Volunteer Appreciation Ideas That Won’t Break the Bank (CPC 2017 Breakout Notes)

Free and Low-Cost Volunteer Appreciation Ideas

A few weeks ago, I attended my very first Children’s Pastors Conference (CPC) in Orlando, Florida.  I was invited to lead a few one-on-one coaching sessions (which I absolutely loved!), participate in a Women in Leadership panel and lead a breakout about free and low-cost volunteer appreciation ideas.

Here are a few highlights from that breakout session:

4 P’s of Volunteer Appreciation

Volunteer appreciation should be:

Purposeful

This is the ‘why’ – we should have a purpose or reason for appreciating our volunteers.  Knowing the ‘why’ sets the course for the other 3 P’s, so it’s important to establish this first.

Questions to consider:

  • What is your appreciation strategy?
  • What is your budget and time allotment?
  • What do you want them to feel or know?
  • Who can help you brainstorm ideas and implement the plan?

Personal

This is the ‘what’ – what speaks their love language?  What do they like?

Questions to consider:

  • Do you know your volunteers’ favorite things?
  • If not, how can you find out this information?
  • Do you know their special days, like birthdays, anniversaries, volunteer anniversaries, etc.?

Plentiful

This is the ‘when’ – show them appreciation regularly!

Question to consider:

  • When can your team recognize volunteers?

Practical

This is the ‘how’ – how will show them you appreciate them?

Question to consider:

  • What can you do in the next week to appreciate at least one volunteer?

Free Volunteer Appreciation Ideas

My breakout attendees shared their favorite free volunteer appreciation ideas (I threw in a few, too).  Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Ask the congregation to share how a volunteer impacted them and share the story on your church’s website
  • Thank you cards (written by kids)
  • Thank you cards (written by email)
  • Thank you notes (written by your or your team)
  • Praise them for handling difficult situations
  • Hold a brunch where parents sign up to bring food items
  • Brag to your senior leadership about them
  • Coordinate a group outing for them and their families
  • Shout them out on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram)
  • Praise them in front of their peers
  • Present them with flowers from someone’s garden
  • Acknowledge them during a worship service
  • Fill a bulletin board in your volunteer lounge with quotes, notes, pictures, etc.
  • Highlight them in your bulletin
  • Ask their opinion – this makes them feel ownership and value
  • Text them a picture of them in action with a thank you note

Low-Cost Appreciation Ideas

My breakout attendees also shared their favorite low-cost volunteer appreciation ideas (I threw in a few here , too).  Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Gloves with lotion
  • Free item from church cafe
  • CM swag items such as personalized mugs, t-shirt, buttons, lanyards, pens, tote bags, hats and water bottles
  • Redbox movie/code with popcorn
  • Gift cards to restaurants or coffee shops
  • Homemade baked goods
  • Bagels or donuts
  • Potted plants or bouquets of flowers
  • Bags of candy
  • Framed picture of class/group
  • Candy gifts such as:
    • Dove chocolates: “You are the heart of the ministry.”
    • Tootsie Rolls: “Thank you for your role at our church.”
    • Charm Pops: “I am charmed to have you join us!”
    • Life Savers: “Thanks for being a life saver!”
    • Gummy Bears: “I appreciate you beary much!”
    • Extra Gum: “Thanks for always going the extra mile for our kids!”
  • Mason jars filled with cookies, soup mix, or hot chocolate mix

Appreciating those who’ve said YES to serving doesn’t have to break the bank.  A little creativity and heartfelt gratitude go a long, long way.

Find even more ideas on my Volunteer Appreciation Pinterest board.  If you’re looking for last-minute Valentine’s Day ideas, check out my Valentine’s Day Pinterest board.

What are some of your favorite free or low-cost volunteer appreciation ideas? Share them with me below!

When There Are No Words

*Note: My first draft of this post was written before news broke that five Dallas police officers were killed in an ambush attack during a protest rally.  My final draft reflects this tragedy.

How Kid's Ministries Can Respond in Times of Racial Crisis

There are no words, friends.  No words.  For me, there’s been more tears than words.  If you have followed national news in the U.S. over the past several days, you are aware of the shooting deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and now five Dallas police officers.  While I usually don’t post or discuss political or racial issues on my social media platforms (I don’t think this is the best forum for these issues to be discussed), the recent tragedies have impacted me deeply.  Deeply.

As a girl in Sunday school, I grew up singing a familiar song:

Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world

Red and yellow, black and white

They are precious in His sight.

Jesus loves the little children of the world.

Watching recent events have horrified me and honestly, caused me to become fearful.  Fearful for my children and other children I love.  I’m sad that this is being played out and will become part of their history.

I am mom to a 20-year old son, who inspired this post (an excerpt) to my personal Facebook page just 24 hours ago:

When Daniel [my son] started driving years ago, I talked to him ad nauseam about what to do if he was ever pulled over in a traffic stop. Where to keep his hands. How to speak to the officer. How to tell the officer if he needed to pull his wallet out of his back pocket or the glove box. AD NAUSEAM.

And why? Because no matter how much of “a fine young man” or “respectable young man” or “good boy” he is, to some, he COULD be perceived a threat. Simply because he’s a black male.

His life matters. It matters to me. A LOT. The lives of every black man in my family matters to me. A LOT.

As uncomfortable as I feel posting this, we need to be uncomfortable. We need to talk about what is happening, why this keeps happening….

The purpose of this post is not to garner a debate about whether or not these shootings were ‘justified’.  Rather, I’d like to reflect on how these types of issues impacts our kids and how ministry leaders, parents and volunteers (Sunday school teachers, small group leaders, etc.) can respond.

As my family and I watched the shootings in Dallas unfold last night, I held my 17-year old daughter.  We both watched in disbelief at what we were watching.  (Sadly, we watched unrest unfold in our city of Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray last spring).  It breaks my heart that these images will be forever etched in her heart.  She will never forget what she was watching and how she was feeling.  As her mom, my heart hurts for her.

Likewise, kids in our ministry are hurting, angry, frustrated, confused.  Many of these children will walk through our church doors this weekend after, once again, being affected by the world they live in.  Here’s what I know:

Conversations are happening.  My social media outlets were flooded with images and outrage over what has occurred.  People are angry and rightfully so.  People are venting their frustrations and are again coming to terms with strained race relations in our country.

Our kids are listening and watching.  They are listening to these conversations and watching the news.  They are asking questions like my 8-year old niece asked my mom (her grandmother):

Ranny, why do they hate us so much?

In another instance, Lisa Harper, a well-known Christian speaker and author, is mom to a child of color.  She shared her daughter’s exposure to racism recently.  Here is an excerpt from her post (you can read the post in its entirety here):

…I can’t explain what it felt like recently when two young men wearing expressions contorted with meanness hurled a Coke can in our direction, then yelled the n-word at Missy before peeling away when we were simply walking out of a convenience store holding hands…

Why does a 6-year old and an 8-year old have to grapple with this?  Why are young children asking these questions?

Let’s be real.  Some of the children in our churches are victims of racism on a regular basis.  Some of them live in communities where bloodshed is commonplace.  This is not ok.  Not ok.  No 15-year old boy should have to publicly mourn his father during a news conference.  No 4-year old baby should have to witness a killing in the front seat of a car she’s riding in.  No child of a police officer should have to deal with the loss of a parent who went out to do his or her job.

As I shared in response to a comment left on my personal Facebook page, prejudice, stereotypes and intolerance are unfortunately being modeled and taught in homes, in workplaces, and in communities.  While we cannot control the hatred of others, we can determine that our homes, our churches, our ministries can be a welcoming, safe place for all children.  How?  Here are a few suggestions:

Ministry Leaders

  • Have a ministry that is safe and inclusive for all children.  Let’s help our children live out ‘loving your neighbor as yourself’ (Mark 12:31) and ‘do to others as you would have them do to you’ (Luke 6:31).  Being inclusive means:
    • Helping children accept other children who look different from them, talk different than they do, and come from a different background, family structure, community, etc. than they do.
    • Creating a safe environment for all.  This goes beyond physical safety to include emotional safety.

       Teach them how their words have impact and how to ‘watch the way they talk’ (Ephesians 4:29).

    • Representing an array of colors in your media presentations.  The world we live in is diverse; this should be reflected in our ministries as well.  Be sure to include children of color in your publications, whether you serve in a multi-cultural context or not.  Again, this will help children accept those who look different than they do.

Parents and Volunteers (Sunday school teachers, small group leaders, etc.)

  • Be a good example and model acceptance and inclusion for all.  Be careful not to stereotype a group of people or their cultural differences.
  • Keep an open dialogue.  Be available to ask age-appropriate questions when the time comes.  Encourage your children to come to you with questions.  Be honest.  If you don’t know the answer, be honest about that, too.
  • Ask God for wisdom.  Pray for your child (or class) and with them.  Ask God to bring healing and comfort to those who are hurting.

This list is my no means exhaustive but it’s a start.  It’s a step toward modeling what it means to be the Church…worshiping together, serving together, loving each other and living together in peace.  A true picture of heaven on earth.

Keep the conversation going.  How will you minister to the children under your care?

Seeing Kingdom Potential in Each Child

Seeing Kingdom potential in each child

As a little girl, I loved to go to church.  I mean loved.  It was the favorite part of my week.  I remember walking through the doors of my church excited to be with friends and adults that I loved.  The atmosphere in that pink (yes, pink!) classroom was warm and welcoming.  The adult leaders taught me songs and scripture verses that I still remember to this day (and sing aloud occasionally).  I was introduced to bible stories that deeply impacted my life.  These precious experiences impacted my life so deeply that I wanted other kids to love going to church just as much as I did.  Little did I know at that moment that God was preparing me for the call He had on my life.

When I began serving in Children’s Ministry as an adult, that desire was my drive…I wanted other kids to love going to church just as much as I did – even more than I did!  I wanted to create experiences that would help kids know how much the God who created them loved them and cherished them.  I wanted children to make friendships that could become lifelong.  I wanted children to treasure God’s Word and be excited to learn it, know it and do what it says.  I wanted children to develop a love of Jesus, one that would sustain them a lifetime.

You see, for me, leading Children’s Ministry is remembering that each child has Kingdom potential.  That means seeing each child who walks through the doors of my church as children who might one day grow up and be a dynamic Christ-follower.  That means seeing them not as the church of tomorrow but as the church of today.  God is working in their lives now, preparing them for the call He has on their lives.

Who but God knows the future He has for them?  Maybe the next great theologian, pastor, ministry leader or church planter is sitting in one of your classrooms right now.  Maybe God is preparing a boy or girl in your ministry to be the next author, politician, artist, business leader, or teacher to turn the world upside down for His honor and glory.

That’s why what we do each week is so much bigger than what we can see with our human eyes.  Each week, we are privileged to welcome children through the doors of our church…children who come to us with all sort of family backgrounds, personalities, gifts, talents and potential.What we are part of is Kingdom investment right now.  What an honor to be part of influencing the life of a child who might change the world and shine bright for Jesus!

If you’re a kidmin leader or volunteer, there’s something I’d like to challenge you to do.  The next time you hold your mid-week or weekend programming, I want you to look around at all of the children in attendance.  Look them in the eye.  Look beyond the challenging behavior, family circumstances or personality issues.  Look at them through a new, fresh lens…as one who could make Jesus known to a world who desperately needs Him.

If you’re a parent, there’s something I’d like to challenge you to do.  Do everything you can to plug your child into a church that helps them know and follow Jesus, one that challenges them to grapple with what they believe and challenges them to put their faith in action.  Attend church regularly so that your child can be connected to leaders and peers who can encourage them along their spiritual journey.  Help them see the church as another voice to speak into their lives.

Keep the conversation going!  How might this change in perspective affect how you minister and parent this week?

Teaching Familiar Bible Stories

Behind the Scenes: Children’s Ministry Magazine, March/April 2016

CM Magazine - Mar-Apr 2016

Teaching the Bible in fun, exciting and engaging ways is a challenge that every children’s ministry leader faces.  Some weeks come together really well; other weeks not so much.

If you’re like me, you scour the internet (thank you, Pinterest!) for ideas and inspiration to help you knock the story out of the park each week.  Then you pray and ask the Holy Spirit to move in the hearts of those who’ll hear.

One of the dilemmas of a large group leader or teacher is to effectively teach the Bible to children who are familiar with the Bible AND kids who’ve never heard the stories before.  How can you capture the attention of fresh ears while engaging kids who are familiar?

This was the inspiration behind my “Old Messages, New Truths”, my elementary column topic in the March/April 2016 issue of Children’s Ministry Magazine.  In the column, I share 5 tips on how to do this.  (You can find the tips on page 30.)

If you’re looking for even more ideas, check out my kidmin-themed Pinterest boards.  You’ll find hundreds and hundreds of ideas to spur your creativity.

What methods have you found to maneuver this challenge?  Share your ideas below!