Rethinking Volunteer Engagement (Part 1)
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There are two primary challenges I’m hearing from pastors on this side of the pandemic: First, every pastor wants to see their Sunday services as full as they were before Covid. Second, almost every pastor is talking about the challenge of getting people to serve. Many people who used to attend and serve probably enjoyed the time off from their volunteer roles… Others, of course, never actually returned to church.
As people are coming back and still more new people are showing up, finding volunteers to support our mission has become more important than ever. That’s why, 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 2, we offered some practical strategies for moving more people and leaders from attending services to serving others. 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.)
VOLUNTEERING, UNITY, AND GENEROSITY
Did you know churches that have more people serving experience greater unity, less financial challenges, and even less complaining? We recently collected and analyzed data from close to 300 churches in the previous weeks. We wanted to learn how the churches that are winning when it comes to engaging people in serving roles are different from the churches that are struggling in that area.
In this episode, Amy and I explain what we found in the data and explore the connections we identified between volunteer engagement, unity, and generosity in the church.
- What the data reveals about strong vs. weak volunteer cultures
- The connection between volunteering and unity
- The connection between volunteer and generosity
- Why having 100% volunteer engagement is not a measure of success
"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 ServeHQ.church.
Churches with low volunteer engagement have 34% bigger boards and almost twice as many committees. The data clearly indicates that more people in meetings means fewer people are serving. [episode 256] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet Jesus taught "Wherever your treasure is there, the desires of your heart will be also." The same principle applies to our time: People who give their time by serving others tend to become more generous people. [episode 256] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet When volunteer engagement is too high, it’s an indication that people are doing ministry but the church isn’t really accomplishing its mission. [episode 256] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet
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Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we are exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. Did you know churches that have more people serving experience greater unity, less financial challenges, and even less complaining. We have the data to back it up. On this week’s podcast, Tony and Amy start a new series on how churches can attract more volunteers and increase the number of people engaged in serving. 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’re gonna get practical about how to onboard new volunteers and leaders, how to care for and retain people on your team as well as hear from some churches who are winning with volunteer engagement. You could join Tony, Amy and our Unstuck team for this free training by registering using the link in your show notes. And if you don’t yet have the show notes, just visit theunstuckgroup.com/podcast to subscribe. Now let’s join Tony and Amy for this week’s conversation.
Well, Tony, I’m looking forward to this new series because I know this is a personal passion area for you. And it’s been some time since we did a focus series on volunteer engagement, and given the challenges I’m hearing from the churches that I’m serving, it seems like this is a significant felt need for church leaders in this season.
Yeah, Amy, I think you’re absolutely correct. There are really two primary challenges I’m hearing from pastors on this side of the pandemic. The first and probably most obvious, I mean, every pastor wants to see their Sunday services as full as they were before COVID, and I understand and can appreciate that desire. Fortunately, more and more churches are seeing those physical gatherings, including their Sunday services, starting to feel a little bit full again. So that’s good news. We’ve even worked with several churches in recent months that are now exceeding their pre-COVID attendance numbers, which is just wonderful, but I will acknowledge that’s highly unusual still at this point. But right behind that desire, almost every pastor is talking about the challenge of getting people to serve. And many people who used to attend and serve probably enjoyed that time off from their volunteer roles. Others, of course, never actually return to the church, but now as people are coming back and still more new people are showing up on Sunday mornings, finding volunteers to support our mission has become that much more important. And all of these questions and concerns related to volunteer engagement, Amy, it got me thinking about the book I wrote on this topic. It’s hard to believe, again another indicator that I’m getting really old, but I wrote the book Simply Strategic Volunteers with my friend, Tim Stevens, about 20 years ago. And needless to say, I had a lot more hair back then, Amy. But I was flipping through that book recently, and it made me pause to reflect on the principles that I would share today if I were rewriting that book. So that’s where we’re gonna be talking and spending some of our time over these next several weeks. I wanna help you consider several principles related to volunteer engagement for your ministry. Only these won’t be the principles I wrote about 20 years ago. These are the principles that we see working in the church today. So in today’s episode, we’re going to talk about the correlation between volunteer engagement and unity and generosity in people’s lives. In the coming weeks, we’re gonna talk about strategies to move people from services to serving, leveraging volunteer engagement to help people become more like Jesus and then strategies related to staffing and leadership that will help you build volunteer teams.
Sounds great. But before we dive into today’s topic, I know you like to look at data and see what that’s telling us before we start providing coaching on ministry strategies. And we’ve said this many times. Better data helps us make better ministry strategy decisions. So I’m sure you know, what is the current data telling us related to volunteer engagement?
Yeah. Yeah. I just, I do, I nerd out on this type of stuff, Amy. We recently refreshed our process for collecting data for our quarterly Unstuck Church Report. And one of the reasons we did that is because we wanna make the survey tools more accessible to more churches. And because of that, we have some very fresh data to look at related to volunteer engagement. So in preparation for this series, I dug into our most recent data to see what we could learn about serving in ministries of all different shapes and sizes. And at the time that I was doing this analysis, we had collected data from close to 300 churches in previous weeks. So these are very fresh findings that I think will be helpful to you, especially as we’re talking about this topic of volunteer engagement. Here’s what I did. I compared the top 25% of churches for volunteer engagement to the churches that were in the bottom 25%. I’m not gonna name names, but that was the comparison because I wanted to learn how the churches that are winning when it comes to engaging people in serving roles are different from the churches that are struggling in this area. And here are some of the most interesting findings. The churches with higher volunteer engagement are reaching four times more new people. And I can’t tell you based on the data whether or not new people are more likely to serve, but that’s certainly what my gut tells me. And we’re going to circle back to that key thought in coming weeks. Secondly, churches with more volunteers are also reaching more people for Jesus. Those churches that have high volunteer engagement also are seeing 40% more decisions to follow Jesus. And again, I don’t know if there’s something about encouraging people to serve that helps them take steps towards Christ, but there’s obviously something about churches that prioritize serving that it’s leading to life change. There’s just no other way to describe it. Here’s another one. Churches with low volunteer engagement have bigger boards, quite a bit bigger, and almost twice as many committees. And so the data clearly indicates that more people in meetings means fewer people are serving. And by the way, we’ve talked about this dynamic before, as it relates to just growth and decline in churches. Declining churches also have bigger boards and twice as many committees. So this new data just continues to confirm what probably many pastors have suspected. One of the reasons why some churches get stuck is because their church governance model is just broken. Here’s another one. Churches with low volunteer engagement have more people in attendance, but churches with higher volunteer engagement are experiencing higher attendance growth. And that, again, doesn’t surprise me. I’ve done some previous research that indicates people who serve are also more likely to invite others to church. And if that’s true, it explains why churches with higher volunteer engagement are experiencing faster growth in this season. One more. Churches with high volunteer engagement also have three times as many volunteer leaders. So their span of care in these churches is smaller. And again, I want to unpack the opportunity to empower, not just volunteers, but volunteer leaders. And we’ll talk more about that later in the series. But finally, this was just interesting. Churches with high volunteer engagement are more likely to offer online services than the churches that are struggling with volunteer engagement. That one caught me by by surprise. But in fact, 100% of the churches in that top 25% for volunteer engagement are offering online options for watching their services. So if there was something in the back of your mind that you were wondering, should we stop showing our services online to encourage more people to come to the church and to start serving? The data would actually indicate otherwise. And again, that’s just another example, Amy, of how good data helps us make better ministry decisions. I mean, like I said, we’ll circle back to several of these findings in the coming weeks, but this will hopefully help to tease some of the distinctives we’re seeing in the churches that are winning when it comes to volunteer engagement.
That is fascinating. All those things that you just shared. Can’t wait to dive into ’em. Tony, one of the things you mentioned was something about the correlation between unity and volunteer engagement. Why don’t we start there? Will you unpack that for us?
Yeah. So here’s what I’ve observed through the years when it comes to this dynamic in churches. And I’ll be curious to know, for those that are listening, if they’ve experienced this as well. What I’ve observed is that people who serve other people tend to complain a lot less, and it’s probably, yeah. Yeah. So it’s obvious, but it’s true, isn’t it? It’s probably because they’re more interested in helping other people. They’re probably also more invested in the mission of the church. I know that when I’m focused on serving other people, my attitude about my life, including the people around me, it’s just much healthier. But when I focus too much on me, that’s when I can get to an unhealthy place. And that has to impact how I end up treating other people around me. And just to be honest, that’s when I catch myself becoming more cynical and complaining more.
Yeah. Yeah. I know. I tend to be prone to that, Amy. So what’s interesting, however, is that even though people who serve other people seem to complain a lot less, there is one exception to this principle that I’ve noticed through the years, and the exception involves volunteer teachers, people who volunteer to teach other adults, and for whatever reason, many people who teach other people seem to complain a lot more. I mean, have you ever noticed this in churches? I mean, sometimes people who think they have the teaching gift can be the crankiest people in the congregation, and I’m guessing, and this is my speculation, I’m guessing that because they don’t view the opportunity to teach as a way that they’re serving and helping people instead, just maybe, maybe they’re enjoy being in front of people and telling them what to think. And that’s why I’m wondering if sometimes they tend to be cranky people. Did you think that was funny, Amy?
I did. I did. I, you know, I worked in the auditorium, so I didn’t get to see if our teachers at my church were cranky or really great people. But I appreciate your perspective.
Well there does seem to be something though distinctive about churches that mobilize many people to volunteer, to serve other people. And maybe it’s because that unity of purpose is very obvious. I mean, people have to be thinking we’re on the same team. We’re all on mission together. Whatever the case, if you’re frustrated by the volume of the complainers in your church, you probably need to encourage them to serve other people. If they’re unwilling to do that, honestly, you probably need to encourage them to leave. Just don’t send them to my church. Because people who are constantly complaining, they are certainly creating division in the church. And you know, Paul’s instruction on this was very clear. If people are causing divisions among you, give them a first and second warning. And after that, have nothing more to do with them, for people like that have turned away from the truth and their own sins condemn them. I mean, that’s pretty harsh. Because of this, we really do need to encourage people to serve other people rather than complaining about other people.
You also mentioned a connection between volunteer engagement and generosity. What are your thoughts related to that connection?
Well, yeah, and this is not gonna be a surprise to you, Amy, or probably anyone listening, but people who serve also give more financially, and I’ve done this research several times in the past. Church attenders, they tend to contribute financially at the lowest levels in our churches. Church members give a little bit more. People who connect into a small group or a Bible study tend to contribute more than people who have become members, but those members aren’t engaged in a group or serving. And then people who volunteer contribute financially at the very highest levels in churches. And obviously the goal for churches isn’t to increase giving. But if your finances are tight, you may wanna invite people to serve before you invite them to give. We’re, of course, familiar with this principle as it relates to Jesus teaching on money. He said, “Wherever your treasure is there, the desires of your heart will be also.” And my guess is that principle also does apply to our time and our spiritual gifts. So wherever people are invested, you know, our heart tends to follow. So people who give financially tend to become more generous with their finances. And I think that’s the result of the heart change that has taken place. I have to think the same principle applies to our time and our talents. People who give their time by serving others, tend to be more generous towards people with their time.
You know, Tony, over the coming weeks, we’re gonna get much more practical about how to engage more volunteers. Before we wrap up today, though, I have a question for you. Do you think it’s possible for a church to have too many volunteers?
Well, believe it or not, I do think that’s possible. I mean the same truth, by the way, holds for small groups. I think it’s possible for a church to have too many people in groups as well. You actually don’t want a hundred percent volunteer engagement in your church, just like you don’t want a hundred percent group participation in your church. That’s actually a sign that the church is declining because you’re probably not reaching any new people. So the hope is that you’ll always have a steady stream of new people who are spiritually curious. These are people still considering the claims of Christ. Yes, we want everyone to continue to take steps towards Christ, and that should include encouraging people to connect in groups and serving opportunities as soon as possible. However, if everyone is serving, that’s an indication that your church has a big front door problem. When the volunteer engagement numbers are too high, I hope you celebrate the heart for people to use their gifts and engage the mission of the church. However, I also hope it raises a red flag that causes you to pause and ask the question is our reach strategy effectively engaging people who are currently outside the church and outside the faith? And are we pointing those people towards Jesus? When volunteer engagement is too high, it’s an indication that people are doing ministry, but the church really isn’t accomplishing its mission.
Well, any final thoughts, Tony, before we wrap up today’s conversation?
To go back to the question about having too many volunteers, it’s not a problem that most churches have right now. If it was, we’d be doing a series on decreasing volunteer engagement. That’s not what this series is about. Instead, we’ll be diving deeper and getting very practical about four creative ways to increase volunteer engagement. And we’re gonna cover this in an upcoming webinar on September 1st. You can check out the show notes of this episode for more information about that webinar and how you can register today.
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 we can serve you and your church, reach out to us today at theunstuckgroup.com. Next week, we’re back with another brand new episode. So until then, we hope you have a great week.
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