September 29, 2011

10 Questions to Increase Volunteer Engagement

Nick Blevins

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By Nick Blevins, contributing writer

Nick Blevins
Nick Blevins

I get to meet with a local network of ministry leaders a few times a year. We talk about everything related to ministry as we share ideas and encourage one another. Every time we ask for topics to discuss, there is one that always comes up the most.

It’s finding volunteers.

People in our network consistently ask each other what they do to recruit volunteers. When asking that question, it seems as though everyone is looking for that perfect resource or idea that would cause people to step up in droves to volunteer. What we often miss is all of the other things in our churches that are negatively affecting volunteerism. Those other things could be a barrier to everything else we do to recruit volunteers. Here are some questions to ask when figuring out if something else is negatively influencing volunteering.

  1. Are our mission and vision clear and compelling? A clear mission and compelling vision will motivate people toward action or help them see how they don’t fit. A lack of clarity breeds confusion, which leads to inactivity.
  2. Do most people know our strategy? If they don’t know the plan, it’s harder for them to see where they fit in.
  3. How many volunteers would it take to staff every role on every team and ministry? This would take some work to figure out but it’s worth it. If it would require more than 60% of the adults you’re reaching, you may be doing too much. Few churches have 60% of their adults serving.
  4. What is our ratio of full-time equivalent staff to attenders? Leaning too heavily on staff can hurt volunteering. Tony recommends a ratio of 1:100 which will help churches empower volunteers.
  5. Is our staff made up of doers or leaders? The staff needs to be both, but staff who lean toward doing everything themselves will be a barrier to volunteering.
  6. Are we competing with volunteer opportunities by offering something else at the same time? One example might be having adult classes at the same time as the primary environments for children and students. In that case, we’re asking adults who serve with children and students to miss out on something else we believe is important.
  7. How do we communicate about opportunities to serve? If we don’t share the opportunities, people won’t know to step up. If we talk too much about need, they may run for the hills. It’s also important to remember that the stage is not the only way to communicate; some people need to be asked in person.
  8. Do we really encourage students to serve? As someone who grew up in church as a student, I can say that serving grew my faith more than anything else. Students need to serve and churches need them to serve.
  9. How do we talk about serving? If we do not talk about serving as a critical part of discipleship, then we are missing out. Sharing stories that celebrate volunteers goes farther than talking about needs.
  10. What do our environments look like? The reality is that many people will not serve if their first impression of the environment is a bad one. Their mind may already be made up.

Volunteering is influenced by far more than we realize sometimes. There is no magic bullet or quick fix. Creating a great volunteer culture involves every aspect of the church. What questions would you add to the list?

Nick Blevins is the Children and Student’s Team Leader at Community Christian Church in Baltimore, Maryland. He’s also a contributing writer to You can follow Nick at Email Tony if you’d like to become a contributing writer.

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