The question comes in many forms.
How do we get people off the sideline and into the game?
How do we help members get motivated when it just seems like they want to come and listen or be entertained?
How do we engage people when they are already so busy or say they are tired and need a break?
It’s the volunteer question.
Pastors and church leaders know they will never be able to do all of the ministry that needs to be done. But seeing people take the next steps to serve is another story.
I’ve never had a church leader come to me and say, “We have too many volunteers.” Instead, we hear the opposite time and time again.
How do we get more volunteers?
The question is even more important when you consider that people often give their time before they give their money and volunteers are three times more likely to invite their friends to church.
So let’s talk about volunteer recruitment. Specifically, passive recruitment.
Here are five ways you can recruit volunteers all year long.
#1 – Get good at saying thanks.
The first step in recruiting new volunteers is thoroughly thanking your existing volunteers.
That’s right…before you worry about bringing any new people into your volunteer base, make sure the volunteers you already have serving are the happiest and healthiest people in your church.
If your current volunteers are under appreciated, you’re asking people to jump on board a sinking ship. And very few people want to make that leap.
Make sure you have a simple system in place to thank your current volunteers. That system could consist of:
- Personal hand written thank you notes to recognize individual contributions
- An annual volunteer appreciation event
- Regularly, scheduled, insider communication
- A team structure that makes sure everyone serving has a shepherd to care for their soul
Since people naturally go where they are appreciated, make sure you thank your volunteers over and over again. It’s the most powerful thing you can do to attract new people.
#2 – Highlight volunteer contributions.
Not only should you thank your volunteers individually, you should appreciate them publicly.
Call attention to people who go above and beyond. Recognize people by name and in public. Every time you do this, it means a lot to the person you’re recognizing, but it also makes a difference to your larger volunteer base.
Your volunteers won’t be jealous they aren’t receiving the attention; they will feel mutually appreciated. They love the fact you notice individuals. In fact, every time you highlight a contribution made by a volunteer, you sow the seeds of volunteerism in your entire congregation.
My pastor, Andy Stanley, frequently says, “Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.” Don’t let the fear of leaving someone out cause you to miss the tremendous opportunity to recognize people publicly.
When I was pastoring a church in Atlanta, one of my favorite ways to do this was giving out an award at our quarterly leadership event. These awards were a big deal and they were a highlight of the evening.
We’ve got a whole training on how to do this inside of the Church Fuel membership program.
#3 – Leverage the power of “by the way.”
“By the way” moments are a great way to recruit volunteers without having to put on the hard-sell or preach a full sermon.
Mention needs. Say thanks. Highlight contributions without making them a main point.
In other words, make it normal to talk about volunteering.
When you mention the busy school teacher who serves in the nursery in your sermon, you subtly remind people that serving is not for people with loads of free time.
When you reference a few volunteers who were at your house talking about football, you remind people you’re connected to people who serve and that volunteering is a way to get to know others.
Great communicators are masters of the “by the way” moments.
#4 – Find your recruiters.
In your church, you have people who are gifted and called to do the thing.
And then there are others who can’t really do the thing but who just seem to know everyone. They are well-connected, well-liked, and people seem to follow them.
There are people in your church with a very particular set of skills. Church of the Highlands in Birmingham makes sure every volunteer team has a leader in charge of recruiting. They don’t burden this person with administrative tasks or even leadership of the whole team. They put them in charge of recruiting. It’s their responsibility to bring new people onto the team.
There’s a reason Army recruiters are different from drill camp instructors. It’s a different skill set.
#5 – Trust the schedule.
You can recruit volunteers all year long by deciding in advance when to focus on it.
Putting a three-week volunteer recruitment emphasis on the schedule (we recommend February and/or August) on the calendar will give you confidence during the rest of the year.
Knowing you have a built-in time to address the needs provides peace of mind that help is on the way.
At least once a year, North Point Community Church has a Sunday that’s internally called “Strategic Service Sunday.” Andy preaches on the need for volunteers and asks people to take a first step to serve on one of a few teams. The staff and leaders are ready for all the raised hands, and they have a system in place to connect new people before the need hits.
It’s systematic and scheduled.
No matter the size of your church, you could choose to emphasize volunteers once or twice a year and build it into the calendar. Align all of your ministries and programs around this and you’ll be well on your way to having a strong volunteer force.
There are a few things that are almost always certain in a majority of churches:
- There’s never enough money.
- There’s never enough volunteers.
- You’re always short on full-time staff.
In fact, if you are currently full-time staff in a church, you are in the minority. The reality is that many churches, including mine, are led by fewer than 1 full-time staff member and are made up of mostly of part-time and volunteer staff.
In the church I lead, we have 1 full-time staff member, 2 part-time staff members, and 8 volunteer staff members. We determine who is considered a staff member by the metric that if we had unlimited resources, would we hire this person full-time or part-time.
Leading a mostly volunteer and part-time staff is different in many ways than leading a full-time staff. There are difficulties leading all three categories, but leading staff members that have other means of employment and “day jobs” is a whole different set of challenges. We can look at these challenges as restrictions or we can leverage the restrictions, learn to lead through these challenges, and embrace the power and benefits of part-time and volunteer staff.
Over the last 7 years, I have had the opportunity to see our church grow past several growth barriers with only 1 or less full-time staff member. Your church can grow with part-time and volunteer staff, so don’t buy into the lie that you have to have the staff of the giga-church to grow past 200.
Your church can grow with a majority of volunteer staff if you consider these best practices.
Remember That You Live In Different Worlds
If you are full-time, you have one job. You get to think about the church for at least 8 hours a day (likely more). You can answer emails, go to meetings, work on the church more than you have to work in the church, and you likely get to be home with your family more often. Your volunteer and part-time staff live in a different world.
If your volunteer or part-time staff are being paid by another employer and have a “day job”, they do not get the same luxuries as you do to work on the church as much as you do, or go to meetings and week long conferences. So before you lose your lid over a volunteer staff member who can’t make that noon meeting, remember that you do not live in the same world.
Give Them a Clear Job Description
Much of the frustrations in leading part-time and volunteer staff I hear from other church leaders could be alleviated by simply giving each person a clear job description. This is not just a best practice for full-time staff, but should be a best practice for all staff and volunteers.
Give short and clear job descriptions so that each staff member knows what is expected, who to report to and how much time they are expected to put in at a minimum each week.
I believe each of these practices are vital to leading a healthy group of volunteer and part-time staff members, but this one is crucial. You have to be flexible because again, you live in different worlds.
It makes no sense to have a staff meeting each Monday at 10 am when over half of your team works other jobs and can not always be off. To lead a team well, be flexible and to the best of your ability, work around their schedules as much as possible. Don’t let one or two people dictate the schedule, but if everyone works an 8-5 job, your best opportunity for meetings and such will be in the evenings and weekends.
And when someone can’t make it to a meeting, attend a conference, or work on a Saturday, be understanding, especially if it’s a rare occurrence for a person to miss something. Understand they may work a job to provide for their family and the evenings is when they get to see their family. Understand they want to go see their kids perform and play sports, or someone in the family gets sick and they need to pick up the slack, or that they can’t always take what few vacation days they have to go to Catalyst.
If you will remain flexible, you’ll get a lot more mileage out of your team.
If you can not compensate to the degree you want for a staff member, find ways to give perks. Surprise them randomly with gift cards to their favorite place to eat or shop, movie tickets for date night, or hook them up with your church swag that everyone else has to pay for. You can also pay as much of conference trips as you can afford, provide gym memberships, cell phone compensation, or just have a pizza delivered to their house one evening.
Little perks can go a long way.
Although challenges exist, volunteer and part-time staff can be very vital parts to your church if you lead them well and consider them a valuable resource that deserves the same time, attention and care as any full-time staff member.
Invest in and lead your volunteer and part-time staff well, and your church will be healthier than it has ever been.
Committed volunteers, dedicated leaders, and qualified staff members can be an incredible help to the church.
But leadership comes with a responsibility to care for those we lead.
It’s not just about motivating them to do more, it’s about helping them grow as people. It’s about helping them use their gifts to follow Jesus, not just get work done for the church.
It’s easy to think about what you need volunteers to do or what you need your staff members to do, but what do your volunteers and leaders need from YOU? What must you provide for key people in your church?
Here are three things you must give leaders in your church.
Volunteers, leaders and team members need someone to communicate the why behind the what. They need to understand how what they are doing connects to the big picture. They need to understand where they fit. Remember, mission and vision are two entirely different things.
Your mission is your big-picture reason for existence. It’s your purpose. It’s your why-behind-the-what, and when you think about it, you’re never really going to accomplish it. Communicating mission isn’t enough…because it doesn’t have a due date.
That’s why you’ve got to provide a steady dose of vision to all of your leaders. You have to clearly community what you’re all about right now, in this season of ministry. You’ve to make sure the things people are doing are connected to what’s most important.
Great volunteers, leaders and team members will tend to pick up extra responsibilities over time. Because they are so committed to the church, it’s easy for them to get out of their sweet spot and exert a lot of sideways energy.
When you talk about the mission and vision, you bring people back to the center.
“Your reward is in heaven.”
While that’s true, don’t let that become an excuse for not saying thanks on earth. Heaven feels like a long way off, so you’ve got to lather on appreciation now.
Your volunteers, leaders, and staff members need to hear you say thanks over and over again. They need to know when they are doing a good job, and they need you to specifically point it out.
It's not enough to FEEL grateful for people. You need to TELL them thank you.
When I was pastoring a church in Atlanta, one of my favorite environments was a leadership gathering we did every quarter. We simply invited every volunteer, leader and team member to the church for a time of inspiration and appreciation. It was old school “food, fellowship and fun!”
At this quarterly event, we always gave out an award to a volunteer or leader who was doing a great job. These awards were a big deal, and everyone loved them. It made an impact on the person receiving them, but everyone in the room felt honored and valued.
Volunteers need to know they are needed, and they need to know their involvement and investment are appreciated.
Most people really do want to do a good job, but they can't hit a target if it's constantly moving. That's why every volunteer and leader in your church should have a simple, one-page job description. It should tell them what they do, when they do it, and who to talk to if they have a question.
In your role as the Chief Clarity Officer, you can help people focus on what matters most and what matters now.
One of the best ways to do this is to clarify roles and goals – what you truly do and what you’re trying to accomplish. When everyone is clear on those two things, you can develop synergy and get the entire team moving in the same direction.
A lack of clarity creates confusion – a situation where everyone is doing a lot of good things but the church as a whole isn’t really moving forward.
But when you clarify how everyone fits, what their areas of responsibility really are, and a real goal to reach over the next few months, people love it.
People really want to do a good job. So go ahead and define what that looks like exactly. Get really clear on roles and goals.
The Resource Library at Church Fuel contains a Roles and Goals Worksheet to help you take action. Join now and immediately access this simple but powerful tool.
Every leader in your church needs to know the vision, experience appreciation and understand the direction.
If you’re the senior leader, it’s up to you to provide this. You’ve got to create a culture where these things happen naturally, and it starts with making sure they happen intentionally.
So What's Next?
You're supposed to lead your staff and develop leaders in your church, but where do you start?
To make it simple we created a FREE resourced called the Senior Pastor's Guide to Leading a Staff. This simple guide will help you with practical ideas and resources on leading a staff intentionally and consistently.
Get your FREE copy of the Senior Pastor's Guide to Leading a Staff today.
If you serve in a volunteer-intensive organization like the church, you would probably love to have more volunteers, but you may have bumped up against busyness as a barrier that keeps you from finding and maybe even keeping volunteers.
As you work on your volunteer system, one of the tensions you will encounter is leading volunteers who are busy. Busyness creates a tension in volunteers as well. There is a tension between their desire to serve and the reality of their calendars. There is a tension between wanting to grow as a volunteer and the angst of attending a training meeting.
If you were to send this post – or one of many others to your volunteers – how many do you think would read it? The reality that many won't isn't personal. It's not that they don't want to read it. They may want to read it. They may even plan to read it, but you know many of them won't. The reason they won't read it is because your volunteers are busy. For many of your volunteers, it seems it is all they can do to volunteer.
As a leader, you want to create an environment in which busy volunteers are energized and effective. Here are some things you can provide that will help create this type of environment for busy volunteers.
Provide a Clear Time Commitment
People fear the “never-ending commitment”. They don’t want to find themselves serving in a ministry they don’t enjoy or stretched too thin with no way out. One of the best things you can provide to volunteers – especially busy ones – is a clear time commitment. Let them know up front the time frame of the commitment. Communicate to them that they are serving through the school season or for a year. The time commitment itself may not matter as much as letting them know what the time commitment is. Many volunteers will continue to serve beyond the initial time commitment, but letting them know up front gives them a chance to decide.
It’s also a good idea to provide clarity on the volunteer’s weekly time commitment. If it takes 5 hours, tell them it takes 5 hours. For example, a storyteller in children’s ministry may have a 15-minute commitment on Sunday morning but they are also asked to prepare for that 15-minute commitment. Don’t forget to tell them it may take them an hour through the week to be ready to go on Sunday morning. And, don’t be afraid to ask them how much time it’s really taking them so that you and they have a clear understanding of the time commitment.
Provide Clear Responsibilities
There is little more frustrating than being asked to do something, but having no idea what you are supposed to do. There is little more challenging than getting something done when you don’t know what you’re supposed to do. Putting volunteers into any position without telling them what needs to be done is putting them in a position to be frustrated and potentially embarrassed. It is a good way to not keep volunteers for very long.
It is the leader’s job to clarify and communicate the responsibilities of every volunteer role. It is the leader’s job to know what a win looks like for each volunteer and to let each volunteer know. It is the leader’s job to know how that win connects to the mission and vision and to make sure volunteers know. Busy volunteers want to know what’s expected and how what they are doing is making a difference in the big picture.
If you ask someone to serve as a small group leader, it may be helpful to communicate the responsibilities to find a host location as well as an appropriate curriculum, form the details of the group meeting days, times, etc., fill the group with people and the people with the group responsibilities, facilitate group dynamics and meetings, and follow-up with group members and small group system activities (notice the hopefully memorable find, form, fill, facilitate, follow-up format of the responsibilities).
It is also beneficial to narrow the focus of the responsibilities for every position to a one-sentence description. For a small group leader this may be “create a small group environment where people connect with each other & grow in their relationship with God, others, and the world around them.”
It may take some time and work but providing clear responsibilities will be a huge win for you as a leader, the volunteers, and the organization.
Leaders know the value of training – so do volunteers, but the tension of the busy calendar makes providing training challenging. “Mandatory” meetings used to be the approach to training, but those days are gone. Attendance at mandatory meetings has actually shown us those days have been gone for a long time.
Training is important, but busy volunteers just aren’t going to squeeze one more thing on their calendars. So how can you as a leader provide training that connects with busy volunteers?
Simply put, get creative with how you provide training! Create a training section on the organization’s website. Post a training video to YouTube (or some other video site). Schedule a live stream or Periscope training which doesn’t require people to be onsite. Provide Twitter-style training tips or write a training blog.
Maybe there’s a good book available about a specific area of training for your volunteers. Busy volunteers may not have time to read a whole book on a subject but they may have time to read a book summary. Tony Morgan of the Unstuck Group recently wrote about this in his blog:
The avenues to provide training are limited only by the leader’s creativity. The key is to develop an intentional training strategy and implement it. Some training is better than none – but make sure it is done well. Don’t waste the time of busy volunteers with poor training.
And don’t waste the time of busy volunteers with boring training. Make it fun (and including food is never a bad idea). Play a game of Nerf dodgeball at the beginning of a meeting just for fun or Google games you can play in under a minute and do a couple of those. The bottom line is to make it fun in a way that fits your context and makes volunteers not dread the training.
Give volunteers the tools to do wants being asked of them. One of the best questions a leader can ask of volunteers is, “Do you have everything you need to do what’s being asked of you?” When they tell you what they need, do your best to provide it. Budget for ministry needs and keep volunteers from having to “foot the bill” for ministry whenever possible.
If the children’s ministry needs more crayons, find a way to get them more crayons. If the student ministry needs a case of Mountain Dew – and what teenager doesn’t need more Mountain Dew – then find a way to get them a case of Mountain Dew.
It is likely that every volunteer in your organization could think of something they want, and it’s not always possible to get them everything they want. At least make sure they have everything they need. If that’s not possible, be honest, tell them why and be willing to revisit the expectations so they are realistic within the available resources.
Volunteers probably aren’t serving for the recognition, but we all like to be appreciated when we give of our time and ourselves. Volunteers should be the most appreciated and energized groups in the church. They are the key to any effective and scalable ministry. Providing regular doses of encouragement keeps them appreciated and energized.
Be on the watch to catch volunteers doing something good, and let them know you caught them. Send a handwritten thank you notes. Brag on them publicly. Highlight them on social media. Leave a voice mail or send an e-card. Hold an annual volunteer appreciation event. Find ways to let them know what they do makes a difference and they are appreciated. Regular doses of encouragement go a long way in creating a healthy volunteer environment.
Say thank you as often as you can in as many ways as you can.
Leaders and volunteers alike bump into the tension of busyness. If you want to get and keep busy volunteers, it is your job as the leader to manage the tension. What other ways are you managing this tension?
Dan McLaughlin serves as Lead Pastor at CCC (Community Congregational Church) in Franklin, Indiana. He has 25 years of ministry experience and is passionate about church health, systems development, and leadership. Dan and his wife, Denise live in Bargersville, Indiana with their two children.
Do you have an upcoming special event or program? Are you getting ready to launch groups, recruit volunteers, or ask people to give online? Is there something on the calendar where it would be better if more people signed up?
Here are three insanely practical ideas to increase the sign up rate of anything that’s happening at your church.
#1 – Make it easy for people to sign up.
So many times, our systems and processes make it easier on us (as staff). But in reality, we should make it easier for our people.
- Why can’t people sign up for something by text right during the service?
- Why can’t they sign up online instead of at a table with a long line?
- Why do people have to fill out their complete address or give their birthday or answer additional questions?
- Why can’t someone give online without setting up an entire account?
Most of these situations require a little bit of work after the fact. But we should embrace the work because it makes it easier on the person taking a step.
In our quest to automate and improve everything, we miss out on the simple fact that if we want more people to do something, we need to make it simpler for them to do it. Look at your sign up process and remove any unnecessary steps. Make signing up for something as easy as possible, even if it creates more work for you on the backside.
#2 – Communicate multiple deadlines.
There’s no sense of urgency for things you can always do. If it’s always there people think, “I’ll do that later.” Many times, they never get around to it. This is why sales work. “I gotta buy these shoes now because they are 40% off today only…tomorrow they are going to cost more.” That’s the power of deadlines.
Whether you’re launching groups or asking parents to send their teenagers to youth camp, make sure you set and communicate clear deadlines.
- Set an early bird deadline. Email links to your members before you announce it to the public. If there’s a cost associated with the event, give people a small discount for signing up first. When you’re communicating, say things like “registration opens next week.”
- Give a “Last Chance”deadline. Just like an early bird deadline will reach your early-adopters, a last chance deadline can motivate people on the fence to take action. “Today is the last day to sign up,” is very powerful. One word of caution: When you set deadlines, stick to deadlines. Extending deadlines because not enough people signed up just reinforces to the congregation that your deadlines are arbitrary.
- Consider a sign-up incentive. If you need to recruit 25 volunteers for Vacation Bible School or 100 people for a workday, consider offering a simple gift for the first people who sign up. It’s not a deadline, but these type of sign up bonuses really work.
#3 – Make it personal.
When we talk about events, small groups or volunteering, most of the time the focus is on us. Instead, shift the focus of your communication and make it about THEM.
It’s the difference between everybody saying things like “This mp3 player has 1 Gigabyte of storage” and Steve Jobs saying the iPod is “1,000 songs in your pocket.” The first sentence is all about the product; the second metaphor puts the focus on the user. Leo McGinneva famously said people don’t want quarter inch drill bits…they want quarter inch holes.
When you’re talking about programs, events, small groups, volunteering, giving or just about anything else in church, step into people’s world and tailor your communication to their lives.
You’re not just asking for volunteers…you’re giving people an opportunity to do what God created them to do. You’re not just promoting youth camp, you’re talking about an environment where teenagers can make Christian friends. You’re not just asking people to get into a group, you’re asking people to go through life together.
Don't let “your reward is in heaven” become an excuse not to make something meaningful for people here on earth.
Look at your language and see if it’s about your church or about the people. This subtle shift in communication can have powerful results.
A friend of mine had dinner with a pastor.
The pastor was describing all that was happening in his church. He was particularly excited to share that the executive VP of a Fortune 500 company was attending. My friend replied, “that’s fantastic, is he serving in the church?” The pastor gleefully reported that the man in fact was serving and he had put him in charge of collecting the offering.
My friend was kind and supportive but also surprised. What he wanted to say was… “you mean you took one of the highest capacity leaders at one of the largest companies in the world and you put him in charge of picking up the buckets?”.
Most of the churches I’ve attended have not been seeking to empower individuals to find their purpose in life. I’m not talking about coming into relationship with Christ. I’m talking about the next step. The step where you begin to ask God “what did you wire me to accomplish?”
Many churches have a pre-determined grouping of ministries and outreach opportunities which were selected either by the pastor or lead staff. Some of these ministries were picked because the pastor himself felt called to reach these people. Some of them are selected because the church has fallen into “every church needs this ministry to be a relevant body in our culture”. But both approaches fail to realize that the church is made up of individuals that God has wired to accomplish a specific task.
How many churches struggle to staff their children’s ministries? Constantly we resort to anything short of a blatant guilt trip to try to get volunteers. And many times we chalk that up to the congregation needing to develop their servant's heart. They need to be more service minded. But could it be that we’re trying sometimes putting the square peg into a round hole? The church has determined what it wants to do before asking the question, but what are these individuals called to do? What if we built the ministries not around what the leadership or the pastor wanted to accomplish, but around the process of helping the individuals in the congregation discover what they were created to do?
There are high capacity leaders sitting in most congregations in the US that are bored and unchallenged. Most pastors, if they would dare risk it, could charge these men and women with tall tasks for the kingdom and these leaders could probably tackle the tasks better and more efficiently than the pastor could. Why are we afraid to help the individuals in the congregation find their calling? Is it going to mess up the churches idea of what church should look like? Pastors in general are a bit terrified of freeing up leaders to go find out what their calling is and start working on it. And to be fair it can be both dangerous and messy. But it could also be the key to building the kind of influential communities that bring the gospel back into everyday conversation.
Frank Tillapaugh wrote a book years ago title The Church Unleashed – Getting God’s People Out Where the Needs Are. It didn’t sell many copies and it’s out of print. But it described an incredible discovery on the part of one pastor.
He realized that it wasn’t that he had low-level leaders. In fact, in humility, he finally realized that some in his congregation were better trained in ministry than he was. He realized that it wasn’t that the church was over tasking or over-challenging people it was the opposite. The church wasn’t dreaming big enough dreams for its people. And that is what the book is about, unleashing the individuals to find their calling and then resourcing them to accomplish the task which God created them to do.
Tillapaugh became an “angel investor” of sorts into the entrepreneurial ministry pursuits of the leaders in his congregation. And before I lose all the pastors reading this, you have to know this didn’t mean he spent more time at the church. In fact, he spent less.
He describes how an individual came to him and said he felt like the church needed a ministry to recovering addicts. Tillapaugh instructed him to gather anyone in the congregation that was interested in helping with this effort and to call a meeting to discuss and pray about this venture. The layman assumed Tillapaugh would be there and would lead the meeting. The pastor gently told the man, “I’m afraid I’m busy that night – I have tickets to the baseball game and the seats are too good to pass up. But you don’t need me there. If I show up you will all look to me to lead the meeting and cast vision but God has called you to this ministry. And the church will support you by giving you space to meet and if needed we’ll consider budgeting materials for your outreach. But this is your calling and you need to go and become what God has called you to be.”
For high capacity leaders in your congregation, this is how you call them up to service.
Don’t coddle them.
Call them out. In the end, you’ll discover a few things. Number one, a layman that is in pursuit of his calling will accomplish incredible things with very little input or support. And secondly, in our church we’ve found that when people realize their calling, they don’t even ask the church to give them budgetary support for ministry materials, they pick up their own tab because they are so bought into their newfound purpose which in turn frees the church to better support other ventures.
Churches we need to quit pigeon-holing our people into the ministries that we’ve decided are important and start asking people – what is it you are called to do and how can we resource you to achieve that task?
Sam Cobb is the founder and CEO of Real Wood Floors. They manufacture and distribute quality wood floors and are set to open their first retail stores, but that's just the start of the story. They have built houses and orphanages in China and are leveraging their influence to encourage other companies to do things that truly matter.