This question recently came across our social media channels: “How can we effectively recruit and retain volunteers in ministry?”
This is such an important question, because almost every single replant or revitalization I’ve encountered has a need for more—and more consistent—volunteers. And yet, relatively few churches do this extremely well.
I’ve made my fair share of mistakes when it comes to recruiting and retaining volunteers (sadly, that could be its own series of blog posts). But I’ve learned some things along the way that I pray will help you (and will help me in the future, too).
There are two primary ways to recruit volunteers. The first is to make announcements in church publications (bulletins, newsletters, social media, etc.), announcing the need for volunteers in a ministry. This isn’t a bad strategy, but this can’t be the only strategy for recruiting. Sometimes folks will flat out ignore the announcement, and sometimes you will attract the wrong kind of volunteer. In many cases, having the wrong volunteer in a ministry position can be worse than not having any volunteers in that position (also sadly, I’ve experienced this on numerous occasions).
The other way is by personal conversations and invitations. Perhaps you have a retired teacher or even an older teenager or college student who has a heart to teach kids. You may have some folks in your church who play instruments and you weren’t even aware of them because you haven’t asked. I’ve learned that while folks may have a heart for ministry, they often aren’t sure they are the right person.
You might even enlist some “secret agents” who will, as they get to know folks in the congregation, pass on information to you about those who may be gifted for specific ministry areas. A simple, personal conversation from you as the pastor or church leader could be just the Holy Spirit nudge those individuals need to accept that call. There’s no harm in asking. The worst they can say is, “No.”
Once you have successfully recruited a volunteer, you’ll want to do all you can to retain them. Here are some tips for helping with that.
1. Set clear expectations. This is one of the major reasons volunteers don’t stick around. What began as a simple task became increasingly more complex and time-consuming. One author I read years ago referred to this as “oh, by the way-isms.” (“Oh, by the way, I need you here for two hours every other Tuesday night.” “Oh, by the way, I need you to buy these supplies.” “Oh, by the way, this three-month commitment just became a year long.”) If you expect someone to arrive at a certain time each Sunday morning or Wednesday night, communicate that clearly (preferably in some written form of communication … and maybe several times).
2. Equip them for success. I think sometimes volunteers quit because they become overwhelmed with the task at hand. Perhaps they didn’t feel like they received adequate training, or perhaps they were spending a lot of money out-of-pocket that they didn’t anticipate (see the previous section on setting clear expectations).
If your volunteers need training, provide it. Many local associations or state conventions have folks on staff who can train your volunteers in just about any area of ministry. And they’re often available at little or no cost to your church. Well-trained volunteers are much more likely to stick around long-term.
In addition to training them, provide resources that they need. Most volunteer leaders aren’t opposed to spending some of their own money on some resources, but they shouldn’t be expected to pick up the tab on everything. Make sure the church is providing as much as it possibly can to help volunteers carry out their jobs well.
3. Appreciate them. I’ve never met a pastor or church leader who didn’t appreciate their volunteers, but we are not always good about showing our appreciation. So, go above and beyond to do that. Provide books and other resources that will help equip them. Maybe give them gift cards from time to time to show you care about them. Don’t underestimate the impact of a $5 Starbucks or Sonic gift card!
In addition to doing things for them, simply let them know you appreciate them. Send a note saying so. Take time on a regular basis to visit with them individually and ask how you can support them.
There is no magic bullet to recruiting and retaining volunteers, but these will help in the process. Volunteers who have clear expectations, are well-equipped and feel appreciated are much more likely to stick around than those who simply felt they were thrown into the fire and left to fend for themselves.
Published October 29, 2021