Any pastor knows that in order to accomplish ministry work within the church, volunteers are needed. However, how often do you find yourself either searching for those volunteers or finding that the same people are volunteering for everything (and are quickly becoming burnt out)? Below, I’ll share two ways that pastors unknowingly undermine volunteer recruitment as well as three key ways you can obtain and retain volunteers.
Mistake #1: Focusing on positions rather than people
Oftentimes, pastors look primarily at the ministry positions that need to be filled, which means they’re looking for people to fill roles rather than looking at who each person is—his or her spiritual gifts, personality, and experiences—and leveraging all of that for their people to be on mission for Jesus in the local church. I’ve fallen into this trap, too. So rather than focusing on what positions need filling, we should help people take their next steps toward Christ by getting them on a mission using the gifts that God has given them.
Years ago I heard Tony Dungy speaking at a Leadership Summit. He said that he doesn’t focus on the win as the ultimate goal. The primary focus is helping each player become the best player he can be. Tony said if you do that with each player, and the players all work together to leverage their strengths, they end up winning more games.
In essence, that’s what we ought to be doing as the body of Christ. If we can help each person live out who God created him or her to be and maximize the giftedness that God has put in each one of us as believers, then when we come together as the body of Christ, we’re going to have that much more impact.
Mistake #2: Using a “megaphone” approach rather than a “telephone” approach
Pastors often think the way to recruit volunteers is to make an announcement from the pulpit on Sunday, rather than encouraging people to tap the shoulders of their friends. I’ve done some research, and it probably wouldn’t surprise you that the number one reason why people show up to church for the very first time is because a friend invites them.
I think we all have this general sense that first-time visitors come because of an invitation, but we forget that once people start coming, every other next step they’re going to take is probably going to be because a friend invites them to take that step. Whether that’s attending an event, connecting to a Bible study, engaging in a small group, or in this case serving someplace, it’s more likely that newcomers are going to take the next step to volunteering because a friend invites them to serve rather than us promoting those opportunities, including promoting from the platform or from the pulpit.
Creating a church culture that is inviting to volunteers
How do we combat these mistakes and reverse the trend? Below are three helpful strategies to get us back moving in the right direction.
Strategy #1: Celebrate the fruits of ministry efforts
In ministry, we’re accomplishing a great mission. Most people recognize that if we come together as the body of Christ, using our individual giftings, we can have a huge impact in many people’s lives. But the reality is, people are volunteering their time. They’re not getting paid to do this. One way we can continue to fuel that internal motivation to live out God’s purpose in their lives is to periodically step back and celebrate that engagement, that involvement that people have in the mission. We can do this through celebrating the work that is being done, but also by telling stories about people being impacted by their ministry. Everyone wants to be appreciated; celebrating the fruits of ministry efforts is a form of appreciation and encouragement to continue that work.
Strategy #2: Be strategic in the programs and roles you offer
Our natural tendency is to offer more opportunities, more ministries, and more volunteer roles. But I’ve learned that actually makes it more confusing for people on what their first step needs to look like. So in the past, I’ve intentionally narrowed down opportunities to avoid that confusion.
And while part of the challenge may be having clear opportunities, churches also need to reduce the number of programs they have. With fewer programs, church leaders can make sure they are able to get enough volunteers for each of those programs. That way, what is in place can be done well and the ministry can have a big impact, rather than having so many programs competing to get people in serving roles.
Strategy #3: Hire pastoral staff who will raise up leaders and build teams in the congregation
Because church resources are limited, we have to be good stewards of those resources. Part of that stewardship is recognizing we have to invest in people who are going to raise up leaders and build teams to accomplish the ministry. The great thing is if you hire high-capacity people who know how to raise up other leaders and build teams to carry out the ministry, you’re going to hire fewer people. Additionally, you’re probably going to have more financial resources to compensate those people at a higher level, rather than trying to hire several people to do all these ministry tasks, and then not having money to compensate the bigger team. I’d rather hire high-capacity people than hire all kinds of doers of ministries instead.
What do I do if my church is stuck in a rut?
If your church is stuck in a rut of never seeming to have enough volunteers to do the work of ministry, consider how you can implement the strategies laid out above (and avoid the pitfalls!). Start by assessing the health of your church as it relates to ministries, ministry workers, and volunteers. Consider what is working and where there are opportunities for change. Review your leadership, both paid and volunteer. Then build a plan based on where God wants your church to be in the future, with specific steps on how to carry it out in the days, weeks, and months to come.