Right now, there are people in your church who want to volunteer, but aren’t involved yet.
Some of them are waiting for the right opportunity—the role that perfectly aligns with their gifts. Others are literally just waiting to be asked.
The challenge for your staff is finding the right times to ask, the right ways to ask, and the right people to ask.
If you’re struggling to develop a solid volunteer program, here are 13 tips to help you recruit more volunteers.
Share opportunities in multiple ways
Announcements, newsletters, and church bulletins are a great way to tell your congregation what’s going on in your church. They let you cast a wide net and communicate with everyone at once, and you’re sure to get some of the people you need. But that shouldn’t be the only way people hear how to get involved.
Sometimes it’s better to use a fishing pole than a net.
An announcement to everyone doesn’t have the same impact on someone as a personal invitation. People want to know they’re in the right place, that they belong, and that you really are talking to them specifically. A personal invitation leaves no doubt that this opportunity is for them.
Every two weeks I lead a Bible study with high school students. When I send a group message to all of them at once, I get crickets. At best, a couple of the most actively involved kids respond. It’s only when I personally call, message, text, or talk to each kid individually that they realize I’m really inviting them and I really want them to respond to the invitation.
The big announcements are an important piece of the puzzle, but you can’t rely on those to connect with every person. Even the people who want to get involved can miss, forget about, or dismiss an announcement.
Each piece of your volunteer recruitment plan should direct people to a personal conversation with a real person.
Define who you’re looking for
If people don’t know what kind of person you need to fill a role, they’re less likely to believe they’re the right person for the job. If you’re desperate for volunteers, you might be tempted to let this slide, but if your goal is to develop a healthy program and get the right people in the right roles, be upfront about what it takes to succeed in a particular role.
If you need friendly extroverts who like to meet new people, ask for them specifically.
If you need someone who can focus on one task for a long time, say so.
If you need someone with experience, or if a particular skill would make someone better suited for the job, let people know.
Defining the personalities, skills, or knowledge people need to succeed will undoubtedly shrink the pool of eligible volunteers—but that’s not something to be afraid of it means putting together a volunteer program that lasts.
The more specific you are about the type of person you need, the more likely someone in your congregation will realize, “Hey, that’s me!”
Explain the purpose before the task
There are lots of reasons why people volunteer. Most of them aren’t “I really like to say ‘Hi’ to strangers” or “I love the software you use.”
Before you ever get to the specific micro-level tasks a particular role entails, make sure people know why you need them to help.
“We want people to feel like they belong here before they set foot inside our doors.”
“We want every detail of our service to look thoughtfully prepared—because it’s true.”
Whether this happens from the stage, in personal conversations, or in volunteer-interest meetings, don’t miss your opportunity to cast the vision for your volunteers. If they don’t understand why they’re perfectly arranging several hundred pens or folding bulletins or shaking hands, they might quit before they even start.
Share why you need volunteers, what the job is, and how to do it—in that order.
Make it simple to get involved
The more hurdles you put between potential volunteers and the finish line (volunteering in your program), the less volunteers you’re going to have.
A strong volunteer program should be easy to get involved in. If someone checks a box in your bulletin saying they want to volunteer, someone should contact them within a couple of days to find out how they’d like to volunteer and what their schedule looks like.
Don’t place a huge burden on new volunteers—start them out with a limited schedule so the initial burden is as small as possible.
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t be thorough or that you shouldn’t have a vetting process for particular roles (like children’s ministry volunteers). It just means that whatever your process is, it should happen quickly, and most of the actual work should happen on your end.
If the position requires a higher level of responsibility or higher expectations for knowledge, skill, etc., that should be very clear before someone ever starts the process of trying to be a volunteer.
Let people try it before committing
Even if you clearly communicate what it’s like to be a volunteer, some people are still going to feel like they had no idea what they were getting into.
Maybe they’ve never been in a room full of third graders before. Maybe they didn’t realize how volunteering would actually affect their schedule.
If you let people try something before they commit to doing it regularly, it’s less stressful to say, “Yes.” It also makes it easier for you to say, “No,” if you have to.
You might want people to try several different roles before they decide which one they want to do (if you need certain roles more than others, let people know). This helps you and the volunteer to know that they are in the best possible role—which hopefully means they’ll stay longer, and provide a greater benefit to your ministry.
You need volunteers you can count on regularly. Providing a volunteer “test-drive” is a great way to make sure nobody gets stuck in a role they aren’t cut out for—and it helps keep your church from getting left out to dry. It’s also an important part of preventing volunteer burnout before it happens.
Follow up with potential volunteers
Sometimes getting to know a potential volunteer might reveal that someone isn’t the right fit for your ministry. Sometimes, they might just not be the right fit right now. School, weddings, moving, job-hunting, and other major transitions can make it hard to commit to volunteering—but those things don’t last forever.
After getting to know a potential volunteer, you may also find that you don’t feel like they’re ready. Maybe there’s a maturity issue, or you see or hear something else that makes it clear this isn’t the right time. Maybe you know about a better opportunity to use this person down the road.
Whether the decision is made on your end or theirs, take note of the people who might make good volunteers in the future. Put a date in your calendar to follow up with them.
Building relationships with the people in your congregation should never feel like a waste of time, and if you personally invest in potential volunteers, more of them will become actual volunteers.
Know the difference between “not now” and “never.”
Create clear expectations
The more defined a role is, the easier it is to get involved. Your volunteer program should have a solid volunteer training strategy, and every volunteer should know these three things:
- 1. Where they need to be
- 2. What they’re doing
- 3. Why they’re doing it
When you “just wing it” through training new volunteers, it can make people feel like their role isn’t as important to you, your church, or your ministry. You’re also bound to miss something important. Meet with your staff and prepare everything you want your volunteers to know. This is your chance to cast the vision for what volunteering looks like in your church.
You should also make it clear what not to do. Volunteers are not the same as employees, but they absolutely represent your church, and you’re inviting them to be part of your ministry. If someone has a bad experience with one of your volunteers, they’re probably going to associate that experience with your ministry.
Put together a “code of conduct” for your volunteers. You don’t need to scare anyone or preemptively wag your finger—focus on the incredible privilege your team has, and use this an opportunity to share why their role matters to your ministry.
Pray for volunteers
In the six years I’ve been a volunteer leader with Young Life, not one year has gone by where we didn’t take some time to reflect on (Matthew 9:37-38) and pray for more volunteers.
Invite your existing volunteers to be part of this process. They’re some of your best recruiters, and chances are they know other people who could volunteer too. Our Young Life staff gives every volunteer a card with Matthew 9:37–38 on it for us to write down names of people who could be volunteers too.
There are a lot of things you can’t control. But none of those things matter when you ask God for help and remember his sovereignty. Your passionate plea from the pulpit asking for more volunteers can only go so far. Your announcements, bulletins, and flashy videos can’t change someone’s schedule or address every excuse. But long after your words are forgotten, the Holy Spirit continues working on people’s hearts.
Prayer is the most valuable piece of your volunteer recruitment program, and the Holy Spirit is your most valuable team member.
Teach your church about the body of Christ
1 Corinthians 12:12–31 offers a powerful picture of the diversity of the church. Each member of your congregation is unique, and plays a particular role in the body of Christ. This is a passage the church can always benefit from spending more time in, but if your team is hurting for volunteers, this passage is also a great way to show people that each of us is uniquely gifted to serve a particular purpose, and each of us can benefit the entire body.
During or after a sermon on this passage, consider whether it’s appropriate to share about the opportunities available to your church. You may want to talk about some of your partner ministries and highlight some of your greatest needs.
This isn’t about guilting people into volunteering. This is about being the church. Whether or not people are capable of volunteering, they should walk away from a teaching on 1 Corinthians 12 feeling affirmed in who they are and confident in what they’re capable of.
On the other hand, nobody should walk away from this thinking “volunteering is for hands, and I’m more of an eye, really.” There are plenty of very legitimate reasons for not getting involved in your volunteer program, but that’s not one of them. If you bring volunteering into the conversation, it should be clear that there is a role for everyone.
Help people identify their gifts
A lot of people have no idea what their gifts are. They don’t really know what they’re good at, or they feel like the things they’re good at don’t line up with how the church talks about “gifts” and “talents.” For some, the topic of spiritual gifts stirs up questions about their identity. Helping members of your congregation identify their gifts isn’t just valuable to your church or your volunteer program—it’s part of the process of helping people recognize who they are in Christ, and truly seeing that they are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14).There are lots of different methods for identifying spiritual gifts, but what they all come down to is this: being familiar with the different expressions of the Holy Spirit and being familiar with yourself. There is no substitute for knowing the Holy Spirit and knowing the people in your church.
But not ever pastor has the privilege of personally knowing every person in the church—and not every pastor has the time to evaluate spiritual gifts with every member of the congregation. If you can, try to identify volunteer roles in your church that align with each expression of the Holy Spirit, so people can easily see where they fit.
Appreciate the volunteers you have
Volunteer appreciation plays an important role in a healthy volunteer recruitment program. Why? Because your current volunteers are some of your biggest assets.
People are most likely to share a very positive or a very negative experience. You can’t guarantee every person will have a positive experience, but you can do your best to make sure every person knows they are valued.
Public volunteer appreciation also gives you the opportunity to show people what volunteering is like and how your church feels about its volunteers. This isn’t about providing some extravagant gift as incentive to volunteer. It’s about showing your church that it’s an honor to be a volunteer, and to talk about what makes someone a good one. Highlight ways your volunteers are pointing people to Jesus, setting up the gospel, and caring for the people in your congregation.
Any public volunteer appreciation you do should leave people with two thoughts:
1. That’s so cool that so-and-so does that for our church.
2. I wonder what I could do to help?
Showcase volunteer testimonies
It’s one thing when a pastor says, “Hey, you should all volunteer. I think you’ll like it.” It’s another thing when someone you know shares how much they love what they do.
When you want to draw people to a particular role, consider letting one of your volunteers share about their experience. This could be a huge growth opportunity for the volunteer, and you might find that their testimony is far more compelling than anything you could say. Help your volunteers put their experience into words. If they aren’t comfortable sharing on stage, see if filming their testimony would be more comfortable.
Highlight the benefits
Your volunteers’ desire to serve shouldn’t be rooted in any form of compensation. But as you probably know, volunteering can be a deeply enriching experience. Highlighting those benefits upfront can help fuel someone’s desire to serve others and be part of your ministry.
I’m not saying you should try to accommodate the person who asks,”What’s in it for me?” Highlighting the benefits of volunteering is a strategy to draw the right people into your program. People who have the motivation to stay involved for the long haul.
If a desire for better relationships with fellow church members, spiritual growth, and the satisfaction of serving others motivates someone to volunteer, they’re probably the type of person you want to have on your team.
Want to build a volunteer program that lasts? Can Someone Please Volunteer? is a free ebook packed with insights to help you recruit, train, and retain more volunteers.
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