When it comes to retaining group leaders at your church, you may be quick to affirm keeping them is a high priority. Here are next steps.
By Ken Braddy
My mother, Mille, had some quirky habits. She was a child of the Great Depression, and it affected her deeply. During some of my final visits to her home before she went to be with the Lord, she’d always make us a pot of coffee to enjoy with our breakfast—or so I thought. In actuality, she was simply reheating coffee she’d made the day before.
I caught her doing that one morning and asked her a simple question: “Why not just throw out the coffee and make it fresh the next day?” Mom quickly informed me that it would be wasteful—coffee was expensive. Plus, she’d gone to the trouble to open the can of coffee, measure the amount needed, heat the water, and wait for it to brew. She told me, “You should never waste anything—especially coffee!” Throwing things away was not something my mother did often. She loved to retain things because her theory was, “You’ll need it again someday.”
I’m from a different era, one in which we have a lot of “throw-away things” in our lives. I don’t give a second thought about throwing things out. I wouldn’t hesitate to throw away leftover coffee. And I don’t keep leftover food for the same reason; it’s easy to start over the next day with something different. We subscribe to a phone service for a year or two, then jump ship for a better deal with a different carrier. And we do the same thing with cable and internet services. We don’t expect to retain many things for long.
Retaining group leaders
I would imagine when it comes to the topic of retaining group leaders at your church, you’d quickly affirm keeping them is a high priority. I would agree. Groups and group leaders are vital to the health of your church. Adult groups send out workers to staff preschool, kids, and student ministries. Adult groups send out workers to start new Bible studies for adults. Retaining these valued volunteers becomes a top priority not only for these reasons but also because it provides stability in a church’s ministries. On top of this, recruiting leaders is hard, time-consuming work on the part of a church leader. Many hours a year go into conversations, meetings, and other interactions with potential volunteers. My mother retained coffee; we must retain volunteers. Like the woman said, “You should never waste anything!”“Reducing turnover and retaining volunteers benefits the church, the pastor and staff, and the group members in which these volunteers serve as group leaders.” — @KenBraddy Click To Tweet
The cost of turnover in businesses is astronomically high. It is estimated that the cost of turnover is approximately 33% of an employee’s annual salary. While church volunteers are not paid, there are other kinds of costs when turnover happens. Reducing turnover and retaining volunteers benefits the church, the pastor and staff, and the group members in which these volunteers serve as group leaders. What are some practical steps you can take to reduce turnover and retain more of your volunteers from one year to the next?
1. Adult groups must initiate connection to volunteers release into service
One reason volunteers often struggle and want to return to the adult group from which they came is that they feel a loss of relationship with their friends. Answering the call of volunteerism comes at a price for the adults who leave their Bible study groups to serve preschoolers, kids, and students. Adult groups sometimes forget about these valued volunteers, people I call “missionaries to kids” or “missionaries to students.” When volunteers begin to feel isolated and alone, separated from friends who continue to meet for Bible study, ministry, and fun, it is easy to want to return to that world as quickly as possible. When that happens, turnover sets in and a vicious cycle begins.
To combat this trend, and to help volunteers remain in their service roles, adult groups must initiate connection to the ones they’ve sent out to serve. Volunteers must be invited to every fun fellowship, Sunday lunch, Saturday day trip, movie night, guy’s steak-out night, etc. Keeping volunteers connected to adult groups is critical for reducing turnover. Don’t expect the volunteer to initiate this. Connection begins back in the adult group from which the volunteers came. If this isn’t done, the volunteers will begin to feel alone, isolated, and forgotten. Their next step will be for them to exit their volunteer ministry and return to their adult groups. Connection is king.
2. The church must provide ongoing training for volunteers
The authors of Building Leaders make an important observation about training, stating that if we are going to call people into a leadership role, we are obligated to provide training. Obligated.
They explain, “If we ask our people to lead any ministry of the church, we’re responsible to provide them with continual leadership training. If we can’t do this, we have no business asking them to serve, doing both them and the ministry an injustice. Without ongoing training, our recruits will struggle and often fail, and the rest of the ministry will experience the effects in the resulting leadership vacuum.”“In my experience, training always reduces turnover because people feel more equipped to lead.” — @KenBraddy Click To Tweet
In my experience, training always reduces turnover because people feel more equipped to lead. No one likes to fail at a job. So if they don’t feel capable, prepared, and resourced to lead, the result will be turnover.
3. The church must encourage and support their volunteers
An annual appreciation night (or weekend) for volunteers is a must. In addition to that, volunteers need affirmation from the pulpit. Don’t underestimate the value of pastoral recognition throughout the year, not just one day of the year. Kids’ ministries should encourage parents (and kids) to show appreciation to group leaders by writing thank you notes or giving gifts. The same can and should be done in student and adult groups, too.
A surprise gift from the pastor, church staff leader, or lay Sunday School director, can put a lot of wind in people’s sails. And these don’t have to be expensive. A sleeve of three golf balls, a person’s favorite candy bar, a $5 gift card to a coffee shop, and other things that volunteers value will communicate, “We see you and appreciate your service.”“A surprise gift from the pastor, church staff leader, or lay Sunday School director, can put a lot of wind in people’s sails.” — @KenBraddy Click To Tweet
Reducing turnover pays big dividends for the church. Volunteers become more and more proficient over the years as they serve and grow in their leadership abilities. The pastor spends less time recruiting and onboarding new leaders, and less time dealing with the vacuum created when volunteers step down. Group members get to know their leaders over time, building trust and strengthening relationships along the way. How will you begin to recognize, honor, train, and resource your volunteers so they want to stay with you for the long haul?
For permission to republish this article, contact Marissa Postell Sullivan.