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The Hands You're Dealt

Scott Kinner

Your guide to alternative service opportunities for volunteers who don't fit the mold...

Samantha is a young, single mom who began attending your church two years ago. Her children love coming to church, but she feels guilty dropping them off each week when she can't pitch in to serve. She's an elementary teacher who'd fit perfectly on your weekend teaching team. But when you ask her to help out, she explains she works at a second job Sunday mornings.

Alan and Madeline serve in their son's 4-year-old class each Sunday, but you've noticed that Alan mostly sits and watches. When you ask him how the class is going, you sense he doesn't have his heart in it. You dig a little deeper and discover that Alan's not exactly comfortable working directly with young children. He sees this as a good way to serve with his wife--and serving together is important to him. But it sounds as though you might lose this volunteer couple at the end of the year if you don't do something.

When we recruit for children's ministry, it's easy to think in terms of midweek, weekend services, church office help--or any time your church doors are open. But what about those volunteers who want to serve but can't fit that framework? How do you harness Samantha's gift of teaching--on her schedule? Where can Alan find a niche while joining his wife on her spiritual journey? What about the many potential volunteers in your church who aren't teachers? Or those who don't want to miss the worship service but see the value in serving in children's ministry? Whether they have scheduling conflicts or interest issues, many potential volunteers out there just don't fit the typical volunteer mold. How can you harness these after-hours volunteers?

Meet Your After-Hours Volunteers

After-hours volunteers are just as passionate and vital as your other volunteers, but they differ in some key ways.

• They may have competing responsibilities. Different work shifts, kids' sports practices or games, and PTA or HOA meetings may stop volunteers from serving during your ministry's "regular" hours. To incorporate these volunteers, you have to refresh your thinking from typical service opportunities that require a person's physical presence during set hours, to unique times and places for these volunteers to serve, such as serving after 5 or on a flexible schedule.

• They may feel timid around children. Even potential volunteers who have time and show up at church faithfully every week may not feel comfortable leading music with kids or teaching. Either they don't feel gifted to serve in the children's ministry "box" or they just need to take small steps in volunteering. These volunteers often thrive when you find opportunities for them behind the scenes, such as encouraging teachers, updating your Web site, or gathering supplies during their lunch break.

• They may have alternate or unreliable schedules. A manager at a local retail store or a pediatric nurse who works on call during your regular service times won't be able to commit to a typical volunteer role. But often these volunteers can step in on the spur of the moment and help in ways that offer great relief to you and other team members. For instance, you know you can call on the pediatric nurse during your midweek program to purchase more snacks when your attendance unexpectedly doubles one night.

• They may be out-of-towners. Many people travel for work and are out of town frequently. They might be out of town during your normal programs, or they just might be unwilling to commit to more time away from their families after returning from a trip. Many of these people would love to find ways to stay connected to their home church while on the road. Perhaps one of these volunteers would be perfect to be responsible for putting together your weekly email newsletter and sending it out.

• They may not be up for lengthy commitments. Don't begrudge people who openly admit they're commitment shy; at least they're honest! And they're easier to work with than a person who unexpectedly backs out on you midway through the year. Many people find the idea of committing to a full year of service daunting. But they're often happy to commit to shorter terms, such as three or six months, or to assist with one-time events or short-term projects.

You likely have many potential volunteers with situations like these. So how do you match them with the right roles?

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