Volunteers are the lifeblood of kids ministry. Without these precious souls who teach and give week after week, kids ministry might survive, but not without a lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth. That being said, sometimes kids ministers get frustrated with these well-meaning souls. They don’t come to training; they’re sometimes in the corner talking to each other instead of interacting with the kids; they’re late; they call in sick at the last minute; they go on vacation and forget to get a sub—you get the picture.
These frustrations have been mine in the past. But now, being on the “other side” since I’m no longer serving on church staff, my eyes have been opened to why so many of these issues happen. I want to share with you 5 things that might help you better understand your volunteers’ points of view – things that you know down deep, but maybe have forgotten.
- They’re busy. Being at church at least 5 days a week is your job – but it’s not theirs. I sometimes forgot that. A volunteer has a lot to do: at least one full time job; family issues to deal with; kids’ extra-curricular activities to attend or at least taxi kids back and forth to; cook dinner; check homework; get laundry and cleaning done (or at least under control); get everyone and everything in the household ready for the next day – just to name a few. Sometimes, unless you’ve told your volunteers how important training is and have made it essential and relevant to what they do at church, they physically might not be able to add another thing to their schedules or not understand the importance.
Suggestion: instead of adding another meeting for your volunteers to attend, consider alternative training options – such as online training, videos, and short e-mails with training tips and important announcements.
- They need adult interaction. When I was on church staff, I would sometimes lose a volunteer mainly because she missed her adult Sunday school class.
Suggestion: intentionally provide times of relationship building with your volunteers: plan for time during training meetings for relaxed conversation; do a book study together; create an evening “Sunday school class” for kids leaders; meet for coffee; plan a cook-out and the like.
- Life happens. Your volunteers have the best intentions. They plan for Sunday morning and have everything ready on Saturday night. But then, Sunday morning happens – alarm clocks don’t go off; last-minute diaper changes which lead to last-minute clothing changes; bad traffic; little Suzy has decided that she hates the cereal that she has insisted on having every day of her life until today; little Suzy threw up; everyone is tired and cranky – things you deal with, but you’re paid to be there and don’t have a choice!
Suggestion: Have a couple of volunteers on standby that can step in to a classroom until your tardy volunteer can get there. Extra insurance: have an easy activity or two available to begin teaching when that first child arrives.
- They did try to find a substitute – really they did. You above all people know how hard it is to find a substitute teacher. Sometimes they really did try everyone they knew and still couldn’t find anyone
Suggestion: Warning! Hard to hear, but unfortunately the buck really does stop with you. You get paid. They don’t. So ultimately you will sometimes have to find a substitute teacher. Try to create a list of people whom you can count on in a crunch. Another idea is to have an ally in every adult class that you can call on to either teach or who will commit to find a substitute for you.
- They’re not sure they’re important. Volunteers may feel they’re just babysitting and that it’s not a big deal if they don’t show up. They need to know the sacrifices they make are worth it. They need to know they’re making a difference. Sometimes we forget to let them know.
Suggestion: Find ways to tell your volunteers know how much they mean to you: a hand-written note (not an e-mail – not a text); a phone call to say, “hi, I was just thanking God for you today and wanted you to know;” a shout-out in the church newsletter highlighting a teacher; or something as simple as dropping by the classroom on Sunday morning.
You’re the key. Your volunteers take their cues from you. Share your vision. Try to understand their world. Help your volunteers know the important roles they play in sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with the children in your ministry. Tell your volunteers that, indeed, they are part of God’s plan and you couldn’t do it without them.
Klista Storts serves as an Editorial Ministry Specialist for LifeWay Kids. Klista has a passion for equipping leaders to share the love of Christ and lay foundations for conversion in the lives of kids.