remind volunteers of the amazing things God is doing in and through them?

cheering fans ministry volunteers
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Each week, in your email to your team, celebrate something going on in your ministry or in the church. Point out how each person contributed. You can think of ways your team made a contribution to the big win through serving! Maybe you had a record number of visitors, and new kids and their parents were able to hear the Gospel! Or if a 5th grader trusted Christ for the first time, realize that everyone from the nursery workers to the band teaching the child to worship were part of that child’s journey toward knowing and trusting Jesus!

  • Are you inspiring your team?
  • What can you celebrate this week?

Is this the best place for them to serve?

This is the hardest question to ask—and to answer. When you have a volunteer who consistently shows up late or not at all, whose purposes are they accomplishing? Meet with your volunteers with a heart to disciple and pastor them toward living out God’s purposes for their lives—not preserving your own ministry. In our desperation to “fill a hole,” we often overlook problems rather than sitting down to discern why a volunteer is not showing up. Acknowledge that they may need to move into a different area of ministry. Be prepared that their reason may reflect on your leadership as well.

  • Is there a deeper reason your volunteers are not showing up?
  • Is their current role best for them?

In our desperation to “fill a hole,” we often overlook problems rather than sitting down to discern why a volunteer is not showing up.

Asking these 4 questions of yourself and your ministry takes some courage. It’s easier to blame it on someone else or just allow people to serve sporadically—at least they’re filling a hole for that Sunday and giving us a reprieve. But when we are brave enough to take a hard look at ourselves and the way we lead, as well as our volunteers and their needs, it allows us all to grow. This is the practice of discipleship of volunteers—rather than seeing them as people who are meeting our volunteer needs, we see the ways we could all grow from accountability.

Always remember: God loves this ministry, these volunteers, the kids even more than you do. May you find the courage to ask the right questions and release your grip, and in doing so find and develop more consistent, discipled volunteers.