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How to Stop Volunteers from Saying "I Don't Know...I'm Just a Volunteer

You are in a big box store and you need help finding something. You look everywhere for someone in whatever color of shirt the employees wear...hoping to get some help locating something. You walk over to another department...no employees in sight there either. Before you know it, you've walked all the way to the other side of the store. You are not a happy camper. Finally...finally...finally you see an employee. You quickly walk to them, hoping to get the location of the item you need. But things turn for the worse when you ask the employee where the item is. The employee shrugs his shoulders and says "I don't know...that's not my department." GGGGGGRRRRRRRR. You whisper to Jesus and ask for His help so you don't lose it and storm out of the store. Sound familiar? It's happened to all of us at one time or another. Now let's think about a similar scenario. A guest family pulls into your parking lot on a Sunday morning. After finding a parking spot they walk inside. And they feel like you feel when you walk into that big box store and can't find help. They are thinking "Where do we go? Where is the bathroom? Where do we take our kids? Where is the auditorium?" Finally, after wandering around for a few minutes, they see someone wearing a shirt with a church logo on it. They ask the person where they can go to check their children in. The response? The person shrugs and says, "I don't know. I don't serve in children's ministry...and I'm just a volunteer." Scenario two: A family that has just started attending walks up to the children's guest services area after picking up their children. Mom heard an announcement about a women's Bible study that's beginning. She didn't catch all the details, but is interested in attending. She asks the person at the guest services booth if they know where the Bible study will be held and what time? The person at guest services responds with "I don't know what's going on in women's ministry. I don't serve over there. I'm just a volunteer." GGGGRRRRRR. The family won't say it out loud, but inside they are thinking "GGGRRRRR!" And chances are, both of those families might not return. If you walk into a ministry and encounter a team of volunteers who DO NOT say the words "I don't know...I'm just a volunteer" it's because they have been taught not to say that. So, how can you keep your volunteers from saying that phrase? What steps can you take to create and sustain an empowered volunteer culture? Let's look at 3 keys. Share with them why it's so important. Start with the why. Explain the impact their words make in a guest's experience. And when someone asks a question, how you respond is a big factor in them returning or not. Here are two quotes you can use to help them see why their response to a guest's or regular attendee's question influences the person's perception of the ministry.

While no one owns the guest, they do own the moment they are with the guest.

A guest's experience at your church is the sum total of their interactions with everyone they talk with.

If you will help your team grasp how important what they do is and how much impact their interaction with guests matters, they will begin to go the second mile. And on the second mile, you won't hear the words "I don't know...I'm just a volunteer." Train them. Great guest services is the result of great training. We can't expect volunteers to not say "I'm just a volunteer" if we've never told them not to. If you go to Disney World and ask a cast member (employee) a question, you'll never hear the words "I don't know." Why? Because they have been trained not to say that. It is crucial that you teach everyone on your team to never say "I don't know...I'm just a volunteer." Instead train them to say, "That's a great question. Give me a minute to find out for you." Then find the answer and let the guest know what it is. You can get a list of more things to say and not to say to guests in the book - If Disney Ran Your Children's Ministry. There is a whole chapter with tips from Disney about helping guests. You can get it here. Empower them with the tools they need. This starts by helping them see that they are not "just a volunteer." They are so much more. You might even consider changing what you call them. Rather than calling them "volunteers" perhaps you should call them something like "Team Member" or "Dream Team Member" or "Ministry Partner" or something else that conveys ownership. Then you empower them by placing tools in their hands that can help them succeed as they interact with guests and families. Some of these tools could be...

  • A list of what to say and what not to say when asked questions.

  • A FAQ paper with the answers.

  • An "announcement" paper that has all the current and upcoming events, Bible studies, etc. that are going on and where it is being held. This should be for the entire church because parents will ask about other events that are happening outside of children's ministry.

  • Have a pre-service huddle. During the huddle, go over key announcements the volunteer team needs to know for that day.

Empower your volunteers and they won't have to hunt down a staff member to be effective. The goal should be to diminish the line between staff and volunteers. You can read more about that here.

Do these things and you will lessen or even eliminate guests and families hearing "I don't know...I'm just a volunteer." You can get lots of more ideas and insight about empowering your volunteers in the book "The Formula for Building Great Volunteer Teams." Your turn. The floor is yours. How do you train volunteers to not say "I don't know?" How do you blur the line between staff and volunteers? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section below.

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