All pastors and church staff depend on volunteers to keep the gears of ministry turning. Only a bad leader thinks volunteers are not necessary; a foolish leader treats them that way.
We love to relate stories of people who have served in the nursery for 50 years because they love those babies. We know, though, such volunteers—blessing they are—are few. Many volunteers are serving for the same reason they ended up coaching their kid’s softball team: no one else was available or no one else would do it.
Today’s ministry volunteers—even among those who genuinely sense a call to lead a Sunday School/LifeGroup—are often faced with already-overflowing calendars before they say “yes” to that last volunteer opportunity we are trying to fill.
I’m personally better at some of these ideas than others, but I’m striving toward the mark because all of them are important.
Few things go farther than a “thank you.” Whether a handshake, a hand-written note, or grabbing some time at the local coffee shop or restaurant, volunteers appreciate appreciation. It goes a long way toward making them feel needed without guilting them into signing up for another year’s tour of duty.
Some folks frown on mass emails (and group texts), but as long they are infrequent and on-point we can use them for encouragement. If you’ve pulled off an especially challenging outreach effort, had an unexpected high attendance, or met your recruiting goal a week early, an email of encouragement to all involved affirms their sense of “well done.”
A person who has for years been serving in student ministry, or singing Jesus Loves Me to babies, or greeting guests in the parking lot should be recognized. I do not know if there is a human need to be appreciated for working hard, but I know how it makes me feel. If I, as a paid staff member, am encouraged when mentioned publicly, how much more does a volunteer benefit from it.
Ministry Celebration Events
Does your church have an annual event to celebrate those who have volunteered the previous year? Why not? A cookout, a lunch after church, a picnic at your local lake, or a banquet to celebrate the fruit of their labors is a great way to affirm their role in the health of your church. Place an item in the budget to cover the cost so all they need to do is show up and celebrate what God had done.
Even our most diligent, faithful volunteers run out of ideas, burn out, or otherwise feel they’ve fallen into a rut. To keep things fresh, provide them with books and articles with new ideas and examples. Also, make sure your volunteer meetings include instruction on how to improve their areas of ministry. One thing we leaders can and should do is provide the training that helps our volunteers continuously get better at what they do.