Volunteers are the life-blood of our ministries. Without them, we couldn’t do what we do each week. So, it should go without saying that they deserve our very best and highest level of care. And yet, so often I see leaders missing the mark with their volunteer teams, often leading to dissatisfaction, increased burn-out, and overall frustration. It’s crucial that we do everything within our means to keep this from happening, not only for the sake of our ministries—but for the sake of our volunteers and their relationship with Jesus and the Church. Here are a few areas to focus on as you approach the process:
Personally, I really dislike the word recruiting when used in the context of ministry. I prefer to call it “inviting,” because that’s what it should feel like—an invitation for people to be a part of something bigger than themselves. The invitation process should always be as personalized as possible. Mass emails or ministry fairs with a general sign-up sheet can sometimes work, but what seems to be the most effective is a personal invitation. In person is always the preference here, but even a personal email or text is better than a generic forum where you’re just hoping people will engage. I’m not saying abandon those methods altogether. Sometimes they have their place. But to only rely on them? You’ll be waiting awhile to get the volunteers you need.
Think about it: It feels good when someone texts you and asks to catch up over a cup of coffee, doesn’t it? That’s because they thought of YOU. Volunteers are looking for the same thing. There are a lot of ways they could spend their time. They want to feel needed. Share a specific need with them that you could see them filling, and do it in a way that’s intentional and personal. You’ll be surprised at how much easier it is to get people on board with your vision this way.
Once you’ve got a “yes,” don’t you dare throw somebody right into the water without properly training them! I don’t care what the volunteer role is. It could be the most basic position in your mind, but you still need to take time to make sure they are properly informed of your policies and procedures, as well as your expectations for them. Unexpressed expectations are never met! But if you take care of training on the front end, it’s much easier to have hard conversations later on down the line if necessary. You cannot hold people accountable for what they don’t know. And when someone is willingly giving their free time, you owe it to them to make sure they are confident and comfortable in their role with proper training!
You’ve got buy-in, you’ve spent time training your people, now you’ve got to care for them. For me, this is the most fun part, but it’s the piece of the puzzle that I see most often neglected. It’s easy to let that happen. Once you get people plugged in, the instinct is to immediately move on to put out the next fire. And yes, that fire does have to be put out, but if you aren’t spending time investing in your people, you’re simply creating a future fire to extinguish! If this feels overwhelming to you, you’ve got too much on your plate. You need to delegate some things on your to-do list to other team members or volunteers, because investing in your volunteers absolutely cannot be neglected. Your entire ministry relies on this. Even the best people won’t stay very long where they don’t feel valued!
Go out of your way to create an easy, fun experience for them when they’re volunteering. Reach out to them on birthdays and major milestones. Pray for them, both with them and privately. Learn the names of their families. Ask about those people. Shoot them a text or a Facebook message every once in a while, simply to say “Hi” and not because you need anything. Send them a thank-you note in the mail. Give them a small gift. Plan a volunteer appreciation party. Do something. And do it often. The very core of your ministry and the lives of kids and students in your ministry areas is dependent on them. It’s up to you as a leader to give them your very best each and every day.