Like water to a fish, affirmation is to volunteers. As
children's ministry leaders, we know that we need to say thank you
to our staff often and in creative ways. A note here. A gift there.
A word of praise.
If you've run out of out-of-the-box ways to affirm your
volunteers, read on to find great ideas from six children's
ministry leaders around the country. And to see the affirmation's
impact, keep reading to see how people were blessed and affirmed by
the great affirmations.
Larry Shallenberger, pastor of children's ministry at Grace
Baptist Church in Erie, Pennsylvania, remembers how he noticed that
Bill Mason needed a great affirmation.
"While I was comparing notes with our youth minister Derek
Sanford, we noticed one of our volunteers had spent an enormous
amount of time in both the children's and youth ministries over the
course of a few months," Larry says. "Bill Mason runs the
children's church program, leads the youth praise band, and took on
leading the worship at both the children's and youth
Larry describes Bill as a high-capacity volunteer who creates the
culture of their children's and youth ministries by evoking
laughter, inspiring prayer and worship, and instilling an awe of
God. Bill also involves his teenage children in all ministry areas.
And as we all know, when there's a great married volunteer, there's
a great supportive spouse at home.
"We also recognized that Bill's wife, Carrie, had made a great
sacrifice in sharing her husband," Larry says, "so we wanted to
'give Bill back' to his wife. That's why we split the cost of a bed
and breakfast getaway."
"The affirmation was an un-looked-for blessing!" Bill exclaims.
"When Larry and Derek told me they were going to do this, I did a
double take and said, 'Why?' It never really sank in until I told
my wife. She got very excited and was able to relive a dream she'd
had for years about staying at the bed and breakfast in Westfield,
Bill adds, "And God gave us a peaceful and restful time
Bill's commitment, enthusiasm, and thankfulness are obvious as he
explains, "My desire is to motivate kids of all ages to fall in
love with Jesus and live their lives for him. I felt that this
affirmation made all my efforts appreciated. But I must add that I
couldn't do all the things I do without the teams that support my
efforts and ideas! And the kids of all ages seem to relate to the
things that I do. Thankfully, God blesses it time after time. I'm
always amazed at his grace."
GOING TO DISNEYLAND
Cheryl Wong, director of children's Christian education at Church
of the Good Shepherd in Loveland, Colorado, has an administrative
assistant who goes way beyond any other.
"Lori Stauffer goes the extra 110 percent in her job. She keeps me
on my toes and thinks of so many details," Cheryl says. "Lori
blesses me so much in her details and thinking of the
administrative end of things. She's always willing to help out even
when it goes beyond her job duties, and many times her family time
will get interrupted. Lori truly desires to see that this ministry
is operated in the best possible way."
Cheryl recognized that Lori's family was on a tight budget for a
family vacation to California, so she bought tickets to Disneyland
for the entire family from the KICKS (Kids In Christ's Kingdom
"I thought it would be great to bless her whole family when they
went on vacation," Cheryl says.
Cheryl's great affirmation was no small thing!
"It was a total surprise," Lori explains. "We were going on a trip
with our family, and before we left Cheryl gave us those tickets.
We really appreciated it...we really needed it! My family thought
it was wonderful -- especially my husband."
Lori's humility is evident as she discloses her feelings about
Cheryl's gift. "I felt...mmm...undeserving," she says. "Surprised.
Really blessed, though. I know Cheryl is a wonderful person, and
this just affirmed that. It made me feel appreciated."
SIGN ME UP
Larry Crane, the education pastor, at Cherry Hills Baptist Church
in Springfield, Illinois, says, "We believe that volunteers who are
willing to invest in the ministry to children need to be trained
and treated well. We have a commitment to those who commit to the
Larry's church provides free travel, food, and convention expenses
for key volunteers. Last year, Cherry Hills sent 15 of their
leaders to a training workshop in Springfield.
"Invest in the training of your volunteers, and it will pay
rewards many times over," Larry encourages. "And don't be afraid to
invest in your teen leaders and take them to training as
Nancy Walker, preschool teacher and director of Vacation Station,
Cherry Hills' midweek summer program for preschool through
fifth-grade, is one of the teachers who's received this great
affirmation of the church investing in her.
"I'm excited about the direction we're going," Nancy says. "We've
always had strong convictions about the people involved in
children's ministries, and now we're taking it to the next level by
building the people up from the inside out to serve joyfully and
Nancy outlines added benefits to sending staff and volunteers to
ongoing training. "I've been able to attend workshops and
conferences I've never been able to go to because money and
transportation were a barrier. Since these are no longer a concern,
I can find the training that's useful and exciting for me. And
that's had an added benefit of friendships and fellowship with
other children's workers and volunteers. To share the ups and downs
that all children's workers deal with and to lift each other up is
priceless! It's also great to get ideas and to brainstorm; the
creative benefits spill over to the people we serve."
It sounds like Larry is getting a return on his investment.
"The encouragement, fellowship, and investment make me feel
worthwhile and on fire to serve," Nancy says, "and I've found that
there are many ways I can serve now. It helps me use my gifts in
fulfilling and God-glorifying ways.
Showing this kind of care is a hands-on way to show God's love and
kindness to volunteers and workers."
Keeping volunteers and staff motivated and fueled-up is a key to
the long-term success of children's ministry. Gary Webb, the
children's ministry director at Northwoods Community Church in
Peoria, Illinois, recognizes this fact when it comes to a key
couple in his church.
"Steve and Peggy Kastelein volunteer primarily in two major ways,"
explains Gary. "They oversee our midweek Awana ministry with about
200 kids per week, and they direct more than 60 leaders and
But that's not all. Gary goes on to expand the Kasteleins' list of
contributions. "Steve serves on the Discovery- land Leadership Team
where he provides outstanding leadership skills. He maintains more
than 30 computers with tons of computer issues. He's often in our
offices before work early in the morning or late at night providing
a service most offices pay for. He and Peggy have huge hearts for
the children and adults they serve. They provide numerous outside
special events for families, children, and volunteers."
To give back to the Kasteleins and help them recharge, Northwoods'
leadership team gave them one of several weekend packages. These
packages had been donated to the church to be used for people who
needed a getaway. Steve and Peggy's names came up more than once in
the process of deciding who to bless with the gifts.
When they got the special gift, they were surprised.
"We were very surprised and honored," Steve says. "God doesn't
call us to ministry so that we can be recognized by others.
However, there is an appropriate time when appreciation from
leaders is encouraging and helps to refill the tanks. We've tried
to remember this with our own ministry teams."
"We thoroughly enjoyed our weekend away, and we want to thank the
anonymous donor." Steve adds. "People just need to know that their
service is appreciated and is having an impact. Sometimes something
more than the words 'thank you' is the best way to do that."
TIME TO RETREAT
The Vineyard Church of Fort Collins, Colorado, believes that their
volunteers are not only a vital part of their children's ministry
but that they're also ministers of the gospel to children.
Debbie Wichman, assistant director of children's ministry, says,
"It's our small group leaders who have the biggest impact on kids.
They model and express the love of God in practical, everyday ways.
They help kids struggle with how the Bible applies to their lives,
and they pray with and for our kids. Although we only ask for a
nine-month commitment, 75 percent of our volunteers return for many
years. They've been faithful for the long haul."
To affirm these ministers, Vineyard's congregation paid for the
volunteers to attend a team-building and training retreat at Little
America in Cheyenne, Wyoming, as a kick-off event for the new
Debbie fills in the background to this story. "This came at a time
when God was doing awesome things in our children's ministry," she
says. "In just a few months, nearly 100 children responded to the
gospel message. Our pastor told the congregation about it, along
with a wish list of about $10,000 worth of equipment and resources
to expand our ministry. The congregation responded with a special
offering that was the biggest confirmation of our children's
ministry we've ever seen. As important as equipment and resources
are, we realized we needed to invest in our most important
resource-the volunteers who work directly with the children."
The retreat allowed volunteers Peggy Colburn, Mark and Karol
Dempsey, Julio Garcia, Tanis Roeder, and Libby Stoddard time
together to affirm and encourage one another, pray together, and
get to know each other better.
Julio explains the impact this retreat had on him. "The retreat
was a time of fun, team-building, and honing our teaching and
ministry skills," he says. "I've never doubted that The Vineyard
places great importance on our children's ministries. This retreat
confirmed it. The time we spent together was uplifting, and we also
learned new tools from our fantastic, expert leaders."
One of the things mentioned during the retreat was statistics
about the impact of the team's work-the number of children who gave
their lives to Christ and the prayers that were answered.
"It was one of the most poignant examples of how a seemingly small
impact by any one of us adds up to a significant change in our
community," Julio adds. "With this affirmation, the church
continued to recognize the hard work of The Vineyard's volunteers.
I felt honored and appreciated."
ADDING A PERSONAL TOUCH
"To show our director of our Performing Arts Kids Troupe how much
we appreciate her efforts, I gave Sherry Woods a certificate for a
full body massage and facial along with an additional cash gift,"
explains Alice Bell-Gaines, children's pastor at Faith Community
Church in West Covina, California.
Sherry's overall effort for Faith Comcommittee -- and everything
else from choosing the menu to coordinating 250 staff and
volunteers and the program for 400 participants! She was also
instrumental in all phases of the Kids Troupe production of
Alice says, "What's great about working with Sherry is that she
makes certain to understand how each activity ties into the overall
vision of our children's ministry, and her goal is to glorify Jesus
through first-class events. She won't settle for less! She has a
strong gift in the area of public relations and the arts and shares
her gift whenever possible. She's helped to enhance the team spirit
among our volunteers and encourages all members to use their gifts.
Sherry is very much loved by the staff, parents, and children for
the love she extends to others."
Sherry explains what Alice's thoughtful gifts have meant to her.
"I feel that affirmations are from God," she says. "It's his way of
telling us that we're on track and that we did what was required
with a servant's heart He's a rewarder of those who diligently seek
"In performing this act of service and receiving an affirmation, I
learned that God does see our work and labor of love in ministering
to his children. I thank God for the people he uses. He used me to
bring the programs into fruitation; he used the volunteers to make
the efforts run smoothly; and he used my leader, Pastor Alice
Bell-Gaines, to confirm that it was in line with the vision she has
and the vision of Faith Community Church to minister to the people.
I'm always surprised and in awe that the Lord would bestow this
type of honor on me or any of his people who do what we do in
ministry. I'm called to be a servant. When God is pleased, I'm
Nancy Friscia is the Quality Assurance Editor for the
Communications Division at Group Publishing in Loveland,