Wouldn’t it be great if all of our churches had continuous supplies of volunteer leaders to step into vacant positions on a moments notice? It almost sounds too good to be true, but I have seen churches where this actually happens! These churches have worked hard to create an atmosphere that continuously raises up new volunteer leaders to be a part of the church. In my experience with these churches, I have learned at least nine things that help to cultivate volunteers within the church.
9 Suggestions for Cultivating Volunteers:
- Connect serving to a spiritual calling.
We need to help every volunteer know how their work is helping people experience the love of Christ. The person who folds the bulletin, for example, needs to know that they are preparing an important tool for corporate worship and their work will be experienced by many people. I know of many people who have saved bulletins from important services, or were brought a bulletin while they were in the hospital to help them feel connected to their church while they were away. The bulletins served as an important tool for God! We need to be able to make these kind of connections with every volunteer position. It is very powerful when a volunteer can connect their service to sharing Jesus with others.
- Develop spiritual gifts.
Scripture teaches us that God gives all Christians spiritual gifts to use in ministry. It is our duty as church leaders to help people discern, grow, and use their gifts. There are many great Spiritual Gift resources available to help begin the discernment process. I recommend Serving From the Heart, a resource from the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, available at www.cokesbury.com.
- Publicize your ministries.
Create a brochure of all active ministries in the church and make sure they are readily available. Not only do lists like these publicize the vitality of your church, but they also keep people thinking about how God may use them in your church. Periodically, host a special event that invites all the ministries of your church to set up information booths to inform the congregation about what they are doing and how new people can get involved. This “ministry fair” event is a triple win. It gives ministries a moment in the spotlight, it informs the whole church about the ministries that are often going on behind the scenes, and it invites people to participate.
- Emphasize service in new member classes.
Make sure all new member classes include time to share about the ministries of the church and give them an opportunity to ask questions and express interest in these ministries. If there is interest in participating in a specific ministry, call the leader of that ministry area right away and set up a meeting time to get them connected (consider having a volunteer standing by to go out in the hall and make phone calls so that you can offer meeting times immediately… in my experience, it is this connection that is the most vital, and the most likely to breakdown). Some churches have volunteer coordinators that will meet with people and help them get connected in ministry.
- Train well.
People are more apt to volunteer if they are confident that they can do the job well. For example, if I tell a potential volunteer that I have contacted another church that has an expert in the field, and arranged some training time, it becomes easier to say yes. Training needs to be job specific AND it must also teach volunteers about the mission and values of the church.
- Care for volunteers.
Make an effort to care for ministry leaders and volunteers. Our church just implemented a system that ensures that every ministry leader is connected to a ministry area chairperson, who supports each leader and provides an extra line of communication within the church. Don’t leave volunteers on an isolated island of ministry… look for ways to help them feel their connection to the ministry of the overall church.
- Set term lengths for volunteers.
When you ask someone to volunteer for a position, tell them how long you would like them serve. One great advantage of term lengths is that it helps to take the guess-work out of when you will need to replace volunteers. There are many other advantages to doing this as well (see my post on Volunteer Expiration Dates).
- Invite prospects to do ministry.
We need to shift our thinking in the way we treat visitors. Once someone visits the church three times (whether in a program or in worship), we need to invite them to participate in ministry. I think we see perpetual visitors because we tend to do ministry to them and not with them. Jesus called followers who were not religious experts. He gave them training and ministered to them, but he also immediately invited them to participate in ministering to others. We can learn from this example and invite prospects to serve immediately.
- Follow the ‘One Leadership Role Per Person’ rule.
If someone is leading two or more ministry areas or programs, they are occupying positions where others could be serving. A person leading several areas cannot lead as well as if he or she had one area to concentrate on leading. Have a discussion with the multi-area leader to determine which roles he or she would be willing to let go. My personal rule that I try to teach is: “Participate in as many ministries as you are able… but lead one.”
These steps are easy to say, but can be difficult to implement! This list is definitely not a quick fix for getting the volunteer you need next week. Slow and steady wins this race. It takes a lot of hard work, and several years to get these processes working right.
Do you have any other tips for establishing an atmosphere that produces volunteers?