3 Keys to Motivating Volunteers

One of the most important things you do as a children's ministry leader is motivate the volunteers on your team.  It is crucial when you stand in front of volunteers and talk with them that you know how to keep them excited about serving.  Whether it's sharing at a volunteer training, leading a pre-service meeting or talking to a group of volunteers at lunch, motivating them makes the difference.  

Recently, I was reading an article from Daniel McGinn.  He is the author of Psyched Up: How the Science of Mental Preparation Can Help You Succeed.  In the article, he shares 3 keys to using your words to motivate people.  The keys come from over 30 years of research and are backed by studies from sports psychologists and military historians.  When you talk with your volunteers as a group, include all 3 elements and you'll see your volunteers excited about serving.  Let's take a look at them and how to practically apply them. 

Key #1 - Uncertainty-reducing language.  This means providing information about how to perform the task at hand with easily understandable instructions, good definition of tasks and how the performance will be evaluated.

Here are some examples:

"Jane - your job as a small group leader is to connect with the kids and help them feel known, accepted and loved."

"Roger - your job as a greeter is to hold the door for guests, smile at them and walk them to the guest check-in area."

"Tamara - your job as a teacher is to lead interactive, learning experiences that help kids understand God's Word."

Key #2 - Empathetic language.  This is showing concern for the volunteer as a person.  It may include praise, encouragement, gratitude and acknowledgement of a task's difficulty.

Here are some examples.

"I know serving in children's ministry is not always easy.  There are weeks where you come in tired from working all week and wonder if you have anything left to give the kids.  And yet you always find a way to make a difference in the kids' lives."

"I know at times you wonder if the kids are really getting anything you are sharing with them.  We all feel that way sometimes." 

"Changing the diaper of a child in the nursery is not the most glorious task and not something you look forward to.  And yet you do it without complaining."

Key #3 - Meaning-making language.  This is explaining why the task is important.  This links the task to the ministries' purpose or mission.  This includes sharing stories of volunteers who have served well and how they have made a difference in the life of others.

Here are some examples.

"When you serve in the nursery you help parents hear the Gospel without any distractions.  You help people find new life in Christ."

"When you take time to look into the eyes of a child and sincerely listen to her prayer requests, you reflect the love of Christ."

"People decide in the first 8 minutes if they are going to return to our church.  As a greeter, when you welcome them and help check in quickly and efficiently, you are helping bring them back to God"

Let's bring together all three in a pre-service huddle talk with volunteers who are getting ready to serve in VBS.  

Hey friends, it's great to see you today.  We have a great day ahead of us.  Where are all of our check-in volunteers?  Yeah!  Your role is to help families be able to check in quickly and without stress.  Group leaders, remember your job is to connect with the kids in your group and guide them through the activities.  Game leaders, you will be leading the kids thorough the outside games.  Worship team, your role is to engage the kids in worshiping God.  I know many of you have taken vacation time to serve this week.  Many of you just came from a long day at work and yet you are finding the energy to invest in the children.  And where are the members of our craft team?  You've been working behind-the-scenes for months.  I'm so grateful for your heart for the next generation.  Your commitment to Christ always inspires me.  I want to remind us today that what we do is so important.  We have an opportunity today to make an eternal impact in the lives of kids and families.  I was thinking this morning of you, Alex, and how you took time yesterday to make the new kid, James, feel welcome.  You could tell that he was nervous when his parents brought him.  But you stepped right in and helped him connect with a group of boys his age.  And when the Gospel was shared, I saw him raise his hand to enter a relationship with Jesus.  That's what it's all about!  That's why we do what we do!  Let's go out and make it another great day of ministry!  Who is with me?  Awesome.  Let's pray and then go to our areas. 

Be intentional about incorporating uncertainty-reducing language, empathetic language and meaning-making language in your talks with volunteers and you'll see their motivation go up.
You can get more great tips for motivating volunteers in my book - The Formula for Building Great Volunteer Teams at this link.