10 Keys for Recruiting More Volunteers (Pro Tip: Stop Calling Them “Volunteers”)

“Those who are serving are overworked, and too many people do nothing”—Can your church plant relate?

I hear it all the time: “Dr. Lawless, we just don’t have enough laborers in our church. Those who are serving are overworked, and too many people do nothing.” Perhaps these ideas will help you if your church faces this issue.

  1. Prioritize a strategy to pray for leaders. Jesus taught us to pray for laborers to enter the harvest fields (Matt. 9:37-38)—most assuredly praying for those compelled to go to the world, but hardly limited to those workers. Enlist a team to pray continually prior to recruiting, while recruiting and even after recruiting seems to have met your current needs. Your church will have more laborers if you intentionally and strategically pray for more.
  2. Teach 1 Corinthians 12—and unpack the text thoroughly. Drill down into the fundamental truths of this chapter. No believer should be able to read this text and remain unwilling to serve through the church.
    • God gives spiritual gifts to all of His people.
    • He puts the church together according to His plan.
    • Every believer has a role, including the seemingly weaker ones. Nobody is placed in the Body to sit.
    • A congregation is so interdependent that we rejoice and suffer with one another.
    • In our diversity as a church, we are miraculously united.
  3. Do a ruthless evaluation of your current methodology. Do the same people serve in multiple positions? Do new members know how to get involved? What percentage of members are not involved? Are members serving in the wrong places? Are ineffective leaders permitted to remain in their position? Does the current process reflect a 1 Corinthians 12 understanding of member responsibility? Be honest—if the current process is not working, something must change.
  4. Use “disciple” rather than “volunteer” language. Sure, church members are volunteers in the sense that they do not get paid for their service. We are not called to be volunteers in God’s kingdom, though; we are expected be obedient disciples of Jesus. We sign up to die when we follow Christ. That’s much different than being a volunteer.
  5. Assume people rather than positions are the starting point. Many churches start the recruitment process by seeking to fill current positions rather than considering the people God has brought them. This approach, in my opinion, de-emphasizes 1 Corinthians 12, neglects the possibility that God may intend new ministries to begin and often results in “warm bodies” in the wrong positions.
  6. Require a membership class, and explain involvement expectations there. Many church members remain uninvolved because (a) they have not understood they must be involved; (b) they assume they’re not needed because others are serving; (c) they don’t know how to get involved. Address all of these concerns before a new member has a chance to develop a habit of complacency.
  7. Use a process like Rick Warren’s SHAPE or Wayne Cordeiro’s DESIGN to help members consider where they might serve. Tools like these move beyond spiritual gift inventories to help church members evaluate their life experiences, desires, skills, passions and spiritual growth. This holistic approach helps members better understand all God has done to prepare them to serve.
  8. Recruit face-to-face. Bulletin notices, pulpit announcements and email requests are helpful recruiting tools, but they are not enough. Recruit the way Jesus did: face-to-face, eyeball-to-eyeball, voice-to-voice. Use the most passionate, properly placed leaders to recruit others. Ministry leaders who believe in their work + members who understand their SHAPE or DESIGN equal a winning recruitment strategy.
  9. Provide training for workers—and let the church know you do. Too many church members have agreed to serve, but have then been left to fend for themselves. Even the most willing servants grow weary when they remain ill equipped and unsupported. Train them—and make the training publicly known so potential workers know they won’t be alone if they serve. Indeed, invite potential workers to attend the training.
  10. Honor obedience. Disciples of Jesus serve willingly, but “Well done, good and faithful servant” goes a long way in encouraging workers. Send personal notes. Make a phone call simply to ask, “How’s the ministry going?” Recognize workers publicly. Sponsor a banquet to say “thank you.” Appreciated workers can be great recruiters for the next crop of workers.

What strategies would you add to this list?

Chuck Lawless
Chuck Lawless is professor and senior associate dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has served as a pastor for almost twenty years, and is the author of Spiritual Warfare: Biblical Truth for Victory, Discipled Warriors: Healthy Churches Winning Spiritual Warfare, Making Disciples through Mentoring, Serving in Your Church's Prayer Ministry, and Eating the Elephant. Dr. Lawless speaks extensively around the countryYou can read articles from Dr. Chuck Lawless on his personal blog (ChuckLawless.com) ( or connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook. .