Volunteers as Mentors
by Amy Diller
When my husband and I first attended our church 17 years ago, their children’s ministry impressed us. Each week, we dropped off our kids in their classes, and the same volunteers greeted us and them. Their goal was to provide consistency in each classroom. Not only would we get to know who was with our kids, they would get to know our girls. It’s one of the main reasons we decided to stay.
Parents are the main spiritual leaders in the lives of their children, but others can and should also influence a child’s growth in Christlikeness. As they get older, kids need trusted Christian mentors who can teach and demonstrate what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. One of the best places to encourage mentoring connections for kids is through children’s ministry. Volunteers who are called, equipped, encouraged, and trusted make great mentors. The most beneficial mentoring relationships are those that naturally grow over time out of regular interactions.
As leaders, how do we create an environment where mentoring relationships form organically? And how do we find volunteers willing to make a long-term commitment to kids and families? We need to invest intentionally in our volunteers, not just as people to fill a service time schedule or help keep the chaos under control, but as co-workers for the kingdom. Everything we do with and for our volunteers, from the first ask to ongoing encouragement, makes a difference in the way they view themselves and their place as a mentor, not “just” a volunteer in children’s ministry.
The following ideas take you through the process of recruiting a new volunteer, interviewing, training, and ongoing encouragement. Some of the ideas are simply good practices, but hopefully, all of them encourage volunteers to be passionate about the spiritual importance of the mission of mentoring.
The Best Ask
The best way to ask people to volunteer is to form relationships first. Spending time getting to know the people who bring to church the children you serve is a great place to start, but there are potential volunteers outside your ministry area, too. Make time to occasionally take part in a Bible study with people you don’t yet know, a luncheon with senior adults, or a community service project with a small group. Once you get to know others (and they, you), you’ll notice those who would be a great fit in children’s ministry. A personal ask to join the team means a lot more than an announcement in a church bulletin. It invites someone into belonging where the Lord can use their gifts and talents.
Application and Interview
Bring professionalism to the process to communicate value. In addition to a background check for safety purposes, ask potential volunteers to fill out an application and interview with you. The application should gather information about their testimony, length of time attending the church, references, and personal skills. A face-to-face interview allows you to communicate your heart and vision for children’s ministry. People want to join something that is purposeful and meaningful. You can also outline what you’re looking for in a volunteer – length of commitment, preparation for lessons and activities, the importance of investing in personal spiritual growth, etc. Share the goal of creating mentoring relationships between volunteers and kids. Make sure they know exactly what you’re asking.
Invite new volunteers to come and observe for a couple of weeks to get a feel for the schedule and routine. Train your new volunteers in person. It’s quick and easy to email information, and that’s not a bad way to communicate procedural things common to all volunteers. However, giving someone a tour to see where supplies are located, where classrooms are, where they can prepare lessons, etc., gives them a chance to learn and ask questions in a hands-on way. Do this during an unhurried time. Trying to squeeze in training on the fly makes you both feel frazzled, which is not the way to welcome a new volunteer.
Never stop learning together. As an entire team of volunteers and/or in small groups, meet once a quarter to learn something new. There’s nothing worse than having a meeting just to have a meeting. Revisit safety protocols, learn about child development, study upcoming themes and lessons, and have a time of Bible teaching and prayer. Bring in community speakers to share their expertise with childhood topics like mentoring, supporting single parents, occupational health tips for the classroom, etc. Honor volunteers’ time and their position by making training significant and purposeful.
Fun and Fellowship
The saying, “the family who plays together, stays together,” applies to a ministry team, too. Volunteering is hard work. Once a semester, offer ways for volunteers and their families to get together for fun and fellowship. Host a movie night complete with popcorn, pop, candy, and a family-friendly movie on a big screen. Organize a game night where families can bring their favorite games to play and offer them large group games with cool prizes. When volunteers feel connected to the people they serve with, they feel part of the team as a whole.
Care and Celebration
The volunteers who faithfully serve in ministry with you need to know you care about them and you celebrate them. Regularly ask if there are things you can be praying about for them and follow up. Send handwritten cards – birthday, sympathy, get well, just because – all are meaningful and show you care enough to take the time for them. Make phone calls, too. In an age where technology makes things more efficient, don’t forget that a voice on the phone lends a personal touch. Call just to see how they’re doing. Celebrate your volunteers, too. Adults enjoy praise just as much as children do. Give regular positive feedback and recognition. Volunteers want to feel that what they do matters and is valued. Make sure they know it does.
From time to time, volunteers need rest. In fact, if you want to encourage longevity in serving, build rest into the schedule. As a leader, ensure that people get regular time off. One idea is to build two volunteer teams – one for the school year and one for the summer. You can also rotate your schedule by quarters, with one team on for three months and the other team off for three months. As an occasional quick rest, give your volunteers every fifth Sunday off, too. Having teams serve during longer stretches allows relationships to grow between volunteers and families with more consistency from week to week. In order to encourage consistency, make sure rest is part of the commitment.
What we communicate with volunteers makes a difference in how they view their positions in ministry. If we take the time to make every part of volunteering meaningful and purposeful, we encourage those who serve to naturally step into the role of mentor.