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This topic is part of Rotation.org's larger "Return, Rebuild, Renew" Sunday School forum.

Here's a good crop of article excerpts on the subject of re-engaging volunteers and making changes as we come out of the COVID pandemic.

They were all written during the pandemic by various well-known church ministry experts. Each of the articles I've linked below tend to complement and complete each other, and thus, I suggest you browse all of them.

I've excerpted some of their insights and added some of my own wording to gear them for our "re-engaging volunteer" topic here.

As Sunday Schoolers and church leaders, we know we're not returning to the same place where we once were -- and neither are our volunteers. As we approach the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel (sometime this year) and look beyond it, it's good to be challenged by some of the talented church leaders speaking to us through these articles.

Your thoughts and article links are welcome! --Neil


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3 Disastrous Assumptions to Make About Volunteers After COVID-19

by Brian Yeager, church volunteer management expert, posted by Lifeway Research

Some leaders and programs may be setting themselves up for disappointment by not taking into account how the pandemic has changed the habits and attitudes of many of our volunteers.

  • Many of our volunteers will have been changed by the wilderness experience from which they are emerging. Many are stressed and have experienced turmoil and loss.
  • Many have or will be re-evaluating how they want to connect within the congregation and their faith (and "if")
  • Many may find it hard to return to "wrestling the family to get to church on time."
  • Some may use the "break" as an opportunity to try another church or continue with no church at all.

To wit: we need to get out and talk to people, make commitments easier upon re-entry, and be prepared to reduce program needs.

How to Re-engage Your Church Volunteers

by Aaron Buer, teaching pastor, Ada Bible Church

People have left. People are nervous. People like watching from home. People won’t serve if they have to wear a mask. People won’t serve if everyone isn’t wearing a mask. It’s a mess.

  • We need to listen.
  • We need to create serving opportunities that fit their needs/restrictions, rather than leave them out.
  • We need to challenge them to get off their couch and re-engage without overwhelming them.

Five Steps to Bringing Back Your Volunteers

from Life.Church's Open (Training) Network

  1. Cast a stronger vision. Reinvigorate the "why" we gather and do things together.
  2. Set clear expectations about roles and any pandemic expectations, such as masks.
  3. Anticipate, ask for, and listen to volunteer concerns.
  4. Model flexibility and fun.
  5. Show great care for those who choose to serve AND those who choose to sit out.

Seven Reasons Some (Volunteers*) Might Not Come Back to Church

by Karl Vaters, pastor, and noted small church leader

  1. They got out of the habit.
  2. They haven't missed it.
  3. The break gave them excuse to quit.
  4. They feel they're still at risk healthwise.
  5. Fear (and the last year has given people things to be afraid of)
  6. The church didn't reach out to them during the pandemic
  7. We haven't given them a compelling reason to get re-involved

*I adapted Karl's insights for our volunteers that we are hoping will return with energy! Any one of these "reasons" might be enough to dampen or delay some people's return.

In his follow-up article: 7 Ways To Reach People Who Aren't Coming Back (now or ever), Vaters suggests the following, which I've again excerpted and adapted for our volunteer subject:

Don't guilt. Encourage. Be Patient. Apologize if needed. Offer them something different. Pray for them. And recenter them on serving Christ -- and ministering to kids in need (and our returning kids are in need!)

The Primary Reason People Resist Change

by Ron Edmonson, pastor and noted clergy coach

People resist change because of a sense of loss. (And they have now been through over a year of "loss.")  Loss of ...

  • Power
  • Comfort
  • Control
  • Information
  • Familiarity
  • Tradition
  • Stability

Acknowledging and empathizing with their/our loss is the beginning of healing. Until you get through the grief and even anger, you won't get to acceptance of the way forward, or people's "yes" to fully take that journey with you.

The Five Stages of "PIVOT"
How to lead when things seem to have fallen apart

by Shanon Hopkins, co-founder of RootedGood, a non-profit that teaches businesses and organizations about "systematic change"

Disruption can be a good thing when it leads to needed change. But it’s hard. Here are the five stages of a "healthy pivot" when the things you’ve built no longer work as they should:

  1. Recognize (admit) what's not working
  2. Grieve it so you can get beyond it. We believe in death and resurrection.
  3. Learn what you need to leave behind and what you need to take with you.
  4. Renew "the why" --the vision for what we are trying to accomplish, especially in light of the current situation, not the past.
  5. Rethink "the how" --this is the stage where it is time to be brave again --knowing what we know now --but with our eyes and minds wide open.

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Last edited by Neil MacQueen
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Thanks for the great articles, Neil! Lots of food for thought.

Personally, as an introvert, I know it is going to be hard for me to get back into a routine of getting together with others and "showing up" (plus Zoom meetings have been great -- no drive time!). At my church, restarting programs and re-engaging volunteers is further complicated by the fact that the staff member who was in charge of children's ministry was called to another church and there is no volunteer system in place to reboot the program.  The senior pastor and staff and session are trying to figure something out (or so I am told). Until then, I am enjoying my "vacation" (not really. I miss interacting with kids) and am keeping my eyes out for useful things I can share with others.

So I will add this to the conversation. It arrived in my inbox this week: a great blog posting on "What we need now more than anything." The short answer is not more platitudes ("God's got this" - true but not helpful). What Aaron Armstrong suggests is that we encourage one another:

  • check in (reach out and let your co-Christian educations know you are thinking about them)
  • weep with those who weep (a ministry of listening)
  • pray for one another (and let them know how you are praying)
  • challenge false thinking


So rotation friends, know that I (and the other board members) are praying for you and your ministries, as well as finding or creating and sharing resources to help you as we move on to the next thing, whatever that looks like.



And be watching for opportunities in the coming weeks to meet (virtually) with like-minded educators as we brainstorm ways to welcome volunteers and children back into our churches! (recognizing, of course, that some are already meeting face-to-face and others are months away from even thinking about regathering)

"Declining Volunteer Numbers and 5 Steps to Reverse It"

I appreciate it when church experts tell the truth instead of blowing sunshine. That's why I like reading Carey Nieuwhof's blog. In "Declining Volunteer Numbers" he invited a member of his staff to address the volunteer challenges many churches will face as they rebuilt over the long haul.

Here are my take-aways from the discussion:

The immediate issue is the decline in CONSISTENT volunteers --the ones you depend on. It may be months or a year or more before "consistent" volunteerism can staff your needs. In the meantime, CUT BACK.

REASON TO CUT BACK #1: Decide what's essential ministry and what's just draining people away and not as important in the grand scheme of things.  Concentrate who you have into what you need the most. Then ask your consistent volunteers to step into the essential breeches.

REASON TO CUT BACK #2: One of the reasons Easterners take photos of their hamburgers at In-N-Out Burger restaurants is because they are only located in the West. No one is taking photos of their hamburger at McDonalds because of the abundant locations. Scarcity breeds demand (and "less frequent" is easier to staff). This most definitely applies to an every-other-week approach for some church groups.

"No one is taking photos of their hamburger at McDonalds"

The author mentions "cutting back" in the same breath as "being bold." That's an odd combination but sometimes "less IS more" and it takes a bold leader to suggest it.

Ask your current volunteers for "leads" on new volunteers. They'll likely suggest their friends --which means you are leveraging the power of"doing something with friends and because a friend asked."

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