Anyone who has served in any Next Generation ministry has found themselves searching for volunteers on Friday or Saturday night for the weekend. Whether you use a large group/small group model or a Sunday school model, or even if you just offer childcare, able bodied adults are necessary to do the work.
Babies actually cry and want to be held, preschoolers actually need a lot of attention, elementary and middle schoolers might enjoy watching themselves, but that’s not exactly safe or legal. Safe and responsible adults are actually required to do any type of ministry to the next generation.
I came from a ministry environment with amazingly faithful volunteers, and that doesn’t happen by accident, that culture was created. But even in the best environments crazy stuff happens. After six years of ministry, as the Children’s Ministry Director, I found myself on a Saturday night in our elementary service with no small group leaders and no check-in greeters. It was just me (and I was also teaching large group), a sound tech, and two middle school worship leaders.
For some people these are the situations that cause ministry leaders to have nightmares. I remained calm under pressure and we actually had a really cool night, kind of like a stripped down and raw version of our normal production. We all sat together and talked honestly about our topic, kids shared their opinions, I listened, and we had fun. Fun is always required for anything to actually work in Next Gen.
But the next morning I was thinking, Wowza! I am grateful for my volunteers. Ministry leaders often say cliche things like, “I couldn’t do this without you”…. but then you have a moment and you’re like, “oh wow, I actually really couldn’t do this without them”.
I was grateful for that moment because it got me thinking about all the small and medium sized churches all over the United States and even all over the world that might not have the luxury of a volunteer force.
I was thinking of the church that doesn’t have multiple services, who still rotates volunteers on a monthly basis so everyone can get to church, and I was thinking of that middle school Pastor and kid’s Pastor who might not actually even get to attend the adult worship service on a weekend. I was thinking of something I could say to you. What strategies have I used to build a consistent volunteer team that I can pass on to you?
At the end of the day, there is no magic formula. Some things work in some churches and demographics better than others. Some leaders are more dynamic and just draw people to themselves. Some Pastors are concerned about the agendas and cultures of their Next Gen ministries more than others.
These are all tiny pieces to the puzzle, that work together to build the picture of a fantastically strong volunteer team. Everyone would prefer to be dealt the ideal hand and a ripe harvest of people blissfully excited to jump on your team, but that’s not usually the case. So, lets talk about what you can do.
Relationships are key to having a strong and consistent volunteer team. As a ministry leader, you have to at least give yourself enough space to be connecting with parents and people in between and before and after services. If you are currently not in a position to do this, this should be your only focus, beg your spouse or a friend to give you an extra hand for just one month, so that you can connect with new people during those times.
Identifying regularly attending families and new families is a great place to start. Introducing yourself to unfamiliar people in the lobby. Becoming aware of what teens are hanging around your church that you could potentially empower. Ministry leaders do not want to hear this but the personal ask will get you results way faster than anything else. They might not get you as many results as your Pastor asking, but they will get you results that will last.
Relationships are key to having a strong and consistent volunteer team. – Stacia Stall
Hmm, that word looks familiar. Relationships might be the only thing that matters in getting a volunteer to stick around. Once you actually have a core team of people. You have to honor them. The words ‘thank you’ go a long way, say it weekly if you can.
Send them birthday cards. Occasionally splurge on coffee or donuts, if your church doesn’t provide them. Even presenting everyone with a candy bar can go a long way. Hand-writing thank you cards at Christmas, or if money is available, getting them a small gift helps them to know that you believe their work matters.
Hosting annual training meetings and out of church activities enables them to not only build a relationship with you, their ministry leader, but with one another, when this begins to happen, community will be fostered and that is where the real power lies. No one will be more consistent than when they get to serve alongside friends.
It would be amazing if every person in your church would simply step up to do the “work of the Lord” for the Lord. But this is not the case. People don’t serve in the local church because the Bible commands it (you’d be hard pressed to find that exact verse anyway).
People serve in the local church because they feel like they are a part of team of people who are impacting the future of the church. People serve in the local church because it feels good to do their part. But mostly people serve in the local church because you as the ministry leader asked them too.
Volunteers that I’ve poured my time into will do things for me, that they would never do for someone else, because as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11, people are looking to follow your example, as you follow Christ.
It would be easy and awesome if everyone just read the Bible and followed Christ, but this isn’t the case. Because Jesus is not currently on earth and the Bible can be confusing to read. People are looking for humans to show them what to do, to be Jesus with skin on for them. That’s you.
I know you might have been looking for an easier, less time consuming answer, but just like our kids on the weekend want the touch and impact of a relationship, our adults do too. People can be messy. But most people will jump on board and give their lives to helping you show God to the world, all you have to do ask.