Beyond Words

By Susan Lawrence

5 Gifts for Volunteers

1. Storybooks. Collect stories and memories from people involved in the ministry—those who have led, served alongside, and been served by volunteers. Bind together the stories, or place them in a photo album or scrapbook. Seeing and reading others’ perspective will encourage and inspire your volunteers.

open gift box

2. Coupons. Nearly everyone is busy, but when ministry is added into the schedule, other things get put on the back burner. Think of individual needs, and create a customized coupon for each person. Items to consider include pet care, babysitting, delivering a prepared meal, or a free pass from one week of serving with no questions asked.

3. Prayer chain. Remember the paper chains used as garland on Christmas trees? Create a mini string of garland with simple prayers on them. Number the links, and attach them in order. Keep a record of the prayers you place on the chain and commit to praying each day with the designated focus. As you talk with your volunteers during the season of prayer, you can connect by sharing how God is moving in your lives.

4. Scripture cards. Choose key verses about ministry and spiritual growth and create a series of index cards for your volunteers to shuffle through at their convenience to find encouragement. Use a spiral-bound set of index cards or place loose cards in an index card sleeve; both can be placed in the car console, purse, or desk for easy access throughout the day. Include several blank cards for volunteers to add verses as they study on their own.

5. Handwritten note. Never underestimate the value of a handwritten note. Be specific as you share praise and recall stories of the impact each volunteer has had in others’ lives. If possible, set aside an afternoon or evening to personally deliver cards to volunteers’ homes. A piece of chocolate would be a great appreciation addition!


5 Gifts for Ministry Appreciation Month

1. Weekend Getaway. Gift a weekend getaway. Perhaps someone in your church family owns a vacation home or time-share. Work with the ministry staff or families to schedule the best weekend. Consider travel costs if a drive or flight is required. Tuck in a few gift cards for meals. If you can’t afford a weekend getaway, what about giving staff the option of an additional weekend off in 2016? (Be sure to consider each person’s preference. Not everyone enjoys “roughing it” at the free campsite.)

2. Churchwide Gift Basket. This is especially suitable for small to midsize churches. Invite everyone in the congregation to participate. (It will be difficult to keep it a surprise, but with text and e-mail, you can pull it off.) People who want to participate can give a small item to be placed in a basket for each ministry staff person. Challenge them to keep it personal—a gift card to a favorite restaurant, a handwritten note promising the dessert someone enjoys, a new DVD or book, or a note of appreciation.

Larger churches can modify the gift baskets, collecting items, then surprising ministry staff will small gifts throughout the year, or having individuals or small groups of people sign up to show their appreciation during each month in the coming year.

3. Meal-of-the-Month. Ask some of the best cooks in your church family to sign up to provide a meal one month in the coming year. Let the cook and the ministry staff decide on the best date for delivery each month. It’s nice to have a good meal delivered to your home after a busy day or week of ministry.

4. Fresh Paint. It need not be paint, but look around and see how you can refresh the ministry staff’s work environment. Don’t be content with “good enough.” Refresh the office with a new chair, bookcase, or something else that isn’t needed but reminds staff of your attention and appreciation.

5. Something Different. Just because somebody said they really appreciated your gift 10 years ago doesn’t mean they have continued to appreciate it every year since. Put some thought into the gift. Make it personal. One person might appreciate your taking the time to invite him or her to dinner. Someone else sees getting together as yet another obligation. We receive gifts differently. If you decide to give all ministry staff gift cards, at least consider where each person would most likely eat.


3 Gifts for Retiring Ministers

1. Book of Memories. Gather memories from family members, church family, and people throughout the community, add some photos, and create a book of memories. Use an online site to create and order the book (allow several weeks for shipping). If you have an event planned, leave several pages near the back of the book blank to use as a guest book.

2. Open House. Keep it simple. Allow plenty of time for mingling. Be sensitive to how the minister will respond to anything said or presented in front of a large group. It is an emotional time. Respect the person’s vulnerability. Take photos throughout the event, especially casual photos of people connecting. Document as much as you can, then place the photos on a flash drive for the minister to leisurely scroll through later.

3. Tools for the Future. Invest in the minister’s future. We often see retirement as the end of something, but it’s also a beginning. If the person has a hobby or plans, purchase something significant that helps in that area. If not, pick up a tool belt and fill it with a bunch of “tools” to help with the transition: marbles (“for when you lose yours”), balloons (“to hold your hot air”), paper clips (“for days when it’s hard to hold it all together”). Be sensitive. Some people will welcome the laughs. Others will not.


3 Gifts for Elders

1. Thanks, Forgiveness, and Trust. Whether it’s written or spoken, tell elders you appreciate their service. Ideally, do it when they’re doing something that is creating a stir. Perhaps you don’t agree with what they’re doing. Regardless, they are still giving their time. Acknowledge you don’t have all the information they have.

When they’ve done something you believe is wrong, respect them enough to have a personal conversation instead of talking behind their backs. Extend (and ask for) forgiveness. Build trust. Encourage others to do the same. Relationships are much more important than issues.

2. Prayer. Pay attention to the dates and times of elders meetings. Gather a group to pray in the meeting space a half hour or so before the meeting; then move to another area and pray as the meeting begins. Be considerate, staying out of their way, yet let them know you will be praying.

Since not everyone can meet at the church to pray, remind the church family about meeting times through social media and invite them to pray as well. When people support leadership through prayer, they are invested and humbled.

3. Launch Gift. We often give gifts when someone finishes a commitment, when they’ve already done what they are going to do. Instead, give a gift to launch the elders into a new term. Show them you are invested in them and appreciate the sacrifice they have committed to make in the coming year.

Give a leadership devotional they can use through the year, coffee mugs for the long meetings ahead, or a launch dinner. Have ministry staff and past elders enjoy time with the new elders; then pray over them.

Susan Lawrence serves local and national ministries as a ministry consultant, speaker, and author. She serves at Taylorville (Illinois) Christian Church. Connect with her at

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