lacking volunteers your staffing model might be why

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There’s a tendency to believe that the more staff a church has, the more ministry they can get accomplished.

However, our experience with hundreds of churches has shown that overstaffing tends to lead to under-volunteering. 

If your church is struggling to effectively recruit and develop volunteers, your staffing model might be the reason why.

Here are three ways your staffing model impacts your volunteers:

#1: Overstaffing tends to lead to under-volunteering.

When paid staff are doing much of the ministry, they aren’t as motivated to raise up other lay leaders and build volunteer teams.

Pastors: If you do have one of those staff leaders who excels at volunteer engagement, celebrate that leader, promote them to expanded leadership roles, and give them a raise. Make heroes of those staff leaders.

But if you don’t, how can we begin to fix this problem?

  1. Challenge your staff members to draw out an org chart that includes volunteer leaders and volunteers. Instruct them to “Pretend you have a 12-week sabbatical coming up. What type of roles need to be designed to keep the ministry running in your absence? No staff positions allowed.” When these leaders think about how they would get the ministry done if they weren’t there, it would help them design a team structure.
  2. Lead pastors need to regularly cast vision around what it means to be the body of Christ and the importance for every person to recognize they are a part of this body and have a role to play. 
  3. During the staff recruitment, selection and onboarding process, clearly communicate this: “Your number one job responsibility, over everything else, is to equip God’s people to do the work of God.” Regardless of the role you’re hiring, you want your new staff to clearly understand that their job is to equip lay leaders and build teams to engage the mission and make disciples of Jesus. Or, to put it another way, your ministry is to get ministry done through other people.

#2: We should not outsource serving opportunities by hiring more staff to do the ministry that God designed for every person who is part of the body of Christ.

Every Jesus-follower has spiritual gifts they can use to engage with God’s mission. While we would never think of outsourcing other key components of someone’s spiritual formation (like engaging God’s Word, praying or connecting with other believers in a group), we routinely outsource serving opportunities by hiring staff to do the ministry.

In essence, we are taking away something that God uses to grow someone’s faith—something that provides purpose for people who follow Christ.

We also tend to forget how God uses serving other people to shape our faith. When we serve, not only does that impact the life of the person being served, but there’s also something that happens in the life of the person doing the serving.

How to Structure Your Staff to Develop Next Gen Leaders

At this free webinar, Tony Morgan and Amy Anderson will empower you with the systems and strategies to confidently structure your church for future impact.

#3: Though everyone is responsible for building volunteer teams, one person needs to champion volunteer engagement.

Every church needs one leader who is thinking about how to engage more volunteers. Every church needs one person who is thinking about strategies for recruiting, onboarding, training and caring for volunteers. Every church needs one person who is working closely with every key ministry leader, both staff and volunteer leaders, to move as many people as possible in serving opportunities.

This person doesn’t recruit all the volunteers and build all the volunteer teams—every ministry leader is responsible for that—but this volunteer champion should come alongside those ministry leaders and facilitate systems and strategies to make it happen.

You also need a leader who is constantly monitoring your systems and strategies for engaging volunteers and asking the question: Is it working? Are we winning with volunteer engagement? If not, you need someone who is pushing the team to change course and engage improved solutions.

Churches often assume that since every staff person should be responsible for engaging volunteers, it’s not necessary to hire a staff leader to champion volunteer engagement. 

Unfortunately, when everyone is responsible for the church’s volunteer engagement, no one is. Instead, churches end up with very decentralized systems and strategies for volunteer engagement and the actual ministry (worship, groups, missions, kids, students, etc.) always takes priority over building teams. That’s why every church needs a volunteer champion.


Looking for more? Read our Ultimate Guide to Healthy Volunteer Engagement and Ultimate Guide to Church Staffing.

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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