Your guide to alternative service opportunities for volunteers who don’t fit the mold…
Samantha is a young, single mom who began attending your church two years ago. Her children love coming to church, but she feels guilty dropping them off each week when she can’t pitch in to serve. She’s an elementary teacher who’d fit perfectly on your weekend teaching team. But when you ask her to help out, she explains she works at a second job Sunday mornings.
Alan and Madeline serve in their son’s 4-year-old class each Sunday, but you’ve noticed that Alan mostly sits and watches. When you ask him how the class is going, you sense he doesn’t have his heart in it. You dig a little deeper and discover that Alan’s not exactly comfortable working directly with young children. He sees this as a good way to serve with his wife—and serving together is important to him. But it sounds as though you might lose this volunteer couple at the end of the year if you don’t do something.
When we recruit for children’s ministry, it’s easy to think in terms of midweek, weekend services, church office help—or any time your church doors are open. But what about those volunteers who want to serve but can’t fit that framework? How do you harness Samantha’s gift of teaching—on her schedule? Where can Alan find a niche while joining his wife on her spiritual journey? What about the many potential volunteers in your church who aren’t teachers? Or those who don’t want to miss the worship service but see the value in serving in children’s ministry? Whether they have scheduling conflicts or interest issues, many potential volunteers out there just don’t fit the typical volunteer mold. How can you harness these after-hours volunteers?
Meet Your After-Hours Volunteers
After-hours volunteers are just as passionate and vital as your other volunteers, but they differ in some key ways.
They may have competing responsibilities.
Different work shifts, kids’ sports practices or games, and PTA or HOA meetings may stop volunteers from serving during your ministry’s “regular” hours. To incorporate these volunteers, you have to refresh your thinking from typical service opportunities that require a person’s physical presence during set hours, to unique times and places for these volunteers to serve, such as serving after 5 or on a flexible schedule.
They may feel timid around children.
Even potential volunteers who have time and show up at church faithfully every week may not feel comfortable leading music with kids or teaching. Either they don’t feel gifted to serve in the children’s ministry “box” or they just need to take small steps in volunteering. These volunteers often thrive when you find opportunities for them behind the scenes, such as encouraging teachers, updating your Web site, or gathering supplies during their lunch break.
They may have alternate or unreliable schedules.
A manager at a local retail store or a pediatric nurse who works on call during your regular service times won’t be able to commit to a typical volunteer role. But often these volunteers can step in on the spur of the moment and help in ways that offer great relief to you and other team members. For instance, you know you can call on the pediatric nurse during your midweek program to purchase more snacks when your attendance unexpectedly doubles one night.
They may be out-of-towners.
Many people travel for work and are out of town frequently. They might be out of town during your normal programs, or they just might be unwilling to commit to more time away from their families after returning from a trip. Many of these people would love to find ways to stay connected to their home church while on the road. Perhaps one of these volunteers would be perfect to be responsible for putting together your weekly email newsletter and sending it out.
They may not be up for lengthy commitments.
Don’t begrudge people who openly admit they’re commitment shy; at least they’re honest! And they’re easier to work with than a person who unexpectedly backs out on you midway through the year. Many people find the idea of committing to a full year of service daunting. But they’re often happy to commit to shorter terms, such as three or six months, or to assist with one-time events or short-term projects.
You likely have many potential volunteers with situations like these. So how do you match them with the right roles?
Recruit the After-Hours Volunteer
Here’s the plain truth: Your usual methods of recruiting won’t work with after-hours volunteers. If their service is going to be unique, the ways you find and train them must be unique, too.
Step 1: Understand Your Volunteers
Understand that after-hours volunteers have passion and excitement for serving kids in your ministry. For whatever reason, they simply can’t fit into the typical volunteer framework. Start by expressing your appreciation for their schedule and their heart for children, and let them know you’re going to help them find a place to serve. Then follow through.
Step 2: Find the People Who Don’t Fit Their Current Role
Look for volunteers who don’t seem comfortable in their current roles. Like Alan, these folks will probably be pretty easy to spot. Spend extra time getting to know any volunteers who seem disengaged, uncomfortable, ill at ease, or unsure of themselves. Learn about their skills and what they enjoy doing. You may be surprised to learn that Alan doesn’t like being in front of the entire class, but that he loves one-on-one relationships. Maybe there’s a young child with special needs in the class who needs a male role model. Rather than sitting off to the side, Alan could befriend and assist that one child.
Step 3: Watch Your Assumptions
What people do for a living may not equal what they want to do in a volunteer role. People may feel burned out doing the same thing or may want to develop different skills. So investigate what each person’s passions and underlying gifts are. For example, you might assume that Samantha, a professional first-grade teacher, would be an excellent teacher for Sunday school. But when you dig deeper, you discover that, even though she’s good at teaching kids, she’d love a chance to mentor other teachers.
Step 4: Listen Carefully to Potential Volunteers
When they say they don’t have time, ask questions: “If you had time, what would you like to do?” “If you could create your own volunteer schedule, what would it be?” The answers to these questions will help you match the right volunteer to the right role.
Support Your After-Hours Volunteers
Once you begin listening and thinking about ways after-hours volunteers can get involved, you’ll think of hundreds of other ideas. Next, it’s critical to provide support and encouragement.
You spend a lot of time supporting and encouraging your volunteers who work directly with your kids or programs. Those volunteers feel appreciated because they see you walking around while they’re there. But after-hours volunteers can be at high risk for burnout because they often work independently. They also may not directly see the kids, so they miss seeing the fruits of their labor first-hand. Keep your after-hours volunteers connected and encouraged with these ideas.
1. Pair “likes with likes.”
Find two volunteers who have similar responsibilities. Encourage them to stay in contact to support and encourage each other; provide gift cards so they can meet for coffee at least once or twice per month.
2. Give them more than a mental image.
Take pictures of kids at your events. Email the pictures-along with a big thank you!-to after-hours volunteers who helped prepare the supplies, created the Web site, or provided their skills in other ways.
3. Check in regularly.
Periodically check in with after-hours volunteers to gauge how things are going. Ask them if they feel they’re getting to use their gifts and skills as they’d hoped and if they feel valued. Ask for their ideas and dreams to see whether they’re serving in ways they enjoy.
4. Practice flexibility.
Rotate the times you hold volunteer trainings and appreciation events. Break away from always offering them right after a program, on a Saturday morning, or after services. Consider offering the same training two or three times in a two-week span to give all your volunteers several opportunities to attend.
God has given after-hours volunteers an array of gifts and skills that, when given the opportunity, can make your ministry shine. With a little specialized recruitment and support, your after-hours volunteers will be well-equipped and primed to serve around the clock.
Scott Kinner has been equipping and training children’s ministry volunteers and leaders since 1999.
A New “Role” Call
To fully tap these unique volunteers, you’ve got to start thinking about the various needs of your ministry in an alternative way. Here are sample opportunities for after-hours volunteers.
Time Commitment: Less than 30 minutes per week
Best Fit: A parent waiting for a child at practice or school. Ask this person to make a few calls at a time to offer encouragement to teachers and other volunteers.
Benefit: This role gives the volunteer whose weekly schedule is unknown or somewhat sporadic a chance to serve on his or her own time. It’s also a great way to keep the person connected to others on your team.
Bonus Idea: Ask him to write encouragement cards to kids or families in crisis.
Time Commitment: One hour per week
Best Fit: Someone who has one open lunch hour during the week to run errands. Each teacher can provide a list of supplies needed on Sunday, and this volunteer can organize, distribute, and order supplies whenever he or she is available.
Benefit: This role gives your volunteer flexibility to fit the task into her schedule during the week, and it takes care of one of the most important logistical duties in your ministry.
Bonus Idea: Ask her to drop off a prepared meal or gift basket to a family in crisis.
Time Commitment: Several hours per month, but tied to a one-time event
Best Fit: Someone who’s between jobs or works on a freelance basis and has a lot of extra time right now, but might not later. Ask this person to help plan an upcoming event or help with setup or cleanup before or after events.
Benefit: This person may be looking for ways to fill time, and when you have an intensive-but-short-term task that needs a dedicated champion, you have a perfect match.
Bonus Idea: This person can also contact local businesses to ask for donations of food or supplies for the event.
Time Commitment: Two hours to one day per quarter
Best Fit: Someone with a creative flair, but not a lot of time to commit. Ask this person to decorate bulletin boards or classroom walls to provide a creative, inviting atmosphere each quarter.
Benefit: When you can tap wildly creative people to inject their flair into your ministry in short bursts, you may be amazed at the result. And your creative volunteer will likely thrive when asked to “drop in” and take the lead creatively on smaller projects.
Bonus Idea: Ask him or her to decorate your children’s wing for special celebrations and holidays.
Time Commitment: One hour per month to one hour per week
Best Fit: Someone who’s tech savvy and has a lot of work, home, or school responsibility. Ask him to update your children’s ministry Web site at the beginning of every week or month. Simply email the Tech Whiz new information and upcoming events for the Web site.
Benefit: This opportunity can be done any time from home, even when a parent is up for a 2 a.m. feeding or a student is wrapping up a midterm project at midnight.
Bonus Idea: Ask him to email families to invite them to your programs.
Time Commitment: One lunch hour per month or week
Best Fit: A background-checked retiree with a lot of evening commitments but freedom during the day. Pair this volunteer with a child who needs one-on-one mentoring. Ask her to eat lunch at school with this child each week or once a month.
Benefit: This task keeps your volunteer connected relationally to kids and gives her a tangible way to make a difference. A child who is mentored one-to-one reaps untold benefits.
Bonus Idea: Invite this volunteer and the child and his or her family to your house for dinner as a way to make an even deeper connection.
Time Commitment: Two hours per quarter
Best Fit: Someone with teaching experience but no interest in a classroom role right now. Ask this volunteer to create a one-page training tool and mail or email it to all of your program teachers each quarter.
Benefit: This task taps a veteran teacher’s expertise while challenging him or her to share that knowledge and experience in a kingdom-impacting way.
Bonus idea: Ask this person to provide one-on-one mentoring to new teachers or a one-hour training workshop once a quarter.
Time Commitment: Two hours, whenever needed
Best Fit: A parent who’s already cooking a meal for his or her family can make an extra batch for a family in crisis.
Benefit: This task offers a great way for one family to share with another, with hardly any additional time or effort. And when one family makes the effort to reach out to another family that’s hurting, the connection to one another and your ministry will run deep.
Bonus Idea: Ask the family to personally deliver the meal.
Time Commitment: Two hours per quarter
Best Fit: An organized person who travels a lot, but then has a few days off. Ask him to come in and clean out your scary storage closet.
Benefit: This role offers someone with an unpredictable schedule an opportunity to serve the people on your team by tackling a mess that may have plagued your team for a while. Your team will be surprised and so appreciative to have a clean, organized area worthy of your ministry.
Bonus Idea: Ask him to make a supply list of any items from the storage closet that need to be replenished.
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