Finding the perfect volunteer schedule is about as easy as finding the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. We all talk about it, but does it really exist? I would readily admit there is no set system that works for every role. Within most teams, schedules vary by role, ministry needs, and personal availability.
That being said, there still needs to be a line of consistency that is strung throughout scheduling. This begs the question: where do I begin? Start by identifying three things: opportunities, obligations, and options.
I refuse to refer to ministry roles as needs. They are opportunities. We don’t need ten more volunteers; we have opportunities in ten more areas. What are the opportunities volunteers have for serving in your ministry?
Identify team roles, times, and frequency. Does the ministry meet weekly? On the weeks they serve, is there an opportunity for them to attend a service? This may help identify how often you want them serving. If there are multiple services to choose from, do you ask your team members to worship in one and serve in another? This could open the door for volunteers to serve more frequently.
While there are many benefits to having weekly volunteers, be careful not to overwhelm your team. The consistency of having regular volunteers can make the transition from the parent/guardian to the teacher a lot easier, especially for younger children. It also makes prayer time easier, as kids have grown to trust adults they see regularly and are more likely to open up about real issues. However, you have to guard your volunteers’ time and energy.
Avoid Volunteer Burn Out
Some of the most dedicated volunteers show up every time the doors are open. As easy as it would be to make the most of these team members, you also do not want to allow them to burn out. As a leader, it is important to guard their time. Oftentimes they will be so concerned for the ministry that they will not take the time they need in fear that the ministry will suffer. It is wonderful they put the ministry needs ahead of their own, but this is where they need you to put their needs before the ministry.
Step in and offer a time to rest and refresh. Is there anything wrong with serving every time the doors are open? Not at all. But be careful to watch for signs of burnout and stop it before it starts.
In addition to the needs of the team members, you must also consider the needs of the specific roles.
When mapping out opportunities, ask yourself these questions regarding the obligations of each volunteer job description:
- Do you need volunteers to arrive early for setup and stay late for cleanup, or do you have a separate team for that?
- Are the team members required to stay for the entire service, or do check-in teams only need to be present at the beginning and end? If they are only serving before and after service, they could serve every week and still attend a worship service.
- Is it a food preparation role? On weeks when food is cooked, you will need more team members for that position.
- Is there a week that typically has higher attendance than others? This will likely require more team members. It is beneficial to have a special events team that only serves as additional help. These team members serve for Easter, Mother’s Day, Christmas, and other highly attended weekends or special events. Their schedule looks different from that of team members who regularly volunteer.
Once you have identified the ideal schedule based on opportunities and obligations, set baseline expectations to use as the standard. Everyone serving must meet this minimum requirement—be it once a month, every other week, or whatever works best for your ministry. Finally, review the options you have for filling these roles.
Give volunteers the options and ask for their availability. This prevents them from feeling they have no choice in the frequency with which they serve, but still keeps them in alignment with your team goals. This technique puts the schedule back in the hands of your team members.
Within your set requirement for serving, how often are your volunteers available? Get this information from every team member. Depending on the scheduling tool you use, this option should be built into the platform.
Schedule your team members in their roles and timeframe based on their availability. If you have a backup team, drop them into the timeframes where you are lacking volunteers, but do this as far in advance as you can. Schedule them in as stand-by if all roles are filled and communicate their role clearly.
Advanced planning is vital to scheduling. Waiting until two days prior to ask someone to serve is only going to exhaust your team and leave you stressing at the last minute. Set up schedules at least three months out, so team members have plenty of time to plan other activities around their serving schedule. This also gives them the opportunity to let you know ahead of time when they will be out for vacation, work, or other obligations.
Will there still be times you have to text a volunteer at the last minute to ask for help? Yes. Illness happens, emergencies come up, and sometimes people just don’t show. We plan in advance as much as we can, but there will still be times these things happen. However, we can minimize the frequency of these occurrences by planning ahead.
As you plan schedules and question how often you should ask your volunteers to serve, remember to consider opportunities, obligations, and options. This will create a more enjoyable, less stressful experience for you and the entire team.