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Volunteers that Replace Themselves

This week I’m reposting some thoughts I had around this same time last year.   I’m really hoping I can get some comments, and would love to hear if anything resonates with you:


I’ve been experiencing a difficult season in regards to getting those involved in serving. It’s always a challenge in church ministry, and specifically Children’s ministry to get people involved in serving. I mean ALWAYS a challenge. Even when people are getting plugged in to the ministry in big numbers, I could always use a few dozen more. It’s the nature of the beast.

However, this past month I’ve seen an exodus of volunteers. Most of them for perfectly decent reasons, and I’ve celebrated their leaving with style, class, and grace. It’s just that I haven’t seen the replacements come in the timing I would prefer. In the spirit of this challenge I would like to get some opinions from these great readers of mine. For the next few days I’ll throw out a question and see how much knowledge (or lack thereof) I can gain.

First Question: How do I get current volunteers to recruit their own replacements?

I have always strived to make my leaders take ownership in the areas that they serve. I figure that they know their class/area/age group better than I do in most cases, and their opinion is of high value to me as the leader. When someone approaches me about leaving, moving on, or transitioning to a different area of service the first thing I say (after thanking them for their bravery) to them is, “Do you have anyone who has been working alongside you that may be able to step in and take over your class?” or, “Could you pass along some contact information for someone who might be interested in taking your place?” or “Better yet, could you contact someone who you think might make a great replacement for your class?”

I’m amazed sometimes at how a volunteer will invest a year of their life working with a collection of kids, and then leave with a customary 4 week notice; and never seem to give a thought to who will be taking their place. Isn’t this weird? Of course I know that I have a slanted perspective, being the department leader.

So again let me pose the question: How could I get current volunteers to recruit their own replacements?

I’m expecting some comments, let them fly! I’d love comments from those inside and outside of ‘church’ ministries. Give me some different perspectives!

Jonathan Cliff is married to his wife Starr and they together live out their days with two sons and a daughter. Jonathan serves as one of the Pastors at Grace Community Church in Clarksville, Tennessee; where he works with leaders throughout the city to help develop Christian community that leads to deep and meaningful spiritual friendships. His journey has been an adventurous one, having served in the local church for 15 years in family ministry developing leaders, building environments for kids and students to belong, and encouraging parents to take big spiritual steps with their families.


  1. What's next · May 19, 2008

    I think its weird that people would leave not knowing if they had a replacement… I know I always tried to find my own when I wanted to change from something I was doing in the children’s ministry. We also were encouraged to recruit our friends or people we enjoyed to fill in or help us in classes, Awana’s etc… I understand your frustration, I was on the Children’s comm. and good friends with our Children’s minister before we moved so I was always recruiting for him… I was always amazed at how hard I had to work to find VBS workers!

  2. Queen Cash · May 19, 2008

    I think most people (in America and Japan, at least–my only two subjects of observation) are so stretched for time and energy, that it’s a pretty big feat to get our volunteers to really be fully present in the moment, wherever they are serving; it’s hard for me to imagine getting them to actually think ahead to their replacement! Not to be discouraging to your question, but unless one has an administrative leaning, I don’t think most people think about this kind of stuff when they’re considering their next move. Not that this is right, but I think it’s the norm to expect the Children’s Pastor to cover this. Sorry dude, just keeping it honest from Japan. I’m really curious to hear others’ ideas on how to help this to happen though!!

  3. Christy · May 19, 2008

    In an ideal world, I would build this type of “find your own replacement” mentality from the beginning. It would be difficult to spring it on a volunteer who has already decided to leave. After a volunteer has been in ministry for a year, challenge them to recruit and train someone else to work alongside them. If we can keep people moving through a leadership pipeline, then there will always be people to step up when someone resigns or retires. Now I need to go take my own advice!!!

  4. Todd McKeever · May 19, 2009

    Not sure that I have an answer either as this is a battle that I too am often fighting. Not even sure as others above have mentioned this may be 100% possible.

    My thoughts are that to make it more possible, it will require us to help each volunteer to see the true value of their worth.

    Years ago (17 actually) before I became a F/T CP I was in management in a very well known company. I was also made aware of many times that my position could not just be filled by anyone through the examples the company gave me often as reminders of how specialized my position was and how loaded it was with responsibilities. Plus the people who depended on me.

    So, my thoughts are: We need to do this for those we lead? Show them and remind them in several ways what impact they have and importance they specifically have. Create levels of training that can be used to distinguish for them the importance of their roles. Perception is Reality!

  5. Sam · May 19, 2009

    Bro been struggling with this one for a long time. My limited success in this area would come down to one thing.


    The more volunteers own the ministry the more they feel the pain of the holes that lack of volunteers create. Don’t do what I do is fall into the trap of filling holes for the sake of the end product. It is my weakness. Don’t do it.

    Sam ´s last blog post..Wrapping Up Orange 2009

  6. Josh · May 19, 2009

    Here is what is currently working pretty well for me right now. I have two different kinds of volunteers who serve in our ministry.
    The every week volunteer and the once a month volunteer. I have found the ones who serve weekly are the more passionate. They also seem to take more ownership of what they are doing. The once a month volunteers not so much. As Queen Cash put it, they expect the children’ director to do it.
    I have started to shift a lot of my volunteer positions to weekly responsibilities. That is what seems to work for us. It s not perfect but it is working.

    Josh ´s last blog post..Chicago White Sox Week In Review