Leadership: On Getting Volunteers

My wife is perhaps the world’s foremost expert in getting church people to volunteer. She heads our cradle roll program — class for kids from old-enough-to-sit-up to two years. And she needs a lot of people to hold crying babies, wash toys, teach the lesson, etc. She’s booked one-year in advance for both Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights.

And so … the church was having trouble filling slots for the nursery, and had zero results despite announcements, sign up sheets, and a requirement that parents of children in the children’s minister must volunteer in the ministry. And so my wife has now booked all the volunteers needed through April 2011. Really.

So I asked her how she did this. I mean, is does she have other miraculous powers? Can she prophesy? You see, if figure many churches would prefer the gift of getting volunteers to the gift of prophecy.

Here’s what she said —

1. Ask people in person. Not by email, sign up sheets, or telephone. In person.

2. Have relationships with lots of people. By virtue of teaching cradle roll for years — on both Sundays and Wednesday nights — she knows every parent in church. She’s held, fed, changed, comforted, and taught every child born in the last several years.

3. Invite people to serve with their friends or other people they’d enjoy serving with.

4. Ask them well in advance — so far in advance they are without excuse (that is, so that they can plan their schedule around their volunteering, rather than the other way around). Invite someone to teach in February 2011 today, and they’re likely to have an open calendar.

5. Know the positives of the job. It’s not drudgery that must be endured so church can go on. It’s an opportunity to serve Jesus with friends while holding the cutest babies.

6. Don’t ask people to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself.


21 Responses

  1. I am curious as to what is taught in a ” class for kids from old-enough-to-sit-up to two years.” ?

  2. Laymond – “I am curious as to what is taught…”

    You teach these little guys that there are people in the congregation who love and cherish them.

  3. Jay, I’m sending this post to a lot of folks in our church. Great stuff! Tell your wife she’s a genius.

  4. Dwayne, I can’t recall ever meeting a person who didn’t love babies, especially if they were someone else’s so they could hand them back, when they started to smell. 🙂

  5. laymond,

    I’m surprised that you cannot think of anything to teach a child under two. I have a son under two, and we’ve already read him enough bible stories at home that he remembers that Jonah was swalled by a big fish, Joseph had a coat made of colors, that
    Zacchaeus climbed a sycamore tree, and more.

    My wife has also taught him how to pray with her help. She says, “Thank you God for…” and he names something he is thankful for, and they repeat that until starts thanking God for the sames things over and over and she then says, “in Jesus name amen”. When he was two young to even name things she said the whole prayer herself. That’s how he learned.

  6. Mike, I’m sorry but I doubt a two year old learns anything about Christianity, you can teach a parrot to repeat what you say, but does he know what it means? I doubt it.

  7. Jay,
    What kind of follow up does she do? How often does she remind people of the commitment they made, but may not have put on their calendar?

  8. Laymond,
    All depends on how you define learn. Is a two year old able to grasp the theological significance of Jonah’s disdain for Nineveh? I doubt it. But a two year old has already begun to learn one of the most complex languages on the planet, and has learned (hopefully) that the people in church love them with a love that they may not always deserve. And that’s more than a lot of adults can grasp.

  9. laymond,

    Of course he does not understand Christianity. Learning starts with facts. You cannot go on to true knowledge until you know the simple facts. You’re going to have to teach the basic facts first no matter what age you start at. As for learning how to pray that’s just learning good habits. You can start learning good habbits even before you can understand them.

  10. Every Mom and Dad are busy teaching little ones to pray, to be quiet sometimes, to eat with grace and manners, to share, to love those around them, to delay gratification. In a cradle roll class they are getting more of the same and then some more. They learn where rain comes from and sunshine and how water feels and how sweet tastes and how music sounds and all of these things come from God. They learn the sounds that a frog makes and that a kitten is soft and that a bird flies. And all of it comes from God. And you repeat and repeat and repeat until they can mimic it back and it is inscribed on their minds and their hearts. It is the most blessed of all opportunities.

  11. I guess I have been attending CoCs that are just to conservative to let 1 and two year olds into sunday school class, we have always called it a nursery, my grandaughter works the nursery, and I believe it is more a class for her than the babies.

  12. “I’m sorry but I doubt a two year old learns anything about Christianity, you can teach a parrot to repeat what you say, but does he know what it means? I doubt it.”

    I know quite a few people in their 20s – 80s who have been going to church all their life learning facts. In spite of that, they don’t know much about Christianity either! This doesn’t mean we ever stop trying to teach them though. 🙂

  13. Jay, I appreciate your beginning this topic and note chain.

    Given that I serve the East Fifth Street congregation in Katy in this way, I will chime in a bit. In addition to your wife’s excellent list (I ask personally too), let me share what the Katy congregation does.

    (1) A team of 25+ women staff the nursery six months at a time — with each woman (or teenage girl) helping on one Sunday morning or evening each month. Same morning/evening over the six months.

    (2) The nursery is always staffed with at least two women.

    (3) During months with five Sundays, a specific team is assigned (they serve only twice during the six months).

    (4) One woman coordinates nursery essentials and is available in “emergencies” (three people needed or someone forgot — both have been rare).

    As a result I am glad to say that by asking people personally and spreading the work so that women staff the nursery once a month, the Katy congregation now has extra staff — which continues to grow. I have women (and teens) who come up to me and say, “I would like to be part of the next six-month staff.”

    It is clear to me that many women are willing to serve the Lord and His people in this way.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton

  14. Separately, for those who believe our two and three year old children are not learning about Christianity, let me suggest one verse that becomes increasingly real as we sing with them, “Climb up the mountain, point to the sun….”:

    Colossians 1:16a: “For by him all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible….” (NIV)

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton

  15. Alan,

    Indeed, she is. After all, she married me!

  16. laymond,

    They teach the same lesson 13 weeks in a row (familiar concept if you’ve ever read to you young child). Not much N. T. Wright. More like, “God made the animals, and we love God and his animals.”

    You would be astounded at the amount of planning and preparation that goes into these lessons.

  17. Pastor Mike,

    Usually an email reminder shortly before the assigned time. Nursery is done by the month. Cradle roll for one quarter at a time. And she has teams who love it and routinely return for cradle roll duty. (Babies need the continuity.)

    Names are also in the bulletin, but are easily overlooked. When we were in a smaller building, with fewer entrances, she’d write names on a white board near the entrance.

  18. She teaches a lesson each quarter and repeats the same lesson each Sunday for that quarter. They sing songs that go along with the theme (Thank You God for Families, Thank You God for Animals, etc) that are also related to a toy that the kids touch while the song is being sung. They show them what Bibles are, how to pray, etc. It’s really a wonderful class….the children enjoy being sung to and played with. By the time the class is over, the kids are hanging on to my mother-in-law and have a hard time leaving. Cradle roll rocks!

  19. Erin:
    I appreciated your post. In addition to helping staff the nursery, I have also taught 4s and 5s. Your comment, “It’s really a wonderful class” says exactly what I feel about the childrens’ classes I have taught. The children have much to say to those who are older — if we are listening.

    The 4’s and 5’s I teach show me time and again the spiritual value of song — simple song. Their eyes dance as they sing Scripture.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton

  20. Jay,

    We have the opposite at our congregation. We have one very special lady here who has taught the cradle roll for years and she loves doing it. This year’s high school seniors were in her cradly roll class…she’s been teaching much longer than these kids have been alive. She has several volunteers who help her including her daughter and daughter-in-law who will eventually take over if she ever retires. Our cradle roll class is a very special place and we are blessed that our son has spent that last two years with her. She has so much love for the babies and they are blessed by it.

  21. Laymond,

    At our congregation, the cradle roll class is much more than a nursery. Of course two year olds aren’t learnig the intricacies of Chrstianity, but make no mistake, they learn. The children learn to sit in a class which is a skill that wll benefit them in future bible classes and in school. They also begin to learn the basics that will hopefully become the fondation of future faith. In our cradle roll class, the babies learn about creation, they learn about families and they learn that God is responsible for all the things around them. Whether they can atriculate it or not, kids are learning from the moment they emerge from the womb and the first two years are a crucial time in their learning. In my opinion, a congregation that does not take advantage of this time period to begin planting seeds is wasting a valuable opportunity.

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