I really like volunteers.
- I like that they are willing to sacrifice their time to serve kids
- I like that they like kids like I do (lots of “liking”!)
- I like that most of my volunteers can manage their own schedule, are reliable, and I don’t have to babysit them
- I like that they trust me
- I like that I can trust them
- I like that they are my friends
Most of the volunteers that serve alongside of me in children’s ministry @ Hayward Wesleyan are my friends. It makes the necessary task of managing them so much easier. And I trust them.
You see, because I am so bad at managing (and maybe communicating… I’m working on that!), the people that do serve with me are self-sustaining. I front-load with them what to expect (more on that in a minute) and then expect that they will follow through on what I expect. And, guess what? They typically do. Now there are always exceptions to every rule, but by and large, the staff I work with are very eager, energetic, reliable, and fun to be around. And because they trust me and I trust them, they stick around for a long time. My volunteer retention rate is pretty good. I don’t have a lot of turnover. Thus they become my pretty good friends.
I also run a lean staff.
For better or worse (back to my poor management) I trust a few people deeply (relationally beyond background checks, although these are important “i’s” to dot and “t’s” to cross) instead of a lot of people shallowly. I know others might disagree with me and I’m not saying that everyone should run lean staffs. I do because that is what I have found works wonders for me and keeps me as a children’s pastor in a rural community with a large children’s ministry program (along with a middle school ministry as well) functioning. Most churches with a wide reach like ours, have the funds to hire full and part-time ministry assistants and programming experts. I don’t. It’s just me and a part, part-time secretary, along with a number of volunteers who I love and deeply appreciate. And we get the job done!
Leading volunteers, at least to this young children’s pastor, is situational.
I’ve often felt like I should do more, or train better, or recruit more people, or communicate more efficiently. And, by all means, you should be trying to improve yourself and your leadership. You shouldn’t settle for mediocrity. But don’t let it stress you out to the point of being frozen or depressed.
You want my advice?
Find your unique style in leading, inspiring, encouraging, communicating, and loving your volunteers no matter how little or large of a group they are, and do it well. Pick some things to work on, and work on them slowly and deeply. Let it permeate your life so it becomes a part of you, not just some fly-by-night leadership principle that is a great statement one minute, but then you forget about it the next.
Want some front-loading advice with your volunteers?
- Be very clear what you expect of them.
- If you want them to be on site at a specific time, then be specific. If you want them to be there every week, then be clear. Don’t assume they are thinking along the same lines as you are. Be clear. Don’t be rude. Just be clear.
- Do your homework on them.
Make sure you check their references and not just the references they put on the sheet, but the ones they didn’t put down. Ask wise people in your church who know them. And be honest with them that you are investigating them. They will REALLY respect you for it (and it tells them how serious you are about protecting the kids).
- Keep things very relational.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m not a very formal kind-of-guy. I like to keep things somewhat informal. I have found that, although there are lists and procedures and policies and formalities, communicating them in an informal, relational way, further communicates the overall intent and modus operandi of your style and approach.
- Over communicate.
This is what I am working on. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Send them emails. Use the phone and call them. Preempt their thoughts and questions. Talk to them before they need to talk to you. They shouldn’t be asking you what is going on. They should be well-informed ahead of time. A happy volunteer, is a happy volunteer!
- Be clear about your policies and procedures.
Every church should have a Child Protection Plan in place and functioning. If you do not, then you need to. Your volunteers should have this filled out and completed prior to serving.
- Have a compelling vision.
I’ve got to work on clarifying mine in writing, but when asked by a parent or volunteer, I can pretty easily give them a compelling reason why ministry and discipleship of children is important–it’s the GOSPEL! If your children’s ministry is just babysitting for the church service or for adults during Sunday School, then it’s not going to be very compelling.
And keep learning yourself.
I’m always reading about childhood development (especially because of my two young daughters) and how that applies to parenting and ministry. I learn about how discipline and discipleship go hand-in-hand. I love reading and learning about how people (children and adults) go about learning (even when they don’t know they are learning!). I try to share these thoughts with my volunteers… I mean, with my friends.