Hint: It’s just two words.
Recently our church held a community outreach event where we had enlisted a number of volunteers to serve from all different areas of ministry within our body. Even though we had such a diverse cross-section of our volunteers involved, the event was sponsored by our children’s ministry department and I ultimately served as the point person for the event.
Prior to the beginning of the event, I met with the entire volunteer team to cast vision and encouragement for the event, hand out assignments for the day and pray for the success of the event and all those involved. Following that meeting, each of the volunteers stationed themselves at their area of service for the day and prepared for the event to begin.
As the point person, I could have chosen to use those last few minutes before the start of the event in scramble mode, running around being sure that everything was in place and ready to go. In fact, I fought the urge to do so. But instead, I chose to walk around to each volunteer that was serving that day, look them in the eye and say, “Thank you.”
Yep, you guessed it. Those are the two words I alluded to previously–thank you. And to you and me, saying thank you may not seem like all that big of a deal, but I believe it is the most important thing we could ever tell a volunteer. In fact, I was quite shocked at the response of many of the volunteers that day. I wish you could have seen their faces light up as one by one, I went to each of them and just said, “Thanks for serving today.” For some, it seemed as if nobody had ever thought to say thank you before, and my simple gesture was a much needed breath of fresh air to their spirit.
Now don’t get me wrong, casting vision is important. Setting goals and communicating expectations is important. Training and equipping is important. But all of these pale in comparison to the importance of saying “thank you.” When you tell your volunteers how thankful you are for them, it opens the door for you to cast vision, set goals, communicate expectations and train and equip them. But unfortunately, a lot of the time we get so caught up in trying to do all those other things that we fail to thank the people who serve alongside us.
Here’s what I’ve come to realize, though: every major success that I have had in ministry has been built on the backs and shoulders of faithful volunteers who have chosen to align themselves with me. These people aren’t doing it for the money (’cause there ain’t none). They’re not doing it because they have to (because they don’t). They are doing it because they love Jesus and they believe in the mission of the church–it’s as simple as that. But the funny thing is, they may not even realize themselves that that’s why they are doing it. For many volunteers, they are just doing it because that’s what they do. But when you thank them for their efforts, it gives you an opportunity to connect the dots between the “why” and the “what” for them. It allows you to show them how the things they are doing (no matter how menial the task may be) are making a Kingdom impact. It provides occasion for you to celebrate their efforts, and what gets celebrated gets replicated.
And the best thing about saying thank you is that, for you as the leader, it’s easy to do! Look in the mirror right now and say it: “Thank you.” See how it just rolls off the tongue? Not much of a talker? No big deal. Write a card (with an actual pen) and hand it/mail it to a volunteer. Not much of a writer? I got you. Text them. Tweet them. Send a Facebook message. Find that one crafty mom at your church–you know the one that has adorably themed birthday parties for all six of her impeccably well-behaved and well-dressed kids where all the party favors are hand made out of burlap and ribbon and it makes you feel like a terrible parent because you have none of that–and get her to make you some “Thank You” wrappers for Hershey bars and hand one out to each of your volunteers. Simply put, whatever it takes, say thank you to your volunteers–and mean it.
If you’ve read this far in this post, thank you. Chances are you may even be one of the volunteers that have served alongside me in ministry at some point. If so, thanks so much for everything you do/did to help me build the Kingdom. I really mean it and I could never say it enough. And to volunteers everywhere, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU. Guys like me wouldn’t be where we are today without folks like you. YOU make all the difference.
So I gotta know–if you’re a volunteer, what’s the best/most meaningful way you’ve ever been thanked for your service? If you’re a leader of volunteers, what methods do you use to say “thank you”?