Did you find it difficult to find volunteers for your ministry before COVID? Maybe you’re one of those churches who seemed to usually have enough volunteers before COVID, but have struggled greatly since people began returning to the building on a regular basis. Whether your difficulty in recruiting volunteers is relatively new or has been a chronic issue, there are some thing you can do to improve the situation. They won’t be easy, but really solving a problem long term rarely is.
So what are the keys to attracting volunteers to your ministry?
- Remember the stakes are incredibly high. You are not recruiting for “warm bodies”. You aren’t hiring for the local fast food chain. You are entrusting volunteers with the little crucial time your church has with young people to teach them what God wants them to know. The stakes are eternal, and I’m not being overly dramatic. We need to fully embrace the magnitude of what we are asking people to do, if we expect them to do the same. Would you give a foster child or an orphan to just anybody to raise? You should have the same commitment in finding the best possible people with whom to entrust those precious souls during your ministry Bible classes and events.
- Help church leaders and potential volunteers embrace the incredible importance of your ministry. Too many times we have trouble recruiting volunteers, because the unspoken message is that kids and teens are a bother. They are a distraction. They are in the way. They use too many resources. They keep grown ups from doing the really important stuff like being a student in an adult Bible class. Oh, church leaders talk a great game of how much “we just love our kids and teens here”, but that’s not how they really think and feel at their core. As long as your church leaders and potential volunteers believe these lies in their heart of hearts, you will always struggle to get the volunteers your ministry really needs.
- Be a talent scout looking for volunteers who were truly gifted by God to fill that role. Volunteers often run as soon as humanly possible, because we have guilted them into doing something they have neither the gifts nor passion to do. Yes, this requires full participation so everyone can be rearranged and placed in the appropriate roles in the congregation, but leadership should have been pushing for 100% participation for decades. If you must place someone in a role for which they are clearly not meant to fill, give them as much support as humanly possible and replace them with someone gifted as quickly as you can.
- Don’t depend on announcements, but have one on one conversations (not emails, texts or messages) with potential volunteers. One on one conversations give you a better feel for someone’s potential dedication. Announcements give most people an immediate out. They assume you would have called them personally if you thought they could do it. Since you didn’t, you obviously want someone else to fill that role. Conversations also let you find out their preferences for age groups and schedule. Ignoring those little details can cause burn out and frustration in volunteers.
- Don’t undersell the amount of time and effort it will take to do the role well. If you are telling people it only takes 20 minutes to prepare for class each week, it’s a huge red flag. Either you are lying or you are setting an incredibly low bar for your ministry. Be honest. If they understand how vital there role is, I can promise they will find the extra time to do what is really needed. Volunteers are like children in that most will rise to meet the expectations you set. If you say 20 minutes, most will give you 20 minutes or even less – because clearly it’s not important if it only requires a few minutes.
- Communicate the importance of the roles with adequate screening. I spoke with one church who said they actually had a waiting list of volunteers. When I asked their secret, I was told their screening process was very rigid. It communicated to everyone that it was an honor and a privilege to be allowed to teach young people the Bible. As a result, human nature kicked in and people couldn’t wait for their chance to do something so special to serve God.
- Equip volunteers with ongoing training and evaluation. There is a lot of raw talent sitting in the pews of most churches. People who took a career path outside of their area of giftedness. People who don’t realize they have the gift of teaching and mentoring. The talent is possibly undiscovered and probably undeveloped. These volunteers need ongoing training and evaluation to meet their full potential. Even professional educators may appreciate training in the unique aspects of ministry like creating an environment for children with trauma in their backgrounds to help them learn more easily. Bear in mind, the evaluation is not a performance review like one would have on a job. Rather it is meant to help you find the areas where your volunteers need more training.
- Seek out their feedback and make needed changes, including using their ideas whenever possible. The biggest mistake I find ministries make with their best volunteers is that they ignore their wisdom. If your volunteers are truly gifted in their role, they may very well have training, experience and wisdom that you don’t. Many a ministry has failed because the person running it was too proud to listen to feedback and make needed changes. If you secretly think you are the smartest person in your ministry and regularly ignore feedback and advice, your pride is almost undoubtedly hurting your ministry.
- Show real, personal appreciation for their time and effort as well as their servant hearts. If you give every volunteer the exact same printed note and even a token gift, that does not translate to most volunteers as sincere appreciation. It’s better than nothing, but for those volunteers you have now sold on investing lots of time and probably money in their Bible students, it feels like you didn’t put the same effort into supporting and encouraging them. A brief handwritten note or conversation will mean much more. Sure, almost everyone likes an unexpected treat, but make what goes with it personal and meaningful. Adding a few specifics you noticed will mean the most to volunteers.
Are these things easy to do? No, but long term problems require hard work and dedication to change. You aren’t making a u-turn in your little car, you are turning around a speeding ocean liner. It’s not going to be easy, but putting in that extra effort can help you avoid that ice berg and get you to the tropical island! (For those that hate figures of speech…you will finally have the quantity and quality of volunteers you’ve always dreamed of.)