Volunteers! They are the lifeblood of ministry and without them programs, projects and church in general would come to a screeching halt very quickly. The significance of these individuals cannot be overstated because they don’t just serve the church—they are the church. And if they are healthy, the church will be healthy!
As volunteers sign up to serve within our ministries, it falls to us as leaders to help them find the right place to plug in. How we structure our volunteer team is vitally important. When we have recruited well, resourced well, and cared well for our volunteers, not only will great ministry take place, their lives will be better, too. Successful structure provides encouragement, resourcing and leadership to each person in the process. Here are some tips on volunteer team structures; from both the numerical and relational perspective to help leaders keep their volunteers happy and healthy.
Structure by the numbers:
When it comes to numbers, 6-10 is a good place to be.
A structure that allows any one volunteer to take care of only 6-10 others, makes for an environment with room for relationships, accountability and personal growth. Whether that volunteer is a small group leader with 8 kids, a coach with 7 small group leaders, a team leader with 10 coaches, or a ministry director with 8 team leaders; ministry at this level is sustainable for the long term. When one person has more than 10 people reporting directly to him or her, it’s time to add another position; either laterally or vertically.
Establish a 60- or 90-day trial period up front.
Personalities and expectations are two variables for every volunteer. Give everyone a chance to ask, “Is this a good fit for me? Is it a good fit for this group?” There will be times when a position isn’t what a volunteer had envisioned. There are also times when a volunteer didn’t fit the way a leader imagined he or she would. Building in a trial period of 60 or 90 days for all positions allows leaders and volunteers to reconsider a better fit if needed.
Four years is a good gap.
A four-year age difference is a good span for serving. Middle-schoolers are great serving in preschool, while high-schoolers are fantastic elementary ministry volunteers. The gap continues through middle and high school. A gap of less than four years tends to reduce the perceived authority of the volunteer and the effectiveness of his or her influence with those he or she serves.
Age matters most for small groups structure.
When setting up small groups, for younger children, divide by age first, then gender. Grouping by ages, will result in the most effective conversations since all the children will be in the same developmental stage.
For students, gender is more important as the first divide. As volunteers are available, further divisions can be made by grade for the students.
Structure by the heart:
Personalities have their place.
Every team needs a cheerleader; that constant, bubbling personality that brings encouragement and joy to every conversation. But every team also needs great administrators who can bring organization and effective communication between groups. Consider what each person brings to the ministry and help them find the best fit where they can shine, succeed and help others succeed as well. Resist the temptation to plug people in simply because you have an opening. Consider if their personality will serve them well in that role and if they will enjoy it.
Schedule quarterly one-on-one chats.
Scheduling one-on-ones and meeting with every volunteer once a quarter gives everyone an opportunity to be heard. It brings value to the volunteer, when their perspective and insight into ministry are being heard. It allows both the volunteer and the leader to clarify the role or provide resourcing needed. These meetings continue to build relationship and accountability between the leader and the volunteer. If you adhere to the 6-10 rule, once a quarter is very doable.
The mark of a successful leader is a volunteer team whose members love what they get to do each week, who impact those they serve and who are growing spiritually, too. These teams don’t happen accidentally; they are built around a structure that will give them great support, along with great joy of serving. And that is what volunteers deserve; great joy!