Children's ministry volunteers are loving, caring people who
are...leaving? As much as we strive to recruit and keep them,
volunteers all too often make the decision to leave their
positions. The real reasons the high turnover of children's
ministry might not always be clear, but we have to dig deep to
discover the reasons so we can hang on to our fantastic volunteers.
What's causing people to slip out the door of your ministry...and
can you do something about it?
The Struggle With Fatigue
Being an active part of Sunday mornings has its downside: Many
of those in ministry find very little opportunity to attend a
worship service. Especially in smaller churches where worship time
is on-duty time, spiritual stagnation creeps in. Children's
ministry volunteers risk not nourishing themselves in Christian
Many people who've left children's ministry report feeling
caught in a "cycle." The hours, the people, and the church culture
create a trap for giving natures; it's easier to get in too deep
than it is to pull back. Even the things doctors tell everyone to
do -- such as getting enough rest and exercising on a regular basis
-- become extra tasks squeezed out by ministry commitments. It's a
path to physical exhaustion and spiritual collapse.
To counteract the exhaustion cycle, help volunteers commit to
health by recommending the following things.
- Keep reasonable hours. Jesus said, "The harvest is plentiful
but the workers are few" in Matthew 9:37, but he still left the crowds to
refresh himself. Help your volunteers control their schedules by
not allowing them to overcommit to children's ministry.
- Take care of themselves. Exercise may seem too time-intensive,
but the energy boost helps people focus more clearly and relax when
stress is unavoidable. In addition to recommended exercise,
encourage your volunteers to eat regular, healthful meals -- and
not just potlucks!
- Attend regular worship times. It's critical that volunteers
have time to worship. If you have multiple services on Sunday
mornings, this is easier to accomplish. If not, encourage your
volunteers to attend a midweek service so their worship becomes an
uninterrupted love song to God.
Balancing Ministry With Family
"There are beautiful Christian people who, if you're not
careful, will run you to exhaustion," says a former children's
Children's ministry can attract people who need to be needed --
to a fault. These people don't know when to say no and can
overcommit to the point that their families suffer. Other than
having a heart-to-heart talk with these "burn out" rather than
"rust out" volunteers, try these ideas.
- Do the simple math. New commitments mean new demands. If
there's going to be an addition to your list, there must be a
subtraction. Encourage overcommitted volunteers to decide what to
let go of before taking on a new task.
- Find an alternative position. If a volunteer simply can't scale
back to what his or her family needs in this life stage, help the
person look for another way to serve. Having written expectations
and agreed-upon hours can prevent guilt and miscommunication.
- Match prayer partners. In addition to prayer support, ask
partners to be accountability partners. Encourage honesty if one
person is becoming off-kilter. One person who left children's
ministry says a prayer partner needs to be someone with similar
experience. Praying with someone who understands provides a more
"It wasn't until I was walking out the door that I was listened
to," says a former children's minister. "There were too many layers
between the senior pastor and myself for him to even know there was
When people give their time and hearts to a ministry, they
develop ideas about the program. God speaks to everyone he calls,
so don't frustrate others' urge to improve the ministry. Of course
not all ideas will be used, but do your volunteers know why some
things make the cut and others don't? Be wary of the attitude that
volunteers aren't as knowledgeable as your hired staff. Taking
"just one of the moms" for granted increases the chances that she
To invite your volunteers' input:
- Rely on representation. Anywhere there are church decisions
being made, plant a person with children's concerns in mind.
Consider creating a committee made up of children's workers who
volunteer to attend other committees' meetings.
- Initiate changes wisely. Ask people for input rather than
telling them what you think should happen. And don't ask just to be
asking; be genuinely open to their ideas as you shape a new