The Ultimate Resource for Finding and Keeping Volunteers You Can Count On

Think of the worst volunteer experience you ever had. Most people have quite a few “worsts.”

Keep that in mind!

Because if you want volunteers to join YOU, you have to overcome their bad memories and create better ones.

Have you heard any of these before? Maybe even said them?

  • I have no one to help.
  • We don’t have enough volunteers.
  • My volunteers quit and leave me.
  • I’m not a leader. I don’t even know what to do with volunteers.

Whether you are heading up Vacation Bible School, part of the young moms’ group, or need to find people to greet, lead, help, make, bake, or take … you’re on the right page.

In small churches, it’s the norm for one person to wear multiple hats, juggling plates and getting stretched like gumby at the same time.

The hats fall, the plates shatter, and gumby eventually turns into a crusty rubber band that cracks and breaks.

It doesn’t have to be that way!

Imagine finding more volunteers than you need. A joyful team of people who show up early and stay late.

You get to sit back and say “job well done” with a grin as big as an ear of corn.

There is hope.

The steps below are based on what Jesus did – calling the unlikely and building relationships.

No panic. No guilt. No manipulation.

Just lots of listening, invitations, and even celebrations.

Best of all, these steps are do-able in your small church.

The Ultimate Resource for Finding Volunteers You Can Count On includes:

  • 5 Truths to Know Before You Start
  • Finding Great Volunteers
  • Keeping the Volunteers You Find
  • Appreciating Volunteers: The 5 Keys
  • Staying in the Game

5 TRUTHS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU START

If you want to get better at working with volunteers, do not skip this section. These 5 Truths will make the difference between great volunteer experiences and epic failure.

TRUTH #1: You are exactly the right person to lead.

If you think you’re too quiet, too loud, too old, too young, not holy enough or not good enough, you are in great company.

Aaron was too quiet. Paul was too loud. Abraham was old. David was young. None of them knew enough, were good enough, and they definitely weren’t holy enough! 

You are called to lead, just as you are. This is what God does. He calls first and then He equips.

If you are apprehensive about leading or even having a full-on panic attack, just keep reading. You can grow your skills and be encouraged by a community of like-minded women in small churches.

Hang out with us!

TRUTH #2: Volunteers don’t exist to DO the ministry. They ARE your ministry.

Jesus modeled this.

He didn’t recruit 12 people just to do things for Him. He poured into them, loved them and equipped them.

They worked together. Ate together. Traveled together. Did life together.

He called them friends.

Isn’t that what leading a team is about?

I believe this one mindset change would flip the Christian church in America upside down.

Less people would church hop, church shop and church drop.

The response to volunteering would be anticipation instead of interruption. Would you like to see people running TO ministry instead of AWAY from it?

Your volunteers absolutely are involved in DOING ministry. But that is not the purpose of their existence.

Your team IS your ministry. Take care of them.

Call them friends.

TRUTH #3: People find time for what they find meaningful.

People are not too busy to serve.

Give them meaningful opportunities.

  • A place to make a difference. (I am significant)
  • New friends in a supportive community. (I am loved)
  • A culture of appreciation. (I am valued)
  • Fun. Enjoyment. Laughter. (I find joy)

Society is filled with unsatisfying busyness, breeding anxiety and ever-growing to-do lists.

Help people get off the mundane hamster wheel and do something that creates a spark.

TRUTH #4: You have just enough people to do anything God wants done.

Small churches often say,  “We just don’t have enough people.”

It’s not true.

God is sovereign. He is bigger than anything. If God wants it done, the resources exist.

They may not be obvious. They may not look the way you think they should. But they are there.

How do you find them?

  • Be willing to let go of your own dreams, and get His. (By the way, His are better!)
  • Know exactly who you are looking for. You might really need the square peg this time.
  • Be open to the unlikely, the unpopular, and the unknown.
  • Learn how to make a great ‘ask’.

TRUTH #5: If you want it done well, you can’t do it yourself.

If you want okay-results, you might be able to do it alone. But if you want God-results, that won’t happen in a vacuum of 1.

It’s just not God’s design.

While involving others takes more time and more effort, the results are staggeringly better.

Involving others in ministry is exactly what Jesus did. It’s what He chose to do.

Jesus dealt with Peter’s doubt, John’s insecurity, the Pharisees objections, and even Judas’ betrayal. And He CHOSE it.

Rejecting the do-it-yourself shortcut may just lead to walking on water, feeding ten thousand, and loving the unloved!

Instead of simply doing a task, you are transforming the unseen to BE the church as they discover their gifts and find significance.

FINDING GREAT VOLUNTEERS

Are you ready to find volunteers who show up excited? The ones who get everything done and more?

You might think it’s more likely to find a pink unicorn prancing in your backyard.

While most small churches struggle to find volunteers, a few simple steps below will start the dominoes falling in the right direction.

If it’s easy to find volunteers, why isn’t everyone doing it?

Because it takes time.

It’s much quicker just to start asking people. We live in such an instant society. We’re impatient.

We get a drive-thru hamburger and never think about the rancher who raised the calf.

“Let’s do this!” we say. However, if you want to do this volunteer thing well, you have to shift to long-term thinking.

Great volunteers are discovered and developed. They are not ordered at a kiosk.

The First Secret to getting volunteers is to NOT ask … until you’ve done these 5 things

1: Get crystal clear on what you need

You can’t fill a slot if you don’t know what it is. You don’t need another warm body. Visualize the results you want. Dream a little. How many people? What kind of gifts?

Click here to find out why Writing Job Descriptions for Your Volunteers will actually save you time an energy!

2: Create some intrigue

Get people curious. Develop your vision, but don’t share it all at once.

Build anticipation!

“VBS is coming up and it’s going to be different this year! We have a whole new plan for the team. I can’t wait to tell you!”

3: Brainstorm unusual possibilities

The 80/20 Rule says 80% of church work is done by 20% of the people. This means 80% of people don’t serve. I wonder how many have been asked.

The 20% who serve (the ones who already show up) are usually the ones asked to do more.

The God of the Old Testament and the Jesus of the New consistently sought out the 80% under-involved. Inviting the overlooked and equipping them.

Maybe we are called to do the same.

4: Develop relationships

Take the plunge, dive deep, and get to know people. Their experiences. Their thoughts. Their hopes.

Make a commitment NOT to ask people for anything on Sundays.

Focus on getting to know people.

Build community with no agenda. You may be surprised to find artists, bakers, dreamers, and leaders hidden in plain sight.

5: Create an irresistible environment

No one wants to be around negative people or martyrs. People want to be valued and appreciated. They want real relationships. And they want to have fun. Create the culture.

The Second Secret to Getting Volunteers is to Create a Great ‘Ask’

Prepare for a lot of rejection if your method of asking looks anything like catching someone on Sunday morning with a  “Hey! I need a craft leader.” (Yes, I’ve been there too.)

Sometimes we grab our courage to ask, but we forget the skill of asking well.

Here’s how to get much better results with a Great ‘Ask’:

  • Choose a time to talk, whether in-person or phone. Not in a crowd. Not text, email, or DM.
  • Describe what you see in her, as an individual. Why you specifically want to work with her.
  • Offer a sample. “I really want you to come and sit in and see what we do.” (watch me set up, sit in on youth group, etc.) If you don’t have a sample to offer, create one.
  • Avoid eternal commitments. Instead of, “Will you teach?” … ask “Would you teach from Sept. through Dec. 23?” Think start time, end time.
  • Give permission to think about it. “Could you let me know next week?”
  • Follow up.
  • Be okay with “no”. Sometimes it takes a few no’s to find right people.

KEEPING THE VOLUNTEERS YOU FIND

I was SO excited! I found her, built a relationship, and got a great volunteer. A few months later she quit. Like a balloon shot with a BB gun, I’m flattened on the floor.

What did I do wrong?

Even worse than not getting a great volunteer, is having a great volunteer quit.

Here’s a few reasons volunteers quit:

  • “They didn’t need me. It was a waste of my time.”
  • “None of my friends were there. It was awkward.”
  • “No one said thank you.”
  • “I failed. I don’t think I did what they wanted.”
  • “They can find someone better. I don’t know why they asked me.”
  • “It’s just a bad time in my life. I need a break.”

Do any sound familiar? Most are avoidable.

Occasionally people really do need a break from volunteering.

More often than not though, they are let down. They aren’t appreciated or respected.

They aren’t sure what to do or how to do it.

They are discouraged, disappointed, and even dismissed. They feel failure.

You can change this. And it’s well worth your effort!

Prioritize these 3 things to keep the volunteers you find:

Build a Community TOGETHER!  

Whether your community is 2 or 12, relationships matter. Listen, respect, and support each other. When you meet together, plan time to share joys, struggles, and dreams. And have fun.

Grow and Learn TOGETHER!

People want to be successful. Train them. Hand out an article. Go to a workshop together. Mentor them. As skills grow, confidence grows. Relationships deepen. Volunteers stay.

Evaluate and Set Goals TOGETHER! 

We all like to know how we are doing. If it’s not good, we probably already know it and want to know how to do better. If it is good, we want to hear that too.

Include your team in evaluation and goal setting. This elevates volunteers from workers to partners.

APPRECIATING VOLUNTEERS: THE 5 KEYS

When is the last time you truly felt appreciated?

Like someone really saw you and all that you did?

Appreciation is like a magnet. We are pulled to it and don’t want to leave. You can be that magnet.

Slow It Down

Production is important but people are MORE important. You can’t do ministry God’s way without involving others. If you don’t slow it down, you’ll remember your goals, but you’ll miss the people.

Develop the Habit of Appreciation

It’s easier to write one thank you note each week than to write 10 notes the day after an event. So, write one note each week. Develop the habit.

Writing one note each weeks adds up to 52 notes of appreciation each year. Small steps repeated over time equals surprising results.

Remember Special Events

I confess I’m awful at this. Talked to a friend the other day for 10 minutes before it slammed me that it was her birthday! Ugh. Fail.

Try not to do that.

It can be as easy as a text, a call, a DM, or a card mailed a few days ahead.

Birthdays, anniversaries, significant losses. Acknowledge. Love on people by remembering their events. They notice.

Public Mentions

Be sensitive with this one, but public mentions can be inspiring and help make your ministry more contagious.

Thank people in the bulletin now and then, acknowledge them in an article or upfront announcement, or give them a gift at an event. Public mentions are impactful.

Gifts

While great now and then, gifts are tricky and expensive. Better if they are individual and not mass-purchased. For most people, a thoughtful note will be treasured longer than a $5 Starbucks card.

Keep your volunteer appreciation fresh by mixing it up and doing bits of everything above.

Surprise them now and then.

Become the person who notices and acknowledges. 

STAYING IN THE GAME: HOW TO KEEP ON KEEPIN’ ON

I want to quit several times a year. Like I seriously want to curl up in a ball, hide under a rock, and leave ministry behind.

Working with people is beautiful, but can be gut-wrenching at times.

I get tired of Expectations. Criticism. Rejection. Fear of Failure. Or, worse yet, Actual Failure.

The following reminders keep me going.

Four Reminders for Your Hard Days

1) Expect a Hit Now and Then

I don’t know much about football, but I think if the quarterback wasn’t looking out for those huge guys trying to knock him down it would be worse.

At least there’s an opportunity to side step a little and brace yourself for a fall.

Expect a hit now and then.

Then you can also expect to get back up!

2) Focus on Self-Care

The more wrinkles I get, the better I get at this one.

Take time for yourself. Enjoy your lunch sitting down. Go for a walk. Have some quiet time. Breathe deeply. Find a great counselor.

You cannot lead if you are a mess.

3) Remember that Hurt People Hurt

Whether it is a girlfriend, pastor, volunteer, or your own child … people hurt others out of their own hurt. It doesn’t excuse bad behavior (yours or theirs), but it might explain it. Try to judge action, rather than motive.

4) Remind Yourself that It Will Get Better

The sun WILL come out tomorrow. I might not believe it at the time, but I remind myself anyway.

Sometimes I cling to this truth in sheer desperation.

And, sure enough, the sun does come out again.

There is always hope.

In the end, everything leads to growth, if you choose it. I suppose the other choice is to block it out and refuse the growth. For me, the joy of deeper relationships with God and others is worth it. It’s unusual, fulfilling, and surprising.

As a follower of Jesus, I don’t believe I can just quit.

I can change things, pull back, or do differently. But I don’t get to quit.

We are each called to be an influence. The light of the world.

As much as I sometimes desire to crawl under that rock forever, I don’t think it’s God-honoring. I also think my heart would be really empty.

I’d rather have a heart that’s full. So I keep going.

You can do this!

There is no doubt in my mind that you can do this. Find God’s desire and He will equip. It’s what He does.

God wants you to make a big difference in your small church.

To make that difference, you absolutely have to work better with volunteers.

It’s been said that ministry would be easy if it weren’t for the people. True, in a sense.

But it’s not God’s plan.

God’s design is the body of Christ. Every single person in the body has a function, an influence.

Let’s uncover what the 80% have to give. You have this gift of ministry to offer – significance, joy, and relationship.

Your job is to find the receivers.

And after you find the receivers, you learn how to love them.

What are your struggles as you work with volunteers? And how can I help support you?

ESPECIALLY FOR WOMEN IN MINISTRY, CHECK OUT THIS POST:

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