Sign Me Up!
By June Kimmble
7 summer staffing solutions
Summertime is boom time in children’s ministry. There’s vacation Bible school, special events, outreach programs, and more—always more! And you may already be challenged to find enough volunteers for your year-round events. Where will you ever find more?
Great news! We scouted the best ways to get temporary summer volunteers—tried and true ways to maximize all the human resources surrounding you.
Local colleges and universities house competent summer interns, so connect with faculty members or student services to publicize your summer needs. Provide specific job postings with details and approximate schedules. Offer a variety of times and tasks to potential interns. Interns often prove to be some of your most dedicated volunteers because they’re on a mission—to learn.
If you use interns, pay them in experience what you can’t pay them in money. Coaching, training, evaluation, and on-the-job education are “perks” for interns—things they’ll look back on in their future careers as key learning points. Internship benefits also include résumé-building, real-life experience, a chance to work with children, rewarding volunteer work, and more.
Home for the Summer
When summer break hits, a different type of college student heads home to their parents (and your congregation). Inquire with parents, provide a list of positions and descriptions, and invite these young adults to join your summer team. The key here is follow-up—with parents and the students. Point out the benefits of serving—kids will love being around these fun, young adults; and college students will gain experience, summer diversion, and a great volunteer title to put on a résumé one day.
And don’t forget to scout for high school students on summer break—you’ll likely find a few who are willing to pitch in for special events.
Teachers, professors, and other professionals who have summers off make great temporary summer volunteers—even if they’re not enthusiastic about volunteering during the school year. Teachers are a perfect fit—they love kids, they’re experienced, and during summer they may be willing to jump back into the “classroom” for a higher purpose.
Teachers may want to serve an age group they don’t teach during the year. Do detective work to find teachers in your congregation. Ask your ministry children for referrals—you may find an excellent teacher just looking for an opportunity like one you’re offering.
Tap into a wealth of wonderful summer help by seeking out retirees who spend their summers in your area. Target these folks by making your presence and needs known in your congregation through bulletin announcements and before- and after-service information booths. Emphasize that your ministry is the perfect place for temporary residents to get involved and get connected. Also design attractive, informative announcements to post at senior events in your church.
Some churches have developed successful “standby” programs that you can easily create. Several established church members who aren’t regular volunteers sign on for the standby program that asks for occasional service only. The church calls on standby members to serve during summer programs and in other times of need based on a rotation schedule. Standby members receive an advance schedule with the date and time they’re needed, and they’re only scheduled to serve once or twice during an entire program.
This standby rotation model works well for members who are committed to the church but aren’t serving regularly. It’s very low on time commitment and offers these people the chance to check out what’s happening in children’s ministry during one of the most exciting times of the year. It’s a win-win situation: Standby members stay involved with minimal obligation or burnout, and your church has an automatic list of willing “extra” volunteers.
Inspiring families into service is nothing new, but recruiting them as a unit to staff your summer programs may be something you haven’t considered. Families of all shapes and sizes can make valuable contributions to your summer programs.
Karen, the children’s director of a small church in Florida, struggled with recruiting enough summer help until, out of desperation, she called her sister in a neighboring town and asked her to help with vacation Bible school. The sister brought her husband and children, ages 3 and 13. The entire family got involved—the 3-year-old officially greeted kids, the 13-year-old delivered snacks and assisted other adults, and the husband and wife led worship and served as the cleanup crew.
When the church members saw this family’s willingness to help make VBS a great experience for kids in a church they didn’t even attend, they created a family volunteer program. Now families choose an event and then are assigned various positions according to their ages and interests. This program has operated successfully for several years and has provided more than enough volunteers to staff special summer events.
Church of the Nazarene, a midsize church in Durango, Colorado, has created a long-standing alliance to fill summer positions in children’s ministry with the help of the youth director and a willing attitude from its teenagers.
“Every year our youth director asks his group of teens who wants to help out in the children’s department over the summer,” says Alison Trabing, a Sunday school teacher and former Sunday school superintendent. “The teenagers love it—they love the little kids.” Trabing says the keys to successfully recruiting teenage help are simple: “They’re not serving every night, and of course, we feed them!”
Recruiting teenagers for positions ranging from snack management to game refereeing benefits everyone. Your children get to hang out with the “cool” kids and see them serving God in the church. Teenagers experience the reward of helping younger kids, taking on leadership roles, developing their interests, and doing something extraordinary over the summer.
Keep ‘Em Coming!
Keep temporary volunteers coming back by making their volunteer experience in your ministry unforgettable—for all the right reasons.
* Be specific. People respond best when they’re clear about your expectations and needs. Create a master schedule or sign-up sheet that lets volunteers know the dates and times they’ll serve. Be specific about their duties. Stay in communication with them. Don’t assume that your fleeting mention of a need for help translates into a commitment in the mind of a potential volunteer. Ask yourself whether avenues for confusion exist—and work to eliminate them through communication and organization.
* Think outside the norm. You’ll have more volunteers if your events are accessible to more people. Design your programs creatively. For instance, consider sponsoring evening programs, not just programs during the day. More people can volunteer in the evenings after work, so you’re likely to get volunteers who otherwise might’ve said no. With each program you organize, challenge yourself to find ways to make it more accessible and “user-friendly.”
* Diversify. Diverse positions draw diverse volunteers. Offer volunteers a variety of duties, from grass mowing for an outdoor event to snack shopping. Briefly outline the duties for each position, and check for variety. No one wants to spend the eight hours they’ve volunteered doing the same thing over and over—counting cotton balls, counting jelly beans, counting hairs on kids’ heads, and so on. Variety is the spice of volunteering.
* Do the check. No matter what the person’s role, age, or history with your church, do background checks. Require references and follow up. Understand that short-term positions by nature carry a higher risk for opportunity-seeking predators to gain access to your church. Your kids’ safety is vital, and everyone will enjoy peace of mind when proper safety checks for all volunteers are part of the package.
* Offer opportunities. Once short-term volunteers get a taste of the exciting things happening in your ministry, you may find that they’re willing to become more involved. Communicate about longer-term openings. Talk with those who express interest in developing their volunteer “careers.” Encourage those who thrive in short-term positions. Grow your long-term volunteer base by connecting with and developing your special-events teams.
* Say thanks. Every gift, no matter how large or how tiny, rightly deserves a thank you. By donating their time, volunteers give an extraordinary gift to your ministry. So whether they donated 30 minutes to make phone calls or seven days during VBS, acknowledge their contributions. Be specific in your thank you, and let each volunteer know the concrete ways they contributed. And of course, invite them back!
This article “Sign Me Up” by June Kimmble is excerpted from the Children’s Worker Newsletter, February 2007.