As a staff team, we think about the life of a KidsWorld volunteer in four simple phases: recruiting, placement, training, and care.  Probably the hardest phase for me to address is care.  In the remainder of this year, one of my goals is to come up with one significant step in honing the care phase for the 2nd-5th grade volunteers I lead.  In the middle of that effort, I came across the research of Richard Ryan, a psychologist at the University of Rochester.

Ryan’s article in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology came to the conclusion that happiness increases for most people on the weekend.  No surprises here (except maybe for some workaholics out there), time away from the daily grind, deadlines, and the pressures of work would suggest an increase in happiness.  The interesting thing about Ryan’s research is the psychology behind the increase.  According to Ryan, the increase is due to “relatedness and autonomy.”

Relatedness is the connection people feel with others.  Autonomy is the presence of self-direction.  In other words, people have the freedom to choose the things they want to do and then they do them.  As Daniel Pink summarized, the findings were conclusive across age, marital status, education, and profession.

Takeaways for children’s ministry volunteers:

  • The time our volunteers spend on the weekend has higher stakes because their service should be self-directed.
  • The quickest way to burn out a volunteer is to create a serving environment where their contribution is obligatory.
  • Volunteers feeling fulfilled and satisfied in their role is subject to the amount of relational connectedness they feel.  This is a focal point for my time on the weekend: am I running around doing tasks or relating to people?  Is there volunteer role animated by connection and purpose?
  • Volunteers connectedness to their family can lead to greater satisfaction in a serving role.  The key relationships highlighted by the research that lead to increased happiness are familial.  What’s the temperature of my volunteer team in terms of families serving together?