There's a saying that it's easier to retain than to recruit volunteers, and it has a lot of truth to it. Part of children's ministry is ALWAYS going to include recruiting volunteers, and recruiting needs to be constant. But a big part of leading children's ministry is retaining your current volunteers. If you are constantly seeing volunteers come in and others go out the back door, you will have to work MUCH harder. But if you can figure out how to keep the majority of your volunteers, AND constantly recruit new ones, it won't be long before you are fully staffed in some areas, and maybe even have a waiting list for volunteers!
Leading, developing and caring for volunteers is one of my passions. They have to know that we don't just want to use them as a warm body doing a job; we want more FOR them than from them.
Invest in Your Volunteers
As a leader, make sure you know and care about your volunteers personally. People can tell when you just want to use them and get them to do something for you, versus when you want to build relationships with them, serve them, and help them grow. Provide opportunities for them to grow as leaders in ALL areas of their lives. Make sure they are serving in their sweet spots and using their gifts, and that you are identifying people with more potential; then provide a leadership pipeline with with opportunities for them to move up and grow as leaders. Give them ownership instead of just tasks. Give them decision making roles and allow them to take real leadership. People will step up to the role you give them, and if you give them small jobs and small roles, they won't feel necessary, and you will end up losing your volunteers.
Care structure: Coaches
One of the awesome things we do at 12Stone is create a coaching structure to make sure all the volunteers are cared for and invested in. When you have 10 volunteers, you can care for all of them yourself.... but if you want more volunteers, you need to expand your leadership structure. We have over 100 volunteers on each of our department teams, and in order to care for all of them, we need volunteers caring for and leading other volunteers. We have a position called volunteer coach, and this person has 10 people in their small group. They lead weekly huddles, reach out to their volunteers outside of church, encourage them, influence them, pray for them and pour into them, plan fun events for them outside of church to build community. I meet with my coaches monthly as a group and individually and pour into them, and they lead their small group. That is one way to help make sure none of the volunteers slip through the cracks, with no one caring for them. They build community in their small groups, and if someone goes through a hard life situation or family emergency, the coach and small group is there to reach out and care for the people on their team. This is huge- I would not skip this in children's ministry. Helping build intentional coaching structure is vital for building healthy volunteer teams.
Communication/Organization and Ongoing Training
An important aspect of keeping current volunteers is providing clear communication and organized leadership and structure in your ministry. Nothing is more frustrating for volunteers than a leader who doesn't communicate, who isn't on top of things, and isn't prepared and doesn't listen to them. Be a good listener, take their feedback seriously. Make sure you have everything ready for them on Sundays and the policies and procedures and job descriptions are clear. Provide ongoing training for them regularly and opportunities for them to give feedback. We do annual large group "training" sessions that are similar to children's ministry conferences, as well as weekly on site training through Huddles before service, and ongoing opportunities for leadership development.
It's easy for people to serve every week and lose sight of the big picture of why we do what we do- what our mission is, and what a win is in our ministry. When that happens, you lose volunteers. Your job as a leader is to continually keep the vision and the mission in front of your leaders. You cannot over communicate the vision and the value of children's ministry. You should be sharing stories of life change and sharing your goal and what a "win" is on a regular basis. Encourage and show appreciation to your volunteers. Make sure you celebrate with them when you see them working hard and going after big wins.
If you do those 4 things well, you will see great retention in your volunteer teams. We ask all of our volunteers to serve every Sunday, and not just for a certain amount of time- it's until they step down. But we have a surprising number of volunteers who serve regularly for long periods of time- years even, because they are sold out to the ministry and they are being invested in, and they are making a HUGE difference for the kingdom of God. We don't do it perfectly every time, but when you make the effort to do these 4 things with excellence, you will see a big dividend in people invested in your ministry for the long term.