If I could give pastors a magic wand to fix one thing in their church, I believe most would wave the wand over their volunteer problem. I often hear the pain of a broken volunteer strategy. Words like disengaged, burned out, tired and overworked hang in the air.
Lots of things can contribute to a lack of volunteering, but the shifts you can make to energize this area of your ministry can actually be quite simple.
While working with different churches across the country, I’ve picked up a few things that seem to help people get connected. Here are the top three:
1) Build the Right Culture
When we think of volunteer health, we probably envision a church where people are standing in line to serve; and once they commit, they actually show up. I have yet to see a church with a long line of people waiting to serve, but I have seen churches do it well, and it starts by creating a culture of opportunity, instead of obligation.
A culture of obligation uses desperation and guilt to push people to serve. The whole “God’s going to get you if you don’t serve” spill seldom works. And even if people are guilted into serving, the commitment is usually short lived. Volunteer roles should be presented as opportunities, not obligations. People respond differently to opportunities.
So, how do you present volunteering as an opportunity? That’s simple. Share more about the”why” than “the what.” Tie every volunteering opportunity to your church’s vision, and if you can’t tie it to vision, you don’t need it anyway.
One other note on culture, knowing when to fire a volunteer is just as important as finding them. Churches that have a healthy serving base also have a healthy volunteer policy. Tolerating continuous tardiness, no-shows and other bad behaviors will cause poor attitudes to spread to the entire team. When churches set specific standards to serve, they are more likely to attract people who have the same standards. Accountability brings productivity.
2) Create a One Stop Shop
How hard is it for people to get started serving in your church?
In many churches we work with, getting involved isn’t as easy as the leadership thinks it is. When on-ramps to serve are limited to sign-up sheets or finding “Mike” (whoever that is), volunteering doesn’t happen. It’s helpful to have a “One Stop Shop” where people can learn more about getting involved. Make sure the kiosk or table is in an easy to find, easy to get to, location. Make sure the person manning the desk is passionate about serving and well-read about the available opportunities. Create a 24 hour policy; if someone shows up and signs up, they are contacted within 24 hours whether by phone, email or in person.
This is often a blind spot for church leaders. Would you be willing to get an outsider’s perspective? Try asking a friend who attends another church to visit yours with the lens of someone who wants to get involved. Ask them to tell you what they observe. Our team can help with this, too. Our Ministry Health Assessment service includes a “secret shopper” experience that usually shed lights on volunteering systems breakdowns.
3) Leverage Your Small Groups or Classes
Small groups are a great place to help people take next steps in serving. People are more apt to serve when they are invited by people with whom they already have a relationship.
Train your small group leaders to be intentional about helping people take deeper steps towards following Jesus. Remind them their primary goal isn’t to create a group experience, but to make disciples. Serving is an attribute of discipleship. Send out monthly emails to group leaders sharing which opportunities are available. Measure how many people move into serving from a small group. In doing so, you can develop best practices.
Churches must rely on volunteers to get ministry done; I believe the apostle Paul speaks to this is 1 Corinthians 12. What other strategies have you used to jumpstart volunteerism?