In my previous post, I discussed praise for faithful volunteers that make church life possible. In this post, I’d like to look at some practical things church leaders can do to attract, recruit and keep volunteers. I’m going to assume that praying for your volunteers goes without saying and jump to the practical…
1. Flip the model
Traditionally, someone stands behind the podium on a Sunday to read the announcements and then makes a desperate plea to the congregation for someone to step up and fill a need. All the people who are eager and passionate about serving are usually already doing so. So the appeals go out to people who aren’t serving, typically because they don’t want to or don’t have a passion for that area. Eventually though, someone feels guilty enough to volunteer. Sometimes that works out, but often the person gets burnt out and steps down.
Instead, flip that model upside down. Don’t send a mass S.O.S. to the church and ask people to be a parking attendant or change diapers in the nursery. Instead, create a model of meeting with people to find out what they are interested in, and plug them into that area. You can have people complete a spiritual gifts test, or simply meet and talk to people and find out their gifts, skills, passions and areas of interest. (Saddleback Church has an excellent resource called SHAPE that helps people find what their purpose and role is in the church and their careers as well).
You may find that someone in your church possesses a skill or experience that can be beneficial. You can appeal to their interests and ask them if they’d like to serve in an area that matches their skills. Now you’ve got their attention and they’re not being guilted into serving but feeling useful. Volunteers in that situation will be more likely to stay in a role, rather than get burnt out.
2. Set some limits
When you make a blanket announcement that your church needs a volunteer, people imagine being stuck doing something they don’t like and even worse, doing it forever. Even if you need to make an announcement to the whole church, let them know it’s a short term role. After a short time, you’ll meet with them to discuss how it’s going and that you’ll be available for support and encouragement. Let them know that they aren’t signing their life away, but after a set time both sides can evaluate if they should continue.
This is simple: create a rotation schedule so that no volunteer is banished from the main service every week. They need time to be in the main service and worship along with the congregation and hear the engaging sermons and share in prayer time. Ideally, they’d serve a max of 2 services a month. If you have enough volunteers, having them do 1 Sunday a month is great.
4. Recognize and encourage
Volunteers aren’t in it for the praise or recognition, but even the smallest acknowledgement can lift up their day. There are many methods available apart from in person: phone calls, emails, texts, Facebook messages, hand written notes, etc. Some churches post a volunteer of the week in the bulletin/program, include it in their announcements or have it as part of the PowerPoint announcements playing before service. You might have a yearly awards dinner to recognize volunteers, or present volunteers with a gift at Christmas time. The only limit to how you can recognize volunteers is your imagination.
5. Listen and gather feedback
Your volunteers have their ears to the ground and know what’s going on with people they serve. It’s important to take time to listen to their ideas, their frustrations, find out what’s working and what’s not. Each quarter or so, you could have focus groups, surveys, or even a candid lunch with pastors and leaders to share feedback. The people on the front lines may have great ideas that could help your church. You’ll always have to consider motives and if it’s coming from a place of frustration but for the most part volunteers are there to serve the church and make it a better place to be. So listening to their ideas shows they are valued not just as bodies to fill a role, but also vital assets to the church’s ministry and goals.
6. Take action
After you listen and gather feedback…DO something about it. Put some plans into place to improve things, to implement some of the suggestions and ideas. Putting action behind all the talk will show volunteers that not only does the leadership listen, they act. That will only encourage more loyalty and dedication, and foster more feedback and ideas and suggestions.
You may have a great vision and lead your paid staff with excellence. But you know you can’t do it all without volunteers. Consider these points and pray and ask God for wisdom in building a dedicated volunteer team that is energetic, passionate and fulfilled.