When our team helps a church with a Staffing & Structure Review, we push the leadership teams to give away more ministry by empowering volunteers, and the staff usually agree that should be a priority. But then, you get into the weeds of how to actually make it happen.
First, you have to cast a vision that compels more people to serve, which is no small feat. We wrote about energizing volunteerism at your church a few weeks ago. If you succeed, you also have to figure out how to effectively manage all of these new moving parts — and you should really have a plan in place before you start recruiting.
That’s when we get this question:
What’s the best, practical system for scheduling volunteers and maintaining accountability?
I wouldn’t say we’ve come across one system that will work for every church. The size of your church, the types of volunteer roles you have, the age ranges of your volunteers, and many other variables factor into what will work best. That being said, we have noticed a few best practices any church can use when designing its volunteer systems.
1) Experiment with Frequency
Don’t make volunteering an all or nothing proposition. In most cases, you should aim to have enough volunteers that no one person is being relied on every single week.
We’ve seen several churches do an every other week schedule for volunteers, even with Kid’s Ministry. (The reality is that most kids aren’t going to be there every week either.) We’ve also seen churches use a once-a-month schedule for the First Impressions and Worship teams. The teams serve one weekend a month, and they volunteer for all services that weekend.
Ask some critical questions when you’re identifying the right frequency for a role. For example:
- Is this a role that involves relationship with the people they’re serving? (If yes, such as volunteering with kids or students – a higher frequency is important.)
- Is this a role that requires a lot of training? (If yes – such as an early morning set up crew – a higher frequency in the beginning could help them master the process, but requiring too high a frequency long term could burn people out or limit opportunities for new volunteers to get involved.
- Is this a role that could engage people taking their first step to serve? (If yes, such as volunteering with first impressions – requiring a lower frequency may help more people take a step.)
If you take some time to decide on an ideal schedule, you can continue to recruit until you’ve filled the roles to cover all your needed teams (e.g. four First Impressions teams that each volunteer together once per month; two Kid’s Ministry teams that trade off every other week, etc).
A good volunteer system for your church will empower more people to serve. It’s ok if it takes some “prototyping” to find what works best.
2) Don’t Skimp on Technology
It’s probably not an Excel spreadsheet. We recommend Church Community Builder for church management software, and their tool for scheduling volunteer teams is very robust.
As for accountability, explore how can you leverage technology to automate volunteer schedule reminders and follow ups, and better stay connected with your volunteers throughout the month.
We know of one church that has created a short weekly podcast for its Small Group leaders to help them prepare, as well as a twice-a-month Zoom video call for the group to equip them and check in on how what challenges they’re facing. The technology allows them to empower their leaders better without requiring them to attend a lot of meetings. When their leaders feel equipped, they stay more engaged.
3) Always Be Prepared for No-Shows
It’s wise to calculate your typical no-show rate and make sure you have a few extra volunteers always scheduled to plug any unforeseen gaps. It’s also good to know your true bare minimum. (We could never operate without _.)
Also remember that you may have to “lay-off” a volunteer from time to time, if they’ve proven to be unreliable in the role they signed up for. We all know when we need to, but churches struggle with this one. Designate your expectations up front when you’re working out your system.
4) Empower Volunteers to Own Scheduling
Once you’ve created a good system, you can turn it over. When a solid volunteer leadership team is in place, those leaders are able to handle scheduling, following-up with “no shows,” and filling gaps. Ultimately, if that responsibility stays on the staff team, it may be an indication that more leadership development or structure is needed on the team.
A good volunteer system for your church will empower more people to serve. It’s ok if it takes some “prototyping” to find what works best. Start with these four principles and then be creative within your church’s culture and context. If you stumble onto an amazing system, we’d love to hear about it! Share with us on Twitter or Facebook using #unstuck.