Volunteers need proper appreciation

If we want to get the best from volunteers in our churches, then appreciation is what is required.

In a paper entitled ’The theory of human motivation’, Abraham Maslow argued that esteem is one of five basic human needs: He wrote

All people in our society (with a few pathological exceptions) have a need or desire for a stable, firmly based, (usually) high evaluation of themselves, for self-respect, or self-esteem, and for the esteem of others. By firmly based self-esteem, we mean that which is soundly based upon real capacity, achievement and respect from others. Satisfaction of the self-esteem need leads to feelings of self-confidence, worth, strength, capability and adequacy of being useful and necessary in the world.

In other words, if we are to motivate volunteers, then we need to affirm them regularly and recognise what they have done for the church. When I was a pastor I used to write thank you notes to my volunteers. Indeed, I would often send flowers to thank them. Once a year I would put on a lunch or a tea for volunteers. Having read Love Church: An Adventure in Church Planting (Hodder & Stoughton 2018), I now wish I had been more creative, for there Tim Matthews wrote:

During our first summer we threw a big party for all the volunteers in the church. It has become an annual fixture and we love it. We strung up festoons down the church drive, booked a hog roast and some of the guys put together a covers band. Late that night I sat back overjoyed. Less than a year after we’d started, I could see two hundred people laughing, eating, drinking and dancing the night away under the stars. It was such a celebration and you can’t beat that. God is deeply into teams.

As John Truscott said in his training notes Affirming Volunteers “Volunteers are human beings, not cogs in a Christian machine. They work best when they are affirmed”. He went on to point out that recognising volunteers is a balancing act:

It is not right to ignore the work that people do. But neither is it right to pander to people’s pride. Some up-front posts have their own reward, so it is no bad thing to play-up the behind-the-scenes tasks.

One thing for sure: it makes a real difference when ministers publicly praise members of their congregation for their achievements, rather than themselves take the credit for what has happened. This ensures that in a church there is always a large base of willing volunteers.

Church leaders must not take volunteers for granted. John Truscott, for instance, suggested that churches should draw up short-term contracts for their volunteers:

The idea of people offering to undertake a task for oner, three or five years means that they know they are not committing themselves to as life-sentence, and the church is not stuck with someone well past their sell-by date. The idea can be extended to an understanding that people may stand down without feeling failure if personal circumstances change.

In terms of managing volunteers the Church of England’s website has some further helpful ideas:

  • Define their role. Write down precisely why you need volunteers. How much time do you expect them to give? Write down clear descriptions of the requires tasks if you can, so that people know what they are volunteering for and you know h ow to assess the suitability of potential volunteers.
  • The process of selection needs to be rigorous and thorough without being unnecessarily bureaucratic
  • Support includes adequate induction arrangements; someone they can turn to for immediate help or advice
  • Supervision: the level of supervision will depend on what they do

To these ideas I would add training courses for all volunteers– it could be just be an evening ‘in-house’ affair; or it could involve paying for volunteers to go on a day’s course run by specialists outside the church. Volunteering needs to be an enriching experience for the volunteers themselves. To my mind this is all part of affirming volunteers.

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