The One Thing That Saved My Ministry

Early in my ministry I reached a point where I was ready to give up.  The ministry was growing, new kids were coming, and attendance was up week after week.  What a horrible problem, right?  The problem was, as kids attendance increased, the number of volunteers quitting increased just as fast.

When you’re adding kids and losing leaders, you have a recipe for disaster.  I realized that something needed to change.   I needed to learn how to build a team.  Through this, I became extremely intentional about adding team members and developing recruiting strategies.  You can read about them here.

How to recruit to a vision

How to create a volunteer welcoming culture

Creative ways to identify potential volunteers

Strategic volunteer placement

Steps every volunteer must go through

After becoming intentional about team building, things things got better but, it felt like for every step forward, I would take two steps back.  I would introduce a new volunteer and before I knew it someone else would resign.  I was still missing something.  I was beginning to doubt my abilities, worse yet, I started to doubt my calling.  Maybe I was not cut out for ministry.

My problem was I was so focused on adding volunteers that I didn’t give much thought to the ones who were already committed, already trained, already serving in the trenches.  I had forgotten the leaders who served week in and week out, the ones who already had my heart and knew the vision and values.

I was investing all my energy identifying, training and releasing new volunteers into the ministry, but once you were on the team, it was almost like I forgot your name.  I was missing the most important piece when it comes to team building, appreciation.

I learned that the most important thing that I could do for my ministry was to invest in and retain the volunteers I already had.  This revelation saved my ministry.  For me, one existing volunteer who is trained and serving is worth two, possibly three new volunteers.  I sat down with a legal pad and identified 7 ways I that I could appreciate my volunteers, and made this a part of my team building strategy.

  1. Honor your volunteers.
    • Make them feel special and thank them often for serving.
    • Learn their name.
    • Greet them every time you see them.
    • Remember what’s happening in their life and ask about it.
    • Speak highly of them to the leadership above you.
    • Brag about them in front of their peers and family.
  2. Invest in them.
    • Look for ways to make their job easier.
    • Look for opportunities to bless them personally.
      • If one of your leaders is going in for surgery, schedule meals for their family.
      • Call them on their birthday.
      • Comment on their new hair do.
    • Spend time with them.
  3. Catch them doing right and recognize them for it.
    • Every week I mail out several hand written notes with a $5 coffee card.
    • I call and text several more volunteers just to say thank you and to ask how the weekend went.
    • Periodically, I choose a couple or a key volunteer and I bless them with a date night for them and their spouse.
    • I honor them on social media.
    • I recognize them publicly. (In training meetings, in front of my pastor and senior leadership, in the main service, in front of their family.)
  4. Assume the best.
    • If someone is late, assume they have a good reason.
    • Defend them at all costs and have their back. If you hear someone complaining about something one of your volunteers did, rise to their defense. Create a culture of having your volunteers back.
  5. Require them to take time off and to go to church.
    • Create a culture that allows volunteers to take vacation and take time off.
    • Make sure your volunteers attend church services.  They can only minister out of the overflow of spiritual growth. If they are not growing they have nothing to sow into the kids.
  6. Invest in their entire family.
    • If they have kids make the kids feel special.
    • If they are married, make sure their spouse knows how great they are doing.
  7. Hold appreciation events.
    • An annual volunteer banquet.
    • Events just for the sake of fun.
    • Invite your volunteers to your home, out to dinner, or to coffee just to say thank you.

By creating a culture of appreciation, I was able to retain more volunteers.  I was able to begin adding new volunteers and make forward progress with my team building.

My favorite appreciation event followed a week long kid’s crusade. My leaders worked every night of the week in addition to their day jobs. I called the local steak house and negotiated a special menu for my group. I was able to take nearly 50 volunteers to a steak dinner for just over $500. It was the most fun our team ever had together. We laughed, we reminisced, we just flat out had fun.

Set a goal to be the department in your church that sets the standard for appreciating volunteers. Make your level of appreciation something that people in your church talk about. If you do this you will never have a shortage of volunteers.

What do you do to appreciate your volunteers? Join the discussion by leaving a comment or go over to

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About the Author

Andrew VanDerLinden

Andrew is the Executive Pastor at Community Church in Eastern PA.

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