Volunteers Are Our Friends.
When I first began full-time children's ministry, I found myself saddled with the responsibility of recruiting volunteer Sunday school teachers each quarter. I had never been required to do this as part-time staff. But I knew what my guiding philosophy would be, something I learned from my senior pastor: Never sacrifice future opportunity for ministry.
I would not pressure anyone to serve.
I didn't want to be the Sunday school coordinator whom people avoided in droves. I would ask and truly trust God to raise people up. I also decided that if someone bailed on me, I would not reject the person. I knew that if I pressured people or expressed frustration at their choices, I might drive away people (and their families) who would someday need me to love them.
My first three months were a nightmare of stress and anxiety. Teachers would call an hour before they were to teach and tell me that they couldn't make it because they had to rearrange their furniture. Others would call me because of a sick child or because they forgot.
I constantly worried who would bail on me next. After a few months, however, I realized that there would always be some way to handle it. We could combine classes or show a Christian video (not a good practice to do regularly, but it works in a pinch). There was always a way. Most of all, I realized how loyal our people became when they knew that I would always put them and their family first. After a couple of quarters of investing time and love and understanding, I began to reap the dividends of extra effort and loyalty and repeated quarters.
Let me share a few pointers that I have picked up along the way:
Train your volunteers.
Make sure the training time includes a meal. The two best ways to ensure that folks show up for things is to charge them a fee ahead of time or feed them. Invest, invest, invest. People are like bank accounts. Don't expect to make withdrawals until you have made deposits.
Empower the volunteer.
Be as strict as possible about theology, but as free as possible about methodology. No one will ever teach a class the exact same way that you would. But unless you want to teach every class, let it go. Others may do it better than you could.
Make it fun.
What extra little things can you include in the program just for the volunteers?
When we have our annual water party with the kids, we always set aside extra water balloons so that when the event is over, the volunteers can use the water balloon slingshot for distance records. We actually have had to cap the number of volunteers we will take for this event. Break it down. Break down your event into "bite-sized"chunks and hand them out to lots of people.
During our annual lock-in we have people sign up to come and help with one meal and then go home. Many parents will go out on a date in the evening, come by to help with the midnight snack, and then go home.
Never pressure people.
They and their family are more important to you than the position you want them to fill. Make sure they know that.
If someone calls you with a legitimate reason for not fulfilling a commitment, don't get frustrated. He or she didn't choose to stay up all night with a puking toddler. Instead, see it as an excellent time to invest in the person!
When the person says, "I'm so sorry, Pastor, that I can't be there,"you reply, "Amanda, you and little Johnny are far more important to me and to our team than filling a class. You guys stay home and get better. In fact, let me pray for you right now. . ." Love, accept, and forgive.
When someone does not fulfill his or her commitment for some lame reason, don't tell the person it's okay.
However, don't lay a guilt trip on the person or express your frustration. My usual comment in such a situation is, "Well, you need to do what you think is best for you and your family." Faithful people are out there. With a little encouragement and a lot of love, you can build a team that will stick with you.
© 2006 by Scott Hassett