7 Ways to Build a Culture of Volunteers in Your Church
Have you ever had help that was more work than beneficial? If you’re not sure what I mean, have your 6-year old help you change the oil in your car or cook a complex meal next time you do either. Even though it may actually take you longer to do the tasks with their ‘help’, as a parent, you know that this is usually worth the effort because you’re committed to their development. That’s why you take the time to train them. Eventually, these tasks that seem out of reach will be mastered and you’ll find your child doing them for themselves. The ‘help’ they are giving you becomes really helpful, and in the long run, you are happier with the additional hands, and your children are better for having learned new skills.
Churches need lots of help to accomplish their mission, but often the experience people have with volunteering isn’t great. A good way to ensure the death of a church is to not allow people to help with the ministry. Engaging in the ‘work’ of ministry is a key component of discipleship and managing all the activities of your church can’t be done by staff alone. This means that volunteers are (and should be) a part of every healthy church. Since that is the case, building a healthy culture for volunteers to participate in the ministry is very important. Churches that do it well begin by creating a culture that encourages and supports volunteers and then entrusts the people with the work. This can be challenging and for some, even a bit scary, but churches that do it well see deep levels of engagement and growth. Here are seven key components of a thriving volunteer culture:
Build a Plan
Constructing a culture that encourages engagement begins with ministry planning that involves volunteers intentionally at all levels. Strategically including volunteers in the success or failure of ministry endeavors creates a dynamic of ownership and buy-in that helps reduce spectator Christianity within the community. By planning for volunteers intentionally, you, in essence, create a catalog of serving opportunities. Too often, ministries are like silos with few people having visibility into the volunteering needs of all areas. You may be missing out on connecting people that have gifts and talents for specific ministries because you don’t have clarity about how they can engage.
Keep an open mind
Great volunteer ministries are not simply about putting bodies in areas that are needed. Instead, encourage individuals to serve in a role that is a good fit for their gifts. If you have someone with unique skills and an eagerness to engage, perhaps this is an opportunity for them to put their talents to work. That doesn’t mean you need to create tons of different programs, but if for instance, you have a woman with a passion to support single moms in her neighborhood, it might be worth the time to sit and explore ways that she could use her existing spiritual gifts to support that community.
Make it personal
Whenever possible, ask someone to volunteer one on one. “Susan, have you ever thought about working with the youth group? I’ve seen you interact with several of our young people and there seems to be great rapport and you come alive when interacting with them. I know that they could learn a lot from your personal spiritual journey.” This seems like a better approach than having someone make an announcement from the stage that you ‘need help with the youth’. One approach communicates value to the person and insight into who they may be, and the other communicates that you need bodies… anyone will do.
Help them be successful
Depending on what the role is, they may need very little or quite a bit of training to feel prepared. Look at your list of opportunities and create a plan to ensure they have what they need. If you are unsure of where to start, begin by talking with your existing volunteers. Survey them and ask them what they needed to know that would have improved their experience. How would they train someone to take over doing their role? Ask them what they see as the current gaps in the onboarding process. You might learn a ton and your current volunteers will know that you value their thoughts on the subject.
Stay with them
Getting them connected and serving is a great first step, but it needs to be the first of many. People can feel unsupported if you don’t follow up with them regularly to ensure that they are still fulfilled in the role. Without an effective follow-up system, you may be missing opportunities to keep people engaged. There are also times that people need a break. For many, asking for a break feels like quitting. But remember this isn’t about filling a role, it’s about deepening engagement. If someone needs a break, suggest it to them and release them. If you don’t they will burn out and you may lose them from the church altogether.
Often the best volunteer recruiters are your existing volunteers. You already have a good system to follow up with them on a regular basis – now add the step of asking them who else would be good to work alongside them. Train them to be a connector of people, their passions, and their opportunities. Enthusiasm is contagious. By investing in your existing volunteers, you have created the most effective tool to recruit new volunteers.
Give Credit and say Thank you
This may be the most important of all of these traits. Churches that have sustainable thriving volunteer ministries are ones that give credit for success to the volunteers doing the work and say thank you in public and private ways. Tell stories about your amazing volunteers. Allow them to share with others the impact getting involved has had on them personally. If your volunteers feel valued and are publicly thanked for all they do, then you may end up with more volunteers that you know what to do with. Sounds like a great problem to have.
How are you engaging volunteers in every facet of ministry and what success stories do you have for how it has impacted their lives?