3 Easy Ways to Show Appreciation to Your Volunteers

When we turned the calendar from 2020 to 2021 many anticipated a fresh start and a move away from the troubles of the year that brought lockdowns and silent sanctuaries. Many anticipated a great return to worship as it had been. To the surprise of some, the great return became the great resignation. Pastors and church leaders saw their congregations and volunteer teams dwindle, and the only thing that grew was frustration and the desire to move on to a new place of ministry. The hope of 2021 faded and now we find ourselves turning the page to a new year once again. 

As we venture into 2022 a bit less hopeful of returning to any sense of the old normal, there remains a remnant of hard-working, self-sacrificing volunteers. For one particular congregation, the remnant of volunteers was only three out of a previous 95. The leader was shocked by the lack of participation and was forced like so many others to rebuild with what they had. This leader and remnant of three got to work and rebuilt their team with many new volunteers that had to be trained and equipped. Many leaders in a similar situation would have lost hope and quit. Not this leader, and not this group of three. 

There may be many leadership lessons in this story, but perhaps just as important are the reasons to say thank you to the volunteers serving churches across the country. They are people who show up when others give up. They do so because there is a mission to accomplish and a vision to see come to fruition. Fueled by the Holy Spirit, they remain faithful to God and his people. As a pastor, I want to express appreciation for the remnant of volunteers who move the mission forward. If you are a leader and want to thank your remnant of volunteers, here are some suggestions.

1. Acknowledge your volunteers. A powerful way to show appreciation to volunteers is to reassure them that you see their hard work and sacrifice. Nothing may be more discouraging for volunteers than to feel unseen by their leaders. Take time for private conversations that display details of how you see them go above and beyond the typical churchgoer. Help them understand that without their participation, the mission of the church will not be completed. Perhaps you can tell them how much they mean to you personally as you fulfill God’s call to lead. These conversations may be just what your volunteers need to forge ahead. 

2. Give volunteers a break. Let their specific task to go undone for a week. For example, if your children’s ministry leader is serving solo, have a worship service “family style.” No church is going to die doing this periodically, and you may find that it is good for families to worship together in the same space. During these times, I suggest having that volunteer stay home for a Sunday of private worship or attend a worship gathering with a family member in another church. This way of showing appreciation will help your volunteer recharge and perhaps additional people will see the need to step in and help your solo volunteer. 

3. Give volunteers a monetary gift. Your volunteers are not in their places of service for the money; however, a monetary gift may give them a night out or allow them to purchase something outside of their normal household budget. Encourage them to spend it on themselves. I have known wonderful volunteers who have a hard time accepting money for ministry and simply reinvesting their gifts back into the church. Though this is noble, it’s not the point. If this type of appreciation is difficult for your church, I suggest structuring your annual budget in such a way that makes it possible to show appreciation to those who serve. 

If none of these suggestions fit your context, get creative and show appreciation in new and unique ways. 2021 was very difficult, and as 2022 begins, we are sure to encounter familiar and unfamiliar challenges to the mission of our local congregations. These challenges must be met with a fierce reliance on the Holy Spirit as he infills those of us who lead and those who volunteer. 

If you are a leader, step up to the challenge of showing appreciation, even if you feel unappreciated and abandoned by former volunteers. Set out to create a culture that honors those who make your church the wonderful place that it is. If you do, you may just see that remnant turn into an army.  

Paul Hobbs
Paul Hobbs

Paul Hobbs is lead pastor at The Retreat Church: A Church of the Nazarene in Yucaipa, California.