How to Solve the Volunteer Retention Problem

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We talk a lot about recruiting volunteers in children's ministry, and the need to recruit. We talk about the 10 tips to recruit, and seven best kept secrets for recruiting. But there's not a whole lot of attention given to retention. There are a lot of churches that don't have a recruiting problem; they have a retention problem.

If you invite me to come and visit your church and spend a Sunday or spend a couple of days and really help you evaluate your children's ministry with some fresh eyes, one of the first things I would look at if I want to really evaluate the health of your children's ministry would be this. I'm not going to look at the facilities first. I do want to look at the facilities, but I'm not going to look at the facilities. I don't want to look at your budget. I don't want to look at what you're doing on Wednesday nights first or what curriculum you're using on Sunday morning first. I'm going to look at the health of your current volunteers. Because when we look at your current volunteers and we talk to your current volunteers, all of a sudden, that really gauges the health of any children's ministry.

Now, the buildings are important. Safety and security are important. Your curriculum is crucially important, but your current volunteers .... "now, what do I do, Ryan? I feel like I've got a great .... " Here's a conversation I'm hearing a lot more of, and a question I'm getting a lot more of in Kidmin Academy and just questions that get sent to me on Facebook. I used to get this question all the time. "How do I recruit more volunteers?" Three or four years ago, I would have said, if we were in this room three or four years ago, I would have said the number one question I get is how do I recruit more volunteers?

Now that question is still towards the top, but I don't know if this is the number one anymore. Here's a question I hear a lot. "Ryan, I feel like I have enough volunteers. I just can't get them all to show up.” "I feel like I get it all scheduled, and then I check planning center on Saturday night and wow, okay, they're not going to be there, They're not going to be there, or they don't tell me on planning center they're not going to be there. They just don't show up."

Can anybody feel my pain here? What do you do about that? What do you with the volunteers that just don't show up? Do you ever have this happen to you? It's not fun. Don't you hate it when your phone rings on Sunday morning before church? Because you know what it means – someone's not going to be there. But hey, at least they'd given you a call. What's worse is when they just don't show up. When you have a leader that's just not showing up, it really requires a personal conversation. There is no reason to fume about it, to get upset about it. You just have a conversation, give them a call that week and say, "Hey, you know what? How's it going, blah blah blah. We're counting on you second service back here in this room, and I know you weren't there Sunday. I'm just calling to make sure, is everything okay?"

Now here's what you've done. First of all, you've set a benchmark that there is some accountability, which is why you don't want to just grovel and fume in silence. You've set a benchmark and some accountability. You've also opened up a conversation. You've not said, "why weren't you there on Sunday?" Okay, which immediately put somebody in the defensive. You've asked, "is everything okay?" Or "is there anything going on I need to know about?" Which then creates a conversation, which then alerts you to really what's going on so that you can address it or help. Somebody that chronically doesn't show up, you need to be careful about putting those chronic no- shows in positions that are important because you rely on them.

Retention. I need to be giving time and making sure I'm keeping the recruitment bucket full, putting attention here, but I need to be putting attention into the culture of my volunteers. By the way, one more thought on this. I talked to you about one of the greatest ways that you evaluate the health of your children ministry is its current volunteers, here's some of the things you look for. You look for things like, are they getting there on time? Or even are they getting there early? If they're showing up late, that tells me something and it should tell you something. Are they excited in front of those kids? Can you tell they prepared? Are they recruiting volunteers themselves?

When you look at some of these measures and you really think through as a leader and as a cheerleader, as a coach to these group of volunteers, "How well am I doing?" When you really build a team of people and you create a good culture within that volunteer team, where there are relationships being met; you're giving them breaks when they need breaks. You're not putting too much on them; you're making it fun. You're reminding them of how serious this is and the success stories and what God's doing, all of a sudden, you won't have a retention problem.

Your #1 fan,


Ryan Frank