Jill Fox lists ten things to keep in mind to develop a ministry team with healthy and happy volunteers, and one that is also attractive to new volunteers. The best leaders, she says, share responsibilities and help make their team members’ jobs clear, relevant, and fun.
What do volunteers on a ministry team need? How can you prepare for success? Listed below are a few things to think about when you are working with your group. If you are leading other volunteers, you’ll want to keep these in mind.
When volunteers lead, they gain a stronger sense of ownership and develop new gifts. The best leaders share responsibilities and appreciate watching others learn leadership principles.
- Have clear expectations. Uncertainty and ambiguity are the enemies of all volunteers, recruiters, and teams. Leaders should be clear about what is expected.
- Help volunteers know what to do and how to do it. Every volunteer needs and deserves training. To succeed, each person will need to know what it takes to successfully execute his or her job. It might be a five-minute explanation with the opportunity for questions, on-the-job preparation, or something else entirely. Some leaders may host a group workshop over several hours or days for more in-depth and comprehensive training.
- Connect your ministry with the larger vision. Where does your team fit into the overall goals of the church or organization? Sometimes it can be helpful to meet with other teams to see what they are doing. This spreads health and effectiveness and creates a culture of healthy volunteering. Let groups visit and observe each other’s ministries. Seeing how others do their volunteer activities is often better than reading, or attending seminars and lectures.
- Communicate. Regular communication to the group and within the group is essential to a healthy, effective, God-honoring volunteer team. It provides occasions to circulate important information and keeps everyone in the know. Communication should be short, frequent, varied, and personal — emails, texts, phone calls, social media, regular group meetings, or a quick coffee. Leaders should welcome questions and comments, and should do their best to reply quickly, whether electronically or in person.
- Celebrate accomplishments. When goals are met, milestones are passed, or significant things happen, celebrate! Talk about the good things God is doing in the ministry. Sometimes the wonderful results are missed if someone doesn’t point them out. And when you hear a story from someone you serve, share it with the rest of the team. Sometimes those who are in behind-the-scenes roles need to hear the encouraging stories to be reminded that what they are doing makes a difference, too.
- Let others lead. On a healthy team, the leader will let others take charge of different areas, giving helpful feedback as they grow in those areas. When volunteers lead, they gain a stronger sense of ownership and develop new gifts. Small opportunities to lead will prepare people for greater leadership roles. With multiple healthy leaders in different areas, teams will perform better. The best leaders share responsibilities and appreciate watching others learn leadership principles.
- Make your team a welcome place to be. Every team creates a distinct culture. One of the dangers, though, is that they sometimes close themselves off to others outside their circle. Nothing will make new people run from your ministry area faster than thinking they really aren’t wanted. Don’t be a closed community. Aim to be a group that accepts and loves new members. Remember that more people on the team often means a more influential ministry and, ultimately, more people meeting Jesus Christ.
- Respect everyone’s time. Nothing makes most volunteers frustrated and annoyed more than wasting their time. It’s important for meetings to start and end when expected. Another annoyance is when someone hijacks the discussion, focusing on minor topics or personal anecdotes that don’t apply. Be sure the conversation isn’t all about you, and honor the agenda the leaders have set. Whether you are a volunteer or a volunteer leader, remember, everyone’s time is valuable.
- Have parties! Ministries can sometimes lose their energy when they don’t encourage relationship apart from the work before them. So remember to have fun together regularly. Do your part to help foster an atmosphere in which spending time sharing each other’s lives and enjoying each other’s company is an essential part of your group’s ministry. Have them over to your home, see a movie together, develop friendships that go beyond the time you spend volunteering.
- Say thank you. When you notice someone on your team going beyond the call of duty or finishing a challenging project, express your thanks and regard for their efforts. If you are a leader of volunteers, this is especially important to remember. Use your words and actions to thank those with whom you serve. Set aside time to write notes and send emails and texts of encouragement. Become a master at noticing all the great things the people on your team do and acknowledging them, both privately and publicly.
Keep these things in mind as you serve, and you will develop a ministry team with healthy and happy volunteers, one that attracts new volunteers to your group.
This material is adapted from Jill Fox’s book, with Leith Anderson, Volunteering: A Guide to Serving in the Body of Christ (Zondervan, 2015) and used by permission. The book is available through Cokesbury or Amazon.