Dec 6, 2016

The 5 Biggest Challenges You'll Face with Volunteers

Each month we do a poll about a relevant topic.  If you are reading this on the website, you can see it to the right of this post.

The most recent poll asked the question, "What is your biggest volunteer challenge?"  There are 5 answers to choose from.  You can see from the votes how they ranked.  Let's take a look at these challenges and talk about some ways you can overcome them.

#1 - Showing up late.  I was reading a recent post on Facebook, where a leader was asking for advice about what to do regarding an awesome volunteer who is habitually late.  Once the volunteer finally gets there, she is amazing.  She just can't seem to get there on time.  We all know what that's like.  You are waiting on a volunteer to open a classroom, praying they will get there any minute.  Not a fun spot to be in, is it?

What should you do? 
  • Set clear expectations up front.  When you bring someone on your team, emphasize the importance of being on time and being prepared.  High expectations lead to high performance.
  • Elevate the importance of the mission.  Constantly remind volunteers how critical what they do is.  This is life and death.  The mission deserves our very best.  This has to be ongoing.  Remember, vision leaks.  You have to continually refill it.  
  • Have a huddle that you ask people to be at before they start serving.  The huddle should include laughter, a short time of teaching, prayer and more.  You can read about this here. 
  • Have a monthly drawing for a gift card for people who are on time.  Each time you arrive on time, you get to enter your name into the drawing.
  • Have a courageous conversation when needed.  If a volunteer continues to be habitually late, it's time to sit down with him or her.  This conversation should be founded not in condemnation, but in challenge.  It must also be grounded by relationship.  When someone knows you care about them...not just about what they do, it opens their heart to receive your instruction.   Find out why they are late.  They may be going through some extenuating circumstances.  Ask how you can help them. 
#2 - Lack of preparation.  It is frustrating to watch a teacher stumble through a lesson unprepared, isn't it?  It is frustrating to see a small group leader trying to figure out the next activity while the kids create their own activity, isn't it?  It is frustrating to have a preschool leader asking how to do a craft that you sent him or her clear instructions about, isn't it? 

What should you do?
  • Set clear expectations up front.  When you bring someone on your team, emphasize the importance of being on time and being prepared.  High expectations leads to high performance. (yes - same as in #1)
  • Elevate the importance of the mission.  Constantly remind volunteers how critical what they do is.   This is life and death.  The mission deserves our very best.  This has to be ongoing.  Remember, vision leaks.  You have to continually refill it.  (yes- same as in #1)
  • Make sure you're getting the materials, lesson, etc. to your team well in advance.  The more time you give them to prepare, the easier it is to hold them accountable.
  • Create a feedback culture.  When a volunteer knows you want to see them grow and improve as a leader, they will be receptive to feedback.  In fact, if they know you truly have their best interests in mind, they will ask you for it.  This gives you an opportunity to coach them about preparedness.  Here's more insight on giving feedback.
  • Provide them with preparation tools.  The person may simply lack the understanding of how to prepare properly.  Give them tools that will help them in their preparation. 
#3 - Retention.  It is normal to have some volunteer turnover.  Life happens.  People get sick.  People move.  People's work schedules change.  These things are unavoidable.  But outside of these reasons, a healthy children's ministry will retain a high percentage of their volunteers.  If you're having a lot of turnover, there are some things you can do to overcome this.

What should you do?
  • Make sure people are serving in their sweet spot.  When people are placed in a role that lines up with their gifts and passion, they will go the distance. 
  • Create a culture of family.  I believe the biggest reason volunteers stop serving is because they don't develop any relationships with the people they serve with.  Relationships is the super glue that keeps people serving.  Read this article for help.
  • Help volunteers serve from the overflow.  Just like you stop and get gas for your car so it doesn't quit running, you must make sure your volunteers are getting their spiritual tanks filled. Make sure they are attending worship each week.  Make sure they have some weeks off.  Don't ask them to stay over and serve extra services. 
#4 - Consistency.  Trends show that people are still attending church, but less frequently.  And if you are not intentional, this can bleed over into their serving as well.

What should you do?
  • Establish which roles require people to serve every week.  There are some roles you may want to ask people to serve every week in.  There may be others that do not require this.  
  • Honor faithfulness over talent.  What you emphasize and honor becomes important. 
  • Promote those who are faithful.  God's Word is very clear that faithfulness leads to more influence.  Be consistent with a little and you will be given more. 
#5 - Vision buy-in.  God has given you a big vision for the ministry.  You want to reach more kids, make some crucial changes, try a new curriculum, remodel some areas, drop some outdated programs, introduce some new ones and more.  But how do you get Sister so and so, who has been volunteering in the ministry before you were born, to buy in?  How do you get people who are eyeing you suspiciously to get on board?

What should you do?
  • Make sure the vision lines up your Pastor and leadership's vision.  Your first priority is to take their vision and translate it into children's ministry.  That's the starting point.  If you're in a situation where this doesn't line up, you're in the wrong place.  A vision that is not grounded in unity will falter and rightly so. 
  • Start with a small circle and get the buy-in of key influencers.  I have watched great leaders do this successfully when they were moving the church toward a big vision.  They start with a small circle and move outward from there.  You can read more about this in my book If Disney Ran Your Children's Ministry.
  • Show them the benefits of the vision.  People resist a vision because people don't like change.  Change takes people out of their comfort zone and frightens them.  They have security in the way they've always done things.  You must show them the potential that lies in the new vision.  Point them toward something so great and beneficial, that it compels them to take a risk.  
  • Include them in helping formulate the vision.  People will buy into a vision that they had a part in formulating and creating.  People simply want to be heard and contribute.  Give them a voice in the vision.
Your turn.  The floor is yours.  What are some other challenges you face with volunteers?  What are some other tips for overcoming the challenges listed above?  Share your thoughts with everyone in the comment section below. 

Dec 5, 2016

How Parents Affect Their Children's Faith (the latest findings)

The biggest influence in a child's life is his or her parents.  And this includes spiritual influence as well.  Whether positive or negative, parents by their words and actions, heavily weigh in on the trajectory of their child's spiritual life.

That being said, it's important to be aware of how today's parents are affecting their child's faith.  Pew Research, a secular organization, recently released a report about this very subject.  Let's take a look at it together.

First of all, let's establish who Millennial parents are.  They are young adults who are currently 18 to 35 years old.  They are the young adults who are parenting babies, preschoolers and elementary kids.  
  • 27% of Millennial parents were raised with a mixed religious household. 
  • 24% of Millennial parents were raised by at least one parent who was a religious "none" (a "none" is some who is not associated with any religion).
  • 15% of Millennial parents were raised by at least one parent who was religious and one who was a "none." 
  • 6% of Millennial parents were raised by households where both parents were nones.
  • 3% of Millennial parents were raised by a single parent who was a none.
  • Only 24% of Millennial parents were raised by two Protestant parents. This is compared to 48% of previous generations who were raised by two Protestant parents.
So how does this affect children's faith?  You can see the results in the faith of the Millennial parents who were raised in these households.
  • 62% of Millennials, who were raised by a single parent who was a none, now identify as nones.
  • 38% of Millennials, who were raised by one parent who was religious and one who was not, now identify as nones. 
  • 26% of Millennials, who were raised by one Protestant and one Catholic parent, now identify as nones.
  • 20% of Millennials, who were raised by two Catholic parents, now identify as a none. 
  • 14% of Millennials, who were raised by two Protestant parents, now identify as a none.
  • 25% of Millennials say their spouse does not share their religion.
Let's take a look at the impact mothers have. 
  • 40% of those raised in households where both parents shared the same religion, say their mother was far more responsible for their religious upbringing than their father.
  • 46% of those raised by parents who had different religions, say their mother was the biggest influence on their faith.
  • 63% of those raised by one parent who was religious and one who was a none, say their mother was mainly responsible for their religious upbringing.
What spiritual influence are Millennial parents bringing to their today's children?
  • 75% of parents married to spouses of the same religion say they pray or read Scripture with their children.
  • 70% of parents married to spouses of the same religion say they send their children to religious education programs such as Sunday School. 
  • 82% of households where one parent is religious and the other is a none, say their child is being raised in a religion.
Are parents passing their faith on to their children?
  • Among those who say they were raised exclusively by Protestants, roughly 80% now identify with Protestantism, including 80% of those raised by two Protestant parents and 75% of those raised by a single parent who was Protestant. 
  • Among those raised by one Protestant and one religious “none,” 56% now identify with Protestantism, while 34% are religiously unaffiliated.
  • Those who were raised by a Protestant and a Catholic, are divided among those who now identify with Protestantism (38%), Catholicism (29%) and no religion (26%). 
What about single parents passing on their faith?

Whether one was raised by two people who shared the same faith or by a single parent seems to have little effect on whether that person carries the religion of his or her parent or parents into adulthood.  Among adults who were raised by two Catholic parents, for instance, 62% describe themselves as Catholics today, as do 58% of those raised by a single parent who was Catholic.

Are parents taking their children to church?
  • 65% of parents attend worship service with their children at least a few times a year. 
  • 83% of evangelical parents are taking their children to church.
  • 78% of Catholic parents are taking their children to church.
  • 67% of mainline Protestant parents are taking their children to church. 
  • 69% of parents, who are nones, say they seldom or never take their children to church.
Look closer at these stats and you'll see the spiritual story line that is being written for the next generation.  If we want to change the story line of the next generation, then we must see the writers changed...their parents.  

How will this happen?

We must always be thinking parents.  We should always keep parents in mind when we are strategizing, planning and preparing.

We must always be influencing parents.  We can do this by speaking into their lives weekly and at key times such as baby dedication, graduations, baptisms, etc.

We must always be partnering with parents.  We should always be looking for ways to close the gap between church and home.

We must always be encouraging parents.  Parenting is not easy.  If you are one, you know that.  Influencing parents will not happen by scolding them for what they are not doing, but through inspiring and encouraging them about the spiritual influence they can have.

We must always be empowering parents.  We can do this by equipping them with the tools, resources and knowledge they need to impact their children spiritually. 

Your turn.  The floor is yours.  How do you influence parents in your ministry?  Share your thoughts and ideas with us in the comment section below.

Dec 2, 2016

What Motivates Volunteers


Do you want to see your volunteers excited about serving?  Do you want to see them beam with pride when asked what area of the church they serve in?  Do you want them to show up on time, prepared and ready to give their best? 

This only happens when volunteers are motivated.  That leads us to a big question.  How do you motivate volunteers?  Here are five big factors. 

PURPOSE
Volunteers long to be part of something that matters...
something bigger than themselves.  They want to be involved in a big vision...something that is changing lives and making a difference. 

This means if you want to motivate your volunteers, it is critical that you keep pointing them to the vision.  Keep reminding them why they are doing what they are doing.  The "what" alone is not motivational.  I talk more about this in this post.

Questions to ask:
1. Do I have a clear vision that our volunteers can articulate?
2. Is the vision big enough?  Is it worth giving your life to?
2. Do I constantly emphasize the vision? (read about putting your vision on loop here)

SIGNIFICANCE 
Volunteers want to know that they matter and what they do matters.  Deep inside we all want to know that our time here on the earth mattered.  We all long to leave our footprint.  We want to know that our life made a difference.  That's why most people tear up when someone is telling them how they've impacted their life.  It's a deep emotional need that we long to see fulfilled.

My wife and I are in the process of moving.  We have been married for over 27 years so we had accumulated a house full of "stuff."  You know...curio cabinets, couches, tables, dressers, nightstands, decorations, bookshelves...all the normal stuff you find in a house.  When we decided to move, we made the decision to sell everything...and I mean everything, except for our clothes, picture albums and a few family heirlooms.  We hired an auction company to come and take everything and sell it.  I went to the auction the night everything was sold and watched it go away piece by piece. 

So as I am typing this, I am sitting in an empty home.  All we have left is one old couch, a TV and a mattress we are sleeping on until the house sells.  It's been a stark reminder to me of something.  In the end, when everything is stripped away, all that really matters...all that is left...is the people you have impacted and the relationships you have with them.  That's it.  Everything else falls away. 

Deep down inside, your volunteers know this and they'll invest their lives in impacting others if you'll show them they matter and what they do matters beyond the "stuff."

Questions to ask:
1. Am I affirming volunteers by telling them they matter?  That what they do matters?
2. Am I showing volunteers they matter by sharing stories of life change and impact with them?
3. Am I helping volunteers see what really matters?

BELONGING
Volunteers want to be known.  They want to be part of a family.  They want to know they are missed when they are sick or out-of-town.  They want to be able to do life with a group of people.  They want to know that people care about them not because they are filling a spot in a classroom, but because they are loved and valued. 

I've often said that relationship is the super glue that keeps volunteers serving and motivated. Volunteers that belong show up.  Volunteers that belong are energized by serving with the people that surround them.  Volunteers that belong go the distance.

Questions to ask:
1. Am I cultivating a culture of "family?"
2. Am I providing volunteers with opportunities to spend time together outside of serving?
3. Are volunteers known and being personally cared for?

GIFTING
Volunteers want to be placed where they can use the gifts and talents God has given them.  There's nothing more demotivating than serving in a role that doesn't line up with your passion and gifting.  If you have a lot of character, you'll hang in there, but you won't enjoy it.  But when a volunteer is placed in a role that lines up with his or her gifting, they will be energized by it and thrive. 

If you want to see your volunteers motivated from the get-go, then take time to place them in their "sweet spot."  Here's more help on how you can help them find their sweet spot.

Questions to ask:
1. Am I placing people where I need them or where they need to be?
2. Do I have a clear process and steps for helping people discover and use their gifts?
2. Do I follow up with people after they start serving to make sure they are in their sweet spot?

CHALLENGE 
Volunteers want to personally grow.  If you have volunteers who seem bored or they're just going through the motions, it may be because you're not challenging them to grow.  Our job as leaders, is to invest in volunteers and stretch them to new levels.  That bored volunteer may just be waiting for you to give him or her more responsibility.  That bored volunteer may be ready to step up and lead other volunteers, if you'd just ask.  That bored volunteer is just waiting for you to call them up to use their gifts at a deeper level.  Always be challenging your volunteers to go deeper, to grow in their gifts and leadership responsibilities. 

Questions to ask:
1. Am I investing in my volunteers and challenging them to step outside of their current comfort zone?
2. Which volunteers do I need to approach about taking on more responsibility?
3. Am I using volunteers to build the ministry or using the ministry to build volunteers? 

How motivated are your volunteers?  Want to see them more motivated?  Then point them to the purpose, show them their true significance, help them have a sense of belonging, place them in their area of gifting and continually challenge them to grow.