Volunteers: How to Keep the Right People in Your Ministry

Make it your mission—especially in this challenging season—to find and keep volunteers who are on mission.
6 min read

We have a toy in our nursery that I bet is in one of your classrooms as well. The “shape sorter” has holes of different shapes and blocks that match. The toddler’s goal is to find the correct shape to fit into each hole.

Our goal in children’s ministry is similar. We have the never-ending job of filling the holes in our volunteer teams. We all know the feeling of scrambling, hoping and praying, and asking endless people.

child playing with shape board
Image Credit: jesssoper/RooM/Getty Images

To be honest, we are often trying to just fill the hole without taking the time to determine that we are finding the right fit. We are squeezing triangles into squares and calling it done. This may get all of the blanks filled in on our spreadsheet, but it isn’t healthy for our ministries long term.

And this seems to be magnified within our current national circumstances as we’re navigating COVID-19.

We are squeezing triangles into squares and calling it done.

With the constant demands of children’s ministry, how do we find the right people for our ministry? And beyond that, how do we keep the right people in our ministry once we find them?

Who Are the Right People?

The Right People Are Gifted by God

God has uniquely gifted individuals in your congregation to fulfill the work He has designed for your ministry. The tricky part is that they may not know it yet. You have to do the hard work of getting to know people on a personal level.

You have to pray for discernment for God to show you the gifts He has hidden inside of others and for Him to guide them to utilize their gifts. 

Consider adding some “entry level” spots on your team. These opportunities to serve allow volunteers to experience children’s ministry on a non-threatening level. You also have the opportunity to see how God has gifted them.

Positions like this may include greeters, “crowd control” in a large group setting, giving high fives at the door (even though that’s not likely right now), or shadowing an assistant in the classroom.

Right now this might look like setting up virtual meetings or coordinating activity packs and sending fun ideas for families.

Sam was one of those guys who said he would never, ever do children’s ministry. Imagine my great thrill the day I watched all 6’7” of him sitting and having tea with our three-year-olds. He started as a sub in the classroom, and we discovered the soft spot he has in his heart for preschoolers.

The right people are not just warm bodies in classrooms. They are uniquely gifted and created for serving God’s kids.

The Right People Are Truly Walking with Jesus

Portrait of smiling young woman wearing glasses in front of blue wall
Image Credit: Westend61/Getty Images

Sometimes we underestimate the importance of children’s ministry volunteers having a genuine growing relationship with Christ. But our volunteers’ most important task is pointing kids towards Jesus.

Because of that, no amount of skill in working with kids can make up for a gap in following the Lord. True character always shows through in one way or another.

The Right People Are Committed and Dependable

The right people don’t have to be convinced to show up on time and to be prepared. They are all in. Sure, everyone has one of “those mornings” or they forget to let you know they are on vacation.

But for the most part, the right volunteers are going to be where they are supposed to be and be committed to doing what they are supposed to be doing.

The Right People Are Coachable

The right volunteers probably aren’t the ones who already know everything there is to know. We all need coaching, and the right volunteers for your team will be open to new ideas and new approaches.

Especially in this season, it’s important to have people who can dream beyond what we’ve always done.

How Do We Keep the Right People in Our Ministry?

One of the greatest game-changers for your ministry is to keep the right people in place long term. Obviously, you can’t require anyone to sign on until Jesus comes back. However, if you have to replace the majority of your volunteers each year, you will be expending crazy amounts of energy in recruiting and training.

By keeping your all-star volunteers in place, you can build consistency, depth of relationships, and quality within your ministry.

So, once you’ve got the right people on your team, how do you keep them?

Encourage Investment

Your volunteers need to feel that they are invested in your ministry. You don’t want them to just show up on Sundays. You can provide ownership by involving them in the process.

Look for opportunities for your volunteers to provide input and participate in decision making. Let them know that their opinions matter. Help them know that this is their ministry.

Meet Their Needs

Portrait of smiling young woman against sky raising hands
Image Credit: Westend61/Getty Images

Even your best volunteers will eventually leave if they experience frustration week in and week out. If volunteers regularly don’t have the supplies they need, are short-staffed, or aren’t fully equipped to do their job, frustration increases.

By recognizing that your primary job is to set your volunteers up for success, the right volunteers will be more likely to stick.

Build Community

Serving in kidmin can become lonely. If we aren’t intentional about building community among our volunteers, they will begin to feel disconnected from the rest of the church. We instituted “five-minute meetings” before each service.

You can even do this virtually—just plan the time accordingly.

Volunteers are encouraged to meet before reporting to their assigned spots. On Sundays before COVID, we were bribing volunteers with doughnuts. During these meetings we aim to provide spiritual encouragement and logistical reminders, but the greatest benefit we have seen is that our volunteers feel connected with each other.

Each week they share prayer requests and praises. They know one another’s names and get to share a little bit of life with each other.

When They Don’t Stay Forever

Even when you do everything right, there will be times that your best volunteers will be called to do something else for a season. The way you treat a volunteer when they decide to stop serving determines the likelihood that they will one day return.

If you are gracious, they will remember that and potentially come back in a different season of life. If you make it a negative experience, then you might be lucky if they walk down your hall again, or in this day and age, visit your Zoom meeting.

Volunteers will leave, that is just a fact of ministry. When they do, their last impression of your ministry will be how you respond to their resignation. That last impression is what they will pass on to their friends.

What volunteers and former volunteers communicate is largely what determines the reputation of the culture of your ministry.

God hadn’t called me to train volunteers to build my own children’s ministry kingdom—He had called me to train leaders to build His.

Sometimes, It’s a Win

I was disappointed the day two of my very best large group volunteers told me they wanted to transition to middle school ministry. I felt these men were invaluable in their roles and knew they would be near impossible to replace, but they truly felt God was calling them to move up with the kids graduating from our ministry.

God reminded me that this was a win. He hadn’t called me to train volunteers to build my own children’s ministry kingdom—He had called me to train leaders to build His.

God always has a plan for our ministries. He has the right people for the right seasons. We get the amazing job of living out Ephesians 4:12 where we are called to, “equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.”

Make it your mission to strive to find the right people for the right places for the benefit of God’s kingdom. Even in the midst of this very hard and challenging season.

Church Support image thumb

The David C Cook Church Support Program

Imagine feeling confident that families are equipped with true discipleship materials. That’s what you’ll get with the Church Support Program. Check it out and get access to discipleship resources for leading families, children, youth, and adults—digitally or in person.
Church Support image thumb

The David C Cook Church Support Program

This program is designed to help church leaders, teachers, and volunteers continue ministry—whether virtually, in person, or a hybrid of the two.
Church Support image thumb

The David C Cook Church Support Program

This program is designed to help church leaders, teachers, and volunteers continue ministry—whether virtually, in person, or a hybrid of the two.

post article end mark
  Updated on September 11, 2020

About the Author

  • Jenny Funderburke Smith is the wife of Dan and mama of three sweet and crazy girls. She is the Minister to Children at West Bradenton Baptist Church in Bradenton, Florida. She is a founding leader of Gospel@Center and blogs at jennyfsmith.com because she is passionate about equipping the church to disciple children to follow Jesus. Jenny also loves investing in other children's ministry leaders through one-on-one conversations, informal gatherings, or speaking at national conferences (such as CPC or Lifeway's Etch). She really loves ice cream, Tennessee football, and the beach.

© 2020 David C Cook. All rights reserved.
© 2019 David C Cook. All rights reserved.
Ministry Spark email logo

Want to spark a stronger ministry? We'll show you how.

Join others who are taking their ministries to the next level with our regular email insights.

Please click “Submit” if you would like to receive our email updates, which may contain information about our products. Your use of this site is subject to our Terms of Use, and we will process your personal data in accordance with our Privacy Policy, which also contains details as to how you may unsubscribe from receiving our email updates.

Want to spark a stronger ministry? We'll show you how. Subscribe to email insights.

Please click “subscribe” if you would like to receive our email updates, which may contain information about our products. We will process your personal data in accordance with our privacy policy, which also contains details as to how you may unsubscribe from receiving our email updates.

Register for Supporting Families in an Anxious World

Space for this webinar is limited. Register now to reserve your seat.

Register for Pastor to Pastor: Strategies for Leading Through COVID-19

Space for this webinar is limited. Register now to reserve your seat.