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To experience growth in your church, you need both volunteers and leaders. There’s a vast difference between the two and if you fail to grasp it, you might fail to grow as a church.
There is a way to turn volunteers into leaders and I want to give you some practical action steps to make that happen.
Volunteers want to do things. They want to play a part, meet a need, and have fairly clear responsibilities.
Leaders want to lead things. They want to be a part of the decision-making process and have more authority.
Some churches think they have a volunteer problem, but in reality, it’s a leadership issue. There are plenty of people to do the work, but not enough people to lead the work.
Other churches have a lot of leaders but nobody to do the real work of the ministry.
Some people are very comfortable staying in the volunteer lane. If you try and give them more leadership and authority, they shrink back or push away.
This has nothing to do with the fact that they don’t care about the mission and vision of the church. And it’s not a commitment issue. It’s just that God has wired some people to be volunteers and not leaders.
You can develop and disciple some people into leadership positions, but trying to force leadership roles on everyone is a big mistake.
You can’t microwave leadership development in your church. It’s more of a slow-cooker kind of thing.
This can be frustrating because there is so much ministry to do and so many opportunities to pursue, but if you want to develop leaders, you’re going to have to be patient.
You can have a class, but a class doesn’t produce leaders. You can create a program, but a program doesn’t yield quick results.
Leadership development in a church, such as the Team Training program that's a part of Church Fuel, requires the right kind of culture and time for relationships to mature.
With those three principles as the backdrop, let’s talk about five things you can do this week to begin the process of turning some volunteers into leaders.
When I was pastoring a young church, we had a staff meeting on Monday nights. It was the only time our part-time and volunteer team could meet during the week.
Even though we were growing really fast, we realized we didn’t have many good systems for developing people. It turns out getting a crowd is way easier than leading a church.
So one night, we pulled out a whiteboard and tried to answer the question “Who are the potential leaders in our church?” We put several names up on the board until we realized we were making a list of hard-working volunteers. Few of these people were natural leaders. They preferred to do the ministry themselves. They worked hard, but they didn’t have followers or build teams.
This couldn’t be our long-term solution. From that meeting, only a few names emerged as true leaders.
You may not have a lot, but you have more than you realize. God has blessed your church with some potential leaders, and thought and prayer can help you identify them.
One of my favorite ways to call out potential in people is to go up to them and tell them what you see in them. It’s a conversation that might go something like this…
“Hey Sarah. You are absolutely one of the friendliest people I’ve met. I honestly think it’s a God-given gift. You have this way of making people feel welcome and relaxed. It’s like you’re on the lookout for people who need a smile. I believe God has wired that into your personality somehow. I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about this before, but that’s something we really need here at River Church. I don’t know how God will use that, but I believe He is going to.”
You don’t have to give the hard sell or hand out the volunteer application. You’re simply saying what you see. You’re looking into someone’s life and speaking a positive truth.
Someone did this for me once, and I’ve never forgotten it. Calling out the potential in people is an amazing thing you can do for someone, and you can do it today.
You can’t effectively equip people to do the work of the ministry by writing sermons, sending emails, and trying to lead from behind your computer screen. You’re going to have to have conversations with people.
Leadership development takes time and intentionality. So once you have a list of a few potential leaders, make sure they are on your calendar. This is not very complicated, but it’s going to require a little bit of focus and planning.
Coffee conversations and lunches with people are really important, so don’t feel like these are diversions from the real work.
Recruiting leaders is also very different from recruiting volunteers. You can’t recruit leaders from the stage or with a sign-up sheet. You can recruit volunteers that way, but inviting leaders to be a part of what God is doing at your church is way more personal.
Barry Banther says “Managers offer answers. Leaders offer questions.”
When you have conversations with potential leaders, you’ll definitely have an opportunity to talk and teach. You should cast vision, model a faith first life, and talk about the Bible.
But one of the most important things you can do is ask questions. Leaders love to share their opinion and you have an incredible opportunity to learn from their insights on the church.
Here are some questions you can ask potential leaders in your church.
A lot of leaders in your church are experts in a particular field. Those insights and skills are crucial to the church, but most people are never asked. I know business leaders who are sitting on the sideline because no pastor has ever asked for their wisdom.
When you have identified a leader, spent time with them, and learned from them, you might find there’s an opportunity for a new leader to get involved in the church.
While you should start small, you must also give away responsibility and not just a to-do list. This is one of the biggest differences between a volunteer and a leader. Volunteers love the to-do list, but leaders often hate it.
If you want to involve a problem-solving leader, get on the same page but then get out of the way. Let them make decisions and take action. Continue to meet and coach, but let go.
Bryan Miles, founder of Miles Advisory Group says, “When you give responsibility to others, you kill the falsehood that says you can do it all and you are in control of it all.”
Don’t decide everything and hand the execution plan to a leader. Let the leader come up with the plan.
The question comes in many forms.
How do we get people off the sideline and into the game?
How do we help members get motivated when it just seems like they want to come and listen or be entertained?
How do we engage people when they are already so busy or say that they’re tired and need a break?
It’s the volunteer question.
Pastors and church leaders know they will never be able to do all of the ministry that needs to be done. But seeing people take the next steps to serve is another story.
I’ve never had a church leader come to me and say, “We have too many volunteers.” Instead, we hear the opposite time and time again.
How do we get more volunteers?
The question is even more important when you consider that people often give their time before they give their money and volunteers are three times more likely to invite their friends to church.
So, let’s talk about volunteer recruitment.
Here are five ways you can recruit volunteers all year long.
The first step in recruiting new volunteers is to thoroughly thank your existing volunteers.
That’s right…before you worry about bringing any new people into your volunteer base, make sure the volunteers you already have serving are the happiest and healthiest people in your church.
If your current volunteers are under appreciated, you’re asking people to jump on board a sinking ship. And very few people want to make that leap.
Have a simple system in place to thank your current volunteers. That system could consist of:
Since people naturally go where they are appreciated, make sure you thank your volunteers over and over again. It’s the most powerful thing you can do to attract new people.
Not only should you thank your volunteers individually, but you should also appreciate them publicly.
Call attention to people who go above and beyond. Recognize people by name and in public. Every time you do this, it means a lot to the person you’re recognizing, but it also makes a difference to your larger volunteer base.
Your volunteers won’t be jealous that they aren’t receiving the attention; they will feel mutually appreciated. They love the fact that you notice individuals. In fact, every time you highlight a contribution made by a volunteer, you sow the seeds of volunteerism in your entire congregation.
My pastor, Andy Stanley, frequently says, “Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.” Don’t let the fear of leaving someone out cause you to miss the tremendous opportunity to recognize people publicly.
When I was pastoring a church in Atlanta, one of my favorite ways to do this was giving out an award at our quarterly leadership event. These awards were a big deal and they were a highlight of the evening.
We’ve got a whole training on how to do this inside of the Church Fuel program.
“By the way” moments are a great way to recruit volunteers without having to put on the hard-sell or preach a full sermon.
Mention needs. Say thanks. Highlight contributions without making them a main point.
In other words, make it normal to talk about volunteering.
When you mention the busy school teacher who serves in the nursery in your sermon, you subtly remind people that serving is not just for people with loads of free time.
When you reference a few volunteers who were at your house talking about football, you remind people that you’re connected to people who serve and that volunteering is a way to get to know others.
Great communicators are masters of the “by the way” moments.
In your church, you have people who are gifted and called to do the thing.
And then there are others who can’t really do the thing but who just seem to know everyone. They are well-connected, well-liked, and people seem to follow them.
There are people in your church with a very particular set of skills. Church of the Highlands in Birmingham, Alabama makes sure every volunteer team has a leader in charge of recruiting. They don’t burden this person with administrative tasks or even leadership of the whole team. They put them in charge of recruiting. It’s their responsibility to bring new people onto the team.
There’s a reason Army recruiters are different from drill camp instructors. It’s a different skill set. What would happen if your children’s ministry had a recruiter—someone who didn’t work directly with children but recruited adults all year long?
Putting a three-week volunteer recruitment emphasis on the calendar (we recommend February and/or August) will give you confidence during the rest of the year.
Knowing you have a built-in time to address the needs provides peace of mind that help is on the way.
At least once a year, North Point Community Church has a Sunday that’s internally called “Strategic Service Sunday.” The pastor, Andy, preaches on the need for volunteers and asks people to take a first step to serve on one of a few teams. The staff and leaders are ready for all the raised hands, and they have a system in place to connect new people before the need hits.
It’s systematic and scheduled.
No matter the size of your church, you could choose to emphasize volunteers once or twice a year and build it into the calendar. Align all of your ministries and programs around this and you’ll be well on your way to having a strong volunteer force.
We’ve spoken to hundreds of pastors and churches.
Not once have we heard this sentence:
“Man, you know, we have some really great people serving all over our church, but I think there’s just too many of them. We don’t know where to put people anymore!”
Why is that?
Why does there always seem to be a lack of volunteers willing to serve consistently on Sunday mornings? How can we get people plugged in to a ministry they enjoy or they’re gifted in?
Some barriers are necessary.
For example, many youth and children’s ministries have what’s called a “6-month” rule, where you have to have been regularly attending your church for 6 months before you’re ready to volunteer with a ministry. Rules like these thwart potentially dangerous people from being able to interact with children and promote safety.
However, I’d say that’s one of the few exceptions to the rule.
For the most part, the harder you make something, the fewer people will do it.
While the example above could be named a “necessary” barrier, we often see two unnecessary barriers.
The first is the faith barrier.
The “faith” barrier requires all volunteers to recite the apostle’s creed, be a member, tithe, and sell their firstborn child to serve.
While we understand the importance of wanting to make sure your people are legit, especially someone in a teaching role, like a small group leader, does a greeter really have to be a member? Does a bass player have to be saved? If they’re restricted, they’re missing out on so many opportunities to be in community with other believers and on hearing and seeing the gospel lived out daily.
Don’t miss those moments.
The second common barrier we see is the age barrier.
The “age” barrier is as simple as it sounds. You may not see potential in a volunteer because of their age. Some of your best volunteers may be in high school. Or older! Don’t discount anyone because of their walk of life. Get to know people and find out what they’re purposed to do.
Get rid of unnecessary barriers, make it an easy process to volunteer, and everyone will do it.
This is probably one of the biggest reasons we see for people not volunteering, dropping out, or not serving with excellence.
Every volunteer needs a job description.
You wouldn’t start a job without knowing what you were doing, how you were expected to do it, what you were getting paid, and all the little details in between.
People need and look to you to provide the clarity. They need a physical “job” description that tells them exactly what you expect from them in their ministry role. As a Church Fuel member, you have access to a Volunteer Job Description template that shows you exactly how to form this document and guides you in exactly what you should include in it.
How long will people need to serve? 1-2 years? 6 months?
How long do you need them to serve? One service? Both? Every Sunday? Once a month? Every other week?
Be specific. Don’t expect people to know what you expect of them. Lay it all out there on the table.
Ever desperately pleaded with your congregation before?
“We need children’s ministry workers!”
What does that mean?
The first image that comes to mind is a scene from Cheaper by the Dozen when Steve Martin’s kids unleash a snake at their home during a party and madness and/or chaos ensues.
In that case, count me out.
Really though, what does that mean?
Do you need small group leaders? Assistant leaders? Production people? Actors? Worship leaders? Floaters? Check-in people?
Instead of saying you need kid’s workers, say you need an assistant teach to help with the 3rd to 5th grade room.
You need another set of hands to help with production.
Or you need a married couple to greet for the second service.
Be clear about your needs.
Many of your people, especially your introverts, will not volunteer if they don’t think there is a need.
Even if you screamed it from the platform, making it personal and encouraging someone with what they’re gifted at may be the thing that makes them want to take the next step.
For me, it was a church leader approaching me a few years ago saying “hey, you are really great and consistent leading worship in your campus ministry. Why don’t you do that for your church?” This made me “take the leap”.
For others, it could be a college student that is a great with social media and could oversee your communications team.
Or a married couple who you think would be great co-ed small group leaders.
You can’t recruit leaders from the stage.
You’ve got to get personal.
Are there any other things that prevent your people from volunteering? Or do you have ways you like to onboard people? Let us know. We love to hear from you.
In seven years of working with churches on systems and strategies, I’ve never encountered a leader who said, “You know what…we have TOO MANY volunteers.”
It’s quite the opposite.
Churches need more people to get involved.
Regular sized churches might need a dozen more volunteers.
Mega churches might need 400 new volunteers.
Rural churches, urban churches, traditional churches, modern churches, young churches and old churches all need volunteers.
It’s likely you’ve preached and pleaded and cast all the vision you have. Maybe you feel like you’ve extended all the invitations you can to all the people in your church. But still, there’s still opportunity.
It’s possible your church has all the volunteers it needs, but they are spread too thin across ineffective or outdated ministries that are just getting by.
Let me illustrate.
If you have 21 volunteers spread across 7 ministries, each ministry will have an average of 3 volunteers.
But if you have 21 volunteers spread across three ministries, each ministry will have an average of 7 volunteers.
No new people, but a lot more focus. The same number of volunteers generates a whole lot more momentum this way. Not to mention, those volunteers are not as stressed and don’t feel like they are serving alone.
I know it’s hard to cut things, but it’s a stewardship issue.
Your church might be better off with fewer programs and ministries and reallocating your people to the things that are most important.
Instead of asking your existing volunteers to serve in other places, ask them who they know.
You’ve likely asked all the people you know, but your current volunteers know people in your church that you don’t know. They have relationships that you don’t have.
In fact, one of the things we teach in this Church Fuel One course on Volunteers is how to teach your volunteers to recruit others to serve with them. When they shift their thinking a little towards people development and away from task management, you broaden your volunteer base.
Ask people who they know. Ask them to invest in an apprentice over the next few months. Ask them to bring new people into their ministry teams.
Another place you can look for new volunteers is in your donor database.
The people who financially support your church have a vested interest in helping you accomplish your mission.
That makes them great candidates for serving.
Not every donor is ready to serve, but there are likely a few that will respond to personal invitations.
Run a report of everyone who has financially contributed to your church in the last 12 months and cross-reference that with people who are serving. Then schedule a few conversations to say thanks and to ask people to consider serving in an area that makes sense.
This is going to be controversial, but at least consider it. One of the greatest places you can find volunteers is in your student ministries.
If you have a middle or high school ministry that meets during your Sunday morning service times, there’s a LOT of great volunteers there.
I’m not suggesting you don’t need best leaders serve in your student ministry. It’s quite the opposite…you should put your best people here.
But you should at least ask if utilizing people and running a Sunday morning ministry to students is the best thing for the church overall.
Could you move your student ministry away from Sunday morning and free people to serve with children’s ministry or use their gifts elsewhere?
Second, and perhaps more important, by grouping students together in Sunday morning environments, you might prevent them from serving.
Some of the best volunteers in your church are under the age of 18.
A few years ago, we talked to Reggie Joiner, the leader of The ReThink Group and the creator of the Orange strategy. He told me that one of the most instrumental things for his own children was the opportunity the church gave them to lead and serve.
A serving team, not a small group, might be a bigger faith catalyst for the teenagers in your c
I know that goes against popular opinion, but it’s at least worth considering. Could you better equip student to follow Jesus by pairing them with caring and committed adults and giving them the opportunity to serve and lead.
Do they need a small group discussion or do they need a place to use their gifts? Do they need a Sunday School class or do they need to start investing their time in others?
For those who feel like you’ve already asked everyone to serve, there might be new ways to say the same thing. Mix things up and take a new approach. Here are some ideas.
The idea is to break the rhythm of what you normally do and try something different.
When the topic of church volunteers comes up, our focus tends to be on how to get more of them. While that’s important, we may overlook a key group who already serves and could be a great source for adding to the team…our current volunteers.
Human resources professionals will tell you it’s easier and less expensive to focus on retaining great employees than it is to hire and train new ones.
While we’re obviously not paying volunteers, a similar principle applies for our churches. If we have a revolving door of volunteers, church staff members must invest time and energy into attracting new volunteers, finding the best assignment for each individual, and training them. That’s time you could spend on keeping volunteers and adding to their ranks.
You’re much more likely to have a happy and fulfilled volunteer who’ll stick around for the long haul if you match him/her up to a role that fits.
That means you shouldn’t put a super outgoing person in a volunteer role that’s behind-the-scenes. Likewise, leave the front door greeter roles for folks who’re always upbeat and love to meet new people.
If you have a detail-oriented volunteer who has experience with administrative work, find ways to plug that individual into helping maintain the church database or organize a small gathering. Provide opportunities for volunteers to use their God-given talents within their local body of believers.
You can use spiritual gift tests, assessments or profiles, but one of the best ways to find out what people are good at is to just ask them.
From greeters to nursery workers, every volunteer needs to know what you expect, what a “win” looks like, etc. Depending on the role, volunteer training could be a half-hour session or more. Scale the training based on the role (nursery workers definitely should have more training for safety purposes). But every volunteer needs training.
If you’re not convinced that you should train everyone, consider this: How do you feel when you’ve done your best work but your boss isn’t happy? Not great, right? Well, if your volunteers think they’re doing their best work but realize you’re not happy with the outcome they’ll be discouraged. Set them up to win by providing training and telling them exactly what you expect from day one.
Dan Reiland offers this recommendation on training volunteers: “Any training offered compared to none is good! However, intentional equipping for specific ministry responsibilities is better. And developing people first for their personal growth, along with the church’s mission, is best.”
You’re in the weeds of church work at least 40 hours a week. As a result, you may not be able to see issues or improvement opportunities that your volunteers think are completely obvious.
One easy way to fix that problem is to ask for their feedback.
Now, here’s the important part about getting feedback: You have to do something with that information.
Granted, not all suggestions will be good or even possible. However, many will be and you need to take immediate action to implement the best ideas. Whenever possible, give credit to the volunteer(s) who provided you with the idea. This communicates loud and clear that you value your volunteers’ input and will do something about it when possible.
Don’t let the last time you had a meaningful conversation with a volunteer be the day you asked him to start serving. Talk with volunteers on Sunday mornings or invite them out for lunch or coffee during the week. Get to know their families, what they do for a living, how and when they came to Christ, etc.
Now, this can sound overwhelming when you have a large volunteer team. Don’t think you have to get to know every volunteer yourself. Instead, build a volunteer leadership structure so you’re not trying to get to know 50+ volunteers by yourself.
As your team grows, appoint a volunteer as the leader or team captain over each area (greeters, ushers, nursery, coffee bar, etc.). Get to know these volunteer leaders and encourage them to get to know the volunteers serving with them. Consider Jethro’s advise to Moses and you’ve got the idea.
This won’t apply to all volunteers, but you’ll have several who’ll get bored after a while in their initial volunteer role. They’ll need a challenge to keep them engaged and excited about serving. That’s a good thing!
This is where you might ask someone to take on a volunteer leadership position and lead a team of volunteers. If you have a volunteer who’s passionate about community outreach, consider asking her to serve on a planning team to provide school supplies to children in low-income households.
The key is to know your volunteers well enough to notice when their enthusiasm starts to wane. Find out if they’d like to try something new or more challenging and give them a chance to leverage their skills for the Kingdom.
This is an easy and impactful way to show your volunteers you care about them as individuals and not just for what they do for the church.
When people sign up to serve, ask for their birthday and/or anniversary. Get that information into your church database.
Once a month, run a report to find out which volunteers have a birthday or wedding anniversary the next month. Send out cards and acknowledge their special day at any pre-service volunteer meetings. Also send out cards and acknowledge service anniversaries (how many years a volunteer has served at the church). If applicable, you might also acknowledge salvation and/or baptism anniversaries.
Recognizing these special dates doesn't have to be extravagant or costly. However, it does communicate that you care and value each volunteer.
When you serve week after week in the same role, it’s easy to lose sight of why it’s important. “I just greet people at the door…how is that a big deal?”
If a volunteer stops seeing the importance of his role, he may serve less frequently or quit altogether. After all, we all want to do work of significance. Volunteering isn’t any different (in fact, it’s probably a bigger factor in volunteer roles).
Carey Nieuwhof says, “When you lose focus on the mission, volunteers lose heart. Every volunteer wants to give their time to something bigger than us or bigger than themselves. So give them that opportunity.”
Executive Pastor Kevin Stone advises, “People are busy, but if they believe they can be a part of something that matters, they will find the time to serve.”
Communicate the vision and how each volunteer role helps fulfill that vision. Discuss that during volunteer training and reiterate it at least monthly (weekly is probably best).
Volunteers are vital to the impact and success of your church. Make sure you invest time and energy into your current volunteers. As they enjoy serving, they’re likely to stay committed and bring more people onto the team.
Millennials care more about dogs than kids.
Those were the words of a frustrated pastor, struggling to involve millennial leaders in the children’s ministry of the church.
The church had found some success connecting Millennials to various missions and service opportunities around the city, but couldn’t seem to engage people in one of their most important ministry opportunities….family ministry.
There are about 80 million Americans born after 1980 and before 2000. TV networks are trying to figure out how to reach them. Political parties are trying to figure out how to engage them. And church leaders are trying to figure out how to understand them.
For this growing church to continue to reach young families, they needed to find a way to get millennials involved in children’s ministry.
Maybe your church is in the same situation.
Millennials in the work force don’t just care about what a company sells. They care about how. And they care about why. They pay attention to a company’s culture and work environment.
They care about the cause.
So if you want to engage Millennials in your family ministry, you’ve got to make it about more than filling a position for an hour on Sunday.
They need to see how what they do impacts the overall ministry and mission of the church. They need to see tangible evidence of success and a clear line between what they do and what moves the needle.
Purpose is more than a buzzword for Millennials. It’s absolutely key to engagement.
I was talking to an owner of a restaurant who was sharing his struggles in working with Millennials. Their need for purpose and empowerment didn’t fit into a process-driven work-flow like fast food. It’s a common struggle for business owners who simply need things done.
Whether you like it or not, the Millennial generation isn’t excited about mundane tasks…they want freedom to lead.
There’s a lesson here for church leaders.
In order to engage Millennials in your children’s ministry, you’ll need to create opportunities (or at least a path) to leadership.
Guidelines and coaching are helpful, but at the end of the day, look to give away leadership not just volunteer positions.
Invite opinions. Welcome feedback. Push down decision-making.
Millennials crave flexibility.
They want the freedom to hang out with friends, travel to new places, and work late. A Bently University study found 77% of Millennials say flexible work hours would make the workplace more productive.
Because Millennials value flexibility, you’ve got to take this into consideration when creating volunteer schedules. A volunteer role that requires participation every single week probably isn’t going to work for them.
You don’t need to unnecessarily deal with last minute cancellations and create a culture of chaos, but a system that allows for flexibility will allow you to engage volunteers who are busy.
Consider a rotation system. Pair younger leaders with more experienced volunteers. Use a tool like Planning Center Online so volunteers can tell you their availability in advance.
Large group training meetings on Sunday nights and email updates to the distribution lists are convenient for leaders.
But it’s likely neither of those will work well when communicating with Millennials.
Millennials don’t remember a time before mobile phones. They were the first generation that grew up in a fully digital world.
What does mean for you? It means you’ll need to send more one-on-one text messages and fewer mass emails. It means a social media app is a more effective tool than your streamlined church database. It means you need a relational coaching system where personal communication and coaching is more natural.
Yep, that’s far messier and more confusing for you.
But in the end, it’s more effective.