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Turn Around This Ministry

Amy Dolan and Denise Silva

Follow this leader for five weeks as she struggles with confronting volunteers.

If only volunteer management were as easy as it sounds. But few leaders relish the tough side of management -- confronting problem behavior or asking volunteers for even more commitment.

In this first installment of a two-part series, Children's Ministry Magazine paired Denise Silva, a children's ministry leader at Gospel Tabernacle Church in North Bergen, New Jersey, who struggles to confront volunteers, with Amy Dolan, founder of the children's ministry consulting company Lemon Lime Kids (, writer, and children's minister. Over five weeks, the two tackled Denise's problem.

Week 1

Amy's Notebook

Denise struggles with approaching volunteers who aren't doing a good job. She admits she's reluctant to talk to them about problems, and she feels as though some volunteers don't respect her leadership.

I asked Denise to create a list of expectations for her volunteers -- for example, attend church services weekly, follow the curriculum, live a holy life, provide a safe place for kids, and so on. I wanted Denise to be clear with her volunteers about what's expected of them. I asked her to have her volunteers commit to those expectations by signing a copy and then file each volunteer's signed copy. That way, when an issue arises she can refer back to it with the volunteer.

Denise's Notebook

I followed Amy's advice and created a form with expectations. I presented the expectations to my pastors, who approved them. I then met with all my volunteers, explained the form, and asked them to sign it. Everyone was willing to sign, and the forms did spur some feedback, which was great because I got to answer questions and clarify my thoughts regarding expectations. The questions also allowed me to have one-to-one contact with certain volunteers.

Implementing these expectations established consistency and unity in our purpose for everyone. Now everyone knows the expectations. In the future when I need to approach a volunteer, I'll feel much more confident because they've committed to and acknowledged the expectations in writing.

Week 2

Amy's Notebook

This week I asked Denise to encourage the volunteers who are following her expectations. When she sees someone praying for the kids or following the curriculum, I asked her to encourage that person specifically for following through on the expectations.

I also asked Denise to think about -- but not approach -- five key volunteers who are consistently committed to her leadership. I want her to consider these people as potential members of a key volunteer leadership team. Denise has admitted that she's tired and needs more help, and I believe a key leadership team will relieve some of her workload and stress each week.

Denise's Notebook

I'm still excited with the results from setting my expectations! Even so, I have concerns about some volunteers and, honestly, don't expect too much from them.

Amy's next assignment is to encourage my volunteers when I "catch" them doing the expected. So I mailed these volunteers encouragement -- cards with hot cocoa packets inside to warm them, just as they warmed my heart.

The second part of my assignment is to list five volunteers who consistently follow my leadership. After thinking about this for a few days, I sent my list to her, and together we began praying for the names.

Week 3

Amy's Notebook

Denise has great news! She had strong concerns about two specific volunteers, and she was amazed this past Sunday when they arrived early to volunteer and served faithfully and wholeheartedly the entire day.

I asked Denise to list the tasks a leadership team could potentially take on to help lead the ministry, such as planning the curriculum schedule, recruiting and coordinating volunteers, purchasing supplies, helping plan VBS, and more. These should be great big tasks that Denise would only give to people she fully trusts and who respect her leadership. These people will team with her in leading the ministry so she has more support.

Denise's Notebook

We've been praying the entire week for my five key volunteers. I'm excited about the idea of establishing a leadership team -- but I have lots of uncertainties. I gave the questions to God. Having more people on my leadership team to relieve some of my stress and workload...what a dream and blessing!

I've written tasks for each person, such as recruiting volunteers, preparing classrooms, directing a program, and so on. And I began to pray more because I'm wondering, How am I ever going to ask these people to do more, since they're already involved? I definitely need God here!

Week 4

Amy's Notebook

Denise has approached some volunteers she had concerns about. It was difficult for her, and I'm proud of her effort. She's nervous about approaching her five key volunteers and asking them to do more. I coached her on approaching volunteers whether they're doing an outstanding job or a poor job, and I encouraged her to remind volunteers of the vision and purpose for the ministry.

I encouraged Denise to continue approaching volunteers, and I reminded her that as the children's pastor it's her job to support and represent the children. That means having difficult conversations when necessary.

Denise's Notebook

This week I had a very serious confrontation with a volunteer who decided to place himself in another ministry. It was very difficult for me. I asked for God's help and was able to approach the situation with love and sincerity. He didn't see that he wasn't helping the overall ministry. I told Amy about my confrontation, and she encouraged me. I'd been afraid of being hard on this volunteer, but Amy agreed I was right and this was part of my job in representing the kids.

About that encouragement card I sent -- most of the volunteers really liked it! One said, "I feel so special when I get mail from you."

Week 5

Amy's Notebook

Denise feels successful, but still overwhelmed. I assured her what she's doing is a process that'll take time, and I encouraged her to stay strong.

I asked Denise to make a list of five top reasons approaching people intimidates her; for example, "I'm afraid people won't like me" or "I'm afraid people will talk about me." I encouraged her to pray about her list and ask her pastor, mentor, or best friend to help her conquer the fears. By identifying the fears and working through them, she'll gain strength and power over them.

Denise's Notebook

I approached one of my five volunteers and asked her to be in charge of training and encouragement, and she said yes! Another has stepped in and helped wonderfully in this process. 

Amy and I agree that it's not only hard to approach people for unpleasant reasons, but also when we need people to take on more responsibility.

I'm writing a list of my fears about approaching people, praying, and finding someone to help me face them.

Best of all was when Amy said, "I believe in you!" Thanks, Amy, for encouraging me to do my best for God.

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