This week Jenny Zimmer, longtime kidmin leader and preschool teacher from So Cal, joins hosts Mike, Gina, and Kellen to share ideas for showing appreciation to your volunteers during the holidays—even if you have a lack of appreciation for Pinterest!
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FEATURED ON THIS EPISODE
Jenny has been in ministry for almost 20 years, serving as Children’s Director and Director of FX out in Southern California. She is passionate about helping families do family better, and is enjoying consulting with churches, and helping them partner better with families. Now that her own girls are grown and she’s experienced all ages, she can say that four-years-old is her favorite age—which is why she is also a part-time preschool teacher. She and her husband, Jim, are learning to enjoy an “empty nest” and all the new adventures that come with that phase of family!
LET’S GET IN TO THE EPISODE
Join us at the rectangular table! Kellen’s fueled up with three cups of coffee, so you know it’s gonna be good. Gina’s behind at two cups. Mike has had no coffee for the day.
We didn’t know it’s possible to be connected with kid min and eschew coffee.
But much as we appreciate coffee, there’s something we appreciate even more, the thing we cannot live without (okay, besides coffee)—
Without them, we would not be able to do what we do.
So how do we go about truly communicating our love and passion for their help?
Enter: Jenny Zimmer!
Jenny has been doing children’s ministry for almost twenty years—since she was five, right?
Jenny hails from So Cal, like Kellen. Mutual love for California fills the room.
As a preschool teacher as well as a ministry leader, Jenny works with volunteers in multiple settings. Mike acknowledges that Jenny has always done a fantastic job of making her volunteers feel loved and appreciated.
Today, we want to hear her practical ideas for showing that appreciation!
When it comes to appreciating volunteers, there isn’t just one way.
1. Where do you START when it comes to valuing volunteers?
Jenny: Sometimes we get so overwhelmed thinking about doing a big party or multiple individual things. There are many different ways to fit your size of ministry and budget.
It’s not about how much money you spend on [volunteer appreciation]. It’s about how personal you can make it.
Volunteers are the most important part of your ministry. We need to get to know them and make it personal, so they feel special.
PRO TIP #1—Give your volunteers a small form they can fill out at a training or Sunday morning that asks specific preferences and favorites. (Favorite candy bar, restaurant, etc.) Then when you do give them something, you can make it personal.
Kellen: The first time I served at a church in San Diego, I filled out a Comic Sans font form with my name, favorite drink, favorite place to go, etc. During my two years at the church, the leader I worked with used those things. It always surprised me.
Mike: When school started, some of our kids’ teachers actually gave a little information about themselves to make it easier for parents to know what they want. That makes it easier for things like Teacher Appreciation Week.
Gina: From a tight budget perspective, the questions you ask really help. I may not be able to afford to give every volunteer a restaurant dinner, but I can give them their favorite candy bar.
2. WHEN do you suggest focusing on volunteer appreciation?
Jenny: Sit down and look at ministry calendar for the year and choose where to put ministry appreciations.
In the fall, back to school can be crazy. When things slow down toward the end of September you could do an appreciation on a Sunday morning.
For Thanksgiving: consider doing pumpkin pie and coffee with whipped cream and fun creamers for volunteers and their families. It’s something small that says: “I’m thinking about you.”
We just did a cute one with doughnuts. Each donut was packed with a tag that said: “I donot know what I would do without you.”
This sparks interest for other people in the church, as well. They see what you’re doing and get curious.
Mike: Take a look at your calendar. You can’t do appreciation events/moments all the time, but pick spots where it makes sense for your church throughout the year.
When I was in ministry, we were infamous for doing a big end-of-the year celebration event. The unspoken expectation was: Run hard for the year from August to May—and then I’ll appreciate you.
When you think strategically throughout year, you lay a foundation for a culture of appreciation. You can’t just put all your resources into a single event to make everyone feel valued. If any of your volunteers don’t like events, they don’t come, and don’t end up feeling appreciated.
Kellen: Volunteer appreciation is like a marathon. You need to hand out cups of water to help them complete the marathon. If a person tries to run 26 miles without water, they’re going to be DOA.
Mike: In a marathon, there’s a water station every two miles.
Gina: When you talk about making it personal, that’s the cup of water.
When someone sees and recognizes you, that’s significant. You don’t forget it easily. If you have a regular cadence of caring for and appreciating someone, when you do do—
Kidmin people: Gina said doo doo!
—when you do a big end of year celebration, it amplifies the thank you—because you’ve done it along the way.
Jenny: It’s not always going to be a gift—something wrapped. What is something that will add value to their life? Sometimes it’s just providing a meal before or after the event, and taking something off of their plate. “Now I don’t have to worry about feeding my family.”
If volunteers are there for a long time on an Easter morning or other special event, consider creating a volunteer lounge where they can stop for a quick break or snack for themselves and their family.
Gina: Think through the hurdles they will have to cross. When you help remove the hurdle, you say: “I see you.”
Jenny: End of year is a great time to celebrate. Continue to focus on making it personal. Could you do something for their whole family? Maybe it’s a summer picnic with water balloons and root beer floats. Help them create community with the people and families they’re serving with.
Mike: It gives a volunteer’s family an opportunity to see their volunteer tribe.
Gina: At appreciation events for the area of ministry in which my husband serves, my kids get to see him interact with his team. Those people tell my kids how great their dad is and what a big contribution he makes. It’s a big win for him as a dad.
3. Talk about volunteer appreciation around the HOLIDAYS.
Jenny: The holidays are the perfect time for volunteer appreciation. I love to invite my teams to my home. If you don’t have a house where you can do that, there may be a volunteer on your team or a parent who would host. You can let them see a little bit of your life. It’s more personal in a home.
Ugly sweater party
Coffee and dessert
Change it up. Let them see a different side of you. Once you start something, it becomes a tradition—something to look forward to.
Gina: The personal nature of that is very appealing. They get to spend time with you off campus. It’s a different atmosphere. Just come hang out.
Jenny: Sometimes in church world we switch and bait. We appreciate you… AND here’s a 30-minute training. You need some times to just appreciate and have fun, no strings attached.
Kellen: Some leaders don’t want to waste a moment. “Since we’re together, we should do some training!” But we all need a breath.
If you’re leading well, you’re allowing yourself to have those moments of fun.
Gina: There’s something about just pulling people together and laughing together. The fun factor. You get a good belly laugh, and you’ve had a quality experience.
Kellen: Now you have inside jokes and tribal language. It builds the relationships.
Gina: I didn’t do this for a long time, because I didn’t think it was a priority. That hurt me. I did not have the culture I wanted. There was no evidence that the teams were having fun.
We started asking, “How can I say thank you in a way that you hear it?” It changed the nature of our team. There was more laughing and joy.
4. Is there a difference in how you show appreciation to your preschool parent volunteers and your volunteers at church?
Jenny: There is not a big difference. My volunteers at church have a clearer role and more responsibility. But I still want my classroom volunteers to feel they are valued. I want them to have joy and fun.
If my kids, in preschool or at church, aren’t having fun, then I’m not doing something right. It goes back to—If I’m not having fun and my volunteers aren’t, then how are the kids going to have fun?
I get to know as much as I can about my parent volunteers.
So many people started out in my preschool room and come to church now. I think a lot of it is because they felt valued.
Make it personal. Let them know that you see them and hear them.
Kellen: Honor people for their time and availability. The church should be at the forefront of letting people know they are valued and appreciated for their time and their heart in the area they’re serving.
Gina: The quality of my ministry to these kids is significantly influenced by how appreciated my volunteers feel.
We want kids to encounter Christ in a way that changes the way they love God, the way they love others, the way they love life. If how well my volunteers are appreciated influences that, I’ve got to pay attention to this.
Jenny: When you have those smaller events outside of the regular environment, it builds community and changes the environment on Sunday morning. You may not have time to chit chat Sunday morning, but when you connect outside your regular service times, it feeds into your ministry.
It’s one of those things where the value is worth more than you know.
Put it on the ministry calendar. We’re so worried about training and details; we get so busy that if appreciation is not on the calendar, we just push it aside and forget about.
I’m a theme person. Give me a theme and I can make magic happen. I ask: “What can I do to tie into a holiday or big series at church?”
5. Let’s talk PINTEREST.
Jenny: I am a Pinterest queen. I was a Pinterest queen before Pinterest started. I made it up.
Mike: Can you share some Pinterest-worthy ideas for the holidays?
Jenny: Pinterest is every ministry leader’s friend. But don’t get overwhelmed. You don’t have to be crafty. Maybe a crafty parent or grandparent you know would help you make gifts once a year. I have volunteers who don’t serve weekly, but are always up to help make gifts.
Ornaments on wood slices – paint a logo or theme or use modge podge. It can be a great reminder of this ministry year or their current small group.
There are lots of options for fun candy treats that you can shape as a Christmas tree.
Little things make a huge impact.
If you subscribe to the 252 Kids curriculum, don’t forget to check out the volunteer appreciation idea to go with the theme every month!
Kellen takes us out with a caffeine-fueled ditty:
Ceeeeeelebrate your volunteers today! Duh duh duh DUH, they deserve your praise!
Set aside a few minutes this week to review your plan to show appreciation to your volunteers over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
If you don’t have anything in the works, schedule an event, moment, or gift—even if it’s just finding out and providing their favorite candy bar!
Executive Director of Children’s Strategy at Orange
NextGen Pastor at Crosspoint Church - Nashville, TN
NextGen Pastor at Our City Church - Corona, CA