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Who are you accountable to? If you’re a pastor, you could be held accountable by the governing body of the church, the elders, maybe a bishop, not to mention the canons of the church. If you’re a youth minister, you probably answer to a pastor, if not a personnel committee.

But if you’re a volunteer, it’s a whole different story.

Lately, due to a number of issues, including the poor economy, more and more churches are being forced to heavily rely on volunteers more heavily. Some churches are cutting paid staff, such as sextons and program directors for children and youth ministries. Even ordained clergy positions are being cut or eliminated altogether.

Now, more than ever, it’s important that churches practice good habits concerning volunteers. The last thing the church body should want to hear is, “Wait, that’s not my job!” A devastating blow can occur when a volunteer is a no-show (‘cause they forgot), or can’t make the meeting (‘cause they have something “better” to do), or gets burned out from going overboard (‘cause nobody can do it as well as he or she can). A few practical steps can ensure that volunteers are nurtured and valued, but are also held accountable.

First, smart congregations have an inventory of the jobs that need to be done. If you have Sunday school teachers, youth leaders, chaperones, etc., you should have individual job descriptions for each of those positions. The job description should contain a brief summary of expectations and an estimate of how long the job should take. Let’s face it, just because someone is a volunteer, doesn’t mean that the “job” is any less vital or deserving of a working job description.

After your volunteers have prayerfully considered the job description, have them sign a covenant. A good covenant should consist of bulleted items that the volunteer will and will not do in and for the church, the community, and the world. And since every church is different, you shouldn’t try to find another church’s covenant online and adopt it for your own. A group of individuals that have managerial and/or HR experience would be a great group of people to ask for help with this.

And though it’s been said over and over again (we can’t express it enough), thank your volunteers, and thank them often. If you are a volunteer and feeling under appreciated, then let your pastor (or whomever you report to) know. It’s not okay if you’re feeling undervalued because someone is taking you for granted. And though we shouldn’t be serving for kicks and giggles, it’s hurtful when the powers that be don’t even acknowledge your efforts! Thank your volunteers, and thank them often! Be creative and be sincere.

Oh, one more thing: Thank your volunteers, and thank them often!

Finally, it’s important that covenants and job descriptions aren’t created, signed, and then stuffed in a drawer until the secretary stumbles upon them 10 years later, shoved into some filing cabinet that’s been moved to the basement to make room for the newest pet project of the kitchen queens. These documents should be reviewed and updated yearly. Covenants should be renewed every so often. Only then will these documents be taken seriously. And only then can you use these tools to help volunteers be accountable for their commitments.

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