So you’d love to see more volunteers serve in your church or organization.
And yet when it come to volunteers, a surprising number of leaders struggle. Many leaders suffer from:
A chronic shortage
Mediocre or poor morale
Ask most leaders why this is, and they can’t tell you.
And yet the reasons are not that difficult to figure out. Often you just need to shift perspectives.
Start With This One
Here’s a simple place to start. If you’re always short on volunteers, ask yourself
Would you volunteer for you?
Answer honestly. The response can be very telling.
If the answer’s no (or you think the answer is yes, but almost everyone else would answer it for you differently), then the next step is to figure out why. Why aren’t people stepping up or sticking around?
That’s where the next 7 questions can help.
7 Questions Every Volunteer Asks
Almost every volunteer at some point probably asks variations of these 7 questions, whether they ever say them out loud or not. If you’ve volunteered for someone else, you’ve probably asked them whether you realize it or not.
Develop great, healthy answers to these 7 questions, and volunteers are far more likely to stick around.
Better, yet, they’re likely to grow and flourish under your leadership.
1. Is this really about the mission?
Most people want to give themselves to a cause that’s bigger than themselves. In my view, no cause is greater or more worthy than the mission of the local church.
Yet many churches lose focus on the mission.
Volunteering ends up being about
Filling a slot
Meeting a need
Doing your duty
Or, in the worst case scenario, volunteering can become more about serving the ego of the leader than it does about serving Christ.
When you keep the true mission of the church or your organization central, people rally. For example, in addition to leading a local church, I sit on the Board of Directors for an extremely well run local food bank. Their mission? A city in which no one is hungry. That’s inspiring.
When you lose focus on the mission, volunteers lose heart.
Every volunteer wants to give their time to something bigger than us or bigger than themselves. So give them that opportunity.
2. Are the relationships around here healthy?
No community should have better relationships than the local church.
After all, our faith is based on a saviour who reconciled the world to himself, forgiving our sin. What could we possibly hold against one another?
And yet often the local church has some of the most fractious, passive-aggressive relationships out there.
We have a saviour who came full of grace and truth, yet often church leaders will often swing to either extreme: all grace, so issues are never dealt with, or all truth, so people get hurt.
Even if you don’t lead a church (leaders from a variety of backgrounds read this blog), realize that many people love the mission of the organization they work for, they just can’t stand the personal politics and dysfunction.
One of the greatest gifts church leadership can give to a congregation is healthy relationships. So be healthy.
Not sure what that means?
Start by changing one thing. Talk to people you disagree with, not about them. That will change far more than you think.
Additionally, almost every organization has toxic people in it. Here’s a primer on how to spot and deal with toxic people.
3. Will serving help me grow spiritually?
It’s ironic that in many churches and organizations, people equate serving with burning out, not being renewed.
And yet Christian service should be a paradox of renewal: when we give our lives away, we find them. When we serve, we grow.
Part of growing is providing a healthy environment. Pay attention to the issues addressed by the other six questions and you’ll have an environment that favours growth.
But you also need to care for volunteers spiritually, or at least provide an environment in which spiritual growth flourishes.
Pray for them.
Pray with them.
Share your journey.
Mentor your key leaders.
You can’t guarantee spiritual growth will happen, but you can provide the conditions in which it can easily happen.
4. Am I just a means to an end?
I wish I could get some of my early years of leadership back. As much as I would have denied it at the time, I think I naturally saw people as a means to an end.
The end was (and is) a great one: fulfilling the mission of Christ’s church.
But people matter. A lot.
Nobody likes feeling used, but that’s often how churches and other organizations treat people.
Care about them. Encourage them. Ask questions. Listen to their stories. Pray for them.
When you have a healthy, Christ-centered, energized team that knows they’re valued, the mission advances further and faster anyway.
5. Will you help me develop the skills I need?
I have a friend who has visited a lot of churches and non-profits tell me recently that—as well intentioned as leaders are—the vast majority of organizations are, in his view, poorly run.
That’s a tragedy.
Why is the local Walmart better run than the local church? Seriously. One is selling products that last a day, a month or a year. The other is brokering life change that lasts forever. The church should be the best in the world at recruiting, training and releasing people into ministry and their calling.
Many volunteers who come your way are highly capable people who just need a little training to know how to master the specific task you’re giving them.
A good heart just needs to be supplemented with a good skill set. Set aside an evening or a Saturday to properly train volunteers as they start serving, and then top up their training from time to time to help them get better at what they do.
6. Are you organized, or are you going to waste my time?
Disorganization is epidemic among church leaders and non-profits.
Too many volunteers show up to do their job only to discover that they also have to do yours because once again, you’ve dropped some balls.
The more organized you are (on time, prepared, other holes plugged), the more your volunteers will be able to excel at what you’ve asked them to do.
7. So, am I signing up for life?
In many churches, serving is like the Hotel California. You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.
You’re a Christian for life, but that doesn’t mean you have to serve in one role for life. But many churches just assume people will.
What if you start putting a time line on every role? What if your conversation sounded more like:
Why don’t you try this for a season?
Can you serve with us for this semester/year?
People in this position typically serve for a 3 year term. You can try it out for a month before you commit to that term.
We definitely have some long term serving roles at Connexus (for example, we ask our high school small group leader to serve for four years), but we’re clear on the term from the outset.
Most other roles can easily be shortened to a few months to a year.
If you start providing end dates for roles, you’ll notice something surprising. Many people stay after their term has ended. They sign up for more.
Surprisingly, when you give volunteers an out, many lean in.
If you want some deeper insight into creating an amazing volunteer culture, my book Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow has a full chapter on it.
I also created a Lasting Impact Team Edition video series to help pastors and their teams walk through the issues that are keeping a lot of churches from healthy growth.
Hope this helps!
In the meantime, what are you learning about volutneers?
Scroll down and leave a comment.