For 20 years Roger Mailand has been the minister of education
and youth at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Portage, Michigan. In
those 20 years, Roger has had very low volunteer turnover, with
some teachers staying on for 20 years. Roger even has a waiting
list for all the volunteers who want to get on board, but there
aren’t enough open spaces. Sounds incredible? That’s what we
So we called up Roger to mine his treasured secrets to
success-secrets that could turn your program around. Here’s what he
Work as a team. Present a united front to
potential volunteers. “We are best of friends,” Roger says of his
pastor Ken Allan. “We like each other. He was never threatened by
the presence of another professional, and he didn’t have to be the
boss. So we’ve shared a ministry…He’s very enthusiastic,
energetic, and supportive of my ministry and the educational
Who wouldn’t want to get involved with a team like that?
Value children. Jesus said, “Where your
treasure is, your heart is.” If church leadership doesn’t treasure
children, why will church members?
“On Sunday morning,” Roger says, “it’s much more important for
Ken to greet children by name than parents. He touches every one of
them in addition to shaking hands….He has worked very hard to
learn the first names of all 180 children we have right now from
birth to eighth grade. And I do the same thing.”
Involve children in church life. Roger makes
children visible and integral parts of all of church life. Beyond
special services for Christmas or Easter where children are the
worship leaders, children participate in readers theater or drama
during regular worship services.
Budget generously. Money issues can be an
obstacle for volunteers. So there are no out-of-pocket expenses for
volunteers at Roger’s church. “We budget very generously for
resources, curriculum, and training,” Roger boasts.
“Call” people to teach. Roger doesn’t beg for
teachers. Instead, church members complete talent sheets and
express interest in ministries. Roger and Ken visit people in their
homes to further discover hobbies and interests. Then Roger, Ken,
and the board of education select people, based on their gifts,
talents, and personalities.
There’s never any coercion, Roger says. “There’s always somebody
else out there that the Lord will lead us to fill that
Train volunteers. Tell teachers that training
is part of their job. Then make training meaningful and
short-preferably over a few weeks. “We usually do an in-service
here in the fall of about four to six weeks or maybe four to six
Saturday mornings in a row,” says Roger.
Capitalize on team members’ strengths. Your
team will be strengthened as you value each person’s contribution.
“I utilize some of the public [school]teachers in my area who have
certain gifts and skills,” says Roger. “Our eighth-grade teacher is
an ADD specialist. That’s a gift to us. My fifth- and sixth-grade
teacher deals with a group of problem children in a neighboring
school district…Teachers ask him questions about how to address
Stay in constant contact. Connect with
volunteers weekly. You can do this personally as Roger does, or
connect through ministry coordinators who have responsibility for
the teachers in their area.
“I talk to teachers on Sundays, I call them on the phone and
they call me,” says Roger. “We stay in constant contact. I’m here
to solve their problems, answer their questions, or meet their
needs-whatever the case might be.”
Design a quality learning environment. Your
facilities tell people whether you take your program seriously or
not. “We remodeled the building to accommodate children and
teachers,” Roger says. “We have lots of additional space for free
movement so children have the space to move and do things.”
Provide the best resources. The last-minute
scramble for resources is enough to drive your volunteers into
early retirement. Roger makes sure his volunteers have access to
plenty of resources.
“In my office, I have an audio-visual library of about 600
videos,” Roger says. “We also have art supplies like you’d find in
a school art room-anything teachers want.”
Create a clear job description. A typical job
description at Roger’s church contains the goal of the position,
who the person will be responsible to, a detailed list of
responsibilities, the time frame of service, and time requirements
that include preparation hours, qualifications or special skills,
and benefits to the volunteers.
Be flexible. Just because you’ve found what you
think is the greatest curriculum, worship music, or whatever, don’t
force it on your volunteers. Be patient. Respect their gifts and
backgrounds and gently pull them forward. Roger recalls one teacher
“who had developed her own curriculum and could not make the
transition to hands-on curriculum. She tried, but she said, ‘I
can’t do this.’ And I didn’t want her to quit teaching. She had
taught 19 years.” So Roger lets her teach in the way that’s most
comfortable to her and encourages her to innovate.
Serve teachers. If Roger had a theme song, it
would be “I’ll Do Anything for You!”
“I make sure the classrooms are set up so when teachers walk in,
they’re ready to go,” Roger says. “I don’t want teachers running
around getting ready to teach when kids are coming to Sunday
school. If they call me during the week-and I want them to-and they
say ‘I need this and this and this,’ I put it in their class space.
I’ll prep the videotape. I’ll have it all ready to go.”
Christine Yount is editor of CHILDREN’S MINISTRY
FOUR WAYS TO KILL A VOLUNTEER
We asked Roger Mailand what the four deadliest things were for a
volunteer program. Here’s his hit list.
Recruit ‘em and desert ‘em. Church volunteers
want to feel part of a team, to be equipped, and to have necessary
Ignore their input. Volunteers who’ll teach a
curriculum need to help choose the curriculum. Then their feedback
regarding every aspect of your program should be highly valued.
Never say thank you. Go beyond listing names in
the bulletin, and practice “holy gossip.” Whenever your leadership
hears a compliment about a volunteer, spread the word. Call the
volunteer to share the good news. Plus, tell others the “juicy” bit
of good gossip you heard.
Don’t give them an “out.” If volunteers feel
captive to your program with no way out but quitting, you’re
fostering guilt and a sense of failure in people. And once they
escape your clutches, they’ll never return. You’ll never have
long-term volunteers without short-term commitments. Roger offers
nine-month commitments with summers off.