The question comes in many forms.
How do we get people off the sideline and into the game?
How do we help members get motivated when it just seems like they want to come and listen or be entertained?
How do we engage people when they are already so busy or say that they’re tired and need a break?
It’s the volunteer question.
Pastors and church leaders know they will never be able to do all of the ministry that needs to be done. But seeing people take the next steps to serve is another story.
I’ve never had a church leader come to me and say, “We have too many volunteers.” Instead, we hear the opposite time and time again.
How do we get more volunteers?
The question is even more important when you consider that people often give their time before they give their money, and volunteers are three times more likely to invite their friends to church.
So, let’s talk about volunteer recruitment.
Here are five ways you can recruit volunteers all year long.
#1 – Get good at saying thanks.
The first step in recruiting new volunteers is to thoroughly thank your existing volunteers.
That’s right…before you worry about bringing any new people into your volunteer base, make sure the volunteers you already have serving are the happiest and healthiest people in your church.
If your current volunteers are under appreciated, you’re asking people to jump on board a sinking ship. And very few people want to make that leap.
Have a simple system in place to thank your current volunteers. That system could consist of:
Personal handwritten thank you notes like these to recognize individual contributions
An annual volunteer appreciation event
Regularly scheduled insider communication
A team structure that makes sure everyone serving has a shepherd to care for their soul
Since people naturally go where they are appreciated, make sure you thank your volunteers over and over again. It’s the most powerful thing you can do to attract new people.
#2 – Highlight volunteer contributions.
Not only should you thank your volunteers individually, but you should also appreciate them publicly.
Call attention to people who go above and beyond. Recognize people by name and in public. Every time you do this, it means a lot to the person you’re recognizing, but it also makes a difference to your larger volunteer base.
Your volunteers won’t be jealous that they aren’t receiving the attention; they will feel mutually appreciated. They love the fact that you notice individuals. In fact, every time you highlight a contribution made by a volunteer, you sow the seeds of volunteerism in your entire congregation.
My pastor, Andy Stanley, frequently says, “Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.” Don’t let the fear of leaving someone out cause you to miss the tremendous opportunity to recognize people publicly.
When I was pastoring a church in Atlanta, one of my favorite ways to do this was giving out an award at our quarterly leadership event. These awards were a big deal and they were a highlight of the evening.
We’ve got a whole training on how to do this inside of the Church Fuel One program.
#3 – Leverage the power of “by the way.”
“By the way” moments are a great way to recruit volunteers without having to put on the hard-sell or preach a full sermon.
Mention needs. Say thanks. Highlight contributions without making them a main point.
In other words, make it normal to talk about volunteering.
When you mention the busy school teacher who serves in the nursery in your sermon, you subtly remind people that serving is not just for people with loads of free time.
When you reference a few volunteers who were at your house talking about football, you remind people that you’re connected to people who serve and that volunteering is a way to get to know others.
Great communicators are masters of the “by the way” moments.
#4 – Find your recruiters.
In your church, you have people who are gifted and called to do the thing.
And then there are others who can’t really do the thing but who just seem to know everyone. They are well-connected, well-liked, and people seem to follow them.
There are people in your church with a very particular set of skills. Church of the Highlands in Birmingham, Alabama, makes sure every volunteer team has a leader in charge of recruiting. They don’t burden this person with administrative tasks or even leadership of the whole team. They put them in charge of recruiting. It’s their responsibility to bring new people onto the team.
There’s a reason Army recruiters are different from drill camp instructors. It’s a different skill set. What would happen if your children’s ministry had a recruiter—someone who didn’t work directly with children but recruited adults all year long?
#5 – Trust the schedule.
Putting a three-week volunteer recruitment emphasis on the calendar (we recommend February and/or August) will give you confidence during the rest of the year.
Knowing you have a built-in time to address the needs provides peace of mind that help is on the way.
At least once a year, North Point Community Church has a Sunday that’s internally called “Strategic Service Sunday.” The pastor, Andy, preaches on the need for volunteers and asks people to take a first step to serve on one of a few teams. The staff and leaders are ready for all the raised hands, and they have a system in place to connect new people before the need hits.
It’s systematic and scheduled.
No matter the size of your church, you could choose to emphasize volunteers once or twice a year and build it into the calendar. Align all of your ministries and programs around this and you’ll be well on your way to having a strong volunteer force.
Take a Next Step
Once you’ve got volunteers, you need to know how to lead them forward.