When the topic of church volunteers comes up, our focus tends to be on how to get more of them. While that’s important, we may overlook a key group who already serves and could be a great source for adding to the team…our current volunteers.
Human resources professionals will tell you it’s easier and less expensive to focus on retaining great employees than it is to hire and train new ones.
While we’re obviously not paying volunteers, a similar principle applies for our churches. If we have a revolving door of volunteers, church staff members must invest time and energy into attracting new volunteers, finding the best assignment for each individual, and training them. That’s time you could spend on keeping volunteers and adding to their ranks.
Here are seven things you can implement to keep current volunteers engaged and committed to serving:
#1: Align each volunteer with a role that matches his/her skills and personality
You’re much more likely to have a happy and fulfilled volunteer who’ll stick around for the long haul if you match him/her up to a role that fits.
That means you shouldn’t put a super outgoing person in a volunteer role that’s behind-the-scenes. Likewise, leave the front door greeter roles for folks who’re always upbeat and love to meet new people.
If you have a detail-oriented volunteer who has experience with administrative work, find ways to plug that individual into helping maintain the church database or organize a small gathering. Provide opportunities for volunteers to use their God-given talents within their local body of believers.
You can use spiritual gift tests, assessments or profiles, but one of the best ways to find out what people are good at is to just ask them.
#2: Provide training and clear expectations
From greeters to nursery workers, every volunteer needs to know what you expect, what a “win” looks like, etc. Depending on the role, volunteer training could be a half-hour session or more. Scale the training based on the role (nursery workers definitely should have more training for safety purposes). But every volunteer needs training.
If you’re not convinced that you should train everyone, consider this: How do you feel when you’ve done your best work but your boss isn’t happy? Not great, right? Well, if your volunteers think they’re doing their best work but realize you’re not happy with the outcome they’ll be discouraged. Set them up to win by providing training and telling them exactly what you expect from day one.
Dan Reiland offers this recommendation on training volunteers: “Any training offered compared to none is good! However, intentional equipping for specific ministry responsibilities is better. And developing people first for their personal growth, along with the church’s mission, is best.”
#3: Ask for feedback on a regular basis
You’re in the weeds of church work at least 40 hours a week. As a result, you may not be able to see issues or improvement opportunities that your volunteers think are completely obvious.
One easy way to fix that problem is to ask for their feedback.
- Walk around on a Sunday morning and ask if there’s anything they could use to make their volunteer role easier.
- Talk with a volunteer who started serving a few weeks ago and get fresh eyes viewpoint.
- Send out an anonymous online survey to get more candid responses.
Now, here’s the important part about getting feedback: You have to do something with that information.
Granted, not all suggestions will be good or even possible. However, many will be and you need to take immediate action to implement the best ideas. Whenever possible, give credit to the volunteer(s) who provided you with the idea. This communicates loud and clear that you value your volunteers’ input and will do something about it when possible.
#4: Get to know your volunteers
Don’t let the last time you had a meaningful conversation with a volunteer be the day you asked him to start serving. Talk with volunteers on Sunday mornings or invite them out for lunch or coffee during the week. Get to know their families, what they do for a living, how and when they came to Christ, etc.
Now, this can sound overwhelming when you have a large volunteer team. Don’t think you have to get to know every volunteer yourself. Instead, build a volunteer leadership structure so you’re not trying to get to know 50+ volunteers by yourself.
As your team grows, appoint a volunteer as the leader or team captain over each area (greeters, ushers, nursery, coffee bar, etc.). Get to know these volunteer leaders and encourage them to get to know the volunteers serving with them. Consider Jethro’s advise to Moses and you’ve got the idea.
#5: Give them challenging assignments
This won’t apply to all volunteers, but you’ll have several who’ll get bored after a while in their initial volunteer role. They’ll need a challenge to keep them engaged and excited about serving. That’s a good thing!
This is where you might ask someone to take on a volunteer leadership position and lead a team of volunteers. If you have a volunteer who’s passionate about community outreach, consider asking her to serve on a planning team to provide school supplies to children in low-income households.
The key is to know your volunteers well enough to notice when their enthusiasm starts to wane. Find out if they’d like to try something new or more challenging and give them a chance to leverage their skills for the Kingdom.
#6: Recognize special dates
This is an easy and impactful way to show your volunteers you care about them as individuals and not just for what they do for the church.
When people sign up to serve, ask for their birthday and/or anniversary. Get that information into your church database.
Once a month, run a report to find out which volunteers have a birthday or wedding anniversary the next month. Send out cards and acknowledge their special day at any pre-service volunteer meetings. Also send out cards and acknowledge service anniversaries (how many years a volunteer has served at the church). If applicable, you might also acknowledge salvation and/or baptism anniversaries.
Recognizing these special dates doesn't have to be extravagant or costly. However, it does communicate that you care and value each volunteer.
#7: Remind them of why what they’re doing is important and how it contributes to the overall vision of the church
When you serve week after week in the same role, it’s easy to lose sight of why it’s important. “I just greet people at the door…how is that a big deal?”
If a volunteer stops seeing the importance of his role, he may serve less frequently or quit altogether. After all, we all want to do work of significance. Volunteering isn’t any different (in fact, it’s probably a bigger factor in volunteer roles).
Carey Nieuwhof says, “When you lose focus on the mission, volunteers lose heart. Every volunteer wants to give their time to something bigger than us or bigger than themselves. So give them that opportunity.”
Executive Pastor Kevin Stone advises, “People are busy, but if they believe they can be a part of something that matters, they will find the time to serve.”
Communicate the vision and how each volunteer role helps fulfill that vision. Discuss that during volunteer training and reiterate it at least monthly (weekly is probably best).
Volunteers are vital to the impact and success of your church. Make sure you invest time and energy into your current volunteers. As they enjoy serving, they’re likely to stay committed and bring more people onto the team.