“We need more volunteers.”
If you’re in ministry, you have either said that sentence or heard it more times than you can count. Every ministry in every church has struggled at one time or another with having enough volunteers. Which leads to a critical question: whose fault is it that churches are chronically short on volunteers?
There’s no easy answer to that question; certainly not one that doesn’t offend someone.
But here’s the truth: as a leader, you’re the only one that can change the situation.
Blame doesn’t matter, only a plan for moving forward.
A few months ago, I talked with a leader who serves on a church staff as their assimilation director. She coordinates all the greeters and takes in all the connection cards each week. Additionally, she’s the first point of contact in transforming guests into regulars, regulars into volunteers, and volunteers into leaders. The reality is that many of the high-level leaders at her church began as volunteers in her ministry… as a greeter. In fact, her own position at the church was the evolution of her role as a greeter first, then a greeter’s coach, then part-time, then full-time staff.
This is the power of a leadership pipeline in action.
A chronic lack of volunteers is evidence that leadership development isn’t a high priority in your church.
There are circumstances when this isn’t true, but those are the exceptions and not the rule. On the whole, when a church or ministry places a high value on leadership and has a crystal-clear leadership development process, volunteers abound.
In the last week, one of my colleagues at The Malphurs Group told me the success story of a church that has been building their leadership development process for the past few years. In this time, approximately 250 of their 1,800 attenders–nearly 14%–had gone through (or were currently going through) a two-year leadership training process. These aren’t just volunteers. These are leaders: coaches, small group leaders, elders, and staff. They’ve committed to a two-year process–a massive commitment. Obviously, their pool of volunteers is even greater than those who are in the leadership training process.
So why aren’t you seeing this in your church? What do you need to do differently in your ministry?
Here is how to get more volunteers at church:
Be trained at training leaders.
The sad fact is that a lot of leaders have difficulty in recruiting and developing other leaders because they haven’t been trained themselves. Ministry leaders often mistake passion for skill and calling for competency. If you want to have more leaders in your church, you need to start by investing in your own leadership. This may mean attending a conference, getting training with a coach, bringing in a consultant, or joining a ministry mastermind group. If you’ve tried everything you know, there might be more that you don’t know. Admitting you need more training is not admitting you’re a failure. Be humble enough to ask for help.
Let go of control.
This may be hard to hear, but you might not have enough volunteers because you’re too controlling. In an effort to achieve excellence, you fear allowing others to take the reins on a task or project. The more you are willing to release things to others, the more people you’ll find who want to help. One critical aspect of letting go that many people forget is that high-level leaders empower volunteers by letting go of control but retaining responsibility. That is to say, you allow people to be creative and make decisions, but as the leader you don’t own just the wins but also the mistakes. By retaining responsibility, you will continually train and care for the leader you’ve empowered.
Be intentional about building leaders.
Here’s another fact: not every person at your church is a potential leader. Some people are followers. And that’s totally okay. It’s possible for a person to be a mature disciple of Jesus but not be a high-level leader. Separate these things in your mind. So as you recruit new people to join your ministry, attempt to find those God is calling to be leaders. Certainly God is calling every disciple to serve in some capacity (which means the volunteer pool is bigger than the leadership pool). But when it comes to finding people who can become high-impact leaders and leader-trainers, be discerning and intentional.
Create more entry points for leadership.
One chronic problem within churches is that the bar for entry into ministry is too high or too ambiguous. Most people don’t know where or how they’re needed at your church. Unless you ask them or it’s really obvious, most people will be happy to keep on merely attending your church. The ask is better when it’s personal, too, and not just a general call for volunteers from the pulpit. Make the volunteering process ridiculously simple and incredibly obvious. Certainly screening processes are important–especially in children’s ministry. But make that initial first-step in volunteering low, easy, and obvious.
Have strategic entry points for leadership.
Some churches don’t have enough volunteers because they have too many volunteer needs. These churches are what Aubrey Malphurs calls “task-oriented.” If your church is consumed by too many ministries, too many events, too many opportunities, you might be a “task-oriented church.” Malphurs goes on to say that, “The task-dominated approach, unknowingly, tends to use and ultimately abuse leaders.” You may lack volunteers because you need too many–and because people know that if they start volunteering, they’re on the fast-track to burn out. So, be strategic about your entry points for volunteering and leadership. Streamline your ministries, and limit the number of entry points to maximize the number of incoming leaders.
Give people a reason to lead.
Far too many churches lack a compelling overall vision. A great vision is not a pithy phrase that could just as easily go on your church bulletin or the bulletin of another church down the road (or in another state). All churches have been given the same Great Commission, but God is calling every church to have its own unique impact within the community. A great vision defines the desired, future impact God is calling your church to make. Vision is a crystal-clear picture of a specific future. Many times, people aren’t volunteering in churches because they don’t have a compelling reason to join the cause. If the vision is undefined, lacks specificity, or is boring and hackneyed, people won’t transition from church-goers to church-doers. Give them a reason to lead. In fact, show them why they’d be missing out if they didn’t join in. Vision is powerful. Where vision is lacking, so are volunteers.
These are six, practical ways to show you how to get more volunteers at church. But they aren’t easy. They take time, investment, energy, honesty, and commitment to execute. Many times, the journey is full of obstacles and objections.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
If you’d like to learn more about designing and implementing a leadership pipeline at your church, let’s talk.
Full disclosure: The steps detailed in “How to get more volunteers at church” are unashamed modifications straight from Building Leaders by Aubrey Malphurs and Will Mancini. The content is entirely mine, but the actual steps listed are modified from the “Common Delays” to leadership development found in Chapter Two.
As a team member of The Malphurs Group, I’m incredibly proud of the top-notch leadership development tools developed by Aubrey and the rest of the team. TMG is a powerhouse of knowledge and experience. So if you’d like to learn more about TMG click here, and if you’d like to read even more about leadership development click here to get your own copy of Building Leaders.