August 10, 2022

Moving People from Services to Serving – Episode 257 | The Unstuck Church Podcast

moving people from church services to serving

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Rethinking Volunteer Engagement (Part 2)

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I hear it from just about every pastor I’m talking to: people are coming back to church! However, while there is no shortage of new people attending services, churches are still struggling with engaging people in serving opportunities. 

In this series on Rethinking Volunteer Engagement, we’re exploring new data insights and giving practical wisdom around building a healthy volunteer culture. In Part 1, Amy and I explained what we found in the data and explore the connections we identified between volunteer engagement, unity, and generosity in the church. (In Part 3, we unpacked why serving is so important to helping people become more like Jesus and explain how churches can better incorporate serving into their spiritual formation process. Finally, in Part 4, we discussed how staffing decisions and strategies impact volunteer engagement.)


In this episode, Amy and I are offering four practical insights and strategies for moving more people and leaders from attending services to serving others through volunteering. (As we’ll see, you almost need two different approaches for encouraging serving in general volunteer opportunities and volunteer leadership opportunities). Join in as we discuss:

  • Emphasizing serving inside and outside the church
  • 5 ideas for inviting new people to serve
  • The case for serving before small groups
  • How to actually ask leaders to lead

"How to Engage More Volunteers & Leaders This Fall"


As we approach Fall 2022, how can we attract and engage more volunteers and leaders to our ministry teams? And once we’ve engaged them, how do we approach onboarding and caring for our volunteer teams?

We invite you and your staff team to join The Unstuck Group for this free one-hour training event.


This Episode is Sponsored by ServeHQ:

Every church leader knows that having trained and engaged volunteers is essential to successfully accomplishing your mission. But if you’re like most leaders, you also know how tricky it can be to onboard and equip people for your team.

What if there were a resource that made it easier? ServeHQ is simple video training courses that help you equip volunteers and develop leaders. You can create your own training or use their video library. You can even automate next steps to onboard new people. Check it out at

Research has shown that people are more likely to move from a serving team to a group than they are to move from a group to a serving team. [episode 257] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet NOW is the time to invite new people to join a serving team. Don’t wait for them to settle in and become consumers of ministry—because the longer you wait, the harder it will become. [episode 257] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet If you want someone to step up into leadership, you need to offer them a problem to solve before you give them a position to fill. [episode 257] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet If you want to get someone to volunteer their leadership capacity, you need to cast the vision for how their leadership will help you overcome a challenge and move the mission forward. [episode 257] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet

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We use #unstuckchurch on Twitter, and we start a real-time conversation each Wednesday morning when the episode drops. You can follow me @tonymorganlive and The Unstuck Group @unstuckgroup. If Facebook is where you spend your time, I’m there, too.

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Sean (00:02):

Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we are exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. We hear it from just about every pastor we talk to. People are coming back to church. A lot of the faces we see are new, but we’re struggling with engaging people in volunteering. On this week’s podcast, Tony and Amy continue our series on volunteering with a conversation about how to move people from just attending services to serving others. Before we get into this week’s podcast, though, I want to invite you to join us on September 1st for a free training for your team on engaging more volunteers and leaders. We’ll dive deeper on the topic of engaging volunteers and leaders and hear about some churches who are winning with volunteer engagement. You can join Tony and Amy and our Unstuck team for the free training by registering using the link in your show notes. If you don’t yet have the show notes, just visit to subscribe. Now, before we dive into the content, here’s a word from Tony.

Tony (01:00):

Onboarding new people to volunteer is tough. A confusing or complicated process can lead to people slipping through the cracks, and you don’t want that. A clear and simple onboarding process will make sure new people are prepared and motivated to serve. To do that, you’ll need a good reliable system. Well, let me recommend ServeHQ. ServeHQ offers simple video training courses that help you equip volunteers and develop leaders. You can create your own training or use their video library. You can even automate next steps to onboard new people. Check it out at

Amy (01:43):

Well, this should be a fun conversation today. We’re continuing our volunteer engagement series, and today we’re gonna focus on strategies that move people from attending services to serving other people. But before we jump into those strategies, Tony, I don’t think this will surprise anyone, but it sounds like you have something to get off of your chest.

Tony (02:02):

Yeah. Yeah. So, I mean, volunteer engagement is a critical part of helping churches accomplish their mission. But there seems to be, I don’t know, this thing that starts to pop up when we’re talking about churches about volunteers, and it has to do with, are we talking about volunteers inside the walls of the church or outside the walls of the church? And I sometimes wonder why is this even a question because we are on mission both inside the walls of the church and outside the walls of the church. But I sometimes pick up this vibe with church staff teams that are serving people at the church on Sunday morning, that that somehow is less missional, if you will, than serving people in the community Monday through Saturday. It’s as if they’re thinking you can put me on the guest services team on Sunday, but if you really love Jesus and you want to be on mission, then I need to be serving outside of the walls of the church. But both are part of God’s mission. We need the body of Christ doing what the body does in every aspect of our mission, both inside and outside the walls of the church. And I just want to remind you that Sunday morning is a key part of that mission, especially for adults who are still considering the claims of Christ, for students, for kids, this is an important part of our mission. And here’s what concerns me. If we routinely celebrate and share stories of people who serve in the community, which we should do by the way, and then downplay the people who serve on Sunday morning, people in our congregations are going to begin to pick up on that. Whether we say it out loud or not, they’re going to pick up on this sense that they have of serving in the community is somehow more important than serving on Sunday morning. And that could be why some churches have many people serving in volunteer roles in the community, but they’re struggling to find people to volunteer in kids’ ministry, as an example, on Sunday morning. If I’m not pushing enough, let me push a little bit more on this. I mean, be honest with yourselves. Do you believe that serving in the community is a better stewardship of someone’s gift than serving on Sunday morning? If so, that may be an indication that you need to revisit your services and your ministry environments on Sunday morning. I mean, why aren’t people being transformed by the service experiences in the ministries that you’re offering to kids, to students and to adults? I mean, my gut tells me if we really believed that people were taking their next steps towards Jesus through what happens on Sunday morning, we would have more than enough people lining up to volunteer on those teams. I mean, who wouldn’t want to give their time to helping other people experience what happens when we meet and follow Jesus? Who would wanna help kids, students and adults live a life transformed by Christ? I mean, who would want to help people find hope and healing for their lives? And this isn’t one of the specific strategies I was planning to talk about today, but one of the most important strategies for helping people move from services to serving is to help people see how serving makes a difference, whether it’s inside or outside the walls of the church.

Amy (05:30):

Well, it feels like we may have provided a bonus upfront in today’s episode, but I know you have a few other strategies in mind to help people move from services to serving. So you already began, but where do you wanna go next?

Tony (05:43):

Well, today I have a couple of thoughts which apply more generally to encouraging more people to join a serve team. And then I have a couple of thoughts specifically related to encouraging people to volunteer for leadership opportunities and believe it or not, you almost need two different approaches for people generally serving in volunteer serving opportunities and then for leaders that are volunteering. So here’s the first principle to remember. It’s easier to get a new person to serve than it is to engage people who have been around the church for years. I’m hearing from almost every pastor I talk with about all the new people showing up to church. And isn’t that fun to hear, especially on this side of COVID. In fact, I talked with a pastor recently who said we’re probably back to about 85% of our pre COVID attendance, but it seems like it’s primarily all new people. And that means we need to strike while the iron is hot. I mean, now is the time to invite all those new people to join a team. Don’t wait for them to settle in and become consumers of ministry. The longer you wait, the harder it will be because once people start, I mean, finding that place where they’re kind of just sitting and engaging the services, they’re gonna be less likely to actually engage in serving opportunities, and this connection for new people, it needs to begin on Sunday morning. In fact, let me give you some very specific advice here on how to connect new people into serving. First of all, most new people want to join a team because they’re looking to make some new friends. And I think it’s completely acceptable for people to know that these are volunteer serving opportunities in the church to help us accomplish a mission, but you’re going to meet some new people too, when you engage on these teams. Secondly, we need to avoid the promotion competition between ministries for new volunteers. You’ll get a lot more people serving if it doesn’t become a competition between ministries. So yes, cast vision for serving, and talk about some of those key opportunities that are available in your church, but don’t let ministry leaders start to compete with each other for engaging new volunteers. A third thought: you need to create one obvious place for people to connect to serving. And actually you want one option for both connecting to a team and a group in your building and then another clear next step that you’re offering online, on your website. If you offer more than one option for making a connection, it’s just, it creates confusion for people, especially new people. And you’ll find that you’ll actually have fewer people step forward wanting to serve. Here’s a fourth thought. Make the I’m interested process simple. In other words, people are going to hear you cast vision for serving, and they’re gonna say I’m interested, but once they come to that realization, you need to make the next steps simpler. My church, as an example, only asks for a name and contact information and then an indication that I’m ready to serve. That’s it. The onus then is on the church’s leaders, primarily staff leaders, to follow up and talk about serving options and help the prospective volunteer consider their next steps. And then finally, you need to help your staff and your congregation learn the art of connection. And this is key. I mean, everybody in your church on your staff, they need to join the connections team. And there are two magic questions that work every time you meet anyone that you think might be there for the very first time at your church. So this is a connection process that anybody can use for all those first time people that are showing up to our churches. The first question that you need to remember is this. How long have you been around our church? And this is great because we’re not assuming they’re brand new. We’re not guessing whether they’re brand new and whether they are new or they’ve been around for years. They’re gonna be able to answer that question. And then the second key question that you can ask someone that you haven’t met yet is: What brought you here the very first time? And many times the response to that second question will open the door for you to make a connection with other people. That’s when I share something along these lines. I found the easiest way to meet new people is to join a team or join a group. So you want me to help you see what options are available so that you can join a team or a group? And then because our church has that one place for people to go to make a connection, I can actually walk them to that place and help them through the process to get more information about joining a team or joining a group. So, Amy, do you see how simple this is? This is a way that every pastor, you can deputize every person at your church to join your connections team.

Amy (11:02):

Yeah, I like it a lot. And of course, the only way you can invite everyone to help with connections is if everyone knows there’s one place to go to get help.

Tony (11:10):

That’s right.

Amy (11:11):

I love that.

Tony (11:11):

Yeah. I’d like to challenge you to consider a second principle as well when it comes to moving people from services to groups. This one it has to do with a key difference between men and women. Here’s the principle. Men are more likely to join a serving team before they join a small group. Now should we continue to encourage men to engage in home groups and Bible studies? Absolutely. However, the research shows that while women tend to develop relationships through talking with each other, men tend to develop relationships by doing things together. And I raise this because I oftentimes hear from pastors who are struggling trying to get men into small groups, and Amy, I love my group. However, I will just say, it’s not natural for me to sit in a circle in someone’s living room to talk with other men about topics where I need to be vulnerable, especially as it relates to the deeper questions of life and relationships and spiritual understanding. I do this, and I certainly see the value of it in my life, but it just doesn’t come naturally to me. On the other hand, I much prefer to do something with other guys: to go to a game, to play golf, to work on a project, to go on a trip. I mean, I love being a part of a team with other guys, and I’m not suggesting that all men and all women develop relationships in these ways, but the research actually shows this is generally how we engage with other men and other women. So what does this have to do with churches? Well, we’ve actually seen some churches now that think of the flow of connection like this in their church. They try to encourage people to get to a worship service and then to serve on a team and then to connect into a group. And I will say, some churches are starting to move in this direction, but the more common path that we see churches engaging is moving from a worship service to a small group and then to a serving opportunity. And again, the challenge is we see a lot of women following that order, but for a lot of guys, they get stuck in the worship service and then they don’t take their next step. So this is something you may want to test drive, and you might find it’s actually easier to engage more men to take a step beyond attending a service if you encourage everyone to consider joining a serving team first. And by the way, our research that we’ve done has shown that people are more likely to move from a serving team to a group than they are to move from a group to a serving team. So if these results end up being true for you, this might be a solution to help more people move from services to serving opportunities in your church.

Amy (14:12):

Well, we’re talking about strategies to move people from weekend services to serving. And Tony, you mentioned you might have a couple of thoughts related to encouraging people to volunteer for leadership opportunities. What have you learned about engaging leaders?

Tony (14:25):

Yeah, well, the key thing I’ve learned is that engaging leaders requires a different approach. So for example, you can’t ask for people to lead through a platform announcement or an email message or a text message. It requires a face to face conversation. And in that conversation, you need to prepare ahead of time to explain the role, to clarify the win, to talk about the time commitment that’s required, to talk about what support will look like from the rest of the team and from other leaders. And maybe the most important question you have to be prepared to answer is why. Why is their leadership needed, and how will their leadership impact the overall mission of the church? And related to this, you have to remember that people with leadership ability, they’re already using that leadership wiring in their jobs and other community organizations and other environments. And even with that in mind, you have to remember this key principle. You can’t say no for people before you give them a chance to say yes. And this is especially true for potential volunteer leaders. You have to ask busy people to engage in the church’s mission. The people that we need to serve and lead are already busy people. So our tendency is to say no for them before we even ask them. But you need to stop doing that. We have the greatest mission in the world. We need those busy people to reprioritize their time so they’re that they’re investing their gifts into the gospel mission. Make the ask and then let them wrestle with God about how to best prioritize their time investment. I’ve suggested this before, but I think ministry staff leaders, they actually need some practice inviting high capacity people into a volunteer leadership opportunity. And so it may be good for you just to set some time aside in a future staff meeting and pair people up, so that it’s one on one conversation, and let one person practice like they’re inviting somebody to serve in a volunteer leadership capacity and then reverse roles, and then give each other some coaching on how you might change the approach going forward so that you’re more confident about the ask when you’re inviting somebody into a volunteer leadership role. But I actually think we need to practice this a little bit. And again, this is important because inviting someone to serve in a leadership volunteer role looks different than the broader volunteer teams that we’re trying to build.

Amy (17:06):

You know, Tony, as you tell that story, I think back to my late twenties. Late twenties, early thirties. I had three little kids. I was working full-time, and full-time/full-time if I can say it that way. I was volunteering at the church, but I got asked to step up into a higher level leadership role on one of our teams, and I couldn’t wait to do it. And I think if they would’ve looked at me like she’s busy, she’s got kids, she’s got this. But when you ask the right person with the right gifting, and you present the right challenge, it’s amazing what people will do. They want to be a part of it.

Tony (17:37):

That’s right.

Amy (17:38):

Well, any other recommendations you have Tony for engaging volunteers for leadership responsibilities?

Tony (17:42):

Yeah. Amy, I think you’re gonna like this one. And I found it works almost every time. Let me start with a principle, then I’ll unpack it a bit for you. Here’s the principle. Leaders will say yes to helping you tackle a problem before they’ll say yes to helping you fill a position. And actually this is not a bad way to really determine if someone has the leadership gift or not. And here’s why. Many times the people who are not gifted leaders aspire to be in leadership positions because they want to have more power or more influence. So if you offer them a leadership position, they will many times say yes. And by doing so, they’ve probably confirmed for you that they really don’t have the leadership gift. On the other hand, people with leadership gifting, they’re typically serving in leadership positions already. They’re already leading. They aren’t looking for another leadership position. However, leaders all share a common attribute. They all gravitate to big challenges. It’s like they’re attracted to big problems, and they need to solve and conquer those problems. So if you want someone to step into a leadership role, you need to offer them a problem to solve before you give them a position to fill. And I can’t understate this. Leaders want to make an impact with their leadership. I mean, they gravitate towards challenges, big challenges, the bigger, the better. If you want to get someone to volunteer their leadership capacity, you need to cast the vision for how their leadership will help you overcome that challenge and move the mission forward. And by the way, pastors, that’s not a bad strategy to keep in mind when you’re recruiting high capacity leaders to fill your staff positions as well.

Amy (19:35):

That’s really good, Tony. Well, any final thoughts before we wrap up today’s conversation?

Tony (19:40):

I mentioned earlier that maybe we need to do a little bit more training with our staff teams on how to engage volunteers. So we’re actually going to help you with that. We’re going to dive deeper and offer some more practical training about how to engage more volunteers and leaders this fall at an upcoming webinar on September 1st. And this will be a great opportunity for your entire staff team to come together and participate. So if you want to learn more about this opportunity, check out the show notes of this episode for more information on how to register your team.

Sean (20:17):

Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. At The Unstuck Group, our goal is to help pastors grow healthy churches by guiding them to align vision, strategy, team and action. In everything we do, our priority is to help churches help people meet and follow Jesus. If there’s any way that we can serve you in your church, reach out to us today at Next week, we’re back with another brand new episode. Until then, have a great week.

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Founder and Lead Strategist of The Unstuck Group. Started in 2009, The Unstuck Group has served 500 churches throughout the United States and several countries around the world. Previously, Tony served on the senior leadership teams of three rapidly growing churches including NewSpring Church in South Carolina. He has five published books including, The Unstuck Church, and, with Amy Anderson, he hosts The Unstuck Church Podcast which has thousands of listeners each month.

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