I’m sure you’ll be saying “Merry Christmas” often in the next few weeks, but there are two other words that may be even more important:
Pastor, you’re likely in the midst of one of the most volunteer-intensive months of the year. You have countless projects, events, and activities to prepare for this season. Plus, you have one of your largest services of the year coming up in three weeks.
It’s a busy time for you and your volunteers—so please remember to thank them. It’s not just courtesy; it’s a critical part of ministry in the holiday season. Paul describes what should be a regular practice in the church in 1 Thessalonians 5:11: “Encourage each other and give each other strength, just as you are doing now” (NCV).
Your appreciation of others boosts their value. You give people strength when you thank them. William James once wrote, “The deepest principle of human nature is the craving to be appreciated.”
Paul gives us a great example of how to express gratitude to church members in his New Testament letters. He clearly understood the importance of expressing gratitude to the people who supported his ministry. For example, he specifically thanked people for:
- Their faithfulness (Philippians 1:3-5). The volunteers in your congregation have many different things they could be doing with their time during the holiday season. They don’t have to be serving at your church. When they do serve, let them know you see their faithfulness to God and to your church.
- Their uniqueness (Colossians 3:15). Your volunteers serve in a myriad of different ways at your church. Each of your volunteers brings a unique SHAPE to their ministry. Thank them for their uniqueness. Let them know that your ministry during the holiday season happens because they’re living out the fresh and original way God designed them. When Paul wrote to the church of Colossae in chapter 3, he noted the church’s diversity wasn’t a weakness that should divide it but a strength that should unite it. The diversity of the gifts serving your church this Christmas season demonstrates this supernatural strength.
- Their effort (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3). Never get caught up just appreciating results. Show people you’re grateful for the effort they demonstrated, even if the execution wasn’t perfect. If you only show appreciation for results, you’ll eventually lose volunteers.
How to Say Thank You
It’s not just what you say; it’s also how you say it that matters when you’re expressing appreciation for your volunteers this Christmas. Keep these three principles in mind as you say thanks.
- Be real. Your gratitude needs to be sincere and heartfelt. Don’t do it for any ulterior motive, and don’t use it as an excuse to get them to volunteer again. Be genuinely grateful for your volunteers’ sacrifice. They will detect any extra reason you might have for saying thanks—and they may be less likely to give their time again.
- Be specific. Don’t beat around the bush. Verbalize exactly what you appreciate about the person’s service. This means making your appreciation personal whenever possible. You may have too many volunteers to personally thank each one, but make your gratitude as personal as possible. One of the best ways to do this is to catch people in their acts of service. When you see someone serving, don’t just walk past them. Tell them how much you appreciate what they’re doing, and tell them exactly what you appreciate them for.
- Be consistent. Most of your volunteers aren’t just serving during Christmas. Make your gratitude a habit. Let the Christmas season be a time when you make a new commitment to consistently show how much you appreciate your volunteers. Paul writes, “We ought always to give thanks to God for you” (2 Thessalonians 2:13 ESV). Continual appreciation for your volunteers will change the atmosphere in your church.
Let’s be honest—you never know how many opportunities you’ll have to say thanks. It’s a sobering truth for your personal life, as you ponder all of the people in your life who may never get the chance to hear you say, “Thank you.”
But it’s also true of your ministry. You never know what could happen to the volunteers who are serving with you this Christmas. Don’t take them for granted. Some of the most important people in your church will never hear their name mentioned in a worship service. Often, their service will never make it into a book or even their obituary someday.
Pastor, for many of them, none of that matters either. They’d simply love to hear their pastor say, “Thank you.”
Embrace the attitude of gratitude this holiday season and beyond.