and practical ideas to make it happen!
Whilst Santa and his elves seem to get all the credit this time of year for making Christmas happen, church leaders know better, right?
There's a team of volunteers behind the scenes at your church that make Christmas memorable and meaningful for the people you serve.
So as your volunteers give even more of their time, gifts and energy at this time of year to setting up chairs, running kids programmes, teaching, leading, wrapping, packing, cooking and cleaning, it's time for you to think about how you can show them some extra appreciation.
Now, we understand, you've already got a lot to contend with this month. You're going to have more guests that usual, more events than usual, and somebody very inconsiderate scheduled a world cup game at the same time as your carol service...But let us convince you that intentionally appreciating your volunteers deserves your focus right now.
Volunteers are people, too
The way a church values its volunteers says a lot about what they're actually inviting people to be part of. Your volunteers are not a means to an end, they are the people for whom God showed up in the arms of a young woman from Nazareth...that they would be set free from a life of earning their place and given the free gift of acceptance into the family of God. When volunteers are overworked and undervalued, they don't hear the message 'You are valued because you are part of God's family,' instead they hear 'You are valued because the job needs doing.' So take the time to serve your volunteers, to thank them and to remind them of their value - not because of what they do, but because of who they are.
Record a 3 minute video message and send to volunteers, to thank them for what they've done this year, to remind them of what God has done to secure their place in His Kingdom, and to pray for them.
Celebrate volunteers publicly and let others know that everything they're experiencing is because of a brilliant team who have given of their time and effort to make it possible!
"When volunteers are overworked and undervalued, they don't hear the message 'You are valued because you are part of God's family,' instead they hear 'You are valued because the job needs doing"
Volunteers are vision carriers
If you've ever had a pet, you know this simple principle all too well:
What's rewarded, is repeated.
But this is also true for human behaviour isn't it?
When the effort we put in pays off, either through recognition or through results, we are incentivised to put that effort in again. And when your volunteers are helped to recognise the difference they make to the mission, they don't just repeat serve, they repeat the stories. They become carriers of the vision. They share with the rest of your church the ways in which people are being impacted and lives are being changed by their collective effort. But this doesn't happen accidentally. Sunday to Sunday, when there's work to be done, this big picture gets lost. Christmas is a great time to take a step back, to help your volunteers celebrate the story they've been part of, and to inspire them behind the vision of creating a church where unchurched people are coming to know Jesus into the new year.
Create some sticky language around the story your volunteers are part of and celebrate the year with that language. e.g. "You've made a difference," "You've been part of transforming lives" "You've helped people to find life". Find a specific story where this has been true that your volunteers can hold in their minds as they turn up to serve at Christmas events.
(psst, we talked about sharing vision and crafting compelling language for it in our previous blog post. Check it out here.)
Help volunteers tell their story - if you've got team WhatsApp groups prompt people to share their highlights and the people they've seen impacted by what they do in 2022!
People stay where they're seen and appreciated
Everybody starts reevaluating their commitments and schedules in January, so even your most committed volunteers for 2022 aren't guaranteed for 2023...it's amazing the new perspective a week off and a Sunday lie-in can give to somebody!
When it comes to your volunteers evaluating their commitment to the team they're a part of, whether they feel seen and appreciated is certainly going to factor into their decision making.
If somebody doesn't feel seen, they'll believe that they won't be missed. If somebody doesn't feel appreciated, they won't be endeared towards sticking around at a cost to themselves.
Encourage team leaders to write handwritten Christmas cards with a personalised message for each volunteer
Be intentional about checking in with volunteers when you interact with them - don't ask something of somebody before you ask what's going on in their world
Bring your team in on this and invite team members to call out and name somebody who they've appreciated serving alongside this year - prime people for this in an email beforehand and then take 5 minutes in a team meeting before the big Christmas event to encourage one another
One more thing...
Volunteers are for life, not just for Christmas
Every year the RSPCA struggles with one simple problem - a short term excitement at getting a puppy under the tree quickly becomes a long-term commitment that many people don't want to face. As you go into 2023, make a commitment as a church that you will prioritise valuing and encouraging volunteers in the coming year when the glamour or Christmas events has worn off - don't leave them neglected!
We'll be here to help you as you do.
The Further Faster Team
Check out a great conversation on gaining, training and retaining volunteers below!