Where have all my volunteers gone? 5 tips for reconnecting well
Alex Taylor shares a few tips on how to reconnect with volunteers as we try to move on from a year of lockdowns.
Whisper it quietly…things might be on the up in the next few months. While the experience of the last 12 months has taught me this statement might not age well, it seems like we’re at the ‘beginning of the end’ of this pandemic. Naturally, you might be exploring what things you can do with your children, youth, and family ministries over the next few months. You might be looking forward to reopening Sunday groups, after-school clubs, toddler groups or social clubs. Perhaps you have spent some time during lockdown reassessing your ministries and have decided to retire one aspect of your work, while starting something new (or something that you developed during the pandemic). Whatever you decide to do, you’ll most definitely benefit from a volunteer team. I would even argue that building one is vital, but for many, the various lockdowns of 2020-21 will have created a bit of a disconnect.
Where are the volunteers now?
Some of them are likely to have worked with you over the last year, helping to run online sessions, putting together care packages or simply keeping in contact with children, young people and families (according to your safeguarding policy, obviously). Others might not have done any children’s or youth work since Christmas 2019, and with the lack of in-person services, you may have lost touch with them completely.
With lockdown easing and the prospect of face-to-face ministry increasing, you need to piece your team back together. Here are some simple tips to help you do that!
If you haven’t already, take a few minutes with a notebook and list out everyone you know who was volunteering before the first lockdown and anyone has been who contributed since.
1. Thank your pandemic workers
We all know that this year has been unimaginably tough. This goes for the families that you work with, but also for yourselves personally, and for the kind of ministry that you’ve been able to do. Many of us thrive in face-to-face work, and that disappeared in March 2020. Online ministry has been good in some ways and a poor substitute in others. It’s important that you recognise the hard work put in by the volunteers who have been part of this difficult time. Thank them with meaningful compliments, cards and, if your budget allows, gifts. Get your church leadership to thank them too. They have given much and recognition of that can be a powerful motivator.
2. Contact the people you have lost touch with
This requires a bit of bravery but sooner is best: get in touch with those who have fallen off your radar. Admittedly, we should have been doing this throughout the year, but hey – who’s been through a pandemic before? Cut yourself some slack, but don’t procrastinate! Send them a message, give them a call and say hello. Find out how they are and try not to come with an agenda.
3. Give everyone a chance to stop
Those who have been working with you this year might need a break; those who have had 12 months off might have been praying about their own ministry future and decided that their time on your team has come to an end. It might sound counter-intuitive to give people the chance to step down, just when you need to get the band back together, but a year is a long time, and this particular year has been tough. It’s important to honour where God is leading people and, this might not be in your team.
Before you let people go, don’t miss the opportunity to get their thoughts on who in your congregation might be a good person to join the team and if you’re brave, ask them for feedback on how you can lead others better!
4. Resell your vision
You might have spent some time refining the vision for your work, but even if you haven’t, your ministry post-lockdown is going to look different from what you were doing in 2019.
Have a meeting (online, or in person if restrictions allow) and resell your vision to your team. After a big gap, people will need to be re-envisioned and reminded of what you and God are striving to achieve together. So come prepared!
If you need to do some more work on your vision, then check out our free Vision, Values and Strategy course on The Learning Hub.
5. Prayerfully and carefully move forward together
In the next few months especially, things might still change; new virus waves might happen, restrictions may still be reintroduced. Work together with your team to develop new ideas or re-establish existing ones.
Consider encouraging some training for your team (particularly if they have been out of the game for a year – they may need a refresher). The Academy Basics courses on The Learning Hub are an ideal starting place, or you can get in touch with us to organise more specific training.
Stay in touch with your team and be generous in spirit when dealing with people who might be nervous, or fail to meet your standards. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again – this year has been tough for everyone and people will be in different states of ‘togetherness’. Give people a break if they’ve struggled; walk with them if they are insecure about things they used to be good at.
Finally, don’t forget yourself. Make sure you have a mentor or spiritual director who can help you maintain some perspective and work-life balance, who can celebrate your highs and sit with you in your lows. You are important to God and you matter to Him!
On 20 April we ran a “working out loud” session on reconnecting with your volunteer team, with tips and questions posed to a real children’s worker (huge thanks to Olivia!) so we could all work through the things to consider together. Watch the recording on our Facebook page.