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Volunteering - Facebook Live notes

Posted by Lucy Moore on 12 Nov 2020

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On 11 November, BRF's Jane Butcher gave a Facebook Live on volunteering. You can see the Facebook Live itself here. Jane's notes are below.

I'm going to look at the why – why do we volunteer?

  • How do we encourage people to volunteer?
  • What can we do to support and nurture volunteers?
  • What do they find helpful?
  • How can we celebrate our volunteers?
  • And the impact of Covid on volunteering. 

Why do we volunteer?

Well, rather than beat around the bush, let’s hear it directly.

This is from one of our wonderful Regional Coordinators who says: It has changed my life since retiring from work. Through it I have done all sorts of things I never thought I dare do e.g. walking on eggs in a Cathedral, I have met some wonderful people and discovered that I missed my true vocation in life.

Someone else who has volunteered at Messy Church as long as me is a lady I first met when we were in the same confirmation class. She was also very quiet and reserved at first but now throws herself (literally sometimes!) into all the activities and has a great time. We also had a new volunteer last year and she has changed completely  -  from being a rather reluctant volunteer she now often complains that the activities she is leading are not messy enough!

How do we encourage people to volunteer?

I am challenged when I hear people standing at the front of church pleading with people to help with children’s or all-age ministry or any ministry because ‘we are desperate’.

That might be the case, but could we instead be inviting people ‘to have the privilege to invest in the lives of others’?

How we encourage people to join us is important. The wording we use can make a big difference.

Styles of encouraging people vary – some prefer the group/whole congregation shout-out for involvement so they can ponder and respond. For some that can create the ‘someone else will do it’ or ‘I’m not as good as others’ response. The latter is very sad, so for some the one-to-one personal invite is appropriate. We don’t want people to feeling pushed into a corner but for some, knowing that someone else feels they would be valuable can do a lot for the confidence and willingness to give it a go. Ensure that the task we invite someone to do is appropriate and manageable for them. So a mixed approach is valuable. Being aware of why volunteers is important. For some, it may be that they volunteer to have contact with people. That is fine and it’s important that we ensure they do have the opportunity to do that. Make sure we take time to chat with them.

Another key point is volunteers across the ages. A key value of Messy Church is being intergenerational – is that represented in the team? Do you have a range from teenagers to older people? Too often we hear that younger people feel don’t feel respected. We also hear that older people don’t feel valued yet they have been the bedrock of volunteering for many years. Do we make an effort to actively encourage them to volunteer?

Feedback from a Messy Church - I find grandparents (and some are young!) are a huge source of wonderful help as volunteers in everything I do. There can be an old English mindset that at a certain age folk think it is time to let the younger ones have a go? That is not the case!

At Messy Church we can see three sometimes four generations coming in together. For a couple of years the grandparent may wander around with a grandchild, or stay by a pram if a young child is sleeping. But as the children grow older and want to visit activity tables with friends, grandparents start to feel a different role could be for them. Invite them to join the team. They have so many skills to share and actually more than enjoy it.

Feedback from a Messy Church – Best thing ever - the person running my old Messy Church became a Christian through attending and went on to run a table, then run it with me and still leads it more than three years later.

What can we do to support and nurture volunteers? 

For me, something that is very important is valuing them as people in all aspects of their life. Do they know that we care about them as individuals not just as Messy Church team members? Do we take time to ask how people are doing? Is there opportunity for people to share or ask for prayer? When we are aware of issues in their life, are we offering support? From my university days, I remember the line ‘Keeping the person not the process or product at the forefront’.

Looking at the role within Messy Church  do volunteers know what they do is important? So often we hear people saying I ‘JUST’ do…. It is important that they know that what they do however small is important and valued.

Another important aspect of volunteering is that volunteers are well supported and nurtured. Three words I often use is that we need to ‘encourage, empower and equip’ our team. We need to encourage them to have a go at new things and be there to support if things don’t go so well. It’s easy to do things ourselves but allowing others to develop skills is important and allow us to learn from them also.

Feedback from a Messy Church - I tried to create a culture that rewarded folks for having a go, rather than doing it perfectly.  I tried to be very supportive and positive when things went pear-shaped, so that it could be a learning experience and the person would have another go. Messy Church core ethos really.

What do volunteers find helpful?

To be informed, equipped with the necessary resources, supported and valued!

One of our Regional Coorcinators said ‘as a volunteer I appreciate clear instructions in plenty of time to prepare, encouragement and good feedback and the opportunity to expand my role.' Within her Messy Church she tries to plan and debrief with as big a team as possible, encourage each one to try something new e.g. lead the prayer activity , do the talk (daunting for some) and to stretch their comfort zone knowing they are supported.

How can we celebrate our volunteers?

My experience of large local church- hosted a simple annual celebration meal. Others not in children’s ministry gave their time to cook and serve. Always included a small gift and the opportunity for people to step down from a post. My heart was in my mouth in case they all did but it was necessary to reassure people that they weren’t committing for years and years if they didn’t want to - though many did, thankfully! It also meant that those who stayed were committed. Having a set time frame also means it can be reviewed by both sides. If something isn’t working, it is important to being things to an end well.

From another Messy Church - We have Sunday Messy Awards afternoons, once a year, with high tea just for the team. We always have tears. People don’t seem to receive fuss and thanks, it seems. We make hearts out of air-drying clay, write words of encouragement around the edge and if we know the recipient well they get jewels encrusted in, or something relevant to that person. We make a hole and tie a ribbon through and add a decorated label with Bible verse & name. Two years ago we made tea – light holders for a change. We do it in January. We try to create different kinds of hearts each year. I think we have run out of designs now so we will repeat.

And the impact of Covid on volunteering?

There are challenges with Covid and obviously a big impact on the face-to-face opportunities. Sadly I have heard of a number of churches who have seen a number of volunteers stepping down during lockdown and beyond, and we may need to be addressing that when we are up and running again face to face, but it does also open up some opportunities.

On the other hand, some people who may have otherwise been too busy are now finding they have time. It seems that this season has encouraged people to be community-focused – how can we help and serve one another. The church is not new to this but there seems a greater general awareness now. While many opportunities for volunteering have decreased, the heart for community may have increased. For some, finding volunteer opportunities isn’t easy particularly for those not able/not wanting to go out.

How can we enable people to be engaged?

In a Zoom Messy Meet-Up last Satirday, I was hearing from a Messy Church who have had a new volunteer join the team during lockdown because she can make the online meetings but couldn’t before.

Do you have people with particular gifts in your church/community who could prepare items for the Messy Church at Home bags? Or do you have people who could do something online or pre-recorded to share their gift or lead an activity. Some are happy to pre-record but wouldn’t be willing to do it live in person.

Consider hosting a volunteers’ coffee and catch up online. Just chance to check in, see how people are doing and continue the important relationships.