by Jonathan Cliff
Everyone loves a volunteer. These are the people that make the magic happen week in and week out. Working as small group leaders, keeping our environments secure, serving pizza to teenagers, setting up chairs . . . the work they contribute never ends. The word we’d all agree on is invaluable or maybe it’s priceless. The point is that we can’t do what we do in our churches without these saints making it happen.
The disagreement is often in how we go about truly showing appreciation to them and doing it in a way that communications our love and passion for their help. There are many things to build, create, and do; but they all require us to admit to a few truths in this challenging game of volunteer appreciation.
First, there is no one-way to appreciate volunteers. We’ve all had events that required tons of work to pull off and then left those same events frustrated that it wasn’t better. We’ve also seen simple things make a big difference. What works one year, won’t always work the next year. Making things bigger and more extravagant doesn’t always make things better. Before you try to throw a special event to love on your volunteers, let’s throw out the idea that you’re hunting for the perfect experience. Maybe you bring a special holiday breakfast for your volunteers on a Sunday morning and it’s a hit. But at another church the same breakfast is just the normal volunteer breakfast with peppermint coffee creamer . . . meaning it’s not that special. Let’s all agree to leave behind the unrealistic expectations of being perfect. It ain’t gonna happen!
The second truth for us to embrace is that shared experiences create memorable experiences. There are appreciation events that say, “We love you!” and then there are opportunities to say, “We love you and the community you serve with!” You could flip the entire script of appreciating volunteers by strapping on some goggles, loading up the paintball guns, and pitting preschool volunteers against middle school leaders! Think that’s too dangerous? Then maybe you craft community amongst your leaders by hosting a private concert in a unique venue in your town. When you can get leaders together laughing, competing, and doing things together that they don’t normally do then you are winning the community game!
We can now gather around the final truth, the heart behind what we do is more important than what we actually do. That doesn’t mean that if you try really hard to create a lame experience, you get a pass. It means that when we think past budget constraints, calendar obligations, and personal preferences when we create experiences to appreciate a volunteer. Take comfort that if you’re praying, leading, and loving your volunteers all year long; then what you do annually won’t be near as important. In fact, if your heart is in the right place then you’re appreciating leaders all year long. Looking for chances to improve how you communicate that love is the sign of a leader that is doing it all for the right reasons.
Whether you’re taking a polar plunge, eating doughnuts from a fancy box, squeezing into a photo booth together, or even volunteering a holiday afternoon to serve the most needy in your community, we all have the privileged task of loving our volunteers. Living out this privilege is the greatest honor we could have!
Jonathan serves as the Groups Life Pastor at Grace Community Church in Clarksville, Tennessee, where he works with leaders throughout his city and church to help develop community that leads to deep and meaningful spiritual friendships. He and his wife Starr have two sons and one daughter. Follow him on his blog, or on Twitter.