Struggling with tough volunteer issues? Ask the experts who’ll give real solutions!
Volunteers are the backbone of children’s ministry, the feet on the ground that get the job done. They’re also the biggest need most ministries have, and they require ongoing coordination, care, and affirmation. We love our volunteers and know children’s ministry wouldn’t be possible without them.
Yet with all the many volunteers lending their hands and hearts to sharing God’s love with children, problems are nearly inevitable. Different personalities, commitment levels, expertise, and other complexities can create common problems leaders must deal with. As a leader, you’ve no doubt had your share of issues related to volunteer management. We tossed a few common issues to volunteer management experts and asked for help. They delivered! Read on for expert, practical advice.
How do I handle volunteers who say “yes”—and then don’t follow through and show up?
Volunteers who say yes but then don’t show up to serve may be viewing their service as a task rather than a ministry. There are a couple of causes to consider.
First, it’s not uncommon for children’s ministry leaders to encourage prospective volunteers by saying, “This is really easy; anyone can do it!” Unfortunately, this sentiment devalues the service and can lead a volunteer to think that if anyone can do it, someone else will. Connecting acts of ministry to the mission is critical for new volunteers to buy in. For example, explain that preparing a snack for children silences their hungry tummies so they can focus on the lesson.
Another contributing factor to “no-show syndrome” is when a volunteer doesn’t consider him or herself part of a team or fails to see the bigger picture. Asking the volunteer to always think about who’ll be affected if he or she agrees to the role but then doesn’t show will help that person see the impact of actions/inactions on the entire ministry.
If you’ve clearly connected ministry to mission and helped the volunteer see the big picture, yet the problem persists, then your issue may be placement. If a volunteer isn’t excited about or gifted for the ministry, it’s easier to disregard the commitment. Simply asking, “Do you find your ministry fulfilling?” can open the door for an honest conversation and provide the opportunity to engage the volunteer in a gifts-discovery process. This can lead to a more fulfilling ministry placement where the
person will actually show up and serve.
I have unreliable volunteers who assume I’ll fill in for them when they call in at the last minute—over and over again.
Nothing’s more frustrating than a volunteer who can’t be relied upon to show up. Almost every leader at one time or another must step in to fi ll the gap when a volunteer bails out unexpectedly, so a measure of grace is necessary. But what about when you have a volunteer who’s perpetually calling in at the last minute? Here are three actions you can take.
- Provide a detailed ministry description with step-by-step instructions (a checklist is ideal) and a realistic estimation of the time required for the ministry, as well as the attendance expectation. Go over this information with your volunteer and explain the impact on the ministry when someone calls in at the last minute.
- Ensure necessary tools and supplies for the ministry are on hand, and ensure the volunteer knows where to find them. Keep your storage area well-stocked and orderly.
- Consider the volunteer’s temperament. Behavioral style assessments can offer you valuable insights into your volunteer’s motivation and habits. And you may discover that you’re asking the impossible when you assign a person with little attention for detail to a ministry that’s detail-oriented.
If you’ve successfully completed these three actions and your volunteer continues to expect you to step in or pick up the slack, initiate a candid conversation by asking, “What can I do to help you be prepared for your ministry?”You’ll either discover how you can better support your volunteer or you’ll learn whether the person is misplaced in the role or ministry.
I have very inconsistent teaching abilities and commitment levels from room to room. How do I address these inconsistencies?
Collectively hold your team accountable to agreed-upon levels of abilities and preparedness. Schedule teacher meetings quarterly. The agenda for your teaching team each meeting needs to include “God-sighting” stories where each teacher verbally contributes to the conversation. Discuss challenges in the class so your teaching team has the opportunity to share issues, inconsistencies, and solutions. Finally, add a “tidbits for teaching” agenda item where your
team works to enhance teaching skills and knowledge. This needs to be hands-on, active learning where every teacher is involved in growing his or her skills.
Aside from a quarterly teacher meeting, give your teachers timely and appropriate feedback regarding the inconsistencies you see. Specifically note the behavior and its impact on children. Brainstorm solutions. Ask tough questions: Is more training necessary? Are the teacher’s passion and skills and the role requirements a mismatch? Would the teacher benefit from being paired with someone who has more skills or experience? Remember: God sent Aaron to be alongside Moses to address Moses’ concerns about speaking (in Exodus). We all need an Aaron in
our respective ministry settings!
How do I handle volunteers who never prepare for their lessons?
First, it’s important to ensure volunteers serve in their areas of passion, talents, and gifts. Volunteers who love what they do usually don’t need prompting to be ready for their lesson. Therefore, you must ask whether the individual loves teaching or serving children.
If your volunteer loves serving kids, ask how you can help him or her prepare for each lesson. Train the volunteer with appropriate teaching methods, and communicate the expectations of the role.
Periodically affirm and recognize the volunteer, and give timely and appropriate feedback that helps him or her complete responsibilities faithfully. Feedback is important when the responsibilities are fulfilled—and when they’re lacking.
Help your volunteer understand the specific behavior that’s problematic and the specific impact the behavior has on others. For example, “Jane, I see by your room setup that you’ve prepared in advance, which creates a great environment for our children to learn about God.” Or “Jake, I noticed last Sunday you appeared less prepared than we expect for our teachers. When you fail to adequately prepare, the children become restless, their attention wanes, and we miss an important
opportunity to share God’s love with them.”
What to do with a volunteer who shows up late—always?
This is a serious issue. First, look at your own actions. Did you thoroughly take the volunteer through orientation? Did you communicate the vision and mission of the ministry? Did you carefully outline your expectations for timeliness?
Once you’ve determined those answers, pray before you approach the person. Affirm your volunteer and remind him or her how important the role is in ministry. Then remember that God’s Word is a two-edged sword that cuts right to the heart of the matter. When volunteers are never on time, I believe it’s a heart issue. First Corinthians 14:40 and Colossians 3:23 remind us to do things well as if for God rather than people. When you look at these verses, we’re all really serving God. Assume all volunteers are good-hearted and mean well. Keep that in mind when you approach them. Then work together to create an accountability plan for how the volunteer will begin to arrive on time.
How do I deal with my hardearned recruits who jump ship if they get a better offer—to sing in the choir, take off for a football game, or just leave?
When I recruit volunteers, they commit to one year of serving in our children’s ministry. When someone jumps ship, before they jump, I take that person through an exit interview. This lets me find out why the person is leaving and get to the heart of the matter. Sometimes the reasons are valid; sometimes they’re not. I know I can’t make volunteers stay, so I appeal to their heart.
I remind the person that children’s ministry is the greatest mission field and that God can work through him or her to change the landscape of eternity. I’m not necessarily trying to talk the person into staying, because a ministry is more effective when volunteers want to be there. It’s important, though, to communicate to volunteers that they can be the “hands and feet of Jesus” to children. I
also use situations such as this as teachable moments in their walk with God. When we make commitments, we honor God when we keep them. In a church setting, I believe all ministries are important. However, very few ministries impact the future as powerfully as children’s ministry.