As you know, volunteers are the lifeblood of any church community… so much so, that there’s a church planting theory that postulates churches plateau at roughly triple their max number of regular volunteers! 😱 They help with everything from leading worship to organizing events and providing support to those in need. However, finding and retaining volunteers can sometimes be a challenge. Here are a few tips to help you get and keep volunteers at your church.
1. Volunteers need a compelling “why”
Simon Sinek, in his book Start with Why, points out that successful organizations always start with why they exist and their leaders are essentially champions of a cause. Volunteers work on a similar level, sure you could try twisting arms, but if you come out and tell your volunteers about the unique mission God has for your church and how the work they do contributes to that “why” then you will have people lined up to volunteer for that ministry.
Quick note: if a ministry needs volunteers and isn’t connected to your “why” even tangentially, then it’s time to reevaluate whether or not that ministry should exist. Believe me, after two decades in ministry, I get it, that’s easier said than done! Still, don’t waste your volunteers time, talent, and gifting on things that aren’t part of your church’s unique calling.
2. Volunteers need “easy to learn but hard to master”
No one wants to feel overwhelmed or unprepared when they volunteer. At the same time, people want to feel like they are making a contribution that is meaningful and valuable. Try to make tasks easy to pick up and run with but also have room for growth and development. This will help volunteers feel competent and motivated to continue volunteering. An example would be providing half-page small group guides for the kids church volunteers so that when kids church breaks up into age groups your volunteer has something to fall back on but doesn’t necessarily have to rely on.
Here’s a quick tip: not all volunteers are equal, for example if you have a retired pastor who joins your church who expresses an interest to volunteer, don’t stick them on the projector… you’ll have volunteers with rare skillsets in your church that God has put in your church for a reason… DON’T WASTE IT!
3. Volunteers need more frequency so they can develop skills
I see way too many churches ask people to volunteer once a month or even once a quarter. This is horrible for a couple reasons: first, you communicate that volunteering is a chore that sucks… it’s not… or at least it shouldn’t be. Second, doing something so infrequently makes it hard to develop any level of growth or mastery. You can still be flexible, but ask people to do rotations of at least four weeks in a row. My kids ministry back in the day had two groups: the A-Team school year crew and the B-Team summer crew… we always had to force the A-Team to take the summer off as a kind of sabbatical of sorts or they’d try to continue through!
4. Volunteers need to be the hero
People love to feel like they are making a difference and have the rest of the group acknowledge that. Look for ways to highlight the impact that volunteers are making and show appreciation for their hard work. Interview them on the church podcast, highlight them in your weekly pastoral letter, give them something personalized that recognizes the skills they’ve developed (like giving the sound volunteer a tumbler that says something like “Bob ‘All about that bass’ Smith”). By making volunteers feel like the unique heroes they are, you’ll increase the chances that they’ll stick around and continue to be an integral part of your ministry.
By following these tips, you’ll be well on your way to building and maintaining a strong team of volunteers at your church. Remember, volunteers are an invaluable part of your ministry, and investing in them will pay off in the long run.