Most of our church ministries operate with volunteers. Without them, many of our ministries would shut down. Many youth leaders have a problem recruiting volunteers. However, that’s only one part of the puzzle. It’s not just how to bring volunteers in service, it’s also how you care for them.
I’ve heard from some volunteers who feel they are essentially cheap (i.e. free) labour. Some don’t feel appreciated or cared for. Many burn out because they feel overworked with too-high of expectations placed on them.
So how do we care for our volunteers?
- Match their gifts/strengths/passion with the appropriate ministry role. Too many times, we take a warm body to fill a role. However, in the long run, it drains the volunteer and doesn’t move the ministry forward effectively. Taking time to ensure the person is a good match for the ministry role is key.
- Set an end date. Many volunteers are afraid of coming forward because they feel they’ll have to sign on “for life”. Having an end date allows the volunteer to appropriately commit while allowing both parties to move on after that set time. It could be a trial period of 3 months or a commitment of 2 years. Whatever the case is, set an end date so the volunteer (and you) can choose to re-evaluate whether that arrangement will continue.
- Give and take feedback. Many times, a volunteer thinks everything is fine until the pastor pulls them aside to have “a talk”. Usually, the volunteer tenses up and the “fight or flight” kicks in. Sometimes, they have feedback for you but may feel intimidated to give us (or sometimes you have someone who is too eager to give feedback, sometimes in a very unconstructive way). Regularly connect with your volunteer to give both affirming and constructive feedback (as Matt puts it, “two hits and one miss”). Ask for the same in return. Having those regular cycles of evaluation allows both parties to express the positives and improvements needed without having the “fight or flight” syndrome take hold.
- Ensure your volunteers are resting. Burn out happens when we don’t take time to rest. Sabbath is not just for yourself, it’s also for “your son, your daughter, your servant, your maid, your animals, even the foreign guest visiting in your town.” (I hope you don’t consider your volunteers as your servant, maid or animals.) As a ministry leader, you need to ensure your volunteers are getting the rest they need. e.g. If they’ve been serving for 2 years, suggest they take 2-4 months off to refresh and then re-enter the ministry.
- Care for them as a person (not so they could work harder). People can see whether you care about them or if you’re using them. Whether that’s your intention or not, you need to ensure you’re caring for the person, not just their service to the ministry. This may require individual time to ensure their soul is well. Perhaps it’s sharing the contribution they have made to a larger audience, even to their families. Perhaps you can show them appreciation through one of their love languages. Ensure you are caring for them, not for what they do.
These are some examples of how you can care for your volunteers. What else would you add?