I’ve mentioned before that I’ve never coached a church leader or consulted with a church that said they had enough volunteers or a strong volunteering culture. In fact, most church leaders I speak with identify a shortage of volunteers and volunteer leaders as one of the top five issues holding their church back from reaching the vision that Jesus has given them. It doesn’t have to be this way. You can build a strong volunteer culture at your church by implementing the following eight principles.
#1 Celebrate Volunteers
You’ve probably heard me say that what you celebrate gets repeated. Ask any parent who’s potty training their kid and they get this principle. I’m pretty sure that’s why God invented M&M’s. That same psychology follows us through life. What gets celebrated gets repeated. Want a strong volunteer culture at your church, then celebrate volunteers and the great stuff they do. You know what? They’ll do it again and more people will want in on it, because it feels good to be celebrated.
#2 Connect Volunteering to Discipleship
You’ve probably heard me tell the story about the time I was asked to lead a Jr. High Small Group. I was scared to death. Not because they were Jr. Highers, but because I had to be prepared, I had to be further down the road than them and know what I was talking about. I grew so much by leading that Small Group. I think we forget how much spiritual growth takes place as a result of volunteering. Instead of viewing volunteering as roles to be filled to run a church, volunteering should be viewed as a part of the spiritual pathway of our churches. It’s a subtle yet significant shift that needs to be made in our thinking for the sake of the spiritual formation of the people that have been entrusted to us. When you start viewing volunteering as discipleship, the way you treat your volunteers changes quickly.
#3 Don’t Hire Too Many Staff Members
At the Unstuck Group, we’ve discovered that there is a direct connection between the amount of money a church invests in staffing and the number of people who volunteer. What we’ve found in our research is that as a church increases its spending on staffing, the number of people volunteering decreases. Translation = If you want more people to volunteer at your church, hire fewer staff members.
#4 Make It Simple
Most churches make it more difficult to volunteer than most employers make it to get a job. Get rid of the multipage applications, the class that you make people attend, the spiritual gift tests and the long interviews. Instead, let people start volunteering. The leaders will naturally rise to the top. People will gravitate toward areas of ministry they’re passionate about and gifted for. When someone asks, “Can I volunteer?” the answer should always be, “Yes!” Then tell them where and when to meet you to start volunteering. Disclaimer: It’s always wise to background check anyone working with minors or money in any capacity.
#5 Make It Fun
Is it fun to volunteer at your church? People want to be a part of fun stuff. Fun is underestimated and undervalued in most churches. And yet fun can change people’s attitudes, it makes teams contagious and it keeps people coming back for more. If it’s not fun to volunteer at your church, you might be doing it wrong.
#6 Pay Your Staff to “Lead People,” not “Do Ministry”
Stop paying your church staff to do ministry. Instead, pay them to lead people. As a church staff member, no job should be beneath you, but you shouldn’t do every job either. Unless they’re in a very specialized and technical role, church staff should be evaluated on how many volunteers they’re enlisting and how many leaders they’re developing. It’s amazing to me how many times people in ministry forget the basic principles that the Scriptures teach; for instance, that the job of the church staff is to “prepare God’s people for works of service” (Ephesians 4:11-13).
#7 Connect Volunteering to Life-Change
The unspoken expectation of people who volunteer in a church is that they want to see people’s lives changed. Their life has been changed by the love of Jesus and they want to be a part of that for others. When you celebrate life-change in your church, always try to connect it to people who volunteer. This will help people in your church connect the dots between life-change and volunteering, and people will want in on that.