My pastor friend is planning a volunteer appreciation event and asked what elements should be considered. Here’s a list if you want to put together an event of your own. Mix or match or pick out key items that fit your church culture.
Start with a theme. Themes make things fun! Themes are also what people remember. When all the elements tie together, creativity flourishes and the event makes
Appreciation events I have been involved in planning have included an international theme, Oscars night theme, beach/tropical island theme, Olympics, and even a Survivor theme. There are tons of ideas out there on the Internet.
Decorations are important, but there’s no need to go over the top. If you have a limited budget, focus on doing something on the stage, decorating the food tables, and centerpieces. Balloons are festive and not too terribly pricey. If you have colored lights on your stage, adjusting the lights to match your branding is a nice touch. (Or you can purchase pretty low cost LED lighting off of Amazon and reuse them at a later time.)
Along with the theme, create branding that fits the feel of the event. If you’re going for an Oscars night, make it classy. If you’re doing a 50’s sock hop, make it lively. Use the logo everywhere: invitations, materials, slides, banners
Think about what happens before the event even starts. For an Oscar night, we had a red carpet outside, lined with staff cheering people as they entered. For the international theme, we gave people passports (in the photo above) and asked people to get signatures of other volunteers for a prize. We closed the doors to the worship center to create anticipation (and to give our team more time to set up!)
When you open the doors, make sure there is music playing. Even better is if the playlist you choose matches the theme!
Start the event with a bang. This sets a tone of excitement when there is some kind of grand opening. If you do this event every year, people will learn to not be late. We’ve done big video intros combined with live action elements. For the Olympics theme, we played a video of the pastor carrying the torch around the world (thank you, green screen technology) and ended with him bursting into the room (dressed
Food is a must! A sit-down dinner is a huge gift to your volunteers. If that will break the bank, try doing appetizers or a dessert table.
This event is a great way for people to get to know each other. We create a large group game with tables competing for prizes. For the international theme, we showed famous sites and had people guess them. They got one point for the landmark and another point if they could name the country.
Some of the events we’ve done have had a slideshow or video montage of volunteers. Volunteers sometimes see a limited view of ministry because they only know what they do and what the people around them do. These shows have had an added benefit of expanding people’s understanding of ministry. People have told me, “Wow! I did not know that there were so ministries at our church!” Plus, it is a great way to celebrate behind-the-scenes volunteers that no one ever hears about.
Some events we’ve done have also had outside entertainment, such as a comedian. This can be a significant expense so in recent years I’ve chosen to go with home-grown talent (i.e. staff performance and activities).
The highlight of every event is always the staff performance. We’ve done dances, musicals, and singing. My favorite is taking well-known songs and changing the lyrics to encourage the volunteers (see the videos on the links below).
This is by far the element people remember the most. They feel appreciated and valued that the staff took the effort to practice and put the performance together.
Allow the staff some way to personally thank the volunteers. If you’ve got the capabilities, a video works well, especially if it ties into the theme.
Message from the pastor
A short and heartfelt message from the pastor helps people feel like the pastor cares about them. It’s also a chance to cast vision about building a volunteer culture and to inspire people to invite others alongside in ministry.
At some events, we’ve passed out awards. This is always a tricky
We always like to have some kind of take-home gift for people. For the international theme, we gave away luggage tags with the logo stamped on the tag. These were a huge hit!
Pray for your volunteers and bless them!
Some other important considerations
Depending on the scale of your event and the church culture, these may be items you might want to integrate:
- Childcare. Most of the time we provide childcare for babies (hired babysitters, so that the volunteers can be in the program).
- Emcee. The pastor doesn’t have to be the emcee. Pick someone who is good up front and has a fun personality.
- Tech. Always important if you have a large group!
- Slides/graphics/invitations. I’ve been at churches that have done paper invitations, and others that have done digital invites. Digital is definitely cheaper!! Match all your materials with your branding.
Links to posts
Here are links to my appreciation event posts. These are only the most recent events. One of these days I’ll have to dig through my years of archives and post the other events!
- Olympic theme
- International theme
What ideas have worked for your churches? Please add them to the comments below!
Angela Yee is Executive Director of Ministry Development of the Evangelical Covenant Church. Her experience as a church leadership systems consultant, a professional designer and an author enables her to communicate leadership principles visually.
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