“Therefore encourage one another, and build each other up, just
as in fact you are doing.” —Thessalonians 5:11
Take this quiz
What item would you give a volunteer to encourage her if you had
these catchy slogans?
1. You’re as cool as a cucumber.
2. You’re worth a hundred grand.
3. You make our team shine.
Okay, ready for the answers?
1. A cucumber or a facial mask with cucumber in it.
2. A 100 Grand candy bar.
3. A bottle of Windex cleaner.
If you haven’t given affirmations such as these to your
volunteers, you’ve probably received something like them from
someone else. These trinkets provide nice encouragement, but the
truth is that their take-away is short-lived. They don’t provide
sustained encouragement the way no-gimmick encouragement does.
If I got a candy bar every Monday, it would not be as rewarding
as my ministry overseer taking me to lunch twice a year. So how can
you ensure that you encourage your volunteers deep down in their
Trick or Treat
Let’s determine, first of all, what a gimmick is. What separates
a “gimmicky encouragement” from a “nongimmicky encouragement”?
While writing this article, I waxed philosophical about this
point on a flight home. I turned to the guy sitting next to me. I
figured he might have as good an answer as anyone else on the
plane. “What’s a gimmick?” I asked him. Without looking up from his
computer, this well-dressed businessman shot back, “It’s a
A trick? I wasn’t satisfied so I went to my dear friend Webster.
He says a gimmick is “a tricky device.” I guess my well-dressed
businessman friend was right after all!
So what separates a gimmicky encouragement from a nongimmicky
What’s your motive for encouraging volunteers? You see, I
motivate you when I encourage you for everyone’s benefit. When I
encourage you for my benefit only, I manipulate you. Hebrews
10:24-25 says, “Let us think about each other and help each other
to show love and do good deeds. You should not stay away from the
church meetings, as some are doing, but you should meet together
and encourage each other.”
If your motive in encouraging your volunteers is to get them to
stay in children’s ministry, that’s wrong. That accomplishes your
need for filling positions, but what about the volunteers? Meet
their needs and they will stay. Spend time with them and they will
stay. Create community for them and they will stay. Love them
deeply and they will stay. A candy bar once a week won’t do it.
I believe four actions in Hebrews 10:24-25 are very important
when discovering what truly encourages volunteers: think about each
other, help each other, meet together, and encourage each
Think about-You know those goofy T-shirts: “My grandma went to
Alaska and this is all I got”? The point is that Grandma thought of
her grandchild while on vacation. After Mom’s or Dad’s business
trip, children wait in line to see what Mom or Dad may’ve bought
them. There’s something so encouraging in knowing someone thinks
about us when we’re not around.
It’s the same for your volunteers. If you’re shopping and see
something that reminds you of someone, buy it. Then give it with a
special note, such as “I saw this hummingbird poster at the mall
and thought of you and your collection!”
Help-No amount of words or gimmicks can substitute for support
and training. When your volunteers know that you’ll equip them for
the tasks you’ve recruited them to, they’ll be genuinely
encouraged. Train your volunteers. Then check back periodically to
see how they’re doing and what you can do to continue to help.
Meet together-You’re busy; I know that! But you can never be too
busy to spend time with the people on your team. No, you don’t have
to spend time with everyone, but choose carefully and prayerfully
those key leaders whom you can trust to spend time with other
“As you go” time is just as valuable as going to lunch. “As you
go” time is the time you spend running to the store and picking up
supplies, decorating your fellowship hall, or planning a lesson. So
take someone along even on the short trips. The only way to make
this time valuable, though, is to be less task-focused and more
relationship-focused. Have fun while you work. Or is that whistle
while you work?
Encourage each other-Encouraging others has a great effect on
the giver also. According to Hebrews 10:24-25, the ultimate goal of
encouragement is that people encourage others. Proverbs 11:25
(NASB) says that “he who waters will himself be watered.” And Acts
20:35 (NIV) says, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
Affirm when you see your team members encouraging others. Even
set up experiences where your volunteers get the blessing of
giving. For example, one church decided to give their children
special gifts as affirmations. Rather than the leadership team
giving these away, they distributed the gifts to their children’s
care-group leaders who were blessed to give directly to the
children. Everything doesn’t have to come from you!
Launch A Thousand Ships
We must understand that what floats your boat may not float my
boat. What I mean by that is people have different likes and
dislikes, and what encourages you may not encourage me. In 1
Corinthians 9:22 (NCV) Paul says, “I have become all things to all
people.” In other words, he met people where they were, not where
he was. Nongimmicky, personalized encouragement may take more time,
but the value you’re showing, the thought you’re conveying, and the
concern you’re feeling is well worth it in terms of encouraging
All your volunteers want to feel like they’re making a
significant contribution to children’s ministry. We recently
started printing our volunteer leaders’ names on their counselor
book covers for our summer and winter camps. Feeding 70 individual
sheets through the printer took more than an hour to do. The
result, though, was ownership of their ministry. We showed care and
value to our leaders, rather than lumping them with the crowd!
After surveying over 300 children’s pastors across the country,
here are the top 13 nongimmicky ways to encourage volunteers:
- Hospitality cart-Each weekend, Debi Nixon, the
director of children’s ministries at the United Methodist Church of
the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, serves her volunteers coffee
and refreshments. A special hospitality team pushes a cart from
room to room to serve the teachers in each service.
- P.E.T. program-The Prayer and Pampering
Especially for Teachers program is the brainchild of Becky Johnson,
the children’s Sunday school coordinator at the United Methodist
Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas. “We ask parents to
take one of our leaders for a year,” says Pam Weatherford, the
church’s special events coordinator. “We give the parents a profile
of the leader with his or her birthday and hobbies. Parents send
anonymous notes and gifts throughout the year.” The gifts are
delivered on the hospitality cart mentioned above.
- Personal touch-Diane Horn, the director of
children’s ministries at First Presbyterian Church in Santa Rosa,
California, sends handwritten notes to each teacher. Diane writes
specifically about what she appreciates about the teachers and
their ministry. Beyond that, Diane says it’s critical to spend time
with each teacher to get to know people and to find out how she can
pray for them.
- Good gossip-“I talk about my volunteers’
successes in front of others,” says Mark Smith, the children’s
pastor at Stillmeadows Church of the Nazarene in York,
- Public praise-Invite your team members to the
front of your church for total church recognition.
- Training-Pay for your volunteers to attend
local workshops or seminars on children’s ministry. Or pay for a
volunteer to attend a class, such as a Microsoft PowerPoint
presentation, at a community college. The volunteer benefits and so
does your ministry.
- Reports-Ask your team members to tell your
church about their ministry experiences. Videotape their stories to
share with others.
- Fun times-Pay for a baby sitter for teachers
who have kids. Then take your entire team to a movie.
- Spousal approval-Call a volunteer’s spouse or
send a note of thanks for letting his or her “other half” serve in
- Sunday brunch-Tim Poferl at Northgate Alliance
Church in Ottumwa, Iowa, serves a training and encouragement brunch
seven times a year on Sunday morning. When Poferl’s brunch replaces
Sunday school (with substitutes in the classrooms), he has 95
percent attendance. The timing of the brunch encourages an
already-busy volunteer force that finds it difficult to come to a
- E-me!-Send a personal e-mail to your
volunteers’ homes or offices. Rodney Hull, the children’s minister
at Valley View Christian Church in Dallas, Texas, says, “It’s
immediate, and it lets people know you were thinking about
- Special parking-Each month, have special
designated parking spots right next to the church with the names of
your “volunteers of the month” posted.
- Retreat-Chris Smyth, the children’s minister’s
program assistant at Clovernook Christian Church in Cincinnati,
Ohio, takes a few of her volunteers away on a one-night leader
retreat every year.
What’s your greatest encouragement? For me it would be a pat on
the back for a job well done or perhaps recognition in a staff
meeting for an accomplishment. We all want to feel valued for the
contributions we’re making in ministry. Why would our volunteers be
Craig Jutila is the children’s pastor at Saddleback
Community Church in Mission Viejo, California.
The Bottom Line
“You can impress people from a distance but you can only impact
them up close.” —Howard Hendricks
“Anxious hearts are very heavy, but a word of encouragement does
wonders!” —Proverbs 12:25 (TLB)
10 Encouragement Tips
1. Accentuate the positive.
2. Be liberal with praise.
3. Compliment frequently, sincerely, and in public.
4. Greet people by name.
5. Keep a file of people’s hobbies or special interests.
6. Work on your self-image. You can’t love others if you don’t
7. Give credit where credit is due. Don’t steal their
8. Ask, “How can I help?”
9. Give appropriate challenges. People are bored when they’re not
10. Listen! Listen! Listen!
10 Discouragement Tips
1. Underestimate people’s potential.
2. Remove their reward.
3. Show a lack of confidence in them.
4. Expect immediate results.
5. Don’t support them.
6. Magnify their mistakes.
7. Ignore their successes.
8. Understate the role they play.
9. Treat the task as more important than the person.
10. Talk! Talk! Talk!