I recently got an email with a great question, and I think it’s one many churches have. The question was:
“I have to get more parents serving in the children’s ministry! I’ve been asking ‘how’ for two years and still don’t have any workable answers.”
I have three suggestions.
#1 Implement a “First Serve” Process
A first serve is a chance for a member to check out what it’s like to serve in a ministry with no pressure to join whatsoever.
When volunteers are few, we often get so focused on getting more volunteers that we make people think that if they consider thinking about maybe asking for information on what serving might possibly require, then we’ll make them work in that ministry for the rest of their life.
That’s why people are too scared to even ask for information. They certainly won’t consider joining a team, unless they’re positive that’s where they want to be forever.
But, if you let people try a ministry with no pressure, then more people will feel comfortable asking about serving opportunities. I’d bet there are people in your church who are interested and curious, but too scared of the responsibility of looking after children. A first serve gives them a chance to test the waters while still having an eject button there if they can’t handle it.
Lack of pressure is key to the first serve and must be communicated well to both the members and the leaders.
#2 Offer A Pre-Parenting Internship Class
I’ve got several friends who volunteer in the church nursery because they’re thinking about having kids.
Use that to your advantage. Offer a childcare internship for young couples. Pair each couple with experienced parents who can mentor them. Have weekly lessons on time management, on keeping the marriage strong when neither party has slept in a month, etc.
Plus, as part of the extraordinary value of this internship class, students will get real, hands on, mandatory learning experiences every week (i.e. they’re required to serve in your children’s church).
This sounds too good to be true, but it can work. My home church has an internship course similar to this, except it’s aimed at training up leaders. Every year, 20-30 people (of which I’m one) pay money so we can volunteer for every service. If we behave, we get to serve at every event. If we keep our grades up, we can get to church an hour early for set up. And, because the pastors are nice people, they give us the privilege of doing 3 hours a week of additional work volunteering for the church. For double the price, we even allow interns to work as unpaid, full-time members of the staff.
The class is not cheap, but it’s worth every penny. The training is good. Students see dramatic growth in their life. And, the lessons are aimed at exactly what we face in real life as leaders, so we feel more confident stepping into our new roles.
People like to feel confident. If you have kids, think back to when the first one was born and you first realized just how much was riding on your every choice. What would you not give to enter that moment confident that you have been well trained and will be well supported by your friends? I bet that child-rearing internship would look pretty appealing.
If your church is willing to work hard on the lessons. If the mentors you select will form lasting accountability relationships with the young couples. Then young couples will beat a path to your door. You can not only have volunteers, but their tuition will cover the cost of books and any special events or training required for the internship. You have to work hard, but the pay-off is huge.
#3 Continue to Make Your Expectations Clear
Ultimately, the key to getting volunteers is to create a culture where every parent feels they have a responsibility to contribute to the success of the children’s church.
Odds are you’ve stated your expectations a hundred times. But, many people find their ears clog up the moment you talk about working. It wouldn’t hurt to mention your expectations one or two (hundred) more times.
You can use the example of hosting guests in your home. If someone spills a drink, no homeowner is going to look around asking who will clean it up. If it’s your house, you clean. If there’s a need, a good son gets the vacuum cleaner. Same goes for church. Every week guests come to meet our Father and if there’s a need, we got to act like a child of God and care for the house. Keep reminding people of that.
Another way to instill a culture of volunteering is to make it clear serving is open to all. Again, you’ve said this a hundred times. They should know by now. I don’t even have to know you to know you’ve done this. I know leaders and this is pretty much a constant. But, people’s ears get clogged. People need to hear over and over, and to be told individually, that you would like them to help.
(Speaking of asking people to serve. It might be a good idea to pick 10 parents a week and send personalized invitations asking them to do a first serve next Sunday. Public announcements make it easy for parents to think it’s someone else’s job. Personal invitations are hard to ignore.)
But, back to keeping the team open to all. The more you focus on teaching your leaders to train new people. The more you encourage them to trust people and raise volunteers up to new levels of leadership. The more volunteers you’ll get, because members will see that if they work hard they can advance on the team. They won’t be afraid they’ll get trapped on diaper patrol forever. If they’re good at what they do, they’ll have the chance to become head diaper changer.
And, when you freely reward hard workers with more trust and more responsibility, they will take ownership of the team. They may even overlook the fact that being the head diaper changer means they have to care for the kids who think ex-lax is candy.
But, I don’t have to tell you about the sacrifices leaders have to make, nor about how a commitment to the vision makes it all worthwhile.