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Volunteer Myth-Busters: 7 Things You Thought You Knew About Volunteers

When’s the last time you talked to a fellow children’s ministry director who said, “I’m all set with volunteers! My roster is full, with eager back-ups for emergency substitutes. My volunteers are reliable, always showing up on time when scheduled. And they never complain!”

Doesn’t sound familiar? We get it. Recruiting enough volunteers is hard work and sometimes it seems impossible. Then there’s volunteer retention and management issues! In our decades of researching children’s ministry, volunteers are consistently one of the top issues for kidmin directors.

So we thought, what if we asked the volunteers? Let’s find out how satisfied they are, and what we can learn about how to recruit and retain better. The results were full of surprises, busting a lot of volunteer myths many of us have been led to believe.

Find out the seven myths you might have believed—and how to change your approach.


Myth #1: Volunteers Don’t Stick Around

58% of the respondents of our survey are currently serving in children’s ministry, with 34% reporting past volunteering and 8% having never served in children’s ministry. We asked each of these groups different questions to find out more about how they think.

And we were surprised to see that in the “currently serving” group, the highest percentage of people (37%) have been serving over 10 years! Pause right now and give those committed volunteers a round of applause.

But what about that group of people who used to volunteer? We asked them why they stepped down, and the most common reasons were COVID, family issues, moving to a new place, or switching to a different volunteer role in the church. In other words, it’s not that they’re uncommitted—it’s that life happens. Family comes first—and that’s a healthy boundary!

Change Your Approach: Losing volunteers you’ve tried hard to recruit and train is stressful. But focus on the positive. Value those volunteers who’ve faithfully stuck around for a long time. And don’t be too hard on those who did step down. Applaud them for putting family first or pursuing a volunteer opportunity in another area of the church, and let them know your doors are always open if they feel ready to return to children’s ministry.

Myth #2: Serving Weekly Is Too Much for Volunteers

If you’d asked us to guess how often most volunteers serve, we’d have said every other week—tops. But we didn’t guess—we asked. And in our group of current volunteers, 47% reported serving every week in children’s ministry. That was by far the top answer, with the next answer, “as needed,” only garnering 14% of votes.

Change Your Approach: Sure, serving weekly might feel like a lot to ask. And it might be too much for some people. But don’t be afraid to ask! Volunteers who serve weekly are better able to build relationships with the kids—which will be more rewarding. Plus, you won’t have to worry about schedule mix-ups (“I didn’t realize this was my week to serve!”). Create a culture where volunteering weekly is the norm—and people have the option to serve less often if they must.

Myth #3: Volunteers Don’t Share My Passion for Ministry

We wanted to know why people choose to serve in children’s ministry. From our list, we let our respondents choose two options each. The top option? 47% of volunteers said they are passionate about helping kids learn more about God or Jesus. 42% said they have a child and want to be part of their spiritual development. 41% reported feeling called by God, while 36% said they wanted to give back to their church.

Change Your Approach: Recognize that you’re not alone in your vision. You’re surrounded by people who have joined the team because they share your desire to help kids grow in faith! Tap into that passion and help them celebrate wins in your ministry.

Myth #4: Volunteers Need a Ton of Appreciation Gifts

It’s true that a small percentage of volunteers marked Christmas gifts or birthday gifts as something that makes them feel appreciated. But a whopping 73% of participants said verbal thank-you’s and encouragement was the most meaningful form of appreciation.

While that was the number one response by far, the second answer was “they listen to and address feedback from the volunteers.” Good communication, stories of how kids have been impacted, and good training followed closely behind that one.

Change Your Approach: If you absolutely love choosing personalized Christmas ornaments or crafting creative appreciation gifts, by all means—keep doing it. But don’t stress about it. If your budget is too tapped for gifts, or you just never really know what to pick, it’s not actually that important to your volunteers. Instead, just handwrite a simple thank-you note and encourage your volunteers with the impact they’re making. It’s free, and it will mean so much more. (Pro-tip: Try just writing one or two notes a week, based on a personal observation or experience from that week. You’ll be able to be more specific than if you try to write a whole batch at once, and you won’t get hand cramps!)

And never underestimate the power of feeling heard. Listen to your volunteers and implement their feedback when you can!

Myth #5: I’m Just One Bad Week Away From Losing My Volunteers

If you weren’t nervous about volunteer retention before, COVID may have pushed you over the edge. But fear not! In our “currently volunteering” group, 93% of respondents said they plan to continue serving if life allows. That’s a huge majority!

And why did they say they want to keep going? 61% said because they love seeing kids’ lives changed. 60% said volunteering keeps them growing spiritually, and 60% said because they enjoy teaching kids about faith.

Even more encouraging? Not one of our options got less than 50% of the vote. People are sticking around for a lot of reasons—and they’re overall satisfied.

Change Your Approach: Be encouraged! Just keep thanking your volunteers and supporting them—and they won’t want to leave. And if you are struggling to keep your volunteers? Find out more about retention here. Plus, avoid these 25 pitfalls that may cost you volunteers.

Myth #6: All Volunteers Do Is Complain

We’ve all had that volunteer who seems to come to us every week with complaints and negativity. Sometimes, the squeaky wheel becomes the only one we notice. Soon it can start to feel like our whole volunteer pool is dripping with negativity.

We asked current volunteers, “If you could tell your church one thing about your volunteer experience, either positive or negative, what would you want them to know?”

The responses from current volunteers were overwhelmingly positive and uplifting. We found that volunteers are passionate. They wanted to express love and thanks for their churches. They love the kids, they’re grateful for the opportunity, and they feel fulfilled. They consider their role a privilege and that what they do is extremely important.

Here’s proof:

  • “There is nothing more important than children developing a faith of their own so that they can follow Jesus fully their entire lives.”
  • “I love being able to lead kids’ hearts towards Jesus!”
  • “We are thankful and grateful for their support.”
  • “Thank you for helping me grow in my faith while helping our kids grow in their own faith, as well.”
  • “I love being a part of God’s story.”
  • “Don’t hesitate to call me if needed.”
  • “Serving in children’s ministry has deepened my own walk with God in the personal time I spend preparing for the Sunday School lessons and understanding these biblical truths myself.”
  • “Love the kids, love the people I serve alongside. Can’t wait for next week.”
  • “Thanks for all you do!”

Change Your Approach: Don’t let Negative Nancy get all your attention. Each week, reflect on the positives you saw or heard among your volunteers. It might be the smiles on their faces when kids arrived or the fun they had helping a child. There’s more positivity out there than you may realize!

Myth #7: People Don’t Want to Serve Because They Just Want to Be Consumers

You hear all the time about our “consumer culture”—how 10% of the church runs the whole thing, while the rest just attend as consumers.

So we also wanted to hear from those who have never served in children’s ministry. What’s keeping them away?

It’s clear that this group is not anti-volunteering. 50% said they already volunteer elsewhere in the church. 77% said they have volunteered somewhere outside their church, including their child’s school, food pantries or kitchens, and coaching sports teams. They volunteer in these areas because it feeds an interest they have, it’s within a field they know a lot about, help was needed, and because they had the time.

There were also 27% who said they haven’t served in children’s ministry because they don’t feel qualified to teach kids. There’s not much you can do to motivate this group to serve in your ministry—and that’s okay. God has equipped us all with different gifts, and people will be happiest when they find a place to volunteer that fits their gifts.

Change Your Approach: Don’t be afraid to ask new people to volunteer. If asked to volunteer in children’s ministry face-to-face, 42% said they would be very likely or somewhat likely to say yes. But be prepared to explain the role. Those in the “somewhat likely” category said they would base their decision on the time commitment and what they would be expected to do. Need more ideas on how to recruit this crowd? Find out with these ideas from successful recruits.

Summing Up

All in all, volunteers are more invested than you might think. They’re passionate about serving and they’re committed as long as they’re able to be. You can appreciate them with simple, heartfelt thanks—not expensive gifts. And they appreciate you, too! So, in the words of one of our volunteer respondents: “Keep doing God’s work.”

Want to really dive deep on how to better support your volunteers? Take this Group U course on recruiting and equipping volunteers, or read this incredible book that will help you better understand and equip your volunteers.

 

Looking for more tips on volunteer management? Check out these ideas!


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Volunteer Myth-Busters: 7 Things You ...

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