By Dema Kohen
If you’ve been in children’s ministry any length of time, then you know just how essential volunteers are: like flowers need sunshine, like sails need the wind, like birds need wings. Children’s ministry NEEDS volunteers. Also, if you’ve been in children’s ministry longer than a day, then you know just how scarce those special people we call volunteers can be.
Do you know of any church that has all their volunteer spots filled? Me neither.
There could be many reasons why people don't volunteer in children's ministry.
Some of those reasons we can do nothing about; they are simply out of our control.
However, many of the reasons that keep people away from children’s ministry can be addressed and fixed. I hope that what follows here will help you evaluate your current volunteer situation and provide you with at least one actionable step toward improving it.
REASON #1: People either are not called to children’s ministry or are in a season of life where children’s ministry is not right for them. In the Kingdom of God and in the family of God, there are all kinds of things that need to be done. God calls and equips different people for different kinds of work. Youth ministry, prison ministry, men and women’s ministry, food pantry, caring for widows and orphans, financial mentoring, music, maintenance, administration, hospitality, technology, and so on and so on. The needs and opportunities are endless, and children’s ministry is just one item on a lengthy list. Also, even if someone is called to children’s ministry, he or she may be in a stage of life where it’s not right for that person . . . for a season.
Examples include (but are not limited to) people who are . . .
- experiencing health challenges.
- in the middle of a lengthy and challenging adoption process.
- caring for an elderly parent who just moved in with them.
- preparing to get married.
While we can’t do anything about this reason for not being involved, it is an important one to acknowledge . . .
- so that you don’t take it personally when people say no to you. Instead, encourage them to find their place in God’s story or celebrate when they step out to serve God, even if it’s not in the children’s ministry arena.
- so that you don’t view other ministries as your competition and avoid the comparison trap. All work is God’s work, and ultimately, it is his job to decide—Who? Where? When? (For a case study, check out Peter’s conversation with Jesus in John 21:18–23.)
- so that you can continue to love and encourage people when they are not “useful” to the children’s ministry. Even when someone needs to step down for a season, it doesn’t mean that your relationship should stop. On the contrary, that person may need you now more than ever before.
Now that the first reason is out of the way, let’s look at the other two that you can actually do something about.
REASON #2: People don't understand what they are being asked to do.
Saying “We need more people in children's ministry” sounds vague and uninspiring. People won’t volunteer if it takes too much work to find out what it’s all about.
SOLUTION: Break volunteer responsibilities down into things people can picture, and they are more likely to respond. “We need five more people in our first-grade class—to build friendships, make church fun, and help kids experience Jesus. We'll bring all the snacks and lesson supplies, and you'll just show up ready to high five, smile, listen, and talk about our Jesus.”
REASON #3: It's too difficult to get involved.
As children's pastors, we’re very good at making complex theological concepts easy for kids to grasp. But we are even better at turning a volunteer sign-up process into a confusing maze. And I do understand: the onboarding process has many parts. Maaaaaaany parts. There's a sign-up form followed by a volunteer application, followed by a background check, followed by an interview, followed by an orientation meeting. (I feel like I am missing a few steps, but you get the point.) If a person stops by your office to learn about children’s ministry and you give them a lengthy list of everything they need to do before they can start serving in children’s ministry . . . don’t be surprised if you never hear back from that person.
Here’s the truth: people get very easily overwhelmed. For many people, if you ask them to do more than one thing at a time, it’s too much for them to remember and do. As a result, they choose the path of least resistance and do nothing.
SOLUTION: Break down your entire onboarding process into a series of clear individual steps. Instead of overwhelming potential volunteers with too many details, present only one step at a time (depending on where they are on the journey.) In all your communications—whether from the stage or through email, video, social post, or bulletin insert, or via one-on-one conversation—have only one action point. That is, the one next step that you want people to take. If you give them two or more, you'll confuse them and likely scare them away.
Even though the onboarding journey has many components, like filling out an application, submitting to a background check, signing a waiver, going to a fingerprinting service, attending an orientation meeting, a personal interview, and more . . . ask them to do only one thing at a time. Once they accomplish that one thing, then you can move on and explain what the next item on the list is. Remember, how do you eat an elephant? (One bite at a time.) It’s the same way you onboard a new volunteer.
Editor’s note: Check out the digital download kit for Pizza Pit Stop, an innovative and interactive event for volunteers in your ministry.
You are welcome to copy this article for one-time use when you include this credit line and receive no monetary benefit from it: © 2022 CTA, Inc. Used with permission.