No matter where you are right now, it’s safe to say you’ve been affected by the COVID-19 crisis. We’ve experienced uncertainty and crisis like never before as we’ve navigated this pandemic in our communities. As kids ministry leaders and volunteers, we’ve pivoted to keep showing up for our kids and our volunteers—even when we can’t be “with” them. So, what now? What do we do to keep showing up for kids and volunteers as many of us near the end of sheltering-in-place to embrace a whole new normal in our world?
Welcome to the Orange Kids Podcast, where we talk about the big ideas of kids’ ministry and discuss practical solutions to our weekly challenges. In this weeks’ special edition, Alison Leamon, Next Gen Pastor at Preston Trail Community Church in Frisco, Texas, joins Mike and Gina to talk how to lead and train volunteers to re-engage after a crisis.
Kellen is missing this week, because… KELLEN IS GETTING MARRIED. WHAT?! Join us in a big digital toast to Kellen and Katie!
Now back to our regular (un)scheduled programming.
Right this second, we don’t know where you live or what you’re facing.
We don’t know how COVID-19 has affected you and your family.
We don’t know where your job stands or what your loved ones are doing in order to safeguard against this virus.
We don’t know what anxieties or worries you’re contending with or what you’re saying to your family or friends in order to minimize worry.
But we do know that we’re all in this together. And know that Orange Kids is committed to walking alongside you through it.
1. What are the biggest challenges you have seen regarding volunteers in this current season of ministry?
Alison: Our volunteers are experiencing such a broad spectrum. These volunteers said yes to kids in a season that looked very different. How do you care for people and help them lead their few well when their reality has changed, too?
Gina: Some volunteers are able to lean in more during this season because COVID-19 has given them a reprieve from their day-to-day. For other volunteers, this has introduced complexities into their daily routine. They have less margin. Not just schedule, but less emotional margin.
Mike: There’s a fatigue that comes with this season. We’ve gotten a physical break, but there’s mental and digital fatigue. As leaders, it’s our instinct to care first and foremost for the kids. But we can’t bypass our volunteers
2. Let’s talk about volunteer fatigue. How can we help?
Alison: I know my role is a shepherd. But everything we knew before is different. Content didn’t change, but context does.
Our win in this season is to shepherd our people to connect with God, each other, and the church. If we’ve done that, we’ve won. Not necessarily if they come back.
Isaiah 40 – God carries them close to his heart; he knows their vulnerable places.
Knowing our volunteers’ vulnerable places in this season is a measure of winning.
Gina: I love that you redefined what the win is. The measurable outcome is not necessarily if they come back.
To learn vulnerabilities means to truly pursue and see them. It’s not just pushing an email out with asks. It’s, “How can I personally connect with you and see how this has impacted you?”
The mental and emotional fatigue of figuring out the day-to-day in this season is like learning how to dribble a basketball again; you constantly have to focus.
Mike: I love how you said you see your role and your teams’ role as shepherds. I think at the beginning of [COVID-19 restrictions], we felt like we had to be cruise directors – fill in the time. We realized that’s not sustainable. What is our role as a shepherd like, practically?
Alison: Time is a simple way to spell love. Everyone connects differently. What we knew before, we’re having to readjust and be flexible. We still have huddles online before services. There are some people who won’t show, but that’s okay. We keep checking in and asking key questions.
If our strategy is to gather on weekends, we need to ask if they’re getting fed.
If they have a two-year-old, when are they able to watch?
Which of my leaders are in small groups and getting fed?
How do I partner with adult ministries? I should be the biggest proponent of discipleship ministries. A healthy volunteer is the best leader.
Mike: Do you have a set of key questions for volunteers?
Alison: It’s decentralized. All staff do it a little differently. How are you? Where are they on that discipleship journey. What’s keeping you up at night? What’s that journey in your head? You have to circle back. How are you really?
Gina: You have a shared spreadsheet listing every volunteer.
Alison: All 20 staff members were given volunteers to connect with. They can leave notes so I can see. It’s been helpful for me to see a broad swath—notes like: this is the common theme of who is able to serve, who is in their small group.
Gina: If a leader doesn’t have staff members to assign, they could recruit coaches/other volunteers to make those calls.
Mike: Have the spreadsheet. Set a goal: This week, I’m going to contact three volunteers; no ask, just see how they are doing.
Alison: We’ve asked our small group leaders to reach out to our kids. We ask – How did it go? How many did you hear back from? What’s a takeaway? It’s not checking a box.
Mike: As a ministry leader, when we start meeting again together – we’ll have volunteers who are eager and some who are not as comfortable and may not come back right away, or at all. But we still need volunteers.
3. Is it possible to recruit during this season?
Alison: I’ve watched another part of our church flourish during this season – our service in the community. Our church is not historically known for doing it well. But a staff member launched something new and people saying “yes.” New people are stepping into leadership.
Yes, we can recruit volunteers during this season, but our shepherd’s heart and radar need to be turned up tenfold.
Recruitment is possible. We have to start with re-upping and rechecking with every volunteer and not seeing it as a loss if they say “no.” We may need to place them in a different part of the ministry.
Gina: Is it possible as you’re engaging families, that this is a space where potential volunteers can come from?
Alison: Paying attention to who is active on your social media could be a potential source. You can connect with new and more frequent commenters. Sideline relationships. Find out who your adult ministries are seeing engage and shoulder tap.
Mike: Having our services for KidMin online has exposed children’s ministry to a whole new audience. Some people may be interested in being involved now.
Alison: We have a student leader who tapped into a volunteer who is a student to help film services. This student invited a friend in the neighborhood who doesn’t go to church to help.
Gina: Possibilities are open. We have to change the way we think and the way we see the landscape. I used to recruit around the coffee station. Where can I now?
Mike: This has exposed to everyone the importance of community in our lives. The value of community has gone through the roof.
You may have had people in the small group space who still saw it as Sunday School or childcare. Now you want leaders who have seen the value of community.
Alison: We just had a new volunteer training – 70 new leaders who had joined in January and February. My content changed. My win for small groups changed. We’re refining the small group leader role: It’s not about weekly attendance. It’s about weekly connection.
Gina: This season is refining vision in a powerful way. I talked to a leader who has seen stronger connection between many of his volunteer leaders and the kids and parents they serve because they are having to fight for it. When they can meet in a physical building that connection will be better because of a refined vision.
4. How are you training and equipping volunteers for this season and for when we start to reopen in person?
Alison: The win of training is that you understand your puzzle piece, but also the whole picture on the puzzle box.
As I look at retraining, I want to take my new leader training and do it again for everyone. Safety and security will be heightened. But also, I want to retrain in terms of the win. The content hasn’t changed, but the context has.
I want a big beautiful spreadsheet with every small group leader. We will plan to reach out personally and see if they reup and then provide a new NextGen ministry orientation.
Gina: It’s re-recruiting and reorienting to the vision. Retraining on safety procedures (continuing and new). What about training around how volunteers will interact with kids? How can they be sensitive?
Alison: We are beta testing with onsite childcare for our staff. Thirty kids. Separation anxiety will be high for all ages. It will involve respecting different families’ preferences, even if you disagree. Everyone has differing perspectives on what is appropriate.
We will make what matters to the parent matter to us.
Mike: The anxiety part is the huge unseen thing. Have to equip volunteers to deal with it.
Our summer camp just got clearance to meet overnight, but with a lot of guidelines. All kids have to take a COVID-19 test. My son is very anxious about it.
Alison: We’re about empowering small group leaders, but in order to make sure every kid is cared for, it requires changing strategies.
Before COVID-19, we didn’t have a formal opt in for small group – if you attend regularly, you’re on the roster. We just did a focus group with parents. Parents getting a consistent connection with small group leaders loved it – but the ones who dropped off the roster because of low attendance were lost. I was holding them to a standard they didn’t even know about. I had to look at all kids who have attended this year. We recruit other people than just small group leaders to chalk tag every kid who has attended.
5. Where can someone start this week?
Alison: Know your people. Then you can shepherd them. If you don’t know them, you will be answering questions they aren’t asking.
These volunteers are not a means to an end. They are the end.
Start today by texting three volunteers you haven’t connected with.
Gina: I would second that. Start with learning more about where they are. Start with volunteers, then shift to families. Grab volunteers who have head space to connect with parents to help you.
A family forum is great. Ask questions. Get their perspective. It is eye opening.
Reach out to your volunteers. Hear them, see them.
Reach out to your families. Hear them, see them.
Mike: Pick three volunteers. Pick three families. Start there.
Free Downloadable Resource
Want to recruit great small group leaders but don’t know where to start? Learn how to identify and connect with potential volunteers with a free resource from Orange Kids and Lead Small. You’ll learn who to look for, know what to say, and recruit with confidence. Download the guides for FREE today.