Ten eye-opening things actual
volunteers gripe about -- and how their complaints can make your
ministry better than ever...
Do you know how your volunteers really feel about your
children's ministry? About you? Do you want to know?
It's tough to ask questions that dig deeper into what volunteers
are really thinking. But that's one thing Children's Ministry
Magazine does best -- ask the tough questions!
So to help you take an honest look at how you're sometimes
perceived, we surveyed volunteers around the country and asked for
their anonymous input. These volunteers shared what they like best
about their children's ministry leaders and programs, with most
praising their leaders for being friendly, personable, and
responsible. The majority also credited their programs with being
well-organized, fun, and life-changing for kids.
We also asked volunteers to tell us what irritates them and what
they'd like to change -- about their leaders and their children's
ministries as a whole.
Here you'll find the top 10 volunteer frustrations and advice
for making changes. So get prepared for the lowdown -- and get
ready to embark on improvements your volunteers will greatly
appreciate. By the way, don't be discouraged! There's no way you're
guilty of all 10 of these. Just find one or two that prick your
heart a bit and get to work!
Complaint #1: Ignored Concerns
"I've come to leadership with several suggestions, concerns, and
issues, and I felt I was largely ignored," one volunteer
It takes a lot of courage for volunteers to approach you with
their concerns. Not being available or discounting their ideas
belittles volunteers' contributions. But hearing them out validates
their feelings and their importance to your program. Even if you
don't have an immediate solution or time to address the problem
immediately, take note of it, set a time to investigate, and
suggest ways you and the volunteer can find answers together.
Follow the lead of this praiseworthy leader whose volunteer
says is "very helpful in response to some of my concerns." She adds
that her leader "directed me to ways that I could help solve some
of the issues."
Such an approach allows volunteers to seek solutions on their
own, while reinforcing your trust in their decision-making and
problem-solving skills. "Empowering people to make their own
decisions confidently is a huge step," another volunteer notes.
Complaint #2: Unwelcome Input
"Overall I like my children's ministry program a lot," another
volunteer writes, "but I can get very frustrated when I feel like
leaders want me to help but don't care about what I think."
When volunteers become active in your ministry, they rightly
feel a sense of pride and ownership. So they have opinions about
how things are running and might be improved. As you make an effort
to seek feedback and take comments seriously, you communicate to
your volunteers that they matter and make a difference. This
approach to ministry is also a tremendous motivator for continued
and future involvement.
Collecting volunteer input can be as simple as putting a
suggestion box in an easily accessible location. That encourages
volunteers (and parents) to anonymously offer tips for improving
your children's ministry.
Another way to solicit advice is to set aside a few minutes at
each meeting to ask volunteers point-blank how they think things
are going and any improvements they'd suggest.
Keep in mind, however, that it's not enough to just ask for
input. Let your volunteers know that you're seriously considering
their opinions. When people express themselves, watch how you
react. Stay calm when they criticize, and view their comments as
constructively as possible. If you become angry or dismissive, you
give the impression that you really don't care what they think.
Complaint #3: Invisible Leader
"I'd like to see my leader stop in more and say hi to the
different age groups on Sunday mornings," says one volunteer we
surveyed. She describes her children's ministry leader as
"kind-hearted" and reports that the kids "have a blast." But
there's obviously a connection missing between the person
ultimately responsible for the fun program and the children
Taking a few seconds to pop your head in each door and greet
teachers and children shows that you're interested in how things
are going. With this simple step, you'll be better able to connect
names with faces, you'll notice who needs help and where, and
you'll be able to catch people performing their duties with
excellence. Plus you'll become aware of any problem areas you may
need to address -- and can catch them before they become full-blown
Complaint #4: Lack of Support with Parents
One volunteer says her biggest irritation is "the lack of
concern many of the parents portray when I bring to their attention
a struggle I'm having with one of their children." She -- and other
volunteers -- are crying out for assistance and need you to be a
willing advocate when parents must be contacted.
While you should encourage volunteers to make decisions and
address problems on their own, also let 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 issues
that commonly arise.
On a related note, it's important to come to your volunteers'
defense when they're challenged by children, parents, or church
administrators. While it's essential to hear from all sides and get
the facts, your volunteers will thrive when they know they can
count on your support and encouragement.
Complaint #5: In the Dark
Several volunteers expressed concern that each age group seemed
to be in its own little bubble. "My biggest irritation is not
knowing for sure what's going on outside of one little area,"
writes a children's ministry volunteer. People can begin to feel
isolated when their time and attention is directed toward one
particular classroom or task.
Strong, effective communication can remedy this concern. Mention
all ministry areas in your newsletter, publicity materials, and
meetings. Also, meet briefly as a group on Sunday mornings --
before classes, if possible -- so teachers and other volunteers can
share what's on their agendas.
To lessen feelings of isolation, allow time for fellowship and
use icebreakers and small group discussions to pair up teachers and
other volunteers who normally don't get to spend much time together
during your meetings.
Complaint #6: Not Enough Training
Children's ministry volunteers want to be well-equipped for
their responsibilities. Sending them unprepared into classrooms
full of children is like sending them onto a ball field without a
game plan or assigned positions.
"I feel like we don't get any training at all, really," says one
volunteer. "What do we do with sick children? What if there's an
accident? How do we report strange people in the area that maybe
shouldn't be there? I think all children's ministry volunteers
should learn universal precautions. If volunteers were better
trained, they wouldn't feel like just baby sitters and would take
more ownership in their roles in the ministry. That goes for
everyone, from child-care workers to teachers, assistants, craft
people, and more.
"I think quarterly training, at least, should be required," she
continues. "It doesn't have to be long; just an update of rules and
regulations. Volunteers also are ambassadors of a church and should
be well-versed in its beliefs and core values."
Volunteer training comes in a variety of formats. Many leaders
equip their volunteers by stocking a resource library so people can
borrow books, tapes, and other materials at their convenience.
Offer regular, ongoing meetings, where different subjects are
addressed each time.
Complaint #7: Decrepit Rooms
It's tough to do a job well unless you have the proper tools.
Volunteering and teaching are no exceptions. Have you taken a hard
look at the "working conditions" you provide for volunteers? Are
their classrooms in good shape? Do they have plenty of current
resources? Do their supplies need to be restocked?
A children's ministry volunteer writes that her biggest
irritation is the fact that there's "not a lot of replenishment of
craft supplies or supplemental teaching aids." Take a written
inventory of everything that's available in each classroom. Provide
checklists for teachers so they can indicate to you, in writing,
what they need, how much, and by when. Check your supplies
regularly, and enlist help to keep supply closets organized.
Complaint #8: A Weak Bench
Once leaders have established a group of reliable, hard-working
volunteers, often the last thing on their minds is recruiting still
more help. But it was a common refrain we heard from children's
ministry volunteers -- their frustration with a lack of substitutes
and a lack of commitment.
Even dedicated volunteers need a break once in a while. Having
backups and assistants will ease the stress and workload, making
everyone's experience more enjoyable.
Consider these ideas for using fill-in volunteers: Recruit a
team of people who do nothing but substitute; institute a
team-teacher approach, where people switch off Sundays; ask parents
to rotate as classroom assistants or as cleanup crews; and recruit
a summer-only crew to teach while "regular" teachers take a few
Such strategies not only give volunteers a much-deserved break,
but they may also help you add to your children's ministry team.
When fill-ins reap the rewards of serving children and are
appreciated and encouraged, they're likely to ask for more
Complaint #9: Lack of Communication
Judging by our survey responses, there's often a communication
breakdown between children's ministry leaders and their volunteers.
When asked what one thing they'd change about their leaders,
participants wrote "earlier and more precise communication" and
acquiring "more effective communication models."
"There seems to be a lack of follow-through between the ministry
leader and the volunteers," one volunteer says. "I think our leader
relies on the administrative assistant a lot but then doesn't give
her all the necessary information, either.
"Sometimes the communication comes way too late," this volunteer
continues. "For example, our leader decided to change one area on
Sunday mornings. I was asked to do a new job but received no
additional information or schedule. So I thought she decided she
didn't need my assistance. Later I saw that I was actually on the
schedule but hadn't been doing the new job because I didn't know
what to do!"
Advance schedules and clear job descriptions would make her
"more willing to volunteer in the future," she adds.
Complaint #10: Few Special Events
Volunteers agree that their programs provide great spiritual
foundations for children. Even though attendance numbers may be
lower than desired, volunteers say their churches take the
children's ministry seriously and value its importance.
One common request, however, is for out-of-the-ordinary
opportunities to engage children -- and their families -- with the
"I think we need to work more on sparking the children's
interest in Jesus," says one volunteer. "I'd like to see more
events for the children, such as movie night, craft night, parents
night out, and so on."
Special events draw children to the church during times other
than Sunday school and allow them to interact with Christian adults
in real-world settings. Volunteers can tie in life- and
faith-applications to movies, outings, and even family fun nights.
Crafts, games, and snacks all convey the message that your
children's ministry is a fun, safe place to grow and learn.
Special events have the added benefit of getting parents
involved with your ministry and with the church as a whole. When
they see how vibrant and exciting your program is, parents just
might be willing to devote some time to it as volunteers, too.
• • •
Whew! Now you know what volunteers really want to say to their
leaders. That wasn't so bad, was it? Consider which of these 10
areas is most urgent for you and your program, and brainstorm ways
to address it. Continue through the list until you're confident
that any outstanding problems have been satisfactorily
Your volunteers will be delighted to know that you're concerned
with their concerns. They'll feel more fulfilled while serving,
they'll have a greater impact on children, and you'll be proud of
working to make your ministry the very best it can be.
Stephanie Martin is a freelance writer and editor in
Colorado. Please keep in mind that phone numbers, addresses, and
prices are subject to change.