4 Tips To Help Prepare For VBS In 2016

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Well brothers and sisters it’s that time of year again! Summer is just around the corner and that means Vacation Bible School (VBS) is upon us. We’re adding some new planning tips and strategies to consider this year, as we have done with the past VBS planning posts, which will help make your VBS go smoothly!

Here are a few tips to help you prepare:

Prayerfully Consider Your Teams, Theme, & Timelines (6-12 months out)

As any church event should begin, start with prayer. Prayerfully consider your VBS program director and leaders, then select the best candidate that God has inspired for your church. Work with the new director to pull together a team of dedicated leaders and pray for them.

Once your team is ready you can choose a VBS curriculum and order a starter kit. Most publishers run sales on their kits starting early in the first quarter, and Christian bookstores like Lifeway often have the kits on hand so you can look through to help make a choice.

When your VBS kit arrives, you can get down to the real planning, such as recruitment, training, and requesting donations of money and supplies.

Recruiting & Registration (3-6 months out)

Finding dynamic, kid-friendly personalities can be a challenge. It’s also one of the reasons that the kids get used to seeing a lot of the same faces each year. Keep in mind that it’s always important to try and bring new volunteers into the fold, not only to avoid burnout, but often to reveal undiscovered spiritual gifts.

At this point, you should have a curriculum mapped out including supplies needed for each day & event, as well as how many volunteers you’ll need for each station. Communicating with the leadership of the church regarding any budgetary needs is also very important during this time.

Fundraising through events like trivia nights, silent auctions, and church meals is a great way to raise money for the program to cover costs that might exceed your church’s budgetary limitations. At our church we hold a trivia night and silent auction at the same time, where the questions relate to the theme of the VBS program. We register teams from the church members who then compete that night for an actual trophy that is displayed throughout the year in a common area of the church. This year we’re using Group Publishing’s Cave Quest theme, so all of the questions will relate to caves in some way based on Trivial Pursuit style categories.

Promoting the VBS program and keeping the community and the congregation in the loop is incredibly important. Churches vary on whether or not to charge for Vacation Bible School programs, so be sure to make your position clear from the beginning as it can help with fundraising.

Don’t forget to start allowing families to register their children around 3 months out. Today’s busy families start mapping out their summer plans in the spring, so be sure to allow registration – and make it easy! Consider using a system like Elexio Deluxe Suite or Essentials Giving that enable online event registration for programs like VBS. These systems can even process payments, if needed.

 

Training, Promotions, & Production (0-3 months out)

Don’t wait until the last minute on any of these. With the latest changes to law, at least where I’m at in Pennsylvania, requirements on volunteers for background checks and training are time-intensive and involved for whomever is coordinating VBS.

Elexio’s integrated background check system can help reduce some of that workload, but you definitely don’t want to take this to the last minute. Finding volunteers can be a challenge for many churches.

Training is important, too. Not only can you begin to identify a volunteer’s strengths and weaknesses, training will help both of you identify the best station or place for that volunteer to help. Many programs offer training materials, but churches can and should also include their own guidelines that are required by both state and federal laws, as well as any additional requirements from within your own denominations.

Pre-registration should be well underway at this point, and you should be able to start building group rosters and assigning volunteers.

Depending on how involved your decorations will be, 3 months before launch can be a good time to start assessing your needs for decorations and any sets. Last year, we ran Group’s “Everest” program and we started planning and buying materials around 3 months out. Within 2 months of our program we began building our set pieces, like small mountains, holding routine set building days for a few hours each Saturday.

Finals & Follow-Up (Last few weeks & Program)

During the last few weeks you should be pretty much ready, just putting the finishing touches on training, set building and decorations, or any last minute volunteer recruitment.

The last week before is always a rush. Many decorations and set pieces cannot move into place until the day you launch the program, and many times our volunteers are turning in clearances and paperwork at the last second. That doesn’t even take into consideration the mass of registrations that will all happen the “day of”.

For these reasons, we recommend scheduling a time of group prayer before you enter into the fray and welcome all of those young souls into your fold.

Work Smarter, Not Harder

Ensuring that you have the right tools will make VBS planning easier. Elexio offers the tools needed to track incredibly useful information, like:

  • Who have been our key donors?
  • Who has the spiritual gifts appropriate for this kind of ministry?
  • Who has volunteered in the past?
  • Who has registered in the past?
  • How much have we spent before, and on what?

Even better, when you can pre-register families through a web form and even take payment, you’ve effectively reduced the workload of your registration volunteers.

Take a closer look at Elexio church software solutions today and you’ll find out how you can focus on your ministry, not the management.

4 Ways To Make The Most Of Limited Church Resources

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You don’t need a multi-million dollar budget and a 100-person staff to operate a church that effectively produces disciples. Whether you’re a church plant, a staff of one, or just tight on time and money, your church should take advantage of some simple ways to make the most of limited resources.

  1. Recruit volunteers and delegate

You might not have the extra funds to hire additional staff, but you’ve got plenty of capable people in your church community that can volunteer their time. You just need to get the word out and make it easy for them to get involved with the right service opportunity. Recruit the right people with the right gifts for each need. Allow them to sign up online, through a mobile app, and on a kiosk in the church lobby. And once you’ve got the volunteers, be willing to give up some control and delegate tasks.

  1. Integrate your systems

From utility providers to insurance companies, you already deal with plenty of vendors each month. Choosing an integrated suite that includes your ChMS database, website CMS, mobile app, and check-in system will mean one bill and one support team for your church software. Integration will also save your staff from reentering data into each platform and will make giving, connecting, and volunteering easier for your church community.

  1. Take advantage of free resources

Many companies and organizations offer a variety of resources to churches and other non-profits. If your church is financially strapped, you probably don’t have much of a marketing budget, but Google’s Ad Grants program could provide your ministry with up to $329 of free online advertising each day. And several websites offer free graphics, videos, templates, and much more specifically for the local church. Check out this list for some ideas to get started and don’t let freebies go to waste.

  1. Give your church community some responsibility

Even with a support staff and volunteers, you can’t do it all. Encourage everyone in your church community to help out by updating their own personal information whenever they move or switch phone numbers. If each person quickly makes these changes from a kiosk on Sunday morning or online whenever they have time, you could redirect hours each week to ministry, not administrative details. You should also task your church community with printing their own contribution statements each tax season. It’s a small, simple step that could reap great rewards for your church.

Don’t let a miniscule budget or small staff keep your church from making an impact. How has your church creatively made the best of limited resources?

Image Credits: istockphoto

4 Church Volunteer Lessons From Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer

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Although it’s an hour of singing snowmen and flying reindeer, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is packed with valuable lessons for kids of all ages.

If you’re not familiar with the story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer—well, you should watch it this Christmas season because it’s an American classic. But you can get the gist from the lyrics to the holiday carol.

So what can reindeer and a sleigh full of toys teach you about the volunteers at your church?

Look at the unlikely heroes. The Island of Misfit Toys was filled with polka-dotted elephants and choo-choos with square wheels—not your typical Christmas morning presents. Because they didn’t fit the perfect present stereotype, they were labeled outsiders and banished. The self-proclaimed team of wandering misfits was comprised of an aspiring dentist elf, a reindeer with a light bulb for a nose, and a gun-toting mountain man in search of gold. They certainly made a motley crew. But together, they tamed an abominable snow monster and saved Santa’s Christmas Eve expedition. Yukon Cornelius had the inside scoop on Bumble. Hermey’s dental skills came in handy. Rudolph’s nose shone the way for Santa’s sleigh. And some eccentric toys put smiles on the faces of a few kids Christmas morning.

After pouring hours of effort into recruiting volunteers, sometimes church leaders feel like they’ve been dealt a band of misfits rather than the dream team they were hoping for.

Volunteers may not always be what you expect, but that doesn’t mean they can’t blow your expectations out of the water and provide value. If your church has ended up with volunteersthat are as unlikely as a water pistol that shoots…jelly, follow these four tips:

  1. Find ways to use people’s unique gifts—don’t pigeonhole them into a specific role that doesn’t suit their talents. If you do, you could lose them as volunteers. Remember, not all elves can make toys! Rather than focusing on reaching a volunteer quota, focus on matching people to the right positions. Keep an open mind—if the volunteers you have won’t make good youth leaders, maybe they’re the start of a new ministry at your church.
  2. Get creative and focus on how different people and gifts can work together to help the church. After all, it took a team of misfits and a pair of pliers to tame the snow monster. Don’t focus on one person’s weakness because that’s where another volunteer might shine. Help people discover what their gifts are, leverage those strengths, and form multi-faceted teams. Especially in a smaller church, you’ll need to pool your resources and find new ways to work with what you have.
  3. Keep track of what people are good at in your church database so you can recruit them for similar roles in the future. Don’t you think Santa called on Rudolph each foggy Christmas Eve and every elf with a toothache went to Hermey for an extraction?
  4. If all else fails, maybe you need to recruit better next time. Certainly they made some changes in the North Pole after that fiasco! Use the information you recorded to find individuals with the right gifting. Ask people specifically, don’t just make the blanket statement that you need help. And recruit volunteers face-to-face.

The volunteers you end up with may not be exactly what you imagined, but those misfits might just surprise you and save the day.

Check out these other resources to maximize your church volunteer potential:

7 Key Steps of Recruiting, Training and Retaining Church Volunteers

How to Make the Most of Your Volunteers

10 Ways to Double Your Church Volunteer Recruitment and Retention 

Is Your Church Running Background Checks?

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Most churches are working hard to get every member of the church community involved with one ministry or another. Some screen every potential volunteer to ensure safety and a good fit while others choose to save time and money by skipping this process. After all, most churches don’t have unlimited resources.

But as the need for background checks increases and the number of providers grows, the cost continues to drop. Even churches with a tight budget can afford to run background checks. In fact, they can’t afford not to.

 

Why you should be running background checks

 

CHILDREN’S SAFETY

Many churches see hundreds of kids come through their doors each weekend. Although we’d like to think that our families are completely safe there, not everyone worshipping with us has a clean record. And some of those people are trying to volunteer within the church—including the children’s ministry.

LifeWay found that in their program, of the 142,000 background checks conducted by 7,700 churches since 2008, nearly half revealed a criminal offense, and 21% contained serious offenses including over 9,000 felonies.

God changes lives—even the lives of those who have a criminal record. But the church needs to actively seek out this information in order to keep predators away from children and protect the church community.

CHURCH’S REPUTATION

If you don’t do your research before opening up volunteer opportunities, your church and those who are serving could face unfair accusations and a damaged testimony. Conducting background checks and training everyone who serves will help to protect your ministry.

PARENTS’ PEACE OF MIND

When parents know you’ve done your homework to ensure that their kids are in safe hands, they’ll be able to focus on worship and want to come back. As the holiday season approaches and attendance spikes, make sure your church is an environment where visitors feel safe.

 

Background check best practices

 

FREQUENCY

Determine how often you’ll perform background checks on current staff and volunteers. Many organizations choose to repeat them annually, while others wait two to five years to update records. But some insurance carriers will deny coverage unless churches repeat background checks every 12 months.

You should also consider how you’ll handle any situation where someone leaves the church or takes a break from serving, then comes back. Most churches will restart the process.

PEOPLE

Will you make each staff member and volunteer go through the background check process before they can serve or only those who will be working with children and financial information? Because many duties will overlap, enforcing background checks for everyone involved in ministry is the recommended practice.

Make sure that you’re not only running background checks on people who are new to your church but also those people who have been serving for 25 years before you implemented new standards. You might get some pushback, so help them understand the importance of these policies.

PRIVACY

Create a process for handling results and respect the privacy of your church community. Keep hard copies in a locked file and digital records secured with a password. Limit the number of people who handle this sensitive information.

PROBLEMS

Make a plan for dealing with any unfavorable issues that come up from background check results. You may have to ask people to volunteer with another ministry because of a checkered past. Handle these situations delicately.

PROVIDERS

You’ve got a lot of options when choosing where you’ll get background checks done. Consider companies like SecureSearch that understand the unique needs of your church.

OPTIONS

The extent of background checks will probably vary based on the person’s role, but you have a variety of resources available to you. (Keep in mind that some information also varies by state)

  • County and state criminal records
  • National criminal and sex offender database
  • Motor vehicle records
  • Employment and education verification
  • Credit history

CONSISTENCY

Develop a policy for background checks and stick to it. Otherwise people may feel like they’re being singled out or you could make an exception that could be devastating to your church.

DON’T STOP THERE

Background checks are important, but they’re not always enough. You can do even more to make sure you’re providing a safe environment at your church.

  • Use discretion when assigning volunteers. Look for warning signs. Just because someone doesn’t have a record, doesn’t mean they should be working with kids.
  • Be smart. Avoid private one-on-one situations and always keep at least two adults in a room with children.
  • Be proactive and keep people accountable. Enforce a policy that requires staff and volunteers to alert the church of any arrests or legal issues.
  • Invest in training. Help those serving in your church know what characteristics and behaviors to look out for and how to avoid risky circumstances.

Make it easier with technology

Integrate background checks with your church management software to save a few steps and run automated reports. You’ll avoid entering those details into your database, always find the results when you need them, and have a simpler way to get updated information.

Check out these other resources on background checks and making your church a safe environment:

3 Things You Need to Know About Background Checks

Volunteer Background Checks: Giving Back Without Giving up on Privacy

The Top 5 Myths About Background Checks

Image credits: istockphoto.com 

Thanksgiving Church Communication—Throughout The Entire Year

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It’s easy to be thankful when you’ve got a stomach full of turkey and pumpkin pie while watching football surrounded by family.

But expressing gratitude shouldn’t be limited to Turkey Day. Especially in the church, we should have a Thanksgiving mindset all year round. And that attitude of gratitude should be incorporated into your communication strategy.

Volunteers

Most churches depend on a team of volunteers to keep ministries running each week. You probably shoot them an email when you need help, but is recognizing their efforts a part of your regular communication strategy?

Although people don’t serve in order to receive praise, gratitude will leave volunteers more inclined to continue serving because their efforts are recognized and appreciated.

  • Personally thank volunteers while they’re in action. If you’re passing by the nursery on Sunday morning, take a few seconds to thank the volunteers who are changing diapers and handing out snacks.
  • Highlight a volunteer in your newsletter, on your blog, or with a Facebook post. Thank Sarah for her 12 years of selfless dedication to the youth group with a brief story of her experience in ministry.
  • Recognize volunteer efforts during church announcements. Give credit to the team that organized your Trunk or Treat outreach and feature a few snapshots from the event.
  • Turn the tables and host a thank you event where the typical volunteers are honored guests.
  • Automate. Sometimes you can’t personally thank every single volunteer, so schedule an email to participants following the Christmas cantata.
  • Send a handwritten card. Whether it’s a birthday wish or a simple thank you, the personal touch will go a long way in making volunteers feel appreciated.
  • Say thank you—without actually saying thank you. Sometimes actions speak louder than words, so show your gratitude by finding value in volunteers’ experience and understanding. Make it easy for them to communicate any needs or concerns with church leadership. Actively seek their input and take it to heart. Provide all the tools and training they need and work to accommodate their schedules.

Check out 33 Ways to Show Appreciation to Volunteers at Your Church for more ideas.

Visitors

You probably work hard to bring new people into your church, but do you thank them for coming once they visit?

  • Thank them from the pulpit. Don’t embarrass visitors by making them stand up or raise a hand, but tell them that you appreciate them joining you in worship.
  • Offer them a visitor gift in exchange for some basic contact information. Check out these ideas to make an irresistible gift bag.
  • Follow up with them. Whether it’s a letter, a phone call, or a personal visit, express your gratitude by following up with each person that visits your church for the first time or attends an event—and make sure it’s timely.

Visit 5 Ways to Keep Visitors from Coming Back to Your Church for more tips on visitor care.

Staff

Some people think that since church staff members are getting paid for their service, they don’t need to be thanked or encouraged. But pastors and other church staff typically make some kind of sacrifice in order to work in ministry—and many will end up suffering from ministry burnout. So make sure you’re expressing gratitude to your entire team.

  • Stop by their offices to say thank you—especially after they just completed a major project. Show them that you see their accomplishments as important too.
  • Encourage the church community to thank them—and not just those in leadership positions. The secretary and IT person should be recognized too.
  • Automate some thank you communication. After the busyness of the holiday season, send out some emails thanking your church staff for all their hard work preparing for the musical, outreach event, and Christmas Eve service.
  • Make sure you’re not grossly underpaying church staff if you can afford to give them a decent wage. Just because someone is dedicated to ministry doesn’t mean his family should live in squalor.

Check out Employees Need Appreciation in Churches Too for more information.

Donors

While it takes staff and volunteers to manage the day-to-day responsibilities of your church, they couldn’t get much done without the financial support of your church community. Are you thanking the people that faithfully give?

  • Incorporate a thank you in the bulletin or on a slide along with your weekly giving report. This might also serve as a reminder for those who’ve neglected their giving.
  • Include a thank you message with year-end contribution statements. If people print their own statements online, you can send them an email recognizing their financial support over the past year.
  • When your church reaches a financial milestone—like paying off the mortgage or raising the funds for a special missions project—express your gratitude in an email or letter to the church community.
  • Make it easy for people to give. Invest in the technology that will allow your loyal donors to give when and where it’s convenient for them and make sure you’ve communicated how to use these different options.

See HOW TO: Thank Online Donors for more insight.

God

While you’re not going to send Him an email or tag Him on Facebook, isn’t God the one who deserves the bulk of our thanksgiving?

It’s easy to get caught up in the things we don’t have—megachurch attendance, hundreds of volunteers, unlimited resources—but we need to acknowledge all that He has given to us.

Share with your church community what God has already done for your ministry rather than solely focusing on your wants for the future. Set an example of gratitude. Regularly thank God for his provision as a church family.

Because you can’t automate those thank yous.

Your Guide To Preparing For Summer At Church

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Once the school year is officially over, you can breathe a sigh of relief! You get a summer break from ministries like youth group and kid’s club to rejuvenate and get some rest. But as many activities wind down and people head for vacation, are you prepared for this special time of year? Tie up any of these loose ends so you can get out and enjoy some of that sunshine:

Volunteers

Most church activities couldn’t even get off the ground if it weren’t for dedicated volunteers who are willing to sacrifice hours each week to guarantee a smooth rollout. From Sunday school teachers to worship leaders, every volunteer will appreciate an end-of-school-year thank you, and the encouragement will make them more likely to serve again. A letter. An email. Something to show their efforts haven’t gone unnoticed.

Not only should you show your appreciation for the volunteers who’ve served this year, you should also—if you haven’t already—communicate your needs for any summer ministries as well as fall programs.

Don’t assume that just because they ran the toddler nursery this year that they’re up for the challenge again next year. And remember all those vacations! Be sure to communicate with your summer volunteers about any weeks they will be unavailable. You might be a little shorthanded on volunteers for the next couple months, so keep that in mind when scheduling.

Giving

As people head out on extended tropical vacations and weekend family trips, summers usually lead to sporadic church attendance for a few months. But your church budget isn’t taking any vacations. Have you prepared?

Allowing your people to give online or through a mobile app means that whether they’re in the front row of your church or floating on an innertube in Hawaii, they can still make their regular contributions.

And if they’ve set up recurring giving, they don’t even need to think about it—this week or any other. You don’t want to be seen as focused on money, but there’s nothing wrong with sharing the Biblical concept of giving and asking them to help you be good stewards of the resources God has given the church.

Communication

Members of your church community may not be sitting in church every Sunday during the summer, but they can still stay up-to-date on what’s happening while they’re away.

Keep the news and information on your church website current, and be sure to update your social media accounts for the people that missed the weekly announcements. And don’t forget the great tool you have in mass communications—even from a tropical island, most people are checking their email.

Summer Ministries & Fall Programming

Although you may be taking a break from all your regular programs, summer brings a whole list of ministries itself—VBS, camp, mission trips—are you ready? Have you planned for the volunteers, resources, promotion, and follow-up you’ll need for these activities? Take advantage of event management tools in your ChMS to plan for a successful summer.  

One school year just ended jam-packed with activities, but keep in mind the next one is not that far off. Don’t forget to use some of that down time to start brainstorming and laying out plans for the upcoming year. Start the groundwork for your fall programs now, because the summer will fly by!

How are you preparing for summer at your church?  

 

10 Ways To Encourage Church Volunteers Easter And Beyond

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Volunteers are a precious commodity for most non-profit organizations, including churches.  Anyone who has spent significant time volunteering knows the stats:  roughly 20% volunteer (do all the work) while the other 80% do not.  We begin to feel like Martha, complaining about our work load while Mary gets to enjoy listening to the message.

How do we find the balance between Martha and Mary?  How do we encourage more people to volunteer, not only at the busiest of times like Easter but throughout the year?

10 Ways to Encourage Volunteers

1.    Encourage and thank your existing volunteers.

The fastest way to lose the 20% who faithfully volunteer is to make them feel underappreciated.   Send a hand-written thank you note.  Host a volunteer appreciation breakfast, lunch or brunch.  Thank with a gift certificate for above and beyond service or hold a monthly drawing to select a winner for the month.  It is important to do something to make your volunteers feel appreciated.  Encourage them by taking the time to recognize their contributions.

2.    Ask

How often do you ask for volunteers?  Do you ask everyone at once during worship or do you assign lead volunteers to create a more personal invitation?  Do you encourage small groups to sign up to volunteer?  Sometimes getting more volunteers is simply a matter of asking.  Those of us with a Martha complex know deep down that often we take on too much by choice.  To encourage discipleship we must be willing to share the responsibility.

3.    Tell them your needs

How often do you keep your membership up-to-date on volunteer needs?  Are you updating your website, mobile app or self-service kiosk regularly with a list of current volunteer requests? Let your members and visitors know how they can access this information and make it readily available to them.

4.    Provide the right opportunity

Volunteers enjoy using their unique gifts to serve.  Whether it is a work skill (e.g. management/organization), a recreational talent they enjoy (e.g., photography), or something they simply have an aptitude for (e.g., carpentry), provide volunteers with opportunities best suited to their gifts and their personalities.   Some people like serving out front and have the perfect personality for greeting people and making them feel welcome.  Others prefer to work behind the scenes and prefer to be assigned specific tasks.  Whether you need to tap into someone’s artistic ability to design a new worship set or simply need people to set up tables and chairs, provide a variety of opportunities that volunteers can choose from and enjoy.

5.    Let them grow

Give volunteers an opportunity to try something new and learn from others.  Maybe someone has always wanted to help build a worship set but was too afraid to try.  If this is their first time helping, ease them into it by assigning a partner or mentor who can guide them or help them develop their talents.

6.    Make it Meaningful

A Barna Group study found that “the most positive church experiences among Millennials are relational.”  Of Millennials who remain active in church, 59% had a close adult friend at church and 28% had an adult mentor at church who was not a pastor or staff member.  Through these relationships, 46% learned that Christians can have a positive outcome on society.  Developing a volunteer mentor program can have a positive outcome on deepening faith for the next generation.

Millennials also want to contribute.  The same study found that 33% of Millennials who are active in church found a cause or issue at church that motivated them.  Do you know what motivates Millennials or anyone at your church to volunteer?

7.    Give them an opportunity to provide input

What do members and visitors feel most passionate about? Perhaps they’ve identified a need you haven’t.  Give them an opportunity to provide feedback.  There are numerous ways to do this: via social media, a comment form on your website, through small group leaders, or during worship (have fun asking people to text their thoughts and share as part of a sermon message on the topic).   Ask and respond by providing opportunities for people to get involved.

8.    Track participation

Intentions and reality are two different things.  Do you know which volunteer opportunities resulted in the most participation?  Did the time of year make a difference?  Which age groups participated?  Did some events attract entire groups – e.g., families, small groups, boy/girl scouts, etc. – to participate?  Track and evaluate participation then adapt your volunteer opportunities accordingly.

9.    Plan ahead

Yes, too many of us are overscheduled and overcommitted.  Accept it and work with it.  Plan ahead.  Ministry leaders need to work together to plan volunteer opportunities tied to its mission.  They need to coordinate calendars to understand church-wide needs for the year.  Avoid scheduling major events close together.  Both staff and volunteers suffer from burnout when asked to do too much in too short of a period.  Be considerate of their time and give them sufficient time to coordinate and balance their work schedule, family time and volunteer service.

10.     Give them a break

We all deserve time off.  A shallow volunteer pool is not sufficient reason to exhaust your most faithful and dedicated helpers.  Reward them by insisting that they schedule time off from their regular volunteer schedule.  Resist the temptation to ask them to participate in every big event at the church.  Encourage them to each enlist one new person to serve.

Developing discipleship through volunteers is critical to church growth.  Take a step back and consider if a fresh approach to attracting and retaining volunteers is required.

Need help connecting with volunteers?  Contact us.