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I have an issue with “mandatory volunteer meetings.” Do you hear the contradiction? Mandatory and volunteer don’t belong together in the same sentence, but churches and nonprofits juxtapose them all the time. (Need proof? Just Google the phrase!)

I understand — it’s a really, really important meeting. They won’t be able to chaperone that student retreat if they don’t come. They won’t be able to teach that class if they don’t participate. They can’t serve in the kitchen without the training. You have essential information to share. But telling them it’s mandatory–like paying taxes, or getting a physical before gym class? Surely we have better language than that.

Volunteers are, after all, the hands and feet of Christ, and it’s the Church’s job to equip them to do ministry, not to enforce participation at training events. Getting and keeping your church members engaged in volunteering takes excellent and inspiring communication. Here are a few ideas:

– Make It an Invitation – 

Invite before you mandate. Most people volunteer because they are excited to be a part of what God is doing at your church. People also volunteer to get to know other church members. Appeal to those two desires when you communicate.

Let’s say you are sending your students to youth camp and you need to train your leaders before the trip. What about something like this?

“Let’s celebrate the record-number of sign-ups for summer camp together before we head to the beach! Join us for a fun night with your fellow leaders, and we’ll equip you with the essentials you’ll need to help your students grow closer to Jesus next week.”

Does that sound more inspiring and inviting than mandatory leader training? I think so.

– Offer Flexibility –

In-person meetings can be tough and aren’t always necessary. Don’t make someone feel rejected because of scheduling conflicts. Can you live-stream the meeting over the Internet and let people send in questions electronically in real-time? (You could with Periscope, or a number of other free apps.) Can you put together a manual that covers the key points and schedule follow up calls to make sure volunteers understand their roles and expectations so they can serve effectively? As full-time staff, the goal should be to equip as many members of the church to serve as possible, and that will sometimes require flexibility. And when you offer flexibility, communicate the options clearly without stigmatizing any of them.

The Unstuck Group’s Paul Alexander wrote a great article about getting more volunteers by making it easier to start. Every role can’t be simplified in the same ways, but there are definitely some good places to start!

– Make People Feel Irreplaceable, Not Disposable – 

I’m not suggesting you stroke egos or try to make people feel important. As leaders we should always be encouraging biblical humility. However, God values every person and wants them to know it. We frequently say things in the Church like “If you had been the only sinner, Jesus would’ve died for you.” Then we sometimes treat people like God would’ve said “Eh, take ’em or leave ’em.”

The Church should be a place that communicates to people their value in the Kingdom. It’s a good thing to communicate to your volunteers that you appreciate what their uniqueness brings to the culture of your church and to the role in which they are serving.

What other ideas do you have for improving the ways we communicate with volunteers?

 

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