December 10, 2014

Take a Cue from Southwest Airlines: Make It Simple to Volunteer


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Last year, I took a flight with Southwest Airlines and witnessed an amazing volunteer moment. When mid-flight snack time came around, a passenger on the flight stood up and volunteered to pass out the pretzels and peanuts. And then, the crew did something amazing… They let her! No application, no waiver and no complex training classes. They simply handed over the snacks and let her go for it! Watching this peculiar moment, I couldn’t help but think about how difficult many churches make it for people to volunteer. Here are a couple of observations from that moment that I think are worth considering.

church volunteers easy help

1. Create Entry Level Volunteer Opportunities

Handing out snacks isn’t the most complicated job on the planet. Just about anyone can do it, right? That’s kinda the point. Creating simple opportunities for people allows them to safely test the waters and take another step at their own pace. Don’t worry; leaders will always rise to the top. And it’s important to keep in mind that volunteering is different than leading. Who knows? That passenger may end up as the next great flight attendant at Southwest Airlines.

2. Provide On-the-Job Training

It took little-to-no training for this woman to perform the role of handing out snacks on that flight. Realistically, she’s probably seen it done a hundred times before. Modeling and coaching in real time is a great way to train, and it doesn’t take hours of time out of the lives of your volunteers and take them away from their families.

3. Throw Away the Complex Volunteer Application

The flight crew didn’t make this woman fill out an application to work at Southwest prior to letting her hand out snacks. I know you may think that having a multi-page application is responsible and helpful, but it actually creates an obstacle to people volunteering in your church. While there are a few volunteer roles that require a background check (like working with minors) and/or thorough evaluation of a person’s spiritual maturity (like teaching a class or Bible study), many other positions only require a limited amount of information from potential volunteers. That information can be quickly collected in the on-boarding process, especially if you’re intentional about creating easy-access, entry-level volunteer opportunities (like handing out snacks).

4. Make it Fun

Southwest is famous for being a fun place to work, and when the staff has fun, the people on the flight have fun, too. And hint, hint… They’ll want to join in (as evidenced by my story). If your church isn’t a fun place to work and your staff isn’t having fun, chances are you’re going to have a difficult time attracting volunteers.

What other ways do you know of to cut complexity and help people want to join your volunteer teams?

Photo Credit: Billy Wilt via Compfight cc

Paul Alexander

Paul is a Ministry Consultant with The Unstuck Group. Paul has more than 20 years experience serving in the local church, the last 15 of which have been on the Sr. Leadership Teams of some of the nation’s leading mega-churches. Currently, Paul is serving as the Executive Pastor at Sun Valley Community Church, a large multi-site church located in the Phoenix area.

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