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Project Kickstart

Lesleigh Keetch

12 ways to re-energize weary volunteers.

It's spring -- the season when we rejoice in the promise of new life and refreshed spirits. So why do your volunteers seem collectively glazed over? Spring time, despite its outdoor splendor, can be a little gloomy in the children's ministry area. Some volunteers suffer from spring fever, while others find themselves counting the days 'till school ends with more enthusiasm than their kids. But children -- and you -- need these treasured volunteers' undivided attention in your ministry.

Children's Ministry Magazine went on a fact-finding mission to learn how veteran children's ministers keep volunteers energized and refueled during the "final stretch" of the volunteer year­ -- a time when volunteers may be tempted to coast or check out.

Kudos -- in all shapes and sizes -- motivate.

Volunteer appreciation never goes out of season -- and giving your volunteers unexpected recognition for their dedication not only boosts their dedication, it also increases their commitment to you.

Affirmation comes in more forms than packaged gifts and formal ceremonies. Read on to discover the unique and thoughtful ways these children's ministers affirm their volunteers.

• Unexpected Applause-"Applaud your volunteers," says Debbie Spidle, children's ministry director for Point of Grace Church in Des Moines, Iowa. "Let them know that you value them and their time."

Spidle affirms her volunteers with personal touches. She gives surprise "treat bags" to volunteers on random Sundays and sends handwritten cards in the mail.

"Even baking cookies can warm hearts and let volunteers know you care about them," says Spidle.

When you know volunteers' energy is lagging or during times of high stress, encourage your team. Spidle sends her volunteers Easter Survival Kits packed with candies and cards during this very busy time.

• Stay-at-Home Getaways-Several children's ministers we talked to suggested well-timed escapes to rejuvenate a tired staff.

You can create a sense of escape without exotic locations and big bucks. A small, casual retreat at your church is budget-friendly and can give volunteers a well-earned time for fun. Cater a meal or go potluck. Give volunteers the gift of great food and conversation. Don't overschedule your time, but plan for a speaker or other program that ministers to your volunteers. Express your genuine appreciation to each person.

Susan Martinez, religious education director of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Durango, Colorado, agrees that sharing food and good conversation is a great way to affirm volunteers. Her church treats volunteers to a Friday night movie and hot dog party. Martinez says the casual Friday night out lets her volunteers reconnect and rediscover their enthusiasm during the waning months.

• Time to Relate-Cheryl Wong, children's pastor at Church of the Good Shepherd in Loveland, Colorado, builds relationships to affirm volunteers.

"We like to go off campus, bring all our volunteers together, eat, play fun games, and thank everyone for how they serve," says Wong.

Good Shepherd's leadership team also sponsors Coffee Share every other month on a Sunday morning before church. They invite the entire children's ministry team and provide child care, food, and enrichment such as a guest speaker.

"We truly want our team to develop relationships with each other and our leadership," says Wong.

• Real-World Adventures-Martinez says real-world adventures, such as helping at a local soup kitchen, keep her volunteers motivated because they're a change of routine that also inspire her team's love of service.

In-class adventures also rejuvenate volunteers' stamina. Consider special art projects or out-of-the box activities to put new energy into your classrooms, advises Martinez. Kids can grow tired of the routine; so can your volunteers. Giving classes unusual activities or letting classes combine for special projects will shake up the routine and motivate your volunteers.

• Family Appreciation-After hosting a volunteer appreciation Christmas party in years past, Hannah French, children's pastor at Southeast Christian Church in Parker, Colorado, says her church decided on a new approach this year by hosting a family appreciation party when volunteers' energy was lagging most.

"Our team feels that it's just as important to appreciate the families of the people who serve," says French. "Our party will have lots of fun activities for kids, teens, and adults. We'll also creatively tell everyone how important they are and how much we appreciate them. The event will have lots of energy and excitement, using music, video, and drama. We'll take the time to pour back into the families who pour so much into our ministry."

• Real Relationships-Never underestimate the power of a personal relationship when it comes to motivating volunteers, advises French.

"If you invest personally in people, you'll know when they need extra motivation and encouragement," says French. "You'll be able to tell them specifically what they've done well or relate to the difficulties in their personal lives. You'll know when they need to go get that extra cup of coffee just to chat. When your leaders see you investing in their lives, they'll do the same in the lives of the people they lead. In ministry, you can never go wrong when you invest personally in people."

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