“We’re renovating our basement and we have this old couch. We were just going to throw it away or donate it to Goodwill, but I thought the church might want it for the youth room.”
While it’s a well-meaning gesture, I’m not sure what it is that leads a person to believe that something that’s not good enough for their own home would be good enough for the church.
But while it’s easy for me to criticize, I’ve also been guilty of succumbing to this “good enough” mentality. What demands my best often gets my leftovers. What’s eternally important is easy to forget living the day to day.
It’s dangerously easy for our volunteers to adopt the good enough approach, too.
Your volunteers and leaders are certainly FOR the church, but it’s tough to get them to engage at a high level. They are giving their time, but it’s often at the end of a day or crammed into a busy weekend.
So you have volunteers who have signed up to serve, but routinely cancel at the last minute or show up late.
These are high-level leaders, who know how to manage employees, run businesses, or do their jobs with skill, but don’t seem to bring that same energy and passion to the church.
These are people who join committees but just seem to go through the motions or do the minimum to get by.
As a pastor or church leader, I know you’re frustrated.
You know they are volunteering their time and energy. It’s not like you can fire them for being late. But you want them to take their roles seriously. You want them to serve and lead with excellence.
So how do you balance this tension? How can you lead your volunteers to serve with excellence?
#1 – Connect every task to the eternal purpose and current mission.
One of the key approaches to leading people to be high capacity volunteers is to make sure they understand WHY what they are doing matters. Don’t assume they know this. And don’t assume they remember. You’ve got to keep the purpose and mission in front of them at all times.
Cal Newport shares a little nugget of truth when talking about responding to email. He argues that not every email needs a response.
“If nothing good would happen if you did respond, and nothing really bad would happen if you didn’t respond, then don’t worry about responding,” he says.
That’s how many of your volunteers view their roles at church. They show up to serve, but nothing really good happens. And if they miss a Sunday or show up late, nothing really bad will happen. “Someone else will pick up the slack,” they think. “I’ll help out next week or next month,” they rationalize.
This is why pastors and leaders need to continually cast vision and remind people what’s at stake. It’s up to you to connect the dots, drawing a line from every volunteer position straight to the mission and vision of the church.
Notice how Pastor Gavin Adams, of Woodstock City Church, communicates purpose and shows how every person involved really makes a difference.
“A few weeks back a brand new guest came to Woodstock City Church. She was new to church. As she entered the doors, a volunteer at our New Guest kiosk greeted her (let’s call her Amy). We have kiosks just inside the doors of every entry point at our church to answer questions and help new guests navigate our building. After talking with the new guest for a short while, Amy offered to give her a tour of the building, getting to know her more along the way. As they walked by our preschool area, the new guest shared something very personal — she had lost her pre-school child. Through the obvious emotions of that moment, she confessed she didn’t know where else to turn, but knew she needed to turn somewhere, so she came to church.
At this point, Amy realized this was a significant moment for this guest. Not just the sharing of her child’s death, but being in our church in this moment, seeking comfort of some kind. Amy knew of another Guest Services volunteer (Let’s call him Jim) who had experienced a similar loss, and so she found him at his station. After an introduction and an explanation of the situation, the new guest and Jim walked into the auditorium together. He showed her where he usually sat, and invited her to sit with him (even though he wasn’t planning to be in the auditorium for that particular service).
As they waited for the service to begin, Jim shared his story with her, reminding her that she’s not alone. A moment later, she turned to Jim and commented, “I’m not sure I can make it through the entire service.” Jim understandably responded, “That’s okay, you’re here now. Just stay as long as you want, and I’ll sit with you the entire time.”
Probably not a surprise, but our new guest stayed for the entire service. During this particular service, we were promoting community groups and encouraging people to consider joining a group. When the service ended, our new guest decided to register for our GroupLink event and is now getting connected with a small group of ladies who can engage with her in a deep and meaningful way.”
Gavin summarizes, “[This] reminded me, not simply that our mission matters, but that the experience people have with our mission can absolutely dictate if the mission stays only written on the wall.
This story is a powerful reminder to volunteers that what they do matters for eternity. It’s connecting the dots from serving on Sunday, to the mission of the church, to the ultimate purpose of God in a human life.
If you want your volunteers to serve with excellence, make sure their roles are grounded in the deep purposes of God as well as your mission as a church.
#2 – Provide quality tools and resources.
Another way to inspire excellence in your volunteers and leaders is to give them quality tools and resources to do their jobs well.
If you’re asking people to come and teach children the Bible on Sunday morning, prepare the crafts and supplies in advance. Make sure when leaders walk through the door, they have what they need to do their job.
If you’re putting together a parking team, make sure they have umbrellas, flashlights, and vests.
If you’re asking someone to lead a discipleship group, do the research on curriculum and make it easy for them to do what you’re asking them to do.
I experienced this first-hand when I volunteered to lead a men’s discipleship group in my church last year. When I stepped into leadership, it was obvious that a lot of groundwork was already laid down. They set me up for success, and gave me the tools I needed to lead the group.
- They gave me a notebook with all the curriculum and discussion questions. This showed me there was a system.
- They gave me a calendar showing all the meetings and leader meetings for the year. This showed me they had already throughout through everything and had a plan.
- They gave me copies of everything I needed to hand out to my guys throughout the year. They did the work for me, because they wanted me to be a group leader instead of making trips to the copier.
#3 – Communication.
The third way you can build a sense of importance with your volunteers and volunteer leaders is with your communication.
The more intentional the communication, the more serious someone will take something. That’s why your volunteers need specialized, regular and creative communication from you.
In other words, communicate with your volunteers at a different level from the rest of your congregation. I’m not talking about stage announcements and mass emails; those are the lowest form of communication.
Break the regular pattern. Be intentional.
Here are some examples.
- If you want all of your volunteers to come to a quarterly training event, don’t just mass email everyone. Create personalized, hand-written invitations or note cards and send through the mail. When people get communication that’s out of the ordinary like this, they realize it’s something special.
- Send a video message to your small group leaders to encourage them and let them know what’s coming up. A personal video message isn’t hard to do and it breaks the pattern of email and announcements.
- Use a tool like Planning Center to communicate with everyone involved in the service. Put plans, files and all resources in a central place and use it to communicate with everyone. One or two communication tools, properly leveraged, will help you communicate well.
The point here is to spend an unusual amount of time communicating with your volunteers and leaders. Keep it interesting, fresh, and creative but also be consistent.
#4 – Clarify expectations.
Sometimes, the reason volunteers don’t live up to our expectations is those expectations were never made clear.
After all, people aren’t mind readers.
If you want your volunteers to serve at a high level, clarify the level. Write it down. Get on the same page.
That’s why every volunteer who serves in your church should have a job description. It doesn’t have to be long; in fact, it shouldn’t be. But it should be clear.
- It should start with how the position connects to the mission.
- It should accurately describe how much prep time is required.
- It should have the contact information of a leader.
- It should have 3-4 bullet points describing the tasks.
When you describe the role, keep it clear and keep it concise. Too many volunteers lose focus because the responsibilities are all over the map.
If you ask people to do too much, you’ll live in a state of constant disappointment.
So clarify the win. Make sure people know what matters most.
This level of clarity is the starting point for excellence.
#5 – Be organized and prepared.
Finally, if you want people to serve with excellence, model the way by being organized and prepared.
If your ministry isn’t organized, people won’t want to get involved.
But if you take the time to organize before you launch your ministry, you’ll show people that they are stepping into a well-run ministry. Most people aren’t interested in being a part of something confusing or disorganized.
Too many times, church members see leaders in the church adopt a lackadaisical approach to planning, sometimes even citing the Holy Spirit. They may learn not to take things seriously by observing pastors who fail to adequately prepare messages or ministry leaders fail to communicate important details in advance.
Preparation communicates expectation.
In other words, show people what you’re doing truly matters by devoting your full attention to both prayer and planning. Then, your volunteers may even begin to follow suit and become excited to lead.
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.