The Cokesbury Kids blog is all about ministry!

Our goal is to provide ideas and examples to assist you as you minister to families and teach the gospel to the kids in your community.

Children's Ministry Volunteers: Servants & Heroes

by Sarah Flannery -

There are a bajillion high points in children’s ministry—praying with a child at the altar, looking out over a bigger-than-expected crowd at Vacation Bible School, listening to a children’s choir in worship, or seeing a parent’s social media post about how meaningful church is to their family. Every one of those moments is a gift, a reminder of why we do what we do.


But secretly, I cherish and strive for a quiet, almost imperceptible ministry highlight that I don’t really talk about with many people. There is a special experience in my ministry that I will never, ever tire of, and it is this: watching a volunteer take over. This, my ministry friends, is the goal. The moment of knowing that someone you have recruited, trained, and supported is now making their ministry area their own is the biggest, best, highest work of the church.


So, let’s talk about how we get there.




How many of us have wrung our actual hands in frustration at a lack of volunteers? When was the last time you made a list of all the Sunday school teachers and large group leaders and retreat chaperones you needed and then muttered a prayer that God would do that creation thing again and make volunteers out of the dust of the earth? We all have, and probably recently. We know that we can’t do the work of children’s ministry on our own, but finding the right people to step into leadership (and then convincing them!) is a really big step.


Here are my suggestions for effective volunteer recruiting in children’s ministry:


  • First, make that list of all your open volunteer needs.
  • Pull up a list of all qualified adults in your church—this is anyone 18+ who could safely be entrusted with children. Circle every person who is not already committed to another major area of service in the church and who you think would love or thrive in your area.
  • Make special note of folks who you know would be amazing, and ask those folks first! Do not say no for people. Even if you think someone is likely too busy, if they’d be great, then ask them. Let them say no for themselves if they need to!
  • Ask people personally—this is no place for mass e-mails or bulletin announcements. Place a phone call, send an individual text or e-mail, or pull someone aside on Sunday morning. Tell them exactly what position you think they’d be perfect for and why. Identify the strengths you’ve observed in them and explain how those fit for this position.
  • Make your first ask a BIG ask. Remember that you’re inviting someone into ministry with the most fun, vulnerable, important demographic in the life of the church. This is a privilege, work that you expect to form the adult in their faith just as much as the kids. So, ask them for a big commitment. I ask my children’s ministry volunteers to serve every single week for a year. Of course, if they’re sick or traveling or just need a week off, they get that! But otherwise, if they’re available, they’re serving. Their volunteer role is not just the ministry equivalent of stopping the hole in a sinking ship—they are captain of the ship.
  • If they cannot fulfill your big ask, then make it smaller. If they can’t commit to every week, ask if they could do every other? Could they be a sub? Could they take a behind-the-scenes role?

Once someone agrees to serve, they become your people. Let’s talk about assuming a pastoral role for our volunteers.




As a professional in children, youth and family ministries, we consider our volunteers to be our pastoral responsibility. The whole world may be our parish, but volunteers in ministry inhabit a special place in our hearts. We are their best listeners and biggest cheerleaders. They are the ones doing the work of the church, and we are doing the work of the Spirit behind them and before them, empowering them to fulfill their callings in ministry. Shepherding volunteers is an incredible privilege.


The most basic way we support our volunteers in age-level ministry is by giving them thorough safety training. It is unjust and unloving to throw a volunteer into an environment where they care for children and youth without equipping them for safety. They may relate the Bible in the most unimaginably wonderful way or turn Sunday school into the fun equivalent of a day at the theme park, but if they don’t know how to keep kids (and themselves) safe in the process, does it really matter? I don’t think so. Make time to train all volunteers on all the safety procedures your church has in place.


Next, have a conversation with them about what they need in order to fill the role they’ve agreed to. Notice I did not say to train them on all your own ideas—I’d guess you’ll end up giving them most of your ideas in the end regardless. But to start, ask what ideas they have for how the ministry will run. What are their goals? What are their questions? What do they wish they could do, or what do they wish leaders had provided for them in the past? Listen to them, because if you can build off their own ideas and energy, they’ll go so much further in ministry than if they are simply carrying out your own vision.


Not every volunteer can be given free rein, of course. Some are going to need more hand-holding than others, and some will also need actual re-direction or explanations of policy or rationale for not carrying out their ideas. I recently had the distinct privilege of meeting with a volunteer who had asked, all on her own, if she could plan and lead an overnight retreat for preteens in our church. Just writing that here takes my breath away! I could have kissed her feet in that moment, honestly. Overnight retreats are my personal kryptonite (please do not take away my family ministry credentials for saying this. I am who I am.)


When we started planning logistics, she spoke of transporting the preteens to a retreat center where she had served before, about a 4-hour drive. Immediately I saw the $$$ adding up in my head—gas, volunteers, lodging—not to mention the increased logistical costs of a long trip to an organization we had no relationship with. I needed to find a thin balance between throwing my unwavering and grateful support behind her in this overall venture, but also helping her to consider some simpler, cheaper options. She is a genuinely wonderful leader and quickly agreed to aim smaller. Together we contacted a church member with a large home, and they immediately agreed to house and even feed our 7 preteens in town. That was a high five moment for sure. If we had a bigger group, or that church member wasn’t available, we would have contacted other local churches who might let us camp out in their fellowship halls, or even the retreat center just 90 minutes away with whom we have a strong relationship already.


Engage with volunteers as often as possible. Check in with them as they lead, honor their requests for time off, develop friendships with them. They are the greatest gift you can give yourself in leadership.




Everything we do in our work with volunteers is geared toward one important goal: to relinquish control of a ministry area into their hands. While some church leaders can only and will only fulfill your vision—and we are so grateful for them—the volunteers who can literally take that vision off your hands and implement their own are the absolute best.


Anyone who has experienced the relief and joy of watching someone else take control of a ministry also knows that there is pain to this process. I have listened to my own methods receive harsh critique time and time again, because the first part of assuming responsibility for something new is to identify what needs to change. We all do this. When we start a new job, we re-organize the cubicle or office to suit our own needs. When we walk with a realtor through a house on the market, we remark on how we would situate the furniture differently, what we dislike about the paint colors, etc. It’s the same in ministry. When a new volunteer walks in and starts asking if they do things differently, remind yourself that this is a gift! Open up to new ways of doing things.


After all, the ministry of the church isn’t really ours to begin with, right? Managing church volunteers, when drilled down to its barest parts, is really just about pairing folks up with the work God has for them. What a privilege!


Sarah Flannery is the author of the Children and Family Ministry Handbook. She has led ministries for children and families for the past 15 years, both as a church staff person and a volunteer. After graduating from Asbury University with an English degree, Sarah earned her master's degree in Family Sciences from the University of Kentucky. She currently serves as Assistant Pastor at First United Methodist Church in Lexington, KY, where she leads in children's ministry, supervises other ministry teams, and provides pastoral care to church members. She and her husband, John, parent two boys, Thomas and Jack, and live with an alpha cat named Annabelle and a goldendoodle with zero chill named Ripley. Sarah hopes anyone reading her books will find that in her stories of hit-or-miss ministry experiences, they also can discover new ways to live out their callings to serve and disciple families.