Want to see a church leader turn into a ball of anxiety in 10 seconds?
Watch them recruit church volunteers.
The responses will turn any warm smile into a grimace.
- “The church should pay for my passion project."
- “How could you not have this ministry?"
- “Why aren’t we doing it this way?”
Listen, I get it.
You need boots on the ground. Every church wants more volunteers. But you keep hitting obstacles that you don’t understand.
Here’s the deal:
If you don’t utilize the right tactics, you could end up with a lack of volunteers for necessary roles and a million small “ministries” that vacuum the church’s resources without any effect.
Here is a five-stage model every church leader needs to employ to convert church attendants into active church volunteers who buy in two the church’s vision.
1. Rank your volunteer needs
Make a ranked list from “Most Essential” to “Least Essential” ministries.
What good is a blooming flower arrangement committee when nobody is at the door to greet new visitors on Sunday morning?
What good is a thriving small group ministry when nobody is inviting those new visitors to the small groups?
Without a ranked list of ministries in order of priority, you could end up with nobody doing what the church needs, and a million little ministries that the church doesn’t need.
Divide your list into three sections:
- Infrastructure volunteers
- Optimization volunteers
- Outreach volunteers
Infrastructure volunteers are the foundation of your church’s operations. If you’re compromising an infrastructure ministry for the sake of another ministry, you’re ultimately compromising both.
Infrastructure ministries include: Elders and deacons, greeting team, and follow-up team. Without these three volunteer teams in place, the church isn’t able to fulfill its essential mission—The Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20):
"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
Optimization volunteers advance and enhance the influence of the infrastructure volunteers. These include small group ministries, Sunday school classes, hospital visitation, and coffee hour.
Outreach volunteers extend the influence of the infrastructure and optimization volunteers. These include prayer meetings, homeless outreach, missionary support, weekly meetings, and local church partnerships.
Many people have a passion for outreach ministries. But if you have your ministries ranked with this model, you can point to the basic infrastructure and optimization outreach of the church and say: “If you want to start an outreach ministry, we need your help in these more fundamental ministries first so that when we do outreach, we can do it excellently.”
2. Be transparent
Tell your church:
We have infrastructure needs.
A church that spends 20% of its budget on homeless ministry while it’s $500,000 in debt needs to re-prioritize their members’ resources toward solving infrastructure issues. If you’re misaligned in this area, just be honest and say: It’s a simple fix, and we need your help.
By the same token, you can make it your goal to start certain outreach ministries:
“We have a passion for sending out missionaries. Help us get there by volunteering at church on the greeting committee so that we can grow our church and grow our giving.”
Church members will buy into a model and a volunteer recruitment plan. If there’s no plan, people tend to see church volunteering as a way to get their church to sponsor their personal hobby. Instead, providing a transparent model of the church’s needs shows them how their energies can be channelled to accomplish their vision for optimization in the long term.
Be clear. Ask people. Make goals. Update with metrics. Even buy one of those “goal thermometers" that you fill in with a red marker: “Once we hit this many members, we can make a plan to start ________ ministry.”
Everyone can buy into a transparent plan.
Make it. Preach it. Funnel your members’ energies into it.
3. Say “Yes” to everything
Leaders do their best to balance existing missions with fresh vision. But sometimes the church needs humble infantry who want to meet existing needs rather than rogue pilots distracting other peoples’ time and energy from the basics.
How could a leader possibly say “Yes” to everything? With his ranked model written down, and the needs of the church expressed clearly with that model to the church, a church leader is free to say “Yes” to everything as an outreach idea.
Here’s how the conversation can go:
“I want to start a pie baking ministry in the church for those who are sick. The church would pay for the ingredients and I would bake pies for members who are ill."
“I love it! We need 3 more greeters on our welcome team for the next three months. Once we meet our membership goal, we will have the resources to invest in something like that. Keep honing this idea!”
Behind every impractical idea for church volunteering is a good passion that you should empower and equip. In front of every impractical idea for church volunteering exists a better, practical vision in which the church could partner. The church leader is responsible to facilitate growth from practicality to impracticality—from passion to vision to ministry to reality.
4. Train your volunteers
Training your current volunteers accomplishes three things.
First, it weeds out fickle people who are energetic about an idea for 24 hours, but aren’t able to bring long-term consistency. If you have a “Volunteer Orientation Class,” you find out who’s committed enough to an idea to work through the proper channels of getting on the same page with the church.
Second, it allows people to see the real needs the church has in meeting its core mission. Someone might attend the class with an idea, only to experience God’s prompting to meet a need they didn’t know about (Philippians 4:19).
Third, it’s a way to invite more people to be church volunteers. As a church leader, you don’t have to know everyone’s passion and gifts . If you are in need of volunteers, you can simply approach a member and say:
“I’d love you to come to our church volunteer class. You would make a great asset to our ________ team. We’d also love to hear your ideas for how to improve what we do."
5. Onboard volunteers with these scripts
Make it easier to onboard new volunteers with these scripts.
a. Church volunteers exist to solve real problems.
God intended every single Christian to be a church volunteer: "Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27).
Why do people need to volunteer? Because “if one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26).
Behind every volunteer is a felt need in the church. Behind every infrastructure ministry is a real life problem God has ordained the church to address with the gospel.
- Marital problems
- The financial burden of illness
- The isolation and struggle of faith in new Christians
- The needs of a church’s local community
Church volunteering isn’t about checking some administrative box. It’s about bringing the love of Christ to a hurting a broken world. “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it.” What is Paul’s conclusion? “Now eagerly desire the greater gifts” (1 Corinthians 12:31).
b. Church volunteers exist to fulfill the greatest commandment.
Church volunteers exist to fill God’s greatest commandment: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39)
Preach this to your members. Make this your church volunteer recruitment rally cry: “Let’s fulfill God’s great commandment the way he intended: as the church. Not as a million rogue passions pulling us in different directions. But in concerted, focused, core ministries that are meant to grow a million blossoms.”
c. Volunteering solves our addiction to selfie-ism.
In the church, before love can be long-lasting outreach, love needs to be infrastructure and optimization.
Be unapologetic when you recruit volunteers: "God calls us to a lot of boring ministries so that he can do exciting things through us.”
Volunteering in church is a way to get our own eyes off of ourselves and feel like we are making an impact.. We tend to think of volunteering like business—if we put in our time, we will “work our way up the ladder.”
What is the glory of working the same volunteer greeting post for 40 years? What is the glory of managing the “Gain” knob on the soundboard for 10 years?
Is it to be promoted? No. It is to play a part in God’s magnificent work of encountering and transforming people with the gospel of Jesus Christ: "As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10).
Over to you
Don’t be scared of recruiting new volunteers according to the needs of the church. God doesn’t just supply random gifts to the church. Instead, "my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19).
This is how church leaders and volunteers should think. “What does the church need?” The church isn’t a conduit for my individual mission. It’s a body that God has created through Christ. As a church leader, you don’t have to be apologetic about that.
Structure the needs.
Make sure to clearly present the needs.
Say “yes” to serving-oriented energy.
Create a volunteer class.
Write down key scripts to sell people on volunteering for infrastructure needs.
When you lead your church volunteer recruitment with this kind of clarity, specificity, openness, and organization, you will create a culture of commitment and service in your church that nobody will want to miss out on.
There’s no better way to accomplish this than the Tithe.ly ChMS software. It allows groups in the church to gather, mobilize, and deploy to 10x ministry effectiveness. If you rely on some outdated technology like an annoying text thread or gmail chain, people will become lost and disillusioned with the ministries and vision of your church.
Use the Tithe.ly ChMS software to recruit, train, and deploy your new volunteers to grow your church like a professional organization, rather than like grassroots bake sale.
Rank your ministries.
Editor’s Note: This post was updated on August 21, 2020 for accuracy and comprehensiveness.