My toddler daughter is currently obsessed with shape sorter toys. You remember these, right? The concept is simple. There is a box with various shapes cut out of it. There are also blocks formed in these shapes. The idea is for the triangle block to go into the triangle-shaped hole, the square block to go into the square-shaped hole, etc. It’s fun to watch her little 20-month-old brain process all of this. She will try the wrong shape in a hole and look and smile and say, “No.” Sometimes, a shape will come very close to fitting and will get stuck in the hole. Sometimes she recognizes that this is not truly a fit, and sometimes she decides it’s quite close enough.
Your children’s ministry may have a similar toy in your nursery. And, if you look a little closer, you may see some similarities between this toy and situations we find ourselves in as we staff our ministries with volunteers.
The first reality we must recognize is that God’s Word says that He has created each person differently and gifted them uniquely. 1 Corinthians 12:4-5 says, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord.” Verse 11 reminds us that the Spirit distributes this variety of gifts “just as He wills.” God has created many different shapes of “blocks” exactly like He wants them to be.
The second reality is that in children’s ministry we consistently feel like we have unending “holes” or volunteer slots that must be filled. The pressure of filling the blank spaces with names, in addition to the many, many other things that MUST be done before Sunday, often results in triangle “blocks” being forced into circle “holes” and we decide it is quite close enough.
What happens when our focus becomes simply filling positions rather than finding the right fits? We do get names filled into the blanks; however, we also run the risk of high volunteer turnover, high levels of frustration, and a dissatisfied volunteer culture. Why? Because we’re not seeking to honor the unique “shape”—the calling and gifting that God has placed on each individual. Instead, we’re focused on meeting our own needs.
In the busy world of children’s ministry where there are always glue sticks to be bought, curriculum to be prepared, music to be selected, events to be planned, and always, always another Sunday on the way, how in the world do we take the time needed to make sure every volunteer is in the right spot? A better question might be: How can we not?
As leaders, God has given us a great stewardship with the servants He entrusts in our care. It is well worth our time and effort to make sure we’re doing all we can to help them identify His calling in their lives, not just fill in a blank that we need.
Identify your holes.
Make a list of every potential position within your ministry. Make sure your list provides room for diversity and that it reflects that you’re ready to utilize a variety of gifts and talents. Not only do you need teachers, but you need assistants, directors, coordinators, and greeters. Perhaps, you can add people to oversee outreach or supply distribution.
Set aside time to evaluate each of these positions. Identify what skills, gifts and/or talents would be most beneficial in that role. What personalities would be the best fit? What is the “shape” of this role?
Help people understand who they are.
Ephesians 4 talks about how one of our primary responsibilities is to equip people for the work of the saints. A significant component of this equipping should involve helping people discover who God created them to be.
If your church does not have a church-wide process for helping people determine their fit in ministry, it may be up to you. Yes, it’s another thing for your plate, but it’s a good thing that will not only benefit children’s ministry but your church as a whole.
One great tool is a “SHAPE” profile. These profiles are based off of the book S.H.A.P.E. by Eric Rees and seek to identify believers’ Spiritual gifts, Heart, Abilities, Passions and Experiences. Helping believers explore these aspects of themselves will assist them in seeing what God has created them to do.
Personality is also a huge factor in determining a volunteer’s best fit. An introvert may not be your best greeter. Someone who likes order and calm and organization may not be the best game leader. Identifying a person’s personality type can help them better understand why they think and act the way they do, impacting their understanding of what ministry might look like for them. Some examples of commonly used profiles are the DISC, the Path Elements Profile, and the Myers-Briggs.
A quick Google search will provide numerous resources for both spiritual gift tests and personality profiles. Many are free and many are not. Remember, sometimes you get what you pay for and if this becomes a core part of what you do, a small financial investment into quality tests may be beneficial.
Get to know your people.
Tools are incredible resources, but they can never replace a conversation. There’s not a spreadsheet or a test or a profile on this planet that’s going to adequately replace talking to the people you want to serve in your ministry.
Take the time to get to know new volunteers before plugging them into a volunteer role. Talk about their passions and experiences. Seek to get a good understanding of what they are like and what they like. Developing an open line of communication from the get-go, and communicating from the beginning that your heart is for this person to land squarely where God has fit them to serve, builds trust for the future.
After fitting a volunteer into a place of service, continue the conversation consistently. Ask if it is a good fit. Ask if they feel satisfied. Ask how you can make their experience better. If you, or someone on your team, have developed genuine relationships, you will know right away if there’s a volunteer who has landed in the wrong spot. You can discuss this and look to find a better fit.
Have a method to the madness.
You have to figure out the right balance and right process that works for you. You have to figure out what the best next steps are to help your people find the right match. Is it a church-wide class focused on discovering spiritual gifts? Is it a series of tests or profiles that all potential volunteers must complete? Is it an interview with a member of your team? Only you can determine what works best in your culture.
It’s a great relief to know that you have all of your volunteer spots filled. However, knowing that you have done your best to match “triangles” and “squares” into their correct fits gives you the confidence that you have done more than filled spots. You’ve helped people find their true mission, ministry and passion.