Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Thank Your Volunteers!

Volunteers are the heartbeat of our children’s ministries.  If we are going to be truly effective
in our ministry to children we have to have a team of volunteers who are committed to and passionate about their ministry to and with the children.  Nearly every children’s ministry has volunteers who go above and beyond their calling by faithfully serving - often without anyone even taking notice.  While the praise of men is certainly not the reason our volunteers serve, it is appropriate for us to take the time to notice and thank those who so faithfully give of themselves to invest in the lives of the children in their class. 

A few years ago I thought it would be interesting to talk with churches across the country to see what they do to tangibly thank their volunteers and have to say I was completely delighted by the creativity and love which is put into expressing appreciation to those who volunteer their time and their selves to serve God as well as the children and families of their church and community! While I originally wrote this article for Your Church Magazine from Christianity Today, I thought it would be a good article to share with you today as the content is still applicable!

I spoke with Pastor John Wiseman from Neighborhood Church in Redding, California, and asked him what they do to show their love and appreciation for their volunteers.  He said they have a plan to show their volunteers all year they are appreciated.  In the fall they present returning teachers with a book about practical ministry to help equip and further train them as they begin the new year.  At Christmas time he sends a hand written thank you card with a gift certificate for a pie from an area restaurant and at the end of the year he presents a book to encourage them in their walk with Christ along with a personal, hand written note to thank them for their service.

Larry Shallenberger from Grace Baptist Church in Erie, Pennsylvania, told me the most recent large event he planned for his volunteers was a Mardi Gras Night.  He said he went on line to find out what the colors for Mardi Gras meant and learned they originally were chosen to reflect the royalty/power of God – purple, the faithfulness of God – green and the wealth of God – gold, so he utilized these colors, ordered Mardi Gras decorations and went all out decorating.  They had Cajun food and broke into groups to take advantage of the teaching moment the Mardi Gras colors provided by asking each group to think of ways they saw God’s power, faithfulness or wealth in their teaching ministry over the past year.  He then presented each volunteer with a FaithWeaver cross pin – again utilizing the color theme - from Group Publishing to end the evening making for a memorable time of thanking his volunteers.  Larry said he is currently in the process of sending out letterhead he had made for the children’s ministry to each family.  He is asking the parents to write a note of appreciation to their children’s teachers on one side and to have their children do the same on the other side.  He will then collect these notes; bind them into books for the teachers to present a truly heartfelt thank you from the church to the volunteers.

Pastor Mark Hoogerhyde of Kentwood Community Church in Kentwood, Michigan, told me volunteer appreciation is what ministry is all about – helping children come to Christ and loving the people who serve to see that happen!  They present their volunteers with a gift each Christmas, send personal notes to their volunteers - especially when they see a volunteer do something special with the kids – and plan a catered dinner once a year.  This year Mark told me they are doing something new – they are planning a Children’s Ministry volunteer Picnic for all volunteers and their families.  The will have food, games and fun at an area park and are planning a time of appreciation their volunteers will not forget!  Mark also considers training to be part of his volunteer appreciation ministry so he sends his volunteers to as many training opportunities as they can along with providing in-house training throughout the year.

At churches where I've served in the past I had an ongoing volunteer appreciation ministry!  All year I took time to thank our volunteers on a weekly basis with notes, candy and other little surprises hand delivered to them before their class begins each week.  In the Fall we had our annual Holiday Open House where I opened my home for two evenings and invited the volunteers and a guest to come, enjoy good food, good fellowship, Christmas music and presented each volunteer with a gift certificate to an area restaurant – donated by the restaurants – and a hand made Christmas ornament.  It is a truly fun evening which always left my volunteers feeling appreciated.  In the Spring we had our annual volunteer appreciation dinner where I've presented each volunteer with a book or coffee mugs made with our logo.

At my church, Calvary Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan, volunteer appreciation is something which varies from an amazing Gala last Spring with a red carpet for volunteers to walk, all the while being greeted and thanked by the staff, an "awards" show with trophies and entertainment followed by a dessert buffet where each volunteer was presented with an engraved star key chain and pen, to having the Children's Pastor present each volunteer with an apple in the Fall and Team Leaders giving each of their volunteers a cinnamon heart ornament at Christmas. We are planning something special to end the school year - stay tuned as I'll let you know what it is when we get ready to present it to the volunteers!

There are many ways we can thank our volunteers, but one memorable way to do so is to plan and present a volunteer appreciation dinner.  Many churches do make a dinner part of their annual church year calendar and find it to be an event their volunteers look forward to and appreciate.  Other churches are not sure where to begin with a dinner, but would like to honor their volunteers.  If this describes you, the following information should be helpful.

Countdown to a tremendous volunteer appreciation dinner –
v  4 months before the dinner
o   Select a date, get it on your calendar
o   Recruit a team to plan, prepare and present/promote
o   Meet with your team and plan your event
§  Menu
§  Speaker
§  Special music/entertainment
§  Any gifts
o   Plan the promotion of your event
§  Bulletin flyers
§  Personal invitations
§  Mailings
§  Newsletters
o   Know how you plan to fund your dinner
§  Special offering
§  Make a menu and ask for each part of the meal to be donated by non-teachers
§  Budget for the dinner
o   Determine who you will invite
§  All volunteers and their spouse/guest
§  All volunteers and their family
v  3 months before the event
o   Continue to promote
o   Plan your theme/decorations and begin to make them or find “crafty” people who are able to help with this
v  2 months before the event
o   Promote with mailings for volunteers to RSVP
o   Finalize your menu and begin gathering the meal if you are having people sign up for the parts of the meal
v  1 month before the event
o   Touch bases with your speaker and special music
o   Check with the church janitor/set up person to be sure of table set up
o   Confirm total of people attending
o   Confirm you have all parts of the meal signed up for or make arrangements to purchase the ingredients for the meal
o   If giving gifts, make purchases and wrap for presentation
v  2 weeks before the event
o   Be sure all decorations are ready
v  Day before the event
o   See to set up and decorating and make any purchases necessary for the groceries for the meal
v  Day of the event
o   Prepare food
o   Greet your volunteers as they arrive
o   Enjoy the event
v  Day after the event
o   Send a thank you card to the speaker, special music and any sound and set up people as well as anyone who helped with decorations and food prep.

If you decide to present your volunteers with a thank you gift, there are many options to select from – to fit any budget.  Some churches budget for a thank you gift for their volunteers while others take a special offering.  In the coming month I'll post about different ways to thank your volunteers all year long or just for a special appreciation event.

It is right, appropriate and fun to thank those who give of themselves and their time to serve faithfully in our children’s ministries!  If you are interested in beginning a ministry of appreciation to your volunteers, pick one thing to start with and see the difference it makes with your volunteers!  If you already are committed to a ministry of appreciation to your volunteers, I would like to thank you for taking the time to thank your volunteers . . . you are a gift from God and what you do makes a difference!

What have you done to show appreciation to your volunteers?

No comments:

Post a Comment