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Have you ever sent an email to those who serve in your church and wondered how effective it was?
Most mass email communications are at their best with a 20-30% open rate.
You’ve probably noticed that emails sent through your Church Management Software (CMS) aren’t always opened, and that’s if they are even received without getting flagged as spam.
While there’s a place for CMS emails, there are also other tools that can help you engage with volunteers in ways that are more likely to reach them.
It may be time for your church to try a fresh way to communicate with volunteers.
A Dynmark research report found that text messages have a final read rate of 98%, and 90% of text messages are read within the first three seconds of being received.
Many people spend a lot of time on their smartphones throughout the day, making these devices an excellent way to reach out to volunteers in your church. Tools like Flocknote, Text In Church, Pastors Line, and SlickText allow you to send texts to volunteers quickly and easily.
You can use text messaging to remind volunteers about important meetings, alert them of schedule changes, or provide urgent inclement weather updates.
Many text messaging services also have the ability to integrate with other tools that your church may already be using, such as Church Community Builder or MailChimp.
If you did a survey of the teenagers and young adults in your church, most of them have heard of the GroupMe app and are already using it to chat with groups of friends.
It’s a free smartphone app that allows people with various types of smartphones to communicate in one place. You can add events to the GroupMe calendar and set reminders. And for those who can’t or don’t want to download the app, it even works with normal SMS text messaging.
GroupMe is a great tool to try with a small group of volunteers, such as study group or youth leaders.
To communicate with your church’s volunteers, meet them where they already are—on Facebook! Set up a private Facebook Group for volunteers and add people to it using their Facebook profiles.
Volunteers will get a Facebook notification when a new message is posted into the group. It’s a great way to create personal engagement within the group of volunteers.
A few creative uses:
You could also provide volunteers with another opportunity to serve by giving a few of them the responsibility of managing and moderating the group.
You can link to where volunteers can sign up for meetings or to serve at events while also using the e-newsletter as an opportunity to share the impact of that particular ministry and have some fun highlighting stories and volunteers.
For example, send a bi-weekly e-newsletter to volunteers in the children’s ministry that includes a special story from a child or parent and a section to recognize a volunteer who recently did something special to help out.
Any of these resources are a great start to better communication with your church’s volunteers. Evaluate your volunteer teams and current communication needs to decide where text messaging, GroupMe, Facebook groups, or e-newsletters would be most helpful in your church. A fresh, effective way to communicate not only makes sure that important messages get to volunteers, but will also keep them involved and engaged.
I’m not on staff and I don’t get a paycheck.
I’m a volunteer at your church.
But I’ve been thinking about some things for a while now.
I don’t think I’m the only one.
In fact, many of us feel this way.
We probably won’t say this stuff out loud because we don’t want to complain about our church or cause any problems.
But you should know what we are thinking.
Me and my family are pretty busy. We’ve got full time jobs, the kids are playing sports and just managing the day-to-day stuff takes a lot of time. But we do love our church and we want to give our time.
I want to do things that matter for eternity, but eternity feels like a long way off. “Your treasure is in heaven” sounds a little bit like a cop-out for not noticing what I am doing here on earth.
Thank you notes and even little gifts energize me more than you realize. It’s silly, but I kept a thank you note you sent a couple of years ago. That little gesture meant a lot.
Even some of my friends who say “Don’t spend church money buying me a coffee mug” feel a little bit special when they drink out of that coffee mug.
I didn’t sign up because I wanted recognition, but if I’m being honest, there are plenty of times when I don’t know if what I do is noticed by anyone. I work, give, and sacrifice, at least by my definition, and I’d just like to hear a few words of affirmation. Hearing nothing makes me assume my contributions don’t matter.
Deep down, many of us are wondering if people in leadership really care about US or if we’re just being used to get a job done.
You may feel like you’re saying “thanks” a lot, but I don’t hear it enough. And the people I serve with would probably agree. We probably won’t complain about this out loud to you, but it’s what we are thinking.
I understand I need to know a few things and I know there’s some important information you need to make sure I hear.
But the training meetings we have during the week or after one of the services are tough to attend. I’ve already been at work for a whole day and trying to fit another thing into a busy week is just tough.
I know this info might be important, but the meetings are really not convenient.
I understand your predicament…no meeting will ever come at the perfect time for everyone. You have to make leadership choices and do what’s best for the group.
But the meetings are inefficient, too. Half of the people I serve with didn’t make the last training and all we did was go through a handout.
I’ve even got a few ideas that might work better.
For what it’s worth, when we do have meetings (and I agree one or two throughout the year would be good…mostly just to see everyone and connect), it would really help if you had childcare.
I have no plans to leave the church. We love it here.
But I’m a little scared to sign up for ANYTHING that doesn’t have an end date. Maybe it’s just a fear of commitment…I’ll own that.
Most of us feel this way.
If you’re asking us to serve in the middle school ministry, it would be really helpful if our tour of duty lasted one year. Or two. Or even three years…spanning a middle schooler’s entire career. The thing that matters is clarity.
You might think that asking us to serve specifically would weed out too many people, but I think the opposite is true. The clearer you make something, the more people will embrace it. We just want to know what we’re getting into.
When you give us clear job descriptions and show us that everything is planned out, it really increases our confidence in your leadership. It puts us at ease when we know that you’ve thought through things before asking us to join in.
Honestly, I think if you gave everyone an end date to their volunteer term, it would help more people embrace a start date. And I think most of us would agree to another term of service after this one is over, anyway.
These are three things I’ve been thinking about for a while. I hope you receive it in the spirit of helpfulness. I love our church.
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.