If you’ve been leading in Children’s Ministry for very long, you’ve probably figured out that one of your best ways to build your volunteer team is to keep the ones you’ve already got! Retaining volunteers is critical to continued health and growth in your ministry.
But sometimes it seems like we’ve got a revolving door with our volunteers, with many coming and going all the time. How do we stop that? In some cases, it’s just going to happen, but in most cases, volunteers leave because there’s some dissatisfaction – or lack of satisfaction, at best – with their involvement. Here are some ways we can to offset that and keep the volunteers we have:
1. Make it matter. We all are short on time. When we give our time, we want it to matter. The best way to do this with your volunteers is to focus on vision. Recruit them to vision. Talk vision constantly. Guide them toward fulfilling the vision of your ministry.
“We’ve got to invite leaders to a big vision, not recruit them to a big need.”
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2. Care about them. This seems obvious, right? What I’ve experienced and observed, though, is that sometimes we care more about the role they play in our ministry than we care about them as individuals. We need to make sure we know them and care about them as individuals first.
3. Create community. Creating community can be a big part of caring for our volunteers. As we make sure they are connected, not only to us, but also to others within our ministry, we begin to create unique community with and for them. Creating shared experiences away from the church can play a huge part in creating community with our team. And when someone has shared experiences and feels community with a group of people, they are far less likely to leave.
4. Give them breaks. Everyone needs a break now and then. My approach to this is two-fold. First, design your volunteer commitments with a built in break. This might be having them take the summer off, or taking the 5th weekend off when a month has 5 weeks, but you can easily build breaks in to the commitment. Second, I strongly communicate flexibility. I create a system to managing times when volunteers need to be gone, and I communicate that I understand this is OK – life happens!
5. Equip them. There is really no better way to lose a volunteer than to place them in a role that they don’t know how to do and leave them to figure it out. Design an equipping program that offers basic training/orientation and on-going training through various avenues (in person, online, email, etc.).
6. Solve problems for them. One of the best and quickest ways to gain influence (leadership) is to solve problems. It’s also one of the best ways retain volunteers. You don’t have to be the one who actually solves the problems, just be the one that makes sure the problem gets solved for your volunteers.
7. Resource them. One of my pet peeves is ministries that expect volunteers to a) create their own curriculum; b) pay for any supplies they need to do what we ask them to do, and/or c) not offer to reimburse them when they want to do something extra for their kids (within predefined guidelines). If a volunteer refuses reimbursement or insists on purchasing supplies, then great. But don’t make buying stuff necessary to serving in your ministry – some people simply can’t afford it and it won’t be long before they walk.
8. Appreciate them. It’s amazing how far a simple thank you will go! A simple note of appreciation can do wonders. A pat on the back in the hallway. A shout out in front of their team. A public recognition of over-and-above service. Appreciation goes a long, long way to retaining your team.
9. Tell them stories. About the parents who told you how much their child likes this volunteers class. About the child who never liked coming to church until they got into that volunteers class. About the teenager who serves alongside them and seems to really be engaging in their faith now. You get the idea – we love to hear how we are making a difference in people’s lives. Listen for stories, have a method for collecting them, and be intentional about telling your volunteers what you are hearing. You might even ask parents to share their stories with their childs’ leaders.
10. Invest in their personal growth. One of our great privileges as children’s ministry leaders is investing in the personal and spiritual growth of our team. They are there not just to serve, but to grow. When we take time to individually and collectively invest in their lives to help them grow, they appreciate it.
11. Increase their responsibility. Many times (but not all), volunteers need new challenges, especially those who are more inclined to be leaders. When leaders continue to do the same thing (especially if we’ve brought them in on a pretty basic level), they can get bored. Many people need new and greater challenges, so make sure you identify the ones who are stepping up as leaders and find ways to give them new and great responsibilities in your ministry.
What else can we do to retain volunteers in our ministry?