If your story is anything like mine, maybe you found your way into kids ministry because you enjoyed working with children. From a young age, I knew I wanted to be a teacher and ended up working in elementary classrooms for almost 10 years. I eventually found myself in charge of the whole thing. It didn’t take long for me to discover that leading the adult ministry volunteers was a whole lot different than working directly with kids.
For the most part, kids will do what you ask of them because you’re an adult. In fact, they won’t actually admit it but they thrive in an environment where things are structured, predictable, and planned.
But leading adults? Just like all of us, they have busy lives outside of our ministry walls. They have their own ideas of what it looks like to win. The question is, how can we, as ministry leaders, create a culture that honors volunteers and sets them up to win both inside and outside the ministry space?
Here are 3 categories we might consider as we build a ministry that honors volunteers:
We can honor our volunteers by sharing information and curriculum early in the week so they can look at it when it’s convenient for them. What are the things we want our volunteers to know before they walk into our ministry on Sunday morning? Let’s communicate those things early in the week consistently. Maybe it’s an email on the same day each week, Facebook group post, or a text with bullet points (By the way, did you know we write a weekly leader email for you? Check your Orange Kids prelude folder!). Get in the habit of reminding the team of those things a few minutes before the kids arrive. A pre-service huddle is a great way to quickly cast vision, share important information, and pray with your team each week.
This goes without saying, but don’t let the only time the volunteers of your ministry hear from you be when you want to share ministry information. Instead, reach out to check in on them personally. You could follow up on how a surgery went or simply send a funny meme can go a long way. If you’ve got a big team, it might be time to recruit coaches who can help make it personal.
Free Resource to Help Honor Volunteers
Another awesome way to ensure volunteers are on the same page is to have volunteer events. In fact, our Volunteer Kickoff Event Kit is a free resource to help you equip volunteers before the year starts. It includes planning timelines, social media content, main stage messaging, and more! It’s a must-have to start off the year right for your volunteers.
We should celebrate our volunteers when they show up, go the extra mile, or invest in the lives of the kids in ministry. When you notice, be sure to call out the gifts you see in them personally. Ask them to share stories of wins with the group during your pre-service huddle.
You can also think about how to make celebrations a regular part of our volunteer culture. For example, look for certain Sundays you can make special. Maybe it’s iced coffee and bagels on Daylight Savings Sunday or a hot chocolate bar as you get close to Christmas.
Don’t forget to celebrate what is going on in the lives of our volunteers outside of the Sunday morning experience. In order to do that well, you’ll have to stay in touch with your volunteers regularly, know what’s going on in their lives, and be intentional about staying connected. What can you do to recognize birthdays? How can you celebrate a graduation or other life event? It could be as simple as a phone call, text message, snail mail, or small gift from the ministry. Set reminders or develop a system to keep track of things you can celebrate about your volunteers’ lives.
Yes, volunteers are superheroes who step up to do incredible things to invest in the lives of the kids of our ministries, but let’s not forget that they’re humans too. Many of them have jobs, kids of their own, health issues, scheduling conflicts, and so on.
Here are a few personal examples of ministry moments I wish I had shown empathy (names changed to Frozen characters for fun):
- Yes, Anna showed up late every Sunday with iced coffee in hand. But if had I taken the time to ask questions about her life, I would have known she was coming straight from overnight shifts at the hospital.
- Olaf abruptly quit his volunteer role. Had I paid more attention to his coming and going each week, I would have noticed he wasn’t attending service for himself. I probably would have been able to sense burnout coming.
- When I gave Elsa a stern talking to about interacting with kids appropriately, I didn’t expect her to break down and plead for help to be better.
When you have empathy, you’ll be able to better prepare for the unexpected. You can make those accommodations and backup plans when volunteers can’t show up. When they didn’t get a chance to read the email, when they need a Sunday off (whether they ask for it or not), you’ll be able to extend some grace. With empathy, you’ll be able to see them and what they’re going through.
If we want our volunteers to be physically, mentally, and spiritually present when they serve, we must be the leader they need. Let’s do all we can to communicate, celebrate, and show empathy for situations and experiences we may never know about.