Part 2 :: Why Aren't Your People Volunteering?

As I said in the first installment of this blog…ask any ministry leader or pastor in America and they will tell you that they are in GREAT need of more volunteers.

In this part two of ‘Why Aren’t Your People Volunteering’ I want to look at two remaining reasons and then give some practical suggestions that you might begin implementing to grow your volunteer base.

4. It’s Too Hard

Ministry rises and falls on the amount of volunteers you’ve had and a tough lesson I’ve had to learn is that my military type-A personality may get things done in the office where staff is paid, but I can’t ask as much from my volunteers as I would from staff.

With paid staff, when stuff needs to get done, no matter how much it is, it is going to get done. After all, that’s what I’m paid to do on a full time basis. With volunteers you have to leave your little ‘church world’ and put yourself in their shoes and realize ‘this guy works 50 hrs a week, this lady has 3 kids under the age of five, this teenager is working late at a fast food joint to pay for car insurance.’

One of the reasons people don’t volunteer is because they know all that is involved, and they know that they can’t commit to it! Take a long hard look at what you require of different volunteer positions. Are you asking too much? Chances are, especially in a small church or a church plant you are. Scale back the requirements. Make sure the most important things are being done. And then as people realize that your not a slave driver your volunteer base will grow, and those ‘detailed’ task that you had to scale back on can be passed on to another volunteer.

5. You’re Not Asking

I know you’re thinking ‘but we ask for volunteers in different ministries every week. The person giving announcements says ‘WE NEED MORE NURSERY WORKERS’ when they are speaking.’ I have news for you…that’s not really asking.

You may get a few people to ‘bite’ when you give a broad call to serve, but by and large most people want to be touched on a personal level. Many of the people that you think are lazy and uninvolved are really high capacity volunteers that are just waiting to be asked to do something.

You may be thinking about now that the person should have more initiative. After all, you heard the same announcements they did. That’s very true, but true or not you need to leverage the fact that most people will not respond to a volunteer ‘altar call’ of sorts. You need to ‘witness’ this to them on a more personal level and use it as an opportunity to learn about them and find where they can volunteer and still thrive.

Suggestion Box…

I just want to throw out a few suggestions to you. As you’ve been reading these past two blogs you’ve probably noticed some suggestions already interwoven throughout, but to close I’m just going to ‘bullet’ a few for you to mull over.

  • When communicating vision about volunteering, don’t paint with broad strokes. Paint a personal picture that attracts an individual.
  • Don’t just communicate the ‘what’ of volunteering. Put time and effort to communicate the ‘why.’ Like I said, your volunteers don’t live in ‘church world.’ Not everyone understands why greeters are a crucial ministry or why small group co-leaders are important to the house vision.
  • Communicate what is in it for them. I know that sounds petty, but we live in a self serving society. You don’t have to like it, but you can still leverage it!
  • Clarify all your expectations. Give every volunteer in your church a job description. Not only does this lay forth with clarity what should be happening, but it gives you a baseline for volunteer evaluations, especially in the high capacity vols.
  • Be up front with your expectations from the beginning. People should always know what they’re getting into. If you’re afraid of being up front you probably need to go reread point #4.
  • Celebrate your volunteers in front of everyone. As I’m writing this our church is preparing to spotlight a few of our key volunteers. This undergirds the vision of having a local body that serves with passion and lets other potential volunteers know that senior leadership is well aware of the sacrifice our volunteers make.
  • I said thank volunteers regularly and intentionally. A good way to be intentional is reinforcing the ‘why.’ Chances are, in parking lot attendant training the ‘why’ was hit on…but 10 months down the line I doubt that they ‘why’ is at the forefront of their mind. Thank them by telling them why what they are doing is important.
  • Assume the best. My personality very driven. When things don’t get done my default is to focus on the task at hand rather than the person to whom the task was assigned. Don’t do that! I have to remind myself to assume the best of my volunteers and my team leaders. Change your attitude to one of grace and understanding when dealing with volunteers and you will see that they are more apt to follow and you will have a much higher retention rate.
  • Change your ‘job description’ to ‘opportunity description.’ A simple change in terminology can communicate a change in culture. Doing this will help people get past the mindset that serving is a job when we should really view it as a privilege.
  • Change your expectations. Do what you can to lighten the loads that people will carry in their position. You can’t expect a person to come to constant training sessions. Make sure you are cognizant of their time commitment.
  • Lastly, and this is also crucial in smaller atmospheres, keep tabs on how many areas people are serving in. Some people will get burned out because their leaders don’t notice that they are volunteering in four different areas. None of those individual areas is asking too much, but when you lump four of them together it is. Be aware of this and work with people to find their niche so they can slow down and do those one or two areas to the best of their ability.

What are some other ways that you can gain and keep volunteers? Let me know in the comments below!

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