How I Stopped Getting Saturday Night Volunteer Cancellations—And How You Can Too!

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It can be a downer to be on social media on Saturday nights. Inevitably, I see posts from kid’s ministry leaders from across the country in churches of all sizes posting about last-minute volunteer cancellations or shortages in ministry spaces for the next morning. And, honestly, I’ve been there. I’ve even walked into church on a Sunday morning having no clue who was going to love on our babies in the nursery that morning.

We all know that the challenge with children’s ministry is that we can’t “fudge it” with our volunteer numbers. We have safety to keep in mind, not to mention the mind-boggling logistics of trying to change a baby’s diaper while engaging in meaningful discussion with elementary aged kids and corralling the preschoolers into a circle for game time—it doesn’t take long for children’s ministry to turn into a three-ring circus of crazy without a team of volunteers!

So, what can we do? I don’t have a magic wand to wave over your children’s ministry team, but I have learned a few things that I think can help:

1. Connect it to Vision: I heard Andy Stanley say once that highly effective teams have clarified their “what” and their “why.” For our children’s ministry team, our “what” boiled down to simply this: share the love of Jesus with kids. If a kid leaves our children’s ministry on Sunday morning with all 66 books of the Bible memorized but without knowing that Jesus loves them, then we’ve failed. And “why” do we care about our “what”? Because Jesus loves children. This isn’t a cliché for us. Our “what” and our “why” are so important that I make sure to reiterate those “what” and “why” phrases with my children’s ministry team every single Sunday morning before we serve. Being in children’s ministry became more than just filling a hole in a schedule—it was ministry with an incredible purpose.

2. Follow Up Well: Sometimes volunteers end up frazzled because they feel isolated in their ministry role. Stay connected by following up with them after they serve. Whether it’s a quick conversation before they leave on Sunday or an e-mail on Monday morning, be sure to ask your volunteers: “How did it go this week?” Allow them the time and space to voice frustrations or celebrate victories with you.

3. Train: When the “kid’s ministry gene” seems to simply be part of your DNA, this can be hard to understand, but there are people out there who are terrified of kids. Be sure to provide periodic training for your team so they can be better equipped to serve. And it doesn’t have to be complicated. Meet for coffee and talk about a kid’s ministry blog post you read recently. Watch a training video together online. Be flexible with the method, but consistent in practice.

4. Be Firm: After months of perpetual frustration, my Saturday evening cancellations disappeared altogether when I lovingly, but firmly put my foot down. I gathered my team together one night after our Wednesday evening service and handed out job descriptions for each team. The standards were exactly the same as before with one exception: if you aren’t able to serve on a given Sunday, you’re responsible to either swap with someone on the schedule or contact a substitute (preferably with 24 hours’ notice), then let me know of the switch. No one balked in the least, and my Saturday nights were liberated of the dreaded phone call of cancellation.

5. Trust God: I know that sounds like a cliché, but I wouldn’t say it if it weren’t true. Remember that Sunday morning I mentioned earlier? The one when I arrived at church with exactly zero people to serve in the nursery? That morning I sat in our preservice prayer gathering and prayed silently, “Lord, I have no one to take care of our babies this morning. I’ve done everything I know to do and asked everyone I know to ask. I need your help.” After a few moments of seeming silence from heaven, there was a tap on my shoulder. I turned to see a woman from our worship team standing next to me and she asked, “Do you need help in the nursery this morning? I’m almost certain I heard God tell me that you did, so I wanted to check. I’m willing to serve if you need me.” I threw my arms around her and choked back tears as I squeaked out a relieved, “Yes.”

Never forget that this is God’s ministry, not yours. You are called to be faithful. You aren’t called to be sovereign. Keep at it. You are making an eternal impact in the lives of the kids and volunteers you serve!

Abby Burg

Abby Burg

Abby is the Executive Director of Ministries at First Alliance Church in Hockessin, Delaware. She's passionate about making the truth of Jesus exciting and practical for people of all ages. Contact Abby at abbyjburg@gmail.com.

Two Responses to “How I Stopped Getting Saturday Night Volunteer Cancellations—And How You Can Too!”

  1. Great article Abby. I think understanding the vision is so important. I think it’s a great idea to have people be responsible for finding their own replacements from an approved list. I don’t think people realize that the leader often has other hurdles that have come up, and it’s very stressful and fatiguing.

    This is just my opinion but I think the term ‘volunteer’ does not belong in Christian ministry, and here’s why. If a person agrees to serve, it should be because they have prayed and believe they are called to do it. They are servants of God, ministers, called, and under commitment. The term ‘volunteer’ implies they are in charge, not God. “I will do this or that”. It’s a choice not a commitment. It makes it easier to say ‘I don’t feel like going tomorrow’, or to accept an invitation to do something else and call in. I prefer to call them ministers or workers since it emphasizes the importance of their ministry.
    Jesus talked about a person keeping his/her word, “Let your yes be yes, and your no be no.” If you say yes, you should have a very compelling reason to break your word. It may mean the sacrifice of turning down something else to keep that commitment, but I believe God deserves our very best. People don’t realize when they break a commitment for non-compelling reasons, it’s not just breaking a commitment to a leader or ministry, but to God, because if they are called to that ministry, God has called them and they said ‘yes’ to Him.
    I don’t mean to sound harsh about this, but I’m experienced in having people bail on me to go shopping or “I just didn’t feel like it” or to not take the ministry seriously enough to plan life around it. I think we need to communicate the importance of making careful decisions about saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ through prayer, counsel, and a recognition of spiritual gifting. We need to communicate the expectation that people will keep their word or will find a replacement if they cannot fulfill their commitment, and we need to remind them of their tremendous value and the blessing they bring to others. And finally, we should bless them and remind them that God will bless them for honoring Him by being a faithful servant. Thankfully, we have many people who faithfully serve.

  2. Thanks so much Abby! Loved to read all you shared! Beautiful to see how God provided for you in your time of need for the nursery!

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