Care to Lend a Hand?

How to recruit, equip and retain volunteers

The needs of children today have never been greater, yet churches struggle to meet them. Whether it's because we in the church are too busy, don't know how to serve or feel unqualified to teach children, the result is, as Jesus described in Matthew 9:37, a huge harvest with few workers. It's a given, then, that one of your biggest roles as a children's ministry leader is finding—and keeping—helpers. Doing this successfully requires three elements: recruiting, equipping and retaining.

1. Recruiting volunteers. This must become part of your church's DNA. The message of "serving" must be ongoing, taught throughout the year and not just on a few occasions. The staff and, most important, the senior pastor must see recruitment as a priority. The good news is, people wan t to be a part of something that has vision; is organized and going somewhere; and is fun, exciting and a good use of their time.

Step 1 in the recruiting process is to pray for laborers. Pray specifically for dedicated people who desire to work with children. There's nothing worse than someone doing a job without having a heart for it.

Step 2 is to communicate your vision, mission statement and goals for children's ministry. People need to know what you're about. They should know you need them to live, eat, drink and breathe this vision and that everyone must speak the same language. Demonstrate when working in children's ministry that no one is an island—you are a team with a common cause: to impact the lives of children.

Step 3 is to be specific about the needs you have and the expectation of the position you are trying to fill. Create a job description for every position. Include in it the age group that needs volunteers; training dates; service times that need the support; how often you need volunteers; description of the curriculum provided; length of time it takes to prepare; skills needed; whom volunteers should report to if they have questions; and benefits they'll receive as they give of themselves.

Other recruiting ideas include having your pastor mention from the pulpit the need for volunteers; having a current volunteer invite a friend or family member to help out; holding ministry fairs; and listing volunteer opportunities on your Web site.

2. Equipping volunteers. Once you have helpers, it's essential that you equip them to serve well. That begins with holding training sessions. Prepare these in advance; set training dates and times before you start recruiting so you can give volunteers a reminder note when they sign up. Make training times convenient—possibly at a time when people already are at church.

Second, offer plenty of opportunities for on-the-job training. Most people learn by doing rather than by hearing a lecture.

3. Retaining volunteers. Most church leaders know that finding volunteers is only half the battle. So how do you keep faithful workers? By continually honoring and appreciating them! Everyone wants to know that what they are doing counts!

Here are a few ways to show your appreciation: publicly recognize volunteers' efforts; send them encouraging cards, notes or e-mails; hold appreciation lunches or dinners; take them out for coffee or lunch; affirm them weekly or each time they serve. Another nice touch is for the senior pastor, when possible, to personally greet volunteers and thank them for their service.

As you honor your team, they'll see the connection between appreciation and motivation and will want others to experience that as well. That's how your volunteer team can grow, and how some even make serving in ministry a lifelong experience.

KIM VAUGHT currently serves as children's pastor at Montgomery Community Church in Cincinnati.

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