If you lead a ministry or organization, you need people on your team. One of the best ways to get others on your team is to understand their needs. The needs of people really haven’t changed much since Adam and Eve. (Methods and programs change, but the needs of people haven’t.) Listed here are eight basic needs of people. Get a good understanding of these eight needs, and you’ll find yourself with plenty of people on your team.
1. People need to be loved. Love them.
It’s been said that if the devil can’t make you do bad things, he’ll make you busy. Normally when we get busy, the first thing to get sidelined is our relationships. Some of us are too busy to love people like we should. Sometimes the greatest thing we can do for people is to love them.
How do you love others? You follow the example of Jesus. He put the needs of others before His own—ultimately He gave His life!
Loving others doesn’t mean that you turn all warm and fuzzy. Trust me, I am not a warm and fuzzy guy. Emotions wear off with time. Loving those you serve is not something you feel. It’s something you choose to do. When it’s all said and done, the thing that matters most is making a choice to put others first. People will forget that amazing VBS program or the hours you spent learning how to juggle four toddlers in your arms while pouring Kool-Aid. However, they won’t forget the love you showed them.
2. People need to be needed. Ask them to be involved.
One of my all-time favorite TV series was 24. The star of the show, Jack Bauer, was a guy who needs to be needed. When there was a threat to national security, the President knew whom to call. Jack put it all on the line when there was a need.
Jack Bauer isn’t the only person who needs to be needed. Everyone does. One of your biggest tasks is recruiting people—right? Recruiting starts by letting people know about the needs in your ministry. There are people who would love to get involved, but they have to know the needs, and they need to be asked—personally asked. Some people just won’t be comfortable approaching you. Too often we wait for people to come and talk to us, or we ask the same people who are already too busy.
3. People need to belong. Provide community for them.
You’ve heard the old African proverb (thanks in part to Hillary Clinton) that says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” The idea behind the proverb is that kids need a community along with a family. Here’s the thing: kids aren’t the only ones who need a community.
Community is tough to find in our mobile society. We live in a world where Facebook and Instagram become substitutes for long-term, personal communities. It’s too easy to be high-tech but low-touch in today’s world. People need to experience life with others. Paul described the church as a body, not each person as a body, but each person as a part of the body. “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:26- 27, NIV).
Communities are created when Christians lock arms and serve God together. Some of my best friends are people I serve with in the church. We have different backgrounds, different professions, and different stories. However, serving God in children’s ministry is the common denominator that ties us together.
4. People need understood. Spend time with them.
How well do you know and understand the people you serve with? I’m not asking if you know how many student books they get with their quarterly. Do you understand their pains and problems?
Remember the woman caught in the act of adultery as recorded in John 8? The religious leaders reminded Jesus that the law said she should be stoned. Jesus then wrote in the dirt. (It bugs me that we don’t know what Jesus wrote. That might be one of my first questions when I get to Heaven.) Jesus then said, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7, NIV). One by one they walked away.
Think about what was going on in that woman’s heart and the emotional trauma she was experiencing. She was no doubt embarrassed and afraid. Her life was laid out in front of the community. She could have been stoned to death. When her accusers walked away, Jesus said, “Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11, NIV). That’s the kind of understanding heart that every minister needs!
How do you get to know and understand the people in your ministry? Here are a few pointers to get you going.
Be friendly. Get in the habit of smiling and saying a happy hello to everyone in your ministry. If you are a task-oriented person like I am, you will find yourself running around the church on a mission and bypassing the people you rely on the most—your volunteers. Stop running. Start smiling. Be genuine.
Learn the art of small talk. Get to know your volunteers on a personal basis. Work on it one small conversation at a time. The people in your ministry want to know you, and they want you to know them.
Lighten up. Some of you don’t have this problem but some of you might. Don’t be so serious and intense that people are uncomfortable around you. Lighten up a little. You’ll find yourself surrounded by people.
Ask others for help. People love to be asked their opinion, so go out of your way to ask questions like, “What do you think about this new curriculum?” or, “How do you think we should handle the problem we had with the boys in kids’ church last Sunday?” Then once they talk, sincerely listen and thank them for their ideas.
Support with prayer. When someone tells you about a problem, take thirty seconds and pray right then and there. I call these thirty-second prayers. I’ve had many thirty-second prayers in my tenure as a children’s pastor. These prayers take place in the church foyer, in the back of the kids’ church room, on the sidewalk at the church, or at the gas pump. Small prayers help you understand people.
5. People need encouraged. Be their biggest cheerleader.
Christians should be the greatest encouragers. Encouragement is to a team what wind is to the sails of a sailboat—it moves people forward. Consider the amount of criticism many people endure at work, school, or even at home. Think about canceling out those words of criticism with words of praise and encouragement. Instead of being another critic, be a cheerleader for those serving in children’s ministry. (Although I refuse to wear a short skirt and carry pom-poms.)
Cheering your team can start with simple notes of encouragement. They go a long way. You can e-mail someone, but I suggest turning off the computer and sending something in the mail. After all, it’s nice to go to the mailbox and find something other than a bill now and then. I see your head nodding.
Here’s an example. Send a card to a volunteer you noticed really going above and beyond in her Sunday school class. What does it take to make that person’s day? Two minutes? Forty-four cents? The cost of postage may change, but the needs of people don’t.
For several years I’ve sent a note of encouragement to a different person every day of the week. It has become a habit in my life. It’s one of the best uses of my time I can think of.
Some churches do annual appreciation events for their children’s ministry team members. One church literally rolled out the red carpet for their volunteers and invited me to speak. The theme was “A Night with the Stars.” There was valet parking and the paparazzi even showed up with their cameras.
When you create an environment where people are encouraged, you aren’t going to have a problem with volunteers quitting because you won’t be able to drive them off with a stick!
6. People need to feel appreciated. Go out of your way.
If you want more volunteers, make heroes of the ones you have. Since you’re reading this blog post, I have to believe that you understand the importance of children’s and family ministry. However, not everyone in the church feels the same way you do. To many people, children’s ministry is simply babysitting. Because of the lack of encouragement within some churches for people who work with kids, volunteers can be very lonely and feel unappreciated.
Effective leaders do everything possible to make volunteers in children’s ministry feel valued and appreciated. Here are some ways to make heroes of your volunteers:
• Communicate appreciation from the pulpit.
• Host an annual appreciation event.
• Deliver notes, candy, and other surprises to them before class begins.
• Tell volunteers that you’re praying for them.
• Recognize volunteers in the church bulletin or newsletter.
• Have a volunteer of the month and post the names on a plaque.
• Invite volunteers and their families to your home for dessert.
• Give service awards.
• Send notes of encouragement.
• Ask members of the congregation to adopt a volunteer and pray for the volunteer every day.
• Send your volunteers to training events.
• Remember their birthdays.
• Stop running down the hall and speak a meaningful “thank you!”
• Carry $5.00 gift cards with you and randomly give away a few every week.
• Give volunteers a break now and then.
7. People need to feel as though they are part of something significant. Own the vision and communicate it.
Many children’s ministries rotate teachers in and out like a revolving door. Be careful of that because it’s easy for volunteers to develop a “slot filling” mentality. Go ahead and make the big “ask.” Ask people to make a big commitment versus filling slots. People want to be a part of something significant. If volunteers are only filling slots, they’re probably not making a big difference.
How well are you doing communicating that your volunteers are part of something hugely important? If you have a vision for your ministry, remember that God gave that vision to you. Don’t get frustrated when your volunteers don’t automatically understand it. God didn’t give the vision to them—He gave it to you; remember? It’s your job to communicate it to them and let them see how important it really is.
The best way I have found to do this is by sharing “success stories” with volunteers. When a child comes to trust Christ as Savior, don’t keep it to yourself! When a new family joins the church with children, share the good news! When you get a new volunteer, let everyone know about it! This can be accomplished in printed memos, e-mails, the church bulletin, on giant posters, and even one-on-one.
8. People need to be prayed for. Lead with prayer first.
It’s easier to say, “I’ll pray for you,” than it is to do it. When a teacher calls and says she won’t make it to church because her child has a high fever, ask to pray with her right then. When you’re in a personality conflict with someone, the last thing you want to do is pray for that person, but it’s the first thing you need to do.
Remember—you don’t have to have a thirty-minute block of time to pray. Take advantage of small pockets of time to pray, like when you’re driving down the road (Don’t close your eyes, please.) or waiting for an appointment. Prayer makes a difference.
A statement comes in the mail every month about my retirement funds. I don’t understand everything on that statement, but I do understand this: I’d better invest today, or I’ll wish I had in the future. The best place for you to invest time and energy is in the people in your ministry. The payoff is huge, and you’ll be glad you did.