by Matthew Gibbs
WARNER ROBBINS, GA – “I don’t have enough volunteers.”
Have you ever heard a ministry leader in your church say this? Perhaps you have said it or at least thought it. Here’s a question to ponder: Can we ever have enough volunteers?
I am convinced that one of the biggest mistakes that I have made in ministry was to assume at any time that I had enough leaders and volunteers. Volunteer recruitment and leader development in the church should be an on-going, all-the-time thing. Successful and healthy ministries almost always have a pipeline for recruiting, training, and developing volunteers and leaders. The reality is that we can never really have enough volunteers because the back door never fully closes. As our ministry grows and expands, there will always be a need for additional volunteers and leaders.
The challenge becomes even more difficult with the new circumstances we face in 2020 – a pandemic and churches trying to figure out how to safely reopen. As churches open up and provide ministry programs, finding, recruiting, and training volunteers has now become a tremendous discussion and frustrating subject. Many of our previous volunteers are not returning because of health concerns or fear over the pandemic. Others are not volunteering because they have gotten comfortable with not serving. This has happened as churches have been forced to temporarily suspend some of their ministries.
In a recent blog, Thom Rainer writes that many in our churches have also lost their motivation to serve. He goes on to say that “many church members in small groups are motivated to volunteer together with fellow small group members.” As small groups have stopped meeting or suspended in-person meetings, the motivation to serve has diminished among group members.
So, what are we to do?
How are we to move forward and recruit, train, and develop new and returning volunteers? It takes people to minister to people, and we know that we need more people to do this effectively. I have read several articles and blog posts about volunteer recruiting. Here are a few suggestions to consider as you move forward with volunteer recruiting and training.
Build ministry teams
Spend more time building teams and investing in your volunteers. We can become the lid for ministry impact, volunteer recruitment, and leader development. We spend time doing ministry, but little to no time building ministry teams, training volunteers, and developing leaders.
Some have suggested that ministry leaders should spend as much as 80% of their time developing and investing in their leaders and ministry teams. The more time we spend recruiting, developing, and expanding our volunteer teams, the more significant our ministry impact can be. Essentially, we multiply our influence. Remember, TEAM stands for “Together Everyone Accomplishes More!”
Make it personal
We are guilty of “cattle call” recruitment for volunteers all too often in our desperation for volunteers. Email blasts, bulletin ads, sign-up sheets, and church-wide announcement videos are usually very ineffective recruiting good volunteers. People pay little attention to these because they are impersonal. When we spend intentional and personal time with an individual and recruit through a relationship, our recruiting will be more effective. We will recruit better volunteers, and our volunteer retention will go up significantly.
This type of recruiting process allows you to cast a vision for the ministry, share job/position descriptions, and get to know the individual you are recruiting. You can share your own passion for the church and gauge their passion and giftedness for the ministry position. This type of intentional and personal recruiting also communicates the high value you place on the service/ministry position. Still, even more, the value you place on the individual as a servant.
Offer training and help
One of the best ways to lose a quality volunteer is to stick them into a ministry position with little or no training and support. You are essentially setting them up for failure and frustration. Remember that you must prepare them to serve, and this includes adequate training.
Training and support give volunteers the tools needed for success and the opportunity to grow and develop as a servant and leader. Some ministries even offer apprentice type positions to help volunteers to learn the ropes and get their feet wet in a service position. Make sure that they have an avenue to ask for help and additional information. This line of communication can be with you or with another volunteer leader.
Align your ministry calendar and programs
Often our church calendars are overcrowded and crammed full with church events, programs, and other things. If your church culture communicates that people are expected to be at every event and involved in every program, people actually can’t find the time to serve. This is a sure-fire way to create burn out among your volunteers and leaders.
Being at every event and involved in every Bible study does not make you a better Christian. In fact, it could actually lead to stagnation in your spiritual growth. A healthy, balanced approach to ministry provides opportunity and time for people to serve.
Show your appreciation
One way to ensure that you lose good volunteers is to fail to appreciate them. People need to hear you say, “Thank you.” People need to be recognized for their faithful service and appreciated and even rewarded. The primary motivation for serving as a volunteer is the love of God and love for people. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t let them know how much we appreciate and love them.
Appreciation dinners, small gifts, and even something as simple as a hand-written card expressing appreciation can be a powerful encouragement for those who serve in ministry so faithfully. As we show gratitude, we must also communicate that we value them as individuals and not just for the service they give.
There are certainly some other things that you can do to increase the effectiveness of your volunteer recruitment. Still, the five I have mentioned above are a great start if you find yourself stuck and even a little frustrated with volunteer recruitment. I have found that when I using these best practices, the volunteers that were recruited became great servants in our ministry and some of our best recruiters as well.
Another great takeaway? As they were empowered, trained, and appreciated for their service, they naturally invited their friends and fellow church members to join them in ministry.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Matthew Gibbs is the East Central Region Discipleship consultant for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board.