Volunteers are a precious commodity for most non-profit organizations, including churches. Anyone who has spent significant time volunteering knows the stats: roughly 20% volunteer (do all the work) while the other 80% do not. We begin to feel like Martha, complaining about our work load while Mary gets to enjoy listening to the message.
How do we find the balance between Martha and Mary? How do we encourage more people to volunteer, not only at the busiest of times like Easter but throughout the year?
10 Ways to Encourage Volunteers
1. Encourage and thank your existing volunteers.
The fastest way to lose the 20% who faithfully volunteer is to make them feel underappreciated. Send a hand-written thank you note. Host a volunteer appreciation breakfast, lunch or brunch. Thank with a gift certificate for above and beyond service or hold a monthly drawing to select a winner for the month. It is important to do something to make your volunteers feel appreciated. Encourage them by taking the time to recognize their contributions.
How often do you ask for volunteers? Do you ask everyone at once during worship or do you assign lead volunteers to create a more personal invitation? Do you encourage small groups to sign up to volunteer? Sometimes getting more volunteers is simply a matter of asking. Those of us with a Martha complex know deep down that often we take on too much by choice. To encourage discipleship we must be willing to share the responsibility.
3. Tell them your needs
How often do you keep your membership up-to-date on volunteer needs? Are you updating your website, mobile app or self-service kiosk regularly with a list of current volunteer requests? Let your members and visitors know how they can access this information and make it readily available to them.
4. Provide the right opportunity
Volunteers enjoy using their unique gifts to serve. Whether it is a work skill (e.g. management/organization), a recreational talent they enjoy (e.g., photography), or something they simply have an aptitude for (e.g., carpentry), provide volunteers with opportunities best suited to their gifts and their personalities. Some people like serving out front and have the perfect personality for greeting people and making them feel welcome. Others prefer to work behind the scenes and prefer to be assigned specific tasks. Whether you need to tap into someone’s artistic ability to design a new worship set or simply need people to set up tables and chairs, provide a variety of opportunities that volunteers can choose from and enjoy.
5. Let them grow
Give volunteers an opportunity to try something new and learn from others. Maybe someone has always wanted to help build a worship set but was too afraid to try. If this is their first time helping, ease them into it by assigning a partner or mentor who can guide them or help them develop their talents.
6. Make it Meaningful
A Barna Group study found that “the most positive church experiences among Millennials are relational.” Of Millennials who remain active in church, 59% had a close adult friend at church and 28% had an adult mentor at church who was not a pastor or staff member. Through these relationships, 46% learned that Christians can have a positive outcome on society. Developing a volunteer mentor program can have a positive outcome on deepening faith for the next generation.
Millennials also want to contribute. The same study found that 33% of Millennials who are active in church found a cause or issue at church that motivated them. Do you know what motivates Millennials or anyone at your church to volunteer?
7. Give them an opportunity to provide input
What do members and visitors feel most passionate about? Perhaps they’ve identified a need you haven’t. Give them an opportunity to provide feedback. There are numerous ways to do this: via social media, a comment form on your website, through small group leaders, or during worship (have fun asking people to text their thoughts and share as part of a sermon message on the topic). Ask and respond by providing opportunities for people to get involved.
8. Track participation
Intentions and reality are two different things. Do you know which volunteer opportunities resulted in the most participation? Did the time of year make a difference? Which age groups participated? Did some events attract entire groups – e.g., families, small groups, boy/girl scouts, etc. – to participate? Track and evaluate participation then adapt your volunteer opportunities accordingly.
9. Plan ahead
Yes, too many of us are overscheduled and overcommitted. Accept it and work with it. Plan ahead. Ministry leaders need to work together to plan volunteer opportunities tied to its mission. They need to coordinate calendars to understand church-wide needs for the year. Avoid scheduling major events close together. Both staff and volunteers suffer from burnout when asked to do too much in too short of a period. Be considerate of their time and give them sufficient time to coordinate and balance their work schedule, family time and volunteer service.
10. Give them a break
We all deserve time off. A shallow volunteer pool is not sufficient reason to exhaust your most faithful and dedicated helpers. Reward them by insisting that they schedule time off from their regular volunteer schedule. Resist the temptation to ask them to participate in every big event at the church. Encourage them to each enlist one new person to serve.
Developing discipleship through volunteers is critical to church growth. Take a step back and consider if a fresh approach to attracting and retaining volunteers is required.
Need help connecting with volunteers? Contact us.