Recruiting and retaining volunteers is an ongoing process in our faith communities. What are the best strategies for recruiting? How can we support them and help them stay?
Once upon a Time
Once upon a time a long time ago, an invitation for volunteers was placed in the monthly newsletter or announced one time from the pulpit, and voila! we would have teachers, ushers, leaders, and hospitality volunteers for the entire program year. We could fill Sunday school, confirmation, small groups, and worship with volunteer leadership. We had the bodies to fill the empty spaces. Some were enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and caring, some were not. Some turned out to be babysitters, and some taught, explored, and cared for their groups.
Obviously, times have changed for most of us.
Many of our families prefer professionals to care for and take care of our loved ones. Understandably, they want what is best for themselves and their family. Volunteers are often not seen as proficient teachers and leaders whatever their identified profession. Potential volunteers do not see themselves as capable or knowledgeable enough to teach or lead because they are not professionals. And they believe they are way too busy to volunteer.
The importance of our volunteers cannot be overstated. The Search Institute completed a fascinating study on what enables a vital, life-changing mature faith in communities of faith. Faith maturity is the kind of faith that shapes one’s way of being, thinking, and acting. The three most important adults in young people’s growing faith are parents, grandparents, and church teachers. These groups of adults who are committed, caring, and learners themselves are qualified faith teachers and leaders.
There are three aspects to being a qualified faith teacher and leader. The most important is that they care about their group. They show respect, kindness, listen well, and pray for each person. The second aspect is that they believe what they are saying, and the third is that they are given a good curriculum to help in the process of teaching. They are not just bodies to fill empty spaces.
There is a rule of thumb that we need to communicate at least five times for people to take action based on that message. Think of the five ways you can communicate to recruit volunteers:
- Text messages
- Phone calls
- In-person conversation.
What else do you have at your disposal for recruitment communication? I have found the most consistently successful recruitment strategy is to spend personal time over a cup of coffee or during a walk explaining why they would be a brilliant volunteer. A personal volunteer request for a specific opportunity centering on that person’s strengths, skills, desires, and availability while offering support can turn a chore into an opportunity.
Think about all the ways that someone can volunteer that fit their own schedule. Possible choices:
- Every other week
- Once a month
- Put together a team for each class or task (and then the team decides who leads and when).
Pray. Pray for each person in your group.
Curriculum. Choose one that is easy to use, fun for both students and volunteer teachers, flexible enough to allow the volunteer to be creative to match their own talents, and that will ensure that they are teaching quality, theologically sound lessons to the kids. Spirit & Truth Publishing has many great options.
Supplies. Have all supplies ready when they walk in the door.
Communication. Help your volunteers understand what is happening around them. (Example: Do not assume they know what and when Ash Wednesday is.)
Pray. Pray for each person in your group.
Encourage. The best way to encourage them is to nurture their own spiritual lives. Share teaching skills with them as well as Scripture and devotions. Pay attention to your volunteers and speak with them on a regular basis. Listen to their suggestions and implement them when possible. Tell them about the things you have noticed that are marvelous.
Support. Be organized and continue the support of prayer, curriculum, supplies, and communication.
The Image of God
When we teach and lead in faith formation, we are acting in God’s image. We are caring for one another, we are listening, respecting, supporting, spreading joy, and supporting through and with God’s love. We become integral in others’ faith journeys as well as our own. We create a sense of community in which people help each other. We provide the space to develop a personal relationship with a loving God. And then we translate this personal affirmation into acts of love and justice. We love our neighbor as we love ourselves. God is just and loving, so we are called to do justice and live in love.
Volunteering is a privilege. We are so much more than a body taking up space.
Grace & Peace,
About the Author
Kirsten is an educational professional with 28 years of experience in communities of faith, skilled in motivating, teaching, and team building. She has demonstrated expertise in building an arc of faith formation and educational opportunities from age 2 through adulthood. This has included fellowship, outreach, and intergenerational and age-specific classes.
Kirsten happily works with Spirit & Truth Publishing as a writer and collaborator.
This blog post is part of a monthly series of practical advice for faith formation leaders by faith formation and education professionals. Summaries of these posts are sent in a monthly email to email subscribers. Subscribe today!