I’ve yet to meet a pastor who says they have plenty of people serving at their church. The conversation is usually the exact opposite. There’s always more to do than hands at the plow and church leaders would love the “secret sauce” to filling that void.
Demanding jobs and busy family schedules seem likely reasons why more members of your congregation aren’t serving in some capacity at their church. While there are certainly factors outside your control that prevent people from serving, there’s still plenty you can do to get your congregation involved.
So, what’s holding folks back and how can you remove those barriers?
1. It’s complicated to get started.
It’s challenging to get into elite military or law enforcement units – for good reason. However, it shouldn’t require months of training and a lengthy requirements list to serve at your church.
Now, there are some reasonable requirements you should have in-place such as background checks for anyone serving around minors or with money. However, do you require someone to fill out a lengthy application before you’ll let him/her be a greeter? Do you require an interview with church staff as a prerequisite for serving in the parking lot?
Some churches require an individual to be a member before allowing him/her to serve. Is that really necessary for all volunteer roles? Serving as a small group leader or Sunday school teacher? Sure. For those who are greeting, handing out bulletins, or parking cars, membership probably isn’t necessary. Put guidelines in-place, but make sure you’re not creating too many barriers to entry and hurting yourself in the process.
Tim Stevens recommends you “Make sure every ministry area has “easy-access” positions. That is, make sure there are volunteer positions available in every department that require no hoops to jump. You don’t ask if they are a Christian or a member. They don’t have to sign anything or commit to a long season. Rather, you get them engaged quickly on a team where they can develop a relationship with others who can help discern good next steps.”
Some training is wise for every volunteer role, but hours of training plus lots of paperwork are probably a bit much for many roles.
2. The commitments are not clear.
When you ask someone to serve, they have a list of questions running through their head:
- What will I be doing?
- What if I fail?
- How long am I committing to this role?
- What if I try it for a couple of weeks and realize this isn’t for me? Can I change roles?
- How often do you want me to serve? Each week? Each service?
- If this doesn’t go well, do I have to leave the church?
The simple way to preemptively answer these questions is to develop a job description for each volunteer role. This doesn’t have to be a complicated or lengthy document – a couple of paragraphs and a few bullet points should do the trick.
Document the expectations for each role including:
- What the role looks like
- What time you expect a volunteer in this role to arrive (example: 45 minutes prior to the service)
- Any attire requirements/guidelines (reflective vests provided by the church for those in the parking lot, modest clothing for everyone, etc.)
- How often you expect them to serve (one service each week, one serve per month)
- Whether this role requires a background check, membership, an application, and/or specialized training
- How long are volunteers committing to serve (3 months, 6 months, 1 year)
- Can a volunteer try out this role for a few weeks and back out gracefully if he/she discovers this isn’t a good fit?
- What personality traits and/or skillsets work best in this role (outgoing, detail-oriented)
By telling people upfront what you expect, it reduces uncertainty and helps them see what role might be the best fit for them.
This is why we recommend giving every volunteer a written job description. You can find templates and samples, along with dozens of other helpful documents, in Church Docs.
3. The needs are too generic.
Since you work at the church, you’re painfully aware of the need for more volunteers. You know what areas are lacking people each weekend and the moments when an event wasn’t as successful as it could’ve been due to the gaping holes in volunteer leaders. However, people who attend church once or twice a week won’t know about those challenges unless you tell them.
Now, simply making an announcement that volunteer signups are at the information booth isn’t going to cut it. Neither is stating that you need children’s ministry workers, even though that’s a bit more specific. Instead, get super detailed in your request with, “We need an assistant teacher in the 3-5th grade Sunday school room during the 11am service. If you’re interested in filling this role and teaching kids about God in a fun, safe environment please contact (email address here) today.”
That version is specific and includes a high-level “why” for this role (teaching kids about God in a fun environment).
Thom Rainer recommends providing a specific end date when you ask someone to serve. “They are much more likely to say “yes” if they know they will have a time when the work is done. At that time, they can renew their commitment or move to another area of passion.”
4. You’re not asking people personally.
Let’s say you’re going to host a party in your home. Do you invite friends by making an announcement using a bullhorn at your son’s football game (since most of them are there to see their kids play)? I doubt that’s your approach to inviting friends into your home. Most likely, you’ll find a way to invite each person individually via an in-person conversation, phone call, email, or mailed invitation.
Why take an individual versus all-at-once bullhorn approach? The reason is simple: It’s more personal and friendly.
An individual invitation makes the person being invited feel important and wanted. This concept applies to inviting people to serve in your church. If you came up to me after service and mentioned during our conversation that you think I’d be a great fit for serving at the information booth, I’m much more inclined to sign up than if there’s a generic invite from the stage. This individual approach is especially important when you’re looking to develop and recruit new volunteer leaders.
Don't just make announcements. Personally invite potential volunteers to serve. Click to tweet.
Sure, stage announcements and bulletin items are fine. However, invest most of your energy into talking with individuals who aren’t already serving. Get to know them. Find out what they enjoy doing and what special skills they possess. Do they have many friends yet at church? Do they feel like this is their church home and that they’re part of the community? All of this information can help you offer them ideas on how to get involved.
Throughout the process of inviting people to serve, make sure your motivation isn’t only to fill volunteer roles. Inviting someone to serve should be about helping that person grow in his/her relationship with Christ and with other believers. This is about discipleship; not simply getting work done. It may seem counter-intuitive at first, but if you’ll focus on connecting people to volunteer roles they’ll enjoy instead of trying to “put a warm body in a spot”, you’ll end up getting much more accomplished (and everyone will enjoy the process more, too!).
Serving is about discipleship; not simply getting work done. Click to tweet.
We live in a society that boasts about how busy we all are and how little time we have available. You’re swimming upstream here in asking people to carve out time to serve. However, by removing barriers to getting started, clarifying the commitment, getting specific about what you need done, and inviting people individually, you’ll have better success in connecting people to roles they’ll love.
So What's Next?
Volunteers are critical to the mission and vision of your church. They make everything go and make sure all of the little pieces run smoothly.
People who volunteer their time and resources to further the Kingdom and grow your church are a blessing because you don’t have to do it all alone.
We know you care deeply about leading a healthy growing church because it means leading more people to Jesus. Leading volunteers is an integral part of that process so everyone can spend time on what they're best at. As a result we created a free guide to leading volunteers that will bring clarity and help begin to alleviate your frustrations.
Get your FREE copy of the Senior Pastor's Guide to Leading Volunteers today by entering your name and email below.