Churches, parachurch ministries, and nonprofits all have one thing in common: they run on volunteers. Volunteer labor is the backbone of every ministry; it takes dozens of people to staff the youth groups, vacation Bible schools, and worship teams even in smaller churches.
According to one study, some 55 percent of megachurch attendees volunteer, so in a church of 3,000 there could be over 1,600 volunteers!
That makes the care and feeding of volunteers an essential skill for ministry leadership.
The good news for leaders is that volunteers are motivated by their passion for ministry. They want to give their time to doing something important. The bad news is that without a financial incentive, there is little to keep them involved when the work becomes frustrating or discouraging.
Here are the seven essential elements that volunteers need in order to thrive.
1. Personal Invitation
A notice in the church bulletin or newsletter may get some attention for your ministry, but it won’t garner many volunteers. The primary way people volunteer for ministry is the same way they find their way into chuch—by personal invitation. If you want volunteers, you must personally invite them.
2. Big Vision
Nobody wants to sit in the church nursery all morning. But some will want to care for children so their parents can experience worship. Whatever you are asking people to do, present it as an opportunity to further the mission of your organization—which is it. Always connect service to vision.
3. Clear Instruction
People volunteer to do something. When the outcome is unclear they become distracted or unmotivated. State and outcome. Make it clear. Keep it reasonable.
4. Adequate Resources
My wife once volunteered at an inner-city childcare. She was excited about the opportunity to help kids who received little love an attention. She was shown to a room with a dozen seven-year-olds and four walls. No curriculum. No supplies. Nothing. It may have been the most exhausting day of her life. Be sure that your volunteers have what they need to get the job done.
5. Frequent Communication
“Find ‘em and forget ‘em” is an all-too-frequent strategy for dealing with volunteers. When a leader finds help for one ministry, his or her attention quickly moves to something else. Don’t allow your team to languish by feeling unappreciated or having no outlet for ideas and problems. Check in frequently.
6. Time Away
Everyone needs a break now and then, especially volunteers who are working full-time jobs in addition to their ministry service. Clarify the term at the outset so that volunteers know the end date of their commitment. And ensure that there is adequate backup for illness or vacation time. Without some respite, even the most dedicated volunteers will burn out.
7. Lavish Thanks
Everyone likes to be noticed and appreciated. Volunteers who are never thanked can come to believe that their work is meaningless or unimportant—or that they are. Thank your team frequently, even more than you would for employees or coworkers. Your gratitude will rekindle their excitement about what they are doing.
It is challenging to provide all of these items, especially when resources are scarce and volunteers are spread thin. But you can do it!