Let’s face it. There are times in ministry when managing volunteers feels like your full-time job. Recruiting, training, retaining — it is NOT easy, but it has to be done. Out of desperation, ministry leaders can fall into the trap of “filing the slot.” We’ve all been there. But the reality exists: Some people, at best, are not a good fit; at worst, are dangerous to the mission. After a decade of ministry experience leading 450 volunteers on a month in-and-month-out basis, I have had my fair share of volunteer leadership challenges. I want to act as your guide. You CAN successfully recruit, train and retain volunteers who will be a blessing to your ministry, and who will be BLESSED by your leadership.
First, we will consider how to enlist the RIGHT volunteers through Job Shadowing. Second, you will learn how to graciously guide volunteers toward a timely off ramp through the Sunset Clause. Third, you will consider how to handle tough situations through the Challenging Conversation Guide.
#1 - Creating a Job Shadowing Experience
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Before a volunteer is enlisted to serve, they should pass through a series of healthy checkpoints (see sidebar), one of which is “Job Shadowing.” Pairing a potential volunteer with a more seasoned volunteer allows an organic conversation to cover “best things” and “hardest things” about any potential role. Ideally, a potential volunteer would have 2 or more opportunities to follow the experienced volunteer in their typical ministry duties, as well as time to ask questions. This simple exercise will not only open the eyes of the potential volunteer but will allow him/her to test drive this new role before committing.
#2 - Creating a Sunset Clause
The Sunset Clause allows a defined starting point, a time for reflection and a defined stopping point to their service:
Sun Comes Up: The sun comes up and the opportunity to serve begins.
High Noon: Halfway through the serving opportunity, we have a formal checkin to see if things are working for THEM as a volunteer and if they are working for US as a staff. If either party feels like the position is not a fit, you could discuss the option of switching to a new role or ending the opportunity early. But through open communication, you will most likely be able to continue as planned or make slight adjustments for a better fit.
Sun Goes Down: At the end of the commitment, both the staff and the volunteer evaluate if this has been a good fit for everyone involved. If either party would like to move in a different direction, the commitment is considered complete— the volunteer can pursue other ministry opportunities in the church, and the role will need to be fulfilled with someone new.
The Sunset Clause provides a clear ON-RAMP and a clear OFF-RAMP. Remember, if this was not a good fit, there are plenty of other on-ramps where a volunteer can try another role.
The length of each particular Sunset Clause should be specific to the needs of the ministry. Typically, a one-year commitment works well. But for a specialized area you may want to do a two- or three-year commitment. Or, adjust the Sunset Clause to fit the natural timeframe of the serving opportunity, such as a 9-month school year.
#3 – The “Challenging Conversation Guide”
Ministry is FILLED with challenging conversations. Here are a few topics you can think through so the next time you need to have a hard conversation you will not feel at a loss for words:
Right Person, Wrong Seat: How can you help a valuable volunteer find the right area to serve? The volunteer may recognize this themselves and welcome an honest conversation with you.
“How is this volunteer position working for you? Do you feel like you are serving within your gifts and abilities? Have you learned things about your personal strengths and passions since you began in this role?”
Being Late Just Ain’t Great: Can you graciously and effectively communicate the importance of timeliness? Share the why and connect the dots for them.
“As I’m sure you’ve recognized, this ministry has a LOT of moving parts. Families can experience the blessing of worship and Biblical teaching because they have a reliable and trustworthy option for childcare. It takes sacrifice but being prepared and arriving on time to serve is a blessing to our church body.”
Serving from a Place of Health: Do you need to approach a volunteer about focusing on his/her own spiritual health before serving in ministry?
“We’re thankful for your willingness to serve your church family. But as your leader, we want to be here for you, too. Your spiritual health is important to me. I’m here to listen and support you in your needs, even if that means a change in your serving role right now.”
One resource for help with recruiting volunteers is to visit www.leadvolunteers.com and let’s dive deep into developing a plan for your specific ministry context so you can WIN at leading volunteers!
• Complete Church Membership Course — volunteers should be very familiar with the workings of your church and make necessary commitments as church members
• Complete Paperwork and Background Checks — a necessary step to ensure the safety of the families you serve and your ministry team
• Complete Interview with Children’s Ministry Team — one person on the ministry team should have a one-on-one meeting to get to know the volunteer, set expectations for the position, and answer questions
• Complete Job Shadow Experience — let the potential volunteer follow an experienced volunteer while they serve in your ministry.
You can access this entire magazine for free here: Edition 28