Once the dust settles following VBS, you may worry about whether your weary volunteers will stick around. Here’s the short answer: They will if you employ a strategy for volunteer retention that works. Let’s take a closer look at seven critical elements of lasting teams.
1. You create a culture that cultivates leaders.
Debbie Neufeld, children’s minister at Grant Memorial Baptist Church in Winnipeg, Manitoba, tells how she develops team leaders from her 150 volunteers.
“I depend very heavily on my team leaders to keep our children’s ministry going,” Debbie says. “They’re the ones who work closely with me in finding the right people to serve in their departments; they look after the needs of their staff and the kids and parents they minister to; they keep me aware of things that I need to know…I try to give the ministry away to them and tell them that the department is theirs to look after.
Despite big events such as VBS or other outreach programs, “I try to meet monthly with my team leaders so we can connect and plan on a regular basis. I have found this to be a hard commitment even for my dedicated workers, as they lead such busy lives today and have jobs and families as well…I feel it’s very important to keep in touch with my team leaders, even if it has to be on the phone, at least once every week or two.”
It takes time to cultivate leaders among your volunteer teams. And it may not be easy to get into the habit of regular meetings with team leaders. But by spending time with your leaders, you encourage them to develop the same kind of relationship with their team members—volunteers who deserve the same level of time and attention but may not be able to get it from you. (There are only so many hours in a week!)
2. Your team shares common goals.
With your children’s ministry vision statement in mind (preferably even in view!), each volunteer team must establish its goals. Team goals should include detailed, reachable objectives that advance your children’s ministry’s vision statement.
3. Your volunteers know their roles and responsibilities.
Delineating clear roles provides greater ownership and enables people to excel in their areas of responsibility. Before your VBS begins, find ways to let team members spend time getting to know each other. Understanding team members’ strengths, weaknesses, and personalities will help teams better determine who should fill which role.
Training and equipping is a key component of this. Never assume that an onboarding training session will cut it. You will increase your team members’ buy-in and passion when you equip them through regular, palatable, engaging, and effective training.
4. You value loyalty and commitment.
One of your volunteers’ primary needs is to be needed—and not only during the heat of VBS. Year round, your message needs to be: “I need you to reach children. I cannot do it without you!” People want to feel that they’re making a valuable contribution to the team. You’ll retain volunteers longer because they feel valued and know that there’s a place for their unique gifts and talents.
In addition to hearing positive feedback from you, it’s also important for teammates to communicate to one another how important they are. You can do this in team meetings where team members regularly share “words of appreciation” about what they value in their teammates. Follow up your VBS with a team debrief. What went well? What needs improvement? And how did your volunteers shine? Encourage “holy gossip” where teammates report to the others the great ways they’ve seen each other contribute.
5. Your team plays together.
The team that plays together, stays together—especially after a monster event such as VBS. When was the last time your team relaxed together? You can build community within your team by planning regular times where they can kick back and simply enjoy being together. You may decide to play a wild game of Laser Tag. Or your team may enjoy meeting at a trendy coffee shop on a Saturday morning. Encourage team leaders to find out from their teams what they would most enjoy and to plan regular times that are just for fun. As people see how much fun your teams are having in and around children’s ministry, they’ll want to get on board.
6. Your volunteers pray together.
Prayer is an important part of East Tulsa Christian Church’s children’s ministry team. “We recently had a day of fasting and prayer,” says their director Cheryl Hall. “We have two or three days throughout the year to keep us focused and to keep us listening to what is true.”
Prayer will not only bind your team together, it’ll help your team members give their hearts to the children they pray for. Teams can pray together as a group, develop a prayer chain, or have prayer partners within their teams. Prayer helps a team recognize its utter dependence on the power of God and reaffirms the team’s trust in God’s miraculous working in and through its ministry.
7. Volunteers serve and love one another.
Nurture an environment where team members make sacrifices for one another, serve one another, and meet each other’s needs. By God’s grace, your goal is to create teams that become the most life-giving source in a teammate’s life, and therefore, a life-giving source to the children you all serve. That sustaining love is what keeps your volunteer team coming back for more.