By Danny Franks
If you’re in the mood to be thoroughly discouraged, there’s a simple, three-step process to get there. First, gather a group of pastors or church staff members. Second, ask them about the biggest challenges they face in ministry. And finally, sit back and listen to them bemoan their lack of volunteers, the inexperience of their leaders, and the seeming reality that no one wants to step up and serve.
That’s not just anecdotal. In a recent survey by Lifeway Research, 77% of pastors identified “developing volunteers and leaders” as one of their greatest ministry difficulties. At the same time, 68% said “training current leaders and volunteers” was something they needed to give attention to.
The lack of volunteers isn’t an anomaly among churches. A healthy volunteer culture seems to be the exception rather than the rule. And it leads many pastors to discouragement.
So how do we fix it?A healthy volunteer culture takes hundreds of conversations, a commitment to press through seemingly insurmountable obstacles, and a desperation for the Holy Spirit to move in the hearts of your people. — @LetMeBeFranks Click To Tweet
A healthy volunteer culture isn’t created overnight. It takes hundreds of conversations, a commitment to press through seemingly insurmountable obstacles, and a desperation for the Holy Spirit to move in the hearts of your people. But I believe there are six practical steps to help you get there:
1. Know your “why”
We all know what we want: more volunteers. But do we know why we want them? We have to get gut-level honest with our motivations. Do we want volunteers to take some of the burden off our own shoulders? Are we recruiting people so that we can continue to fuel the ministry machine? Do we think more volunteers in our ministry means we’re better leaders?
If we’re honest, many of our motivations are selfish and self-serving. We want volunteers for us, not for them. We don’t take to heart the mandate of Ephesians 4:12 “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ” (CSB).
2. Know their “why”
Our motivations matter, but our current and potential volunteers’ motivations matter as well. Some serve out of a sense of pride: “This is my ministry.” “No one else can do this as well as I can.” “The church needs me in this role.” For some, a sense of shame keeps them from serving: “I’m not qualified.” “There’s no way God could use me.” “I don’t have the skill set for that.”Volunteers shouldn’t step up because they’re greedy to lead or because they’ve been guilted to but because they want to be used by God to be a blessing to others. — @LetMeBeFranks Click To Tweet
Getting at the heart of our people’s “yes” or “no” is crucial to helping them say “yes” for the right reasons. They shouldn’t step up because they’re greedy to lead or because they’ve been guilted to but because they want to be used by God to be a blessing to others.
3. Find your stakeholders
As leaders, we must recognize that we can’t create a healthy volunteer culture on our own. We must have others around us who have bought into the vision of Ephesians 4:12. That may be other staff members, or it may be existing key volunteers.
A “stakeholder” is someone who will come alongside you to champion the vision, help you get clarity when you’re stuck, and invest in new and existing volunteers. For newer or younger staff members, this can often be an established member or older saint who will help broker conversations when they get tough. For long-time staff members, this can be a person who infuses new life into the ministry with their ideas and encouragement.
4. Create an asking culture
Too often, we don’t ask because we’re afraid to ask. We don’t want to inconvenience people, don’t know how to articulate the vision, or are fearful that a potential volunteer will tell us no.Stage announcements create awareness, but they don’t often create action. — @LetMeBeFranks Click To Tweet
So let me be clear about two things in one statement: people like to be asked one-on-one. People do like to be asked to serve—when we ask for their benefit and not ours. They’re honored when we see something in them they may not see in themselves. They’re challenged when we call out their strengths and giftings.
But they often don’t get that personalized “ask” if we’re asking from the stage. Stage announcements create awareness, but they don’t often create action. So stop relying on the “whosoever will serve” model and start having individual conversations with people you’ve prayed about, thought about, and asked God to awaken to the pleasure of serving.
5. Appeal to mission, not need
I mentioned earlier that people often serve out of a sense of guilt. And church staff members are often certified travel agents in guilt trips: “If you don’t say yes, we’re going to have to shut down the nursery.” “I know you’re already really busy, but this ministry is at risk of failing. I need you!”Need will eventually crush people. But mission awakens people. — @LetMeBeFranks Click To Tweet
There’s no lack of people in your church who will respond to needs. But, to go back to the second point, are they responding for the right reasons? Need will eventually crush people. But mission awakens people. Tie the task to the calling of the gospel, the gifting of the individual, and the indwelling power of the Spirit, and you’ll find people motivated rather than manipulated.
6. Invest in your high-capacity volunteers
Too often, leaders get a “yes” and then abandon the volunteer. We assume they know what they’re doing or that they’re satisfied with what they’re doing. However, we’ve seen the fallout that proves the opposite: volunteers who are bored or underutilized are at risk, and we have to find a way to keep them engaged.
That’s why I love creating spaces for high-capacity volunteers to collaborate, continue to learn, and gather to seek God’s wisdom for the future of the ministry. Buy a few books, brew some coffee or reserve a room at a restaurant, and pull in some of your top-notch people for top-notch conversations. You’ll find that those volunteers will be re-energized for the ministry, and energy begets energy. They’ll soon be your best advocates to create an asking culture.The mission is too great and the time is too short to shoulder all the tasks by ourselves. — @LetMeBeFranks Click To Tweet
We cannot and should not do ministry alone. The mission is too great and the time is too short to shoulder all the tasks by ourselves. Let’s ask God to show us the people He’s already working in, invite them to the mission, and see the cultures of our churches and communities change.
Danny is the Pastor of Guest Services at The Summit Church, and author of People Are the Mission: How Churches Can Welcome Guests Without Compromising the Gospel.