Something borrowed, but nothing blue! Check out these 20
volunteer leadership tips from us to keep from being “blue” in your
During the first 20 years of Children’s Ministry Magazine,
some of our most popular articles have tackled the always-relevant
topic of finding and keeping volunteers who are passionate about
sharing Jesus with children. As an anniversary present to you,
we’ve compiled our 20 best, most-enduring volunteer insights. Use
these tips as a one-stop resource for all your volunteer-leadership
1. Recruit volunteers through relationships and always
be in “seek” mode. Relationship is a key factor for
people who agree to volunteer for children’s ministry. It’s fact
that many serve because someone they already had an established
relationship with personally asked them to. Extend courteous
invitations, not cattle calls, and if someone says no, check back
later because people’s lives change. The more people you connect
with, the more possible volunteers you’ll have later. One-to-one
recruiting is the single most successful recruiting technique —
plus, it can be sustained throughout the year. That’s important
because vibrant programs constantly need gifted, passionate
2. Don’t limit your search to specific
demographics. Look for potential volunteers of all
ages and occupations. Rather than searching only for teachers, seek
out leaders and problem-solvers, too. Variety in your team keeps
your programs interesting, welcoming, and also gets more people
involved. Abandon the stereotype that children’s ministry is
women’s work. Provide opportunities for men, senior citizens, and
teenagers to share their talents with kids. Help parents plug in
and feel like they get to — not have to — be involved. Whenever
possible, highlight your diverse crew through testimonies and
3. Stay positive. Show potential
teammates that children’s ministry isn’t just baby-sitting but an
incredible, desirable opportunity to develop Christ-followers. Post
reports about what’s happening in your program to generate
excitement about God’s work in kids’ lives. When considering a
volunteer role, people want to know “What’s in it for me?” So
discern upfront what possible benefits exist, whether it’s
emotional fulfillment, greater exposure to your church, or just a
great way to make a difference. Make it clear that the role comes
with wonderful rewards but also important responsibilities. Be
honest about the not-so-terrific aspects so volunteers know what to
expect — and know they can trust you.
4. Be choosy — even if you’re desperate.
Staying in “seek” mode for volunteers should help you avoid
last-minute needs. But when they arise, don’t sacrifice quality by
settling. “Hiring” the wrong person will cost you hours of
additional work later on and might even jeopardize your program’s
integrity or children’s safety. Kids deserve the best, so fill
ministry positions based on people’s talents and preferences, not
simply availability. Make sure potential volunteers know about your
screening process so it’s clear you won’t compromise your
5. Evaluate volunteers’ interests and gifts, tailoring
opportunities to people. As you recruit, match people
to positions. Some are skilled at organization, while others excel
at writing, music, or drama. At times, you may need photographers,
cooks, drivers, painters, publicists, seamstresses, typists,
carpenters, fund-raisers, missionaries, and teachers. Rather than
recruit a few volunteers to wear many hats, recruit many people —
with various talents and interests — to wear a few hats each. It’s
easier to enlist someone for a 15-minute job than for a 15-hour
tour of duty. Advertise any special needs or one-time opportunities
that are ideal for people who aren’t available every week but still
have a lot to contribute. When possible, accommodate busy schedules
by offering options such as team-teaching.
6. Have a clear vision and expectations.
Regularly share your vision with the entire church so people will
think of your program first when deciding where to invest
themselves. Develop a set of core values for your ministry. Talk
openly and often about what you do and don’t do, and why. Don’t be
afraid of clearly setting forth your requirements. Tell people
precisely what’s needed to be an effective volunteer and identify
the specific talents required to be successful. While maintaining
your expectations, however, also leave some room for grace.
Remember that people aren’t perfect; even in the best
circumstances, they have different problems, needs, and
7. Use job descriptions, interviews, background checks,
and evaluations. Treat volunteers like professionals.
State how much time each position requires and specify a finite
time of service. Fully screen each potential volunteer by doing
background checks and contacting references. Let people know what
training and meetings they must attend so there aren’t any
schedule-busting surprises. Give detailed descriptions of specific
tasks, such as leading children’s singing for one-half hour each
Sunday morning. Interview potential volunteers so you know what
they want out of the experience. Then take time to observe and
evaluate them in action. Instead of seeming threatening, such
evaluations can help people feel supported in their roles. When you
check to see how things are going and brainstorm solutions to
problems, it shows you care.
8. Provide valuable training. Make sure
volunteers are prepared, but also respect their time. Ask
volunteers what they need to know to be effective in their
positions, and tailor your training. Cover different subjects.
Vary your methods — including video, podcasts, mentoring, and
individualized training. For training meetings, show volunteers you
value them and their time by providing a comfortable setting,
first-rate refreshments, dependable child care, and take-home items
and surprises. Equip volunteers by stocking a resource library so
people can borrow books, tapes, and other materials at their
9. Offer variety and early success.
Rotate responsibilities regularly so volunteers don’t get bored.
Check in with them to see what new tasks they’d like to try and
why. Don’t toss people into situations beyond their ability or
without proper training. Instead, help them experience early
success so they don’t become overwhelmed or discouraged. Volunteers
who have early wins will enjoy their work and be much more likely
to renew their commitment. For example, let new recruits team-teach
for a few weeks with outgoing teachers. Ask a new volunteer to
co-chaperone a field trip. Ease into challenging people with larger
10. Communicate and stay connected. Keep
volunteers in the loop about what’s happening with your entire
ministry and with their particular area. Inform people of changes.
Provide schedules well in advance. Meet briefly as a group on
Sunday mornings — before classes, if possible — so teachers and
other volunteers can share what they have planned. As a team talk,
pray, and laugh together. During meetings, use icebreakers and
small group discussions to pair up volunteers who normally don’t
get to spend much time together. Communicate to the entire church
by mentioning all ministry areas in your newsletter, on your
website, and with publicity materials.
11. Affirm, celebrate, and reward
volunteers. Children’s volunteers who quit generally
do so because they feel abused or tired. So it’s crucial to
frequently let volunteers know you appreciate them and their time,
energy, and talents. Specifically thank volunteers, both personally
and publicly. Surprise them with small, customized gifts of thanks.
Reward workers with time off. Jot a note to every volunteer each
month to express appreciation for each person’s sacrifice and
contribution. As a bonus, giving people credit draws attention to
your children’s ministry and may interest more people.
12. Support and encourage your
volunteers. Support is different from affirmation.
Support is an ongoing, personalized concern for each volunteer.
Leaders must do more than just give compliments; be your
volunteers’ biggest fan. Believe in them, and they’ll believe in
themselves. Let people know they’re important to your program, no
matter how many hours they devote to it. Celebrate often with your
volunteers. Periodically pull each volunteer aside and ask how it’s
going. Remember birthdays and other special days, and find out how
people are doing in their away-from-church lives. Support them
through their pain, pray for them, and offer to help when
13. Take volunteer concerns seriously.
Get to know and respect your volunteers as people. Go out for
coffee and learn about their families and interests. Build rapport
as you share your passion for ministry. In doing so, you’ll convey
that volunteers are important ministry partners. You need their
input and ideas — and you must listen when they share concerns
with you. Put a suggestion box in an easily accessible location.
Set aside a few minutes at each meeting to ask volunteers
point-blank how they think things are going and what improvements
they’d suggest. Then follow through with solutions.
14. Provide backup. Even dedicated
volunteers need a break once in a while. Let teachers know that
backup is available when they need a week off or when something
comes up. Having substitutes and assistants will ease the stress
and workload, making everyone’s experience more enjoyable. Give
time off even when volunteers don’t ask for it. As important as it
is for children to see familiar faces every week, your team
members’ health is equally important for your ministry’s long-term
15. Be the leader other people want to
follow. Volunteers want a leader with vision,
strength, a plan, and excellence — and someone who doesn’t rest on
previous accomplishments. Help volunteers shine; their attachment
to your style of ministry is also a reflection on them. In
addition, be a visible leader. Taking a few seconds to pop your
head in each door and greet teachers and children shows you’re
interested in how things are going. You’ll be able to connect names
with faces, notice who needs help and where, catch people
performing their duties with excellence, and observe any problem
areas before they become full-blown concerns.
16. Make serving enjoyable. Fun is
contagious. When volunteering is exciting, your team will
automatically recruit a network of others through their passion.
Frequently share stories about volunteers who have great
relationships with children. Encourage volunteers to tell their own
stories, which will motivate people to consider children’s ministry
as a valuable place to serve in the church.
17. Provide support. Recruit support
volunteers to do most of the class preparation for teachers ahead
of time (sign-up sheets, name tags, craft preparation, errands, and
so on). Such support allows people to better fulfill their various
ministry responsibilities. In advance, provide curriculum,
supplies, phone lists of team members, and schedules. Also help
volunteers work with parents by letting them know you’ll step in
when necessary. Offer to talk to parents (or at least to be present
when the volunteer talks to them) about discipline or other common
issues. Defend volunteers when they’re challenged by others and let
them know they can count on your support.
18. Help volunteers avoid burnout.
Children’s ministry can attract people who don’t know how to say no
and who become overcommitted and exhausted. Passionate people may
need guidance for balancing ministry, work, and family
responsibilities. Don’t rely on the same people all the time; tired
or uninspired volunteers not only won’t serve with joy but also
won’t be around for long. Engage in honest conversations about
workload and how much joy people glean from serving. Encourage
overcommitted volunteers to decide what to let go of before taking
on a new task. Have written expectations and agreed-upon hours, and
suggest a sabbatical, when necessary. Remember to model balance in
your own life, too.
19. Handle departures with
grace. When volunteers want or need to leave, conduct
exit interviews to discover ways to improve your program. Help
people get plugged into other areas at your church. Realize that
volunteers who leave children’s ministry still hunger for a strong
relationship with Jesus. They might return to serve in your
ministry in the future or find somewhere else that’s more specific
to their call. Keep in mind that God gives each person unique
talents, and even the best fit may not be permanent.
20. Help volunteers grow spiritually.
When worship time is on-duty time, spiritual stagnation can creep
in. So ensure that volunteers’ schedules allow them to attend
worship. Hold regular devotions and pray together often. Lead a
Bible study for teachers. Plan prayer breakfasts or an annual
overnight retreat to focus on spiritual growth. Keep volunteers
informed about other opportunities to nourish themselves in
Christian community. Workers must feed their own faith so they can
help children develop a lifelong relationship with God.