Volunteers are human! That means they get weary, especially during the “final stretch” of serving. Here are 12 ways to re-energize your volunteers.
It’s summer—the season when we rejoice in refreshed spirits. So why do your volunteers seem collectively glazed over? Summer, despite its outdoor splendor, can be a little gloomy in the children’s ministry area. But children—and you—need these treasured volunteers’ undivided attention in your ministry.
Children’s Ministry Magazine went on a fact-finding mission to learn how veteran children’s ministers keep volunteers energized and refueled during the “final stretch” of the volunteer year —a time when volunteers may be tempted to coast or check out.
Kudos—in all shapes and sizes—energize.
Volunteer appreciation never goes out of season — and giving your volunteers unexpected recognition for their dedication not only boosts their dedication, it also increases their commitment to you.
Affirmation comes in more forms than packaged gifts and formal ceremonies. Read on to discover the unique and thoughtful way these children’s ministers affirm their volunteers.
1. Unexpected Applause
Applaud your volunteers,” says Debbie Spidle, children’s ministry director for Point of Grace Church in Des Moines, Iowa. “Let them know that you value them and their time.”
Spidle affirms her volunteers with personal touches. She gives surprise “treat bags” to volunteers on random Sundays and sends handwritten cards in the mail.
“Even baking cookies can warm hearts and let volunteers know you care about them,” says Spidle.
When you know volunteers’ energy is lagging or during times of high stress, encourage your team. Spidle sends her volunteers Easter Survival Kits packed with candies and cards during this very busy time.
2. Stay-at-Home Getaways
Several children’s ministers we talked to suggested well-timed escapes to rejuvenate a tired staff.
You can create a sense of escape without exotic locations and big bucks. A small, casual retreat at your church is budget-friendly and can give volunteers a well-earned time for fun. Cater a meal or go potluck. Give volunteers the gift of great food and conversation. Don’t overschedule your time, but plan for a speaker or other program that ministers to your volunteers. Express your genuine appreciation to each person.
Susan Martinez, religious education director of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Durango, Colorado, agrees that sharing food and good conversation is a great way to affirm volunteers. Her church treats volunteers to a Friday night movie and hot dog party. Martinez says the casual Friday night out lets her volunteers reconnect and rediscover their enthusiasm during the waning months.
3. Time to Relate
Cheryl Wong, children’s pastor at Church of the Good Shepherd in Loveland, Colorado, builds relationships to affirm volunteers.
“We like to go off campus, bring all our volunteers together, eat, play fun games, and thank everyone for how they serve,” says Wong.
Good Shepherd’s leadership team also sponsors Coffee Share every other month on a Sunday morning before church. They invite the entire children’s ministry team and provide child care, food, and enrichment such as a guest speaker.
“We truly want our team to develop relationships with each other and our leadership,” says Wong.
4. Real-World Adventures
Martinez says real-world adventures, such as helping at a local soup kitchen, keep her volunteers motivated because they’re a change of routine that also inspire her team’s love of service.
In-class adventures also rejuvenate volunteers’ stamina. Consider special art projects or out-of-the box activities to put new energy into your classrooms, advises Martinez. Kids can grow tired of the routine; so can your volunteers. Giving classes unusual activities or letting classes combine for special projects will shake up the routine and motivate your volunteers.
5. Family Appreciation
After hosting a volunteer appreciation party in years past, Hannah French, children’s pastor at Southeast Christian Church in Parker, Colorado, says her church decided on a new approach this year by hosting a family appreciation party when volunteers’ energy was lagging most.
“Our team feels that it’s just as important to appreciate the families of the people who serve,” says French. “Our party will have lots of fun activities for kids, teens, and adults. We’ll also creatively tell everyone how important they are and how much we appreciate them. The event will have lots of energy and excitement, using music, video, and drama. We’ll take the time to pour back into the families who pour so much into our ministry.”
6. Real Relationships
Never underestimate the power of a personal relationship when it comes to motivating volunteers, advises French.
“If you invest personally in people, you’ll know when they need extra motivation and encouragement,” says French. “You’ll be able to tell them specifically what they’ve done well or relate to the difficulties in their personal lives. You’ll know when they need to go get that extra cup of coffee just to chat. When your leaders see you investing in their lives, they’ll do the same in the lives of the people they lead. In ministry, you can never go wrong when you invest personally in people.”
Creative thinking energizes.
Sometimes your wider church community is the best resource you have when it comes to recharging your volunteers’ enthusiasm. Here’s how these leaders lean on their church community for inspiration.
7. Platinum Partnerships
“Church staffs are full of talented and experienced men and women. Even though they may not be working with children’s programming, they can be a great resource for ideas and inspiration,” says Spidle. Encouraging your team members to bond with volunteers and leaders in other areas for ideas and motivation is a great way to inspire friends
Ministry communities should encourage one another, says Wong. “I ask our pastors and leaders to thank our team, to let them know it matters that they’re ministering to the kids,” she says.
8. Teacher Cooperation
Some teachers get an energy boost from combining efforts with other teachers. Be willing to step back and allow some freedom and creative approaches to teaching, advises Martinez.
“Actually, just giving teachers the freedom to do their projects is very motivating. They can get together and share ideas,” says Martinez.
9. Planned Relief
The children’s ministry staff at Southeast Christian Church spends a lot of time talking about how to recruit and motivate volunteers.
“We try to plan several breaks throughout the year for our volunteers. We can’t always give everyone a day off, but we can plan special programming where the responsibilities are lighter,” says French. Puppet shows, planned parties, and movies help mix things up and motivate volunteers.
Personal connections energize.
Chances are, your volunteers are with you because they believe in the vision of the ministry and want to make a difference. There’sno better way to motivate people than to let your volunteers know the concrete impact they’re making.
10. Shared Impact
Give your volunteers personal reasons to cheer, advises Spidle.
“When you learn that a child has accepted Jesus, signed up for baptism, or has had his or her young life impacted, share the news with volunteers,” says Spidle. “It can have a tremendous effect on volunteers’ commitment to ministry.”
11. Personal Investments
Wong asks her volunteers to personalize a section of each lesson because it makes teaching a more personal experience.
“I ask volunteers to read their lessons with themselves in mind. How has God worked in their life?” says Wong.
“Our leaders are asked to invest in the lives of the kids in their group and become role models,” agrees French.
“Prayer works!” says Spidle. She suggests specifically asking church staff and prayer teams to pray for your volunteers and your ministry. Let your volunteers know people care about what they’re doing and are praying for them.
Lesleigh Keetch is a freelance writer in Durango, Colorado.
For more great ideas like this in each issue, subscribe to Children’s Ministry Magazine today!