What they really want
After surveying kidmin volunteers across the country, we found some interesting insights. We asked volunteers which parts of their ministry stressed them out, which parts they were most uncomfortable with, and how their leaders could better help them.
What Stresses Volunteers
- Feeling Inadequate. Volunteers can feel stress about a number of areas in which they don’t feel prepared to lead. It might be teaching skills or classroom management. It might be that they are new to the faith themselves! Crystal Trice from Calera, Alabama shares, “I was not raised in the church like some people, so sometimes I am learning the stories of Jesus at the same time the children are. As I’m trying recreate this story, I worry sometimes if I will forget something or tell something wrong.”
The reality is that being a kidmin volunteer is a huge job with a lot of responsibility. We want our volunteers to catch the vision of how important their role is and truly get it. They get the eternal implications, and it scares many of them to death. My personal theory is that church members really do get why they should serve in kidmin, but they choose not to because they feel under-qualified.
How you can help. You can help ease this fear of feeling inadequate by providing training in a variety of areas. Needed skill sets may include classroom management, teaching methods, effective storytelling, dealing with special needs and much more. Never forget that the majority of our volunteers are not professional teachers, though those are the skills they often need to do their ministry tasks.
Additionally, provide spiritual growth opportunities and/or materials for your volunteers. We have a responsibility to help these that God has put in our care take their next steps towards Him. Make sure they have ways to grow in their knowledge and relationship with Him so that they can pour into the kids.
- Lack of commitment from other volunteers. This is probably on the top of your list as well. As frustrating as it is to you when volunteers don’t show, consider it from the point of view of your faithful volunteers. They are the ones who have more kids of their own. They are the ones who stick around for an extra service so that the kids have a teacher. They are the ones trying to provide a safe environment in less than ideal circumstances. They are the ones who continually sacrifice to make up for others’ lackadaisical commitments.
How you can help. Don’t let anyone be the martyr. You know those volunteers who will continually stay extra services for those who don’t show. Yes, they may have a great servant’s heart but that attitude will eventually turn to bitterness. In addition, as hard as it is, seek to over-recruit. Need a small group leader? Recruit two to work together. If one has to be out, you have an automatic back-up. And, when those days happen (and they always do) where someone just has to make it work without a helper or things are just harder, send a Starbucks card and a special thank you note to let them know that you noticed.
- Crying Babies. This showed up multiple times in our surveys. Volunteers want to do their job well. They fear that they must not be doing the right things when children are upset and they fear that others (especially parents) will feel they are not doing a good job. You know and I know that crying babies are just part of the gig, but they can cause great stress for volunteers.
How you can help. Train directors or hallway floaters to help “rescue” volunteers and babies when crying goes on too long. Recruit someone to walk the little one or utilize strollers or buggies. Create a policy and stick to it about when to call parents when crying gets excessive. Sometimes, there is just no way to fix it. Everyone just cries. Sympathize with volunteers. Merely showing your support and concern goes a long way.
What Volunteers are Uncomfortable With
- Dealing with Parents. We were encouraged that numerous volunteers expressed a desire to better connect with the parents of the kids they serve; yet, they are highly uncomfortable doing so. Parents can land on all ends of the spectrum, from being overly protective to being completely uninterested. Volunteers want to engage them, but also fear that parents will disapprove of how they are ministering to their child. They aren’t sure how to communicate discipline issues or other needs that they might have. Though they know those conversations would be beneficial, the awkwardness is difficult to overcome.
How you can help. Relationship overcomes awkward. Create natural opportunities for parents and volunteers to connect. Fellowship times, parties, or Sunday morning “open houses” all allow adults to interact on a personal, non-threatening level. Coach volunteers on the importance of connecting with parents and provide some simple rules of thumb to help ease the tension.
- Conflict Resolution. Very few people enjoy conflict. Whether we like to admit it or not, conflict pops up in our children’s ministry environments. Personality differences, hurt feelings, misunderstandings and more occur, and more often than not are handled in unhealthy ways. Volunteers, like everyone else, are uncomfortable with handling conflict, but unresolved issues can create a very negative environment.
How you can help. Model biblical conflict resolution. Jesus clearly teaches that whether we are the offended (Matthew 18) or the offender (Matthew 5), we must work to resolve the problem. Coach volunteers to handle their problems that way. When they come to you, coach them to go directly to the other person before involving you. You must be the example by handling issues while they are small and refusing to ignore conflict.
- Too many kids in the room. Volunteers want to provide safe and good environments. They also want to keep their sanity. They know that when a room is overcrowded, the chance for bad things to happen greatly increases. Because they have those great servants’ hearts, they will grin and bear it, but they are very uncomfortable when they end up in a situation with too many children.
How you can help. Have a great plan for how you handle ratios. An overcrowded room should be the exception, not the rule. Split classes, find more space, redistribute workers, do what it takes to keep numbers manageable. This protects your children and your volunteers!
So what do volunteers truly want?
- HELP! Volunteers want more volunteers. We know you do, too. This great desire reminds us that as ministry leaders, one of our highest responsibilities will always be recruiting. You can’t do it all by yourself, but you will always be doing it. This is a great reminder that recruiting is not just to fill empty slots and to make Sundays less stressful for you. Having plenty of volunteers helps your current volunteers do a better job at ministering to kids.
- Committed volunteers want to do their jobs better and they want you to teach them how. However, if your environment is anything like mine, it sure is hard to get volunteers to show up! The flipside is that volunteers are very busy with their Monday through Saturday lives. They need training that is valuable, and unfortunately many of us have offered way too much training that didn’t help a whole lot.
Ask yourself a few questions about your training meetings:
- Am I offering information that really helps and is applicable to real life?
- Am I offering training at times that are convenient?
- Would I come to my own meetings?
When asked what topics they would plan if they were in charge, volunteers listed procedures, discipline, teaching skills, and dealing with parents. These correlate considerably with the things that stress them and make them uncomfortable.
- Supplies/Resources. Volunteers need stuff. Make their jobs easier by creating good systems for ensuring that they have the supplies, resources and equipment they need. The great thing about volunteers is that they don’t necessarily want the latest and greatest that costs lots of money. When asked how their ministry leader could serve them better, one volunteer said, “Provide some supplies like a trash bag/can, Kleenex, and wipes.” That certainly isn’t asking too much!
They want the simple supplies they need to be easily accessible. They want enough (it’s a bad day when you have 10 kids and 9 crafts), and they want their stuff to work. Yes, your volunteers want inspiration and vision-casting, but more than that. they need the resources to complete the task before them.
What do YOUR volunteers need?
Are all of these volunteer needs universal? Probably. But, don’t take my word for it. The very most important thing that you can do for the people you lead is to know their hearts. Make it a priority to know what stresses them and what they need from you.
You can find out by doing a simple survey, either on paper or online. Conduct a brainstorming meeting and let people identify what is working and not working in your kidmin. Seek creative ways to identify areas that can be improved.
More than all of that, know your volunteers. Build relationships. Let them know that you care enough to recognize and meet their needs. Pray for God to give you wisdom of how to serve your volunteers so that they, in turn, can best serve the children for His glory.