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In this second installment in my series on volunteers in the church, I decided to do a little undercover investigation. I found an individual giving considerable amounts of time to a church in a volunteer leadership role. To get this top secret interview, I promised not to divulge his/her identity or the name of the church.

TONY: Why do you volunteer at your church?

UNNAMED VOLUNTEER: My volunteering begins with my basic belief in Christ.  If what I believe is true, it changes everything.  My purpose is to seek to understand the gifts I’ve been given and how to best apply that to my day-to-day living to help people take steps toward Christ.  By volunteering, I have the opportunity to do this. Whether it be in media productions, leading a small group, or leading a team of people to push a new initiative, my drive to volunteer is a sense of fulfilling the purpose God has for me.  Without the foundation of faith, volunteering would probably be more selfish in nature.

TONY: How did you land in your current volunteer role?

UNNAMED VOLUNTEER: My latest volunteer role really stemmed from pursuing my strengths over time and working to be a reliable volunteer.  As a volunteer director, I was specifically asked and recommended for the role because of my work experience, my years of previous volunteering, and working hard to respect and be in alignment with our leaders at our church.

TONY: You have a full-time job. You’re a spouse and parent. How many hours a week do you serve and how do you make time for that?

UNNAMED VOLUNTEER: Depending on the week, volunteering can encompass 5-20 hours per week, typically averaging 12-15 currently.  Whenever possible, I look to find ways to include my family in what I volunteer for and create overlaps.  There was a point in time I asked a question to myself, “What are the least productive five hours in my week?  Could I exchange those for something of greater purpose and value?” My [spouse] and I talk about our commitments first. We work together to find balance and manage the give and take of volunteering.

TONY: What are some things staff leaders can do to set volunteers up for success?


  • Value their time. Don’t create opportunities to serve that are mismanaged with people standing around with nothing to do, or simply giving people busy work.  Have a clear plan with real initiatives and tasks to get done.
  • Communicate the vision. Over time, volunteers can become numb to what they do and miss the impact of what they’re doing. Remind them, “Because of what you’re doing, more people are going to be able to _______.”
  • Give them guardrails they can operate within. Are there budget limitations?  Places we can’t go?  Things we shouldn’t say?  When people are volunteering their time, allowing them to screw something up because they weren’t given some guardrails can deflate them and render them powerless.
  • Really be a study of your volunteers. Work hard to make sure they are serving in an area of passion and giftedness.  Many of us are blind to some of the things we naturally do well. If you can help us find those things and redirect us to other areas where we can serve, it will create huge divendends. The opposite is true too. Pushing people into positions because you’re more worried about getting the task done instead of whether or not it’s a good fit can suck the life out of your volunteers.

TONY: And, more specifically, what can staff leaders do to better empower volunteer leaders?


  • Leaders can lead when they know they have your support and room to experiment. They need room to fail versus being micro-managed and having to be overly cautious. Our nature is to want to have control over everything, especially in ministry. What are ways you can give freedom to great leaders who may do things differently but could surprise you with greater results than you imagined?
  • Pick a few big, hairy, audacious goals and appoint a volunteer leader to climb the mountain. Allow a volunteer to have that opportunity rather than hiring a staff person.  Creating a culture to first choose volunteers instead of adding staff empowers people to have a direct hand in the ministry being accomplished. The greater your ability to effectively give away ministry to volunteers, the greater the engagement of the people in your church.
  • Tell them the non-negotiables, the guardrails, up front. Cast the vision of where you want to go, and then get out of the way.
  • Be available as needed to give input, assess and brainstorm with your volunteer leader. There are times when I simply need to review a bulleted list of questions and thoughts with a staff member so I can confidently keep leading and pushing the vision.

Are there any unpaid servants in the crowd? If so, what’s your reaction to this interview? Where do Unnamed Volunteer’s thoughts resonate with you? Do you take exception to anything that was shared?

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