Why People STOPPED Volunteering at Your Church

I’ve never worked with a church that said they had enough volunteers to accomplish the vision that Jesus has given them.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau one in four adults volunteered their time in 2013. Altogether, 62.6 million Americans volunteered nearly 7.7 billion hours in 2013. Based on the Independent Sector’s estimate of the average value of a volunteer hour, the estimated value of this volunteer service is nearly $173 billion.

People in the community you live in volunteer their time. That includes people in your community who know Jesus and those who don’t know Jesus. But are they volunteering at your church?

In our research at the Unstuck Group, we’ve discovered that:

a. The average church in America engages 43 percent of their adult and student attenders in some kind of volunteer role.

b. The top 10 percent of churches in America engage more than 72 percent of their adult and student attenders in some kind of volunteer role.

That being said, I’ve never worked with a church that said they had enough volunteers to accomplish the vision that Jesus has given them. In fact, here are some of the most common reasons why people may not be volunteering at your church:

1. Your church has too many paid staff.

A common reason many churches lack volunteers is because they pay their staff to “do” the ministry instead of “lead” the ministry. At the Unstuck Group, we encourage churches to move toward a staffing ratio of 1:100 (1 full-time-equivalent staff person for every 100 people attending the church). The most effective churches have a tendency to move toward having fewer, more competent and higher compensated staff.

2. Your church has no compelling vision.

Volunteering is one of the ultimate statements that someone can make that says, “I believe in this place and I’m with you.” The percentage of people volunteering at your church should act as an indicator as to how many people have bought into your vision and are “with you.” Does your church have a compelling vision that naturally inspires involvement?

3. Your church has poor volunteer strategies.

Poor volunteer strategies are common in church-world. Oftentimes we make it difficult for people to volunteer by making them fill out an exhaustive multi-page application, do a face-to-face interview with a staff member, go through a background check (which I’m in favor of when it comes to working with minors), take a class or be a church member.

Making people jump through hoops to volunteer that are often meant to increase commitment can actually have the converse affect and become barriers for people to overcome that they simply won’t waste their time with. There is a difference between volunteering and leading. I imagine there are probably some roles at your church where someone doesn’t even need to know Jesus to volunteer.

4. Your church cares more about the ministry than the volunteer.

Asking people to volunteer every week in the kids ministry because you have a value of consistency for the kids involved in the kids ministry may be noble, but alas ineffective. It’s a sure way to lose volunteers. It also keeps others from getting involved because the same person is in there volunteering every week, not making room for more volunteers. Oftentimes I see churches that care more about what they can get out of a volunteer instead of what they can invest in a volunteer.

Churches forget that volunteering is discipleship. People actually grow spiritually by volunteering and living out an others-oriented life. So why not do what’s best for the volunteer instead of the kids? Those kids aren’t there every week anyway. If you do what’s best for the volunteer, chances are you’ll have happier, more fulfilled and more consistent volunteers. Which would make for a better ministry wouldn’t it?

Paul Alexander
Paul is a pastor, speaker, strategist, and ministry consultant at Tony Morgan Live. He has a passion for helping churches make vision real. For more than 11 years he has served on the senior leadership teams of some of the nation’s leading mega-churches. Currently, Paul serves as the Executive Pastor at Sun Valley Community Church, a large multi-site church located in the Phoenix area.