Volunteers are an integral part of almost any ministry operation. People coming together to serve in the mission of spreading God’s love is what the Church is all about. In fact, it’s a defining aspect of believers being the body of Christ.
We all know as local churches and ministries, we need dedicated volunteers. But how do we go about meeting them, training them, plugging them in, and ultimately allowing them to thrive in their unique gifts that will benefit those in our congregations and communities?
Let’s look at some of the WORST ideas, and hopefully some better ones to try instead!
Bad Idea #1: Don’t ask for help!
One of the easiest ways NOT to get volunteers on board to help serve in ministry is NOT asking them for help. In other words, if we want to make sure people do not offer or inquire about volunteering in church, we just don’t ever need to make it known that there is a need for volunteers in the first place.
Not talking about the areas the church needs volunteers is a great way to make it less likely that people will step up to the plate to serve and use their gifts.
Good Idea #1: Make volunteer needs known from the platform
Sometimes when we’re in the thick of weekly and daily ministry, we can assume that people understand what the needs are and how they can help. The truth is, though, the average individual or family involved in church is not as in the loop as we might think. The key is to over-communicate (from the platform, the website, update emails, etc).
We should be sure that announcements are made on exactly WHAT the needs are for volunteers and HOW potential volunteers can get involved. This will ensure people don’t just assume that all the needs are covered, but instead will make it clear how they can make an impact with their time and feel like they’re contributing to the church body they’ve chosen to be a part of.
Bad Idea #2: Create an insider volunteer culture
Another good way to get bad results in volunteer recruitment is to create an “exclusive” culture where it’s hard to figure out exactly how to get plugged in. For newer attenders of the church especially, assuming that they know what the process looks like and who they should talk to for serving in certain areas is a way to dissuade involvement.
Some people might simply give up and become discouraged if the volunteering process seems to be only for those “in the know.”
Good Idea #2: Communicate the volunteer process clearly and consistently
If we want to recruit good volunteers who will be invaluable in ministering to others (and minister to those volunteers at the same time), it’s important to have a well-defined and well-communicated process of what it looks like to get involved. Good organization is something that will help those in leadership, those hoping to offer their gifts through volunteering, and ultimately the members of the community that the volunteer effort is meant to serve.
We should talk redundantly about the church volunteering process and introduce the staff members or volunteer leaders they should reach out to for different ministry areas. Giving people the seeds they need to connect will allow them to plant and thrive.
Bad Idea #3: Don’t respond to inquiries in a timely manner (or at all)!
With the technology available to help churches manage people and ministries today, it’s not unfamiliar to have an email address for “this” or a signup form for “that.” But one of the best ways to create an environment where people are turned OFF to serving is to never respond to their inquiries on these platforms. If people really want to get involved, they’ll probably come up to us in person if we don’t answer their email, right?
We can be sure that potential volunteers feel there is no need for them to serve by letting their contact attempts stack up in an inbox somewhere that nobody checks.
Good Idea #3: Create an easy process to sign up to volunteer (and actively respond to it)
There are many tools meant to help us organize and deploy resources like volunteers to the areas of ministry that need them. The technology we talked about just above is a GOOD thing. The key is being dedicated to properly taking advantage of those tools and actively following up on “leads” that come into them.
We should view every person who fills out a form to serve as a valuable asset that is just waiting to be cultivated and plugged in. After all, if someone takes the time to fill out a form and indicate interest in something these days, it means they are serious about it! So, the website, the kiosk in the lobby, or the email signup form should spell out what will happen next, such as who will get in contact. And that process should happen before too much time passes.
Bad Idea #4: Seem desperate when recruiting volunteers
Some potential church volunteers might be a little nervous about the level of commitment required to serve. After all, they have a lot going in their lives already. So one way to scare them away prematurely from volunteering is to make sure to let them know how desperate our organization is for their time and resources.
Making volunteers feel like no one in leadership has thought about their time will surely make people feel uneasy about jumping in headfirst to a volunteer commitment.
Good Idea #4: Recruit volunteers by modeling faith that God will provide
People can see when leaders are filled with faith and joy in the Lord. They can see when leaders walk in the faith that God will provide, not only financially, but also with every other resource a ministry needs to accomplish the mission and vision He has given for it.
If we as leaders go to our congregation from a place of faith and confidence, THEY will be confident when committing to run alongside us in the various areas our church needs them to serve in. We should communicate the need for volunteers, and even sometimes how badly they are needed, but never from a place of desperation. After all, God will provide every resource and person we need for the things He has called us to.
Bad Idea #5: Let volunteers serve to the point of burnout
If someone has committed to serve, and especially if they say they really enjoy it, we shouldn’t worry about how MUCH they’re serving, should we? If we aren’t concerned about volunteers’ individual walks with Jesus, or their time with their families, it’s totally fine to use them every week at church and never expect them to take a Sunday off.
We can easily make a bad example for new church volunteers if we wait until those serving in church volunteer positions reach their breaking point before we check in to see how they’re doing.
Good Idea #5: Celebrate church volunteers by supporting them as a community
Creating a culture where volunteers are valued is very important. It’s also something that’s visible to prospective new volunteers who will want to sign up to serve at church. Instead of waiting for people to come to us and say they need a break, we should have it built into our scheduling that no one is expected to serve every single service, every single week.
Sometimes volunteers themselves don’t realize it because of their dedication, but they need time at least every once in a while, to worship from the congregation, with their families or friends, without responsibilities. Even though this can be a challenge in smaller congregations, God will provide and honor our efforts to steward ministry volunteers as valuable sons and daughters of God first.
One idea is to have a monthly or quarterly “volunteer night” where you provide dinner and fun activities, a special worship time, or team-building activities they can enjoy. (A bonus is that nothing creates community better than serving together. These times are where your church’s unity is built!)
Whatever we do, if we remember to think about how to show appreciation to our volunteers, we will be blessed with many more. Hopefully, these BAD IDEAS and GOOD IDEAS will spark some new life for how to embrace the noble and necessary effort of recruiting church volunteers. As we think about our past successes and failures (and laugh and cry at the same time), we can rejoice in the ultimate joy that comes from ministering alongside wonderful volunteers and friends.