Before you can effectively recognize your children's ministry volunteers, it's a good idea to ask, Why do people choose to volunteer for children's ministry? What motivates them to serve in the first place? Small gifts are nice, and the occasional "thank-you" is appreciated, but children's ministry volunteers really want to know they are serving God and making a real difference in the lives of children.
Explain your mission
Help your volunteers understand why reaching out through children's ministry is so important. According to Barna research, a person's moral foundation is generally in place by the time they reach age 9. Research also suggests that most people have made up their minds about what they believe and what they need to know spiritually-speaking by age 13. Conveying this kind of information to your children's ministry volunteers offers a compelling reason for their service. When volunteers understand the "mission" they are involved in, it helps them feel truly needed.
Offer specific recognition
When we talk about volunteer recognition, oftentimes we mean appreciation. But appreciation and recognition are really very different ideas. Appreciation is defined as a "general expression of gratitude" whereas recognition is defined as a specific expression that delivers intrinsic, emotional value to the recipient. So, it's good to be specific when you recognize someone. Instead of "You did an awesome job," try a more specific approach such as, "that Bible verse memorization game was a big hit with the kids. I appreciate that you plan such fun activities to reinforce the Sunday School lesson." When you recall instances that you think are noteworthy, the volunteer knows you really appreciate their time and effort because of your specific feedback.
Provide ongoing training
When you offer ongoing training, you help them grow as children's ministry volunteers. Having regular meetings, inviting input about what's working and what's not working in children's ministry is valuable to your volunteers. It helps them feel that their voice and opinion matters and provides room for discussion and transparency. What one volunteer finds troubling may be an area where another volunteer can offer wisdom. Check out the books mentioned here for helpful insight about serving children with special needs, different teaching strategies, including Law and Gospel in lesson planning, and more.
Acknowledge their service
While volunteers are motivated to serve in children's ministry because of their passion to serve Jesus, it's also nice to publicly recognize them for their service. Even a little acknowledgement goes a long way. Be sure to use opportunities such as a Children's Ministry Appreciation Event to demonstrate the need for people to make ministry successful. Make it fun so volunteers feel appreciated and interest is piqued for future volunteers. Another idea is to provide a simple thank-you meal after church for volunteers. It can be something as simple as offering sub sandwiches, ordering in pizza, or harnessing the power of the slow-cooker. In addition to the food, your volunteers will enjoy the camaraderie.
We hope that these ideas help your volunteers feel truly recognized and needed. When volunteers feel like they are part of the mission, they'll grow as children's ministry volunteers and enjoy serving for years to come.