Strong relationships and the invitation to do meaningful work are great motivators
by Beth Waltemath | Presbyterian News Service
“My number one goal was to be invitational,” Green said. She set a goal of recruiting 12 lead teachers for Sunday school and many other folks to support by helping with crafts and being a supportive presence. Now Green has a core group of 50 volunteers whom she knows really well, “the kind of people I’d walk through fire for,” she said.
For Green, recruiting and sustaining volunteers comes down to building strong relationships and inviting them into meaningful work. She cited a study on happiness out of Harvard University that pointed to authentic relationships and meaningful work as the primary sources of happiness in adults. “That’s what the church is built on,” said Green, “and so reminding the folks of what they are doing and why it matters is a piece of how we are invitational.”
Green shared her story and tips from her career in children’s ministry with other faith formation leaders during the online Faith Formation Leader Connection meeting on Oct. 12 to set the stage for this month’s topic on training volunteer formation leaders during a meeting hosted by the Office of Christian Education. Faith Formation Leader Connection meets twice a month, once during the day and once in the evening to be accessible to faith leaders across many time zones and contexts, whether they are full-time, part-time or volunteer. The next meeting is at 8 p.m. Eastern Time on Oct. 24. Meeting resources can be found on the Faith Formation Leader Connection page.
Miatta Wilson, associate for Christian Formation in the Presbyterian Mission Agency, followed up on Green’s introduction with a discussion of volunteer recruitment, training, appreciation, and retention. Wilson drew on a series of blog posts at Building Faith on the topic. She also shared a Quick Sheet produced by the Office of Christian Formation on post-pandemic faith “re-formation” and a web resource on volunteer formation leader training curated by Wilson and her colleagues especially for the topic. Many participants discussed the ways that their training had by necessity shifted from in-person group facilitation to online meetings, pre-made video libraries, and frequent texts and emails corresponding with volunteers on their schedules.
Participants shared their best practices and tips as well as their frustrations and observations of trends in volunteer participation. Thom Cunningham, director of Faith Formation and Mission at the First Presbyterian Church of Deerfield, Illinois, directed people to Notebird, an app that streamlines pastoral care and volunteer appreciation. Many participants acknowledged the ways appreciating volunteers had multiplied and diversified as they found themselves connecting with and thanking people often and less formally through texts, social media, and written cards as well as in larger public settings of worship or an event hosted by the church.
“It’s not about the big things anymore, it’s really quantity,” said Green, who even gave a leader of a walking meditation group stickers based on St. Francis’s saying, “Preach the Gospel daily. Use words when necessary.”
Timidity in teaching was a theme around recruiting new volunteers as one person shared various calls where a tradition of having paid Sunday school teachers became a practice.
“Over the last probably 15 years I’ve noticed a growing number of people in their 20s, 30s and early 40s who are so insecure about their biblical understanding and lack of knowledge,” said one participant, “they’re all willing to say ‘yes’ to assist, but none of them want to take the lead.” The participant shared how the church has experimented with intergenerational programming where a staff person leads a section on the Bible and then the volunteers take on crafts and projects in small groups. “It is a challenge and I think the model is changing.”
Others described similar intergenerational learning events to meet the needs of parents who want to learn about faith alongside their children so that they can be better prepared for sticky questions that may arise at home.
Stephanie Fritz, coordinator for Office of Christian Formation, affirmed that conversations about how and when Christian formation happens continue, especially after the pandemic. Fritz pointed to resources by the PC(USA) and Opening Doors to Discipleship that take up this conversation. In 2024, the Office of Christian Formation will launch new initiative called “Around the Table” that addresses the need to empower parents and caregivers as partners in faith formation whether it occurs around the family table, within the community of faith or flows in and around both.
The remaining dates for the Faith Formation Leader Connection meetings in 2023 are Oct. 24, Nov. 9 and Nov. 28.
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Categories: Christian Formation
Tags: faith formation leader connection, first presbyterian church of deerfield illinois, kat green, miatta wilson, partner associations, stephanie fritz, thom cunningham, woods memorial presbyterian church severna park maryland
Ministries: Faith Formation Leader Connection, Partner Associations