Communicating intentionally is a simple way that any ministry can work to expand their volunteer base. How we talk about things makes a difference, so here are a few things to keep in mind as you talk to individuals/couples/families about your search for fabulous ministry volunteers.
Set the expectations up front
Consider what the other person hears if you ask, “Do you want to help in the kids’ ministry?” When asked this vague question, individuals are left to fill in the blanks of what exactly you mean in terms of their role, time commitment, and other expectations. In light of the fact that many families in churches would consider themselves to live at a “busy” pace, ambiguity is likely to lead to a polite but quick “no”.
Instead of asking church members to “help in the kids’ ministry”, consider asking more specific questions that can fit within a variety of time commitments and giftings, such as:
- “Would you like to help set up the kids area for 30 minutes before church for a few Sundays?”
- “We are currently on the search for summer Sunday school teachers for 4th grade. They commit to teaching the kids a pre-prepared lesson during the first service with a co-leader and also attend once-a-month meetings for an hour. What would you think about trying it out for the summer?”
- “What would your thoughts be regarding leading the kids in worship time once a month for the fall?”
Each of these questions/statements have clear expectations of the time commitment and also an end-date, giving people flexibility should they want to try it out for a set period of time. And as they try something simple, such as setting up chairs, they will be exposed to other roles that they may want to explore later on.
Focus on opportunity and growth, not on need
Consider the following two questions:
- “We really need people to work in the children’s ministry, so can you help?”
- “The children’s ministry is growing so much as we’ve increased our neighborhood outreach! Would you be open to hearing about the opportunities we have to be a part of what’s happening?”
The first question places pressure on the listener, as the ministry seems like it is falling apart, or is at the least stretched thin, and it seems that if they agree, they may be stretched thin, too. The second question, however, demonstrates that the ministry is outgrowing the current number of volunteers (a great problem!) because it is effective and thriving. And people want to be apart of things that work, where they know they will be helping build something meaningful that can outlast them.
Even if you feel desperate for help, using that desperation as a selling point in recruiting volunteers doesn’t set an expectation of thriving for their time moving forward. Focus on what they will have the opportunity to invest in, not on how they will be depended upon to meet a certain need.
Know and communicate that you can hire and fire (with kindness)
When you ask people to invest in children’s ministry, you are advocating for the development of your church’s next generation. You are not wasting anyone’s time, nor are people doing you a favor when they volunteer. Because of these things, you have the ability to recruit volunteers and also to “fire” them, if they are not contributing to the building of the ministry.
Sometimes people make mistakes, and it is important to be willing to coach people as they grow. However, the issue is when individuals are being divisive or view their volunteer work in the ministry as a major favor. Perhaps when you observe this behavior, you can help these individuals to find a ministry that will challenge and engage them at a deeper level. The kids are valuable, and when people volunteer to disciple them, those people are the ones that are laying the foundation for what the kids believe about who God is and who they are in light of him. That’s important enough to be choosy about who teaches them week-in and week-out.
Communicate the big picture & progress indicators
Working hard at a job that doesn’t seem necessary can be an automatic turn-off for volunteers. It is hard to donate time and effort that doesn’t really seem to make a difference to anyone. Consider the difference between these two scenarios:
- You teach Sunday school each week with the ministry’s vision in mind of training up young men and women in your neighborhood who are 1)sensitive to the Spirit and 2) love following Jesus and his Word. You know what you’re working toward and the part you play in the church because the other leaders talk about the goal and provide feedback to one another about what works as they move forward.
- You teach Sunday school each week and have somewhat of an idea of how you fit into the “Big C Church” picture, discipling kids, but tend to teach your class and leave. You talk to the other teachers, but there is not a particular ministry “vision” you’re working toward, no beginning or end to seasons, no measures to evaluate whether you are being effective or growing.
Which ministry would you rather be a part of?
When individuals volunteer, it is important that they know the role they play not just in their particular setting, but in the ministry’s big picture. Why does their work matter? What concrete difference does it make? And how can they maximize their work and gifts to be even more effective? Or summed up, how can volunteers grow as they help the children grow?
Communicating specific effectiveness indicators in the ministry can build unity as kids’ ministry leaders work together toward a specific goal and can observe progress along the way. These indicators could be how often kids tell stories of praying for people during the week or times they knew Jesus spoke to them, memory verses learned, observations of how kids interact with each other in class or with their parents, etc. They don’t necessarily have to be numeric. They just need to be a few different areas in which leaders can observe and discuss progress together.
Church members are saturated with messages about how they can spend their time. When you solely talk about need, you can’t expect people to see golden opportunity. The truth is, how you talk about the ministry will shape how people view it and whether or not they want to be involved. It is wonderful to pray for more volunteers, but it is also critical to lead the way in creating the kind of environment people want to be a part of. And sometimes, creating that environment that will attract solid volunteers simply begins with a few changes in your own communication.
How do people talk about the children’s ministry at your church? How do you talk about it? How is this affecting your volunteer base?