Every now and then- Bisher und Bald – von Archbishop Uwe AE.Rosenkranz
2 Can Someone Please Volunteer?
4 Problems Facing Your Church Volunteer Team Building Teams That Last………………………………………………………
3 Recruitment: The Ingredients for Growth…………………………………….
4 Training: The Backbone of Your Team……………………………………..
15 Appreciation: The Secret to Making People Feel Valued…………………
.20 Burnout: The Reality Every Team Faces…………………………………..
.28 The Great Invitation…………………………………………………………..
.37 About Proclaim…………………………………………………………………
38 About the Author………………………………………………………………
3 Building Teams That Last Thriving volunteer teams don’t sprout up overnight. They don’t bound up to the stage after the perfect announcement. They don’t line up at your door after reading their bulletins. And whether or not you have one is not an indicator of how clearly your church communicates the gospel. If you want to build a church volunteer team that lasts, there are two things you have to do: you need to get people on your team, and you need to keep them there. You don’t necessarily want just anybody to join your team, and you can’t possibly keep everyone from quitting. But the best volunteer programs are the ones that get more of the right people on your team, and that keep more of the right people for longer. In this ebook we’ve split these two phases of your volunteer program into four pieces—recruitment, training, appreciation, and burnout—so you’ll walk away with the tools you need to build a volunteer team that lasts. 4 Recruitment: The Ingredients for Growth Right now, there are people in your church who want to volunteer, but aren’t involved yet. Some of them are waiting for the right opportunity—the role that perfectly aligns with their gifts. Others are literally just waiting to be asked. The challenge for your staff is finding the right times to ask, the right ways to ask, and the right people to ask. If you’re struggling to develop a solid volunteer program, here are 13 tips to help you recruit more volunteers.
- Share opportunities in multiple ways
Announcements, newsletters, and church bulletins are a great way to tell your congregation what’s going on in your church. They let you cast a wide net and communicate with everyone at once, and you’re sure to get some of the people you need. But that shouldn’t be the only way people hear how to get involved. Sometimes it’s better to use a fishing pole than a net. An announcement to everyone doesn’t have the same impact on someone as a personal invitation. People want to know they’re in the right place, that they belong, and that you really are talking to them specifically. A personal invitation leaves no doubt that this opportunity is for them. Every two weeks I lead a Bible study with high school students. When I send a group message to all of them at once, I get crickets. At best, a couple of the most actively involved kids respond. It’s only when I personally call, message, text, or talk to each 5 kid individually that they realize I’m really inviting them and I really want them to respond to the invitation. The big announcements are an important piece of the puzzle, but you can’t rely on those to connect with every person. Even the people who want to get involved can miss, forget about, or dismiss an announcement. Each piece of your volunteer recruitment plan should direct people to a personal conversation with a real person.
- Define who you’re looking for
If people don’t know what kind of person you need to fill a role, they’re less likely to believe they’re the right person for the job. If you’re desperate for volunteers, you might be tempted to let this slide, but if your goal is to develop a healthy program and get the right people in the right roles, be upfront about what it takes to succeed in a particular role. If you need friendly extroverts who like to meet new people, ask for them specifically. If you need someone who can focus on one task for a long time, say so. If you need someone with experience, or if a particular skill would make someone better suited for the job, let people know. Defining the personalities, skills, or knowledge people need to succeed will undoubtedly shrink the pool of eligible volunteers—but that’s not something to be afraid of if it means putting together a volunteer program that lasts. The more specific you are about the type of person you need, the more likely someone in your congregation will realize, “Hey, that’s me!”
- Explain the purpose before the task
6 There are lots of reasons why people volunteer. Most of them aren’t “I really like to say ‘Hi’ to strangers” or “I love the software you use.” Before you ever get to the specific micro-level tasks a particular role entails, make sure people know why you need them to help. “We want people to feel like they belong here before they set foot inside our doors.” “We want every detail of our service to look thoughtfully prepared—because it’s true.” Whether this happens from the stage, in personal conversations, or in volunteer-interest meetings, don’t miss your opportunity to cast the vision for your volunteers. If they don’t understand why they’re perfectly arranging several hundred pens or folding bulletins or shaking hands, they might quit before they even start. Share why you need volunteers, what the job is, and how to do it—in that order.
- Make it simple to get involved
The more hurdles you put between potential volunteers and the finish line (volunteering in your program), the less volunteers you’re going to have. A strong volunteer program should be easy to get involved in. If someone checks a box in your bulletin saying they want to volunteer, someone should contact them within a couple of days to find out how they’d like to volunteer and what their schedule looks like. Don’t place a huge burden on new volunteers—start them out with a limited schedule so the initial burden is as small as possible. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t be thorough or that you shouldn’t have a vetting process for particular roles (like children’s ministry volunteers). It just means that whatever your process is, it should happen quickly, and most of the actual work should happen on your end. 7 If the position requires a higher level of responsibility or higher expectations for knowledge, skill, etc., that should be very clear before someone ever starts the process of trying to be a volunteer.
- Let people try it before committing
Even if you clearly communicate what it’s like to be a volunteer, some people are still going to feel like they had no idea what they were getting into. Maybe they’ve never been in a room full of third graders before. Maybe they didn’t realize how it would actually affect their schedule. If you let people try something out before they commit to doing it regularly, it’s a lot less stressful to say, “Yes.” It also makes it easier for one of you to say, “No,” if you have to. You might want people try several different roles before they decide which one they want to do (if you need certain roles more than others, let people know). This helps you and the volunteer to know that they are in the best possible role—which hopefully means they’ll stay longer, and provide a greater benefit to your ministry. You need volunteers you can count on regularly. Providing a volunteer “test-drive” is a great way to make sure nobody gets stuck in a role they aren’t cut out for—and it helps keep your church from getting left out to dry. It’s also an important part of preventing volunteer burnout before it happens.
- Follow up with potential volunteers
Sometimes getting to know a potential volunteer might reveal that someone isn’t the right fit for your ministry. Sometimes, they might just not be the right fit right now. School, weddings, moving, job-hunting, and other major transitions can make it hard to commit to volunteering—but those things don’t last forever. 8 After getting to know a potential volunteer, you may also find that you don’t feel like they’re ready. Maybe there’s a maturity issue, or you see or hear something else that makes it clear this isn’t the right time. Maybe you know about a better opportunity for this person down the road. Whether the decision is made on your end or theirs, take note of the people who might make good volunteers in the future. Put a date in your calendar to follow up with them. Building relationships with the people in your congregation should never feel like a waste of time, and if you personally invest in potential volunteers, more of them will become actual volunteers. Know the difference between “not now” and “never.”
- Create clear expectations
The more defined a role is, the easier it is to get involved. Your volunteer program should have a solid volunteer training strategy, and every volunteer should know these three things:
- Where they need to be
- What they’re doing
- Why they’re doing it
When you “just wing it” through training new volunteers, it can make people feel like their role isn’t as important to you, your church, or your ministry. You’re also bound to miss something important. Meet with your staff and prepare everything you want your volunteers to know. This is your chance to cast the vision for what volunteering looks like in your church. You should also make it clear what not to do. Volunteers are not the same as employees, but they absolutely represent your church, and you’re inviting them to be 9 part of your ministry. If someone has a bad experience with one of your volunteers, they’re probably going to associate that experience with your ministry. Put together a “code of conduct” for your volunteers. You don’t need to scare anyone or preemptively wag your finger—focus on the incredible privilege your team has, and use this as an opportunity to share why their role matters to your ministry.
- Pray for volunteers
In the six years I’ve been a volunteer leader with Young Life, not one year has gone by where we didn’t take some time to reflect on Matthew 9:37–38 and pray for more volunteers. Invite your existing volunteers to be part of this process. They’re some of your best recruiters, and chances are they know other people who could volunteer too. Our Young Life staff gives every volunteer a card with Matthew 9:37–38 on it for us to write down names of people who could be volunteers too. There are a lot of things you can’t control. But none of those things matter when you ask God for help and remember his sovereignty. Your passionate plea from the pulpit asking for more volunteers can only go so far. Your announcements, bulletins, and flashy videos can’t change someone’s schedule or address every excuse. But long after your words are forgotten, the Holy Spirit continues working on people’s hearts. Prayer is the most valuable piece of your volunteer recruitment program, and the Holy Spirit is your most valuable team member.
- Teach your church about the body of Christ
10 1 Corinthians 12:12–31 offers a powerful picture of the diversity of the church. Each member of your congregation is unique, and plays a particular role in the body of Christ. This is a passage the church can always benefit from spending more time in, but if your team is hurting for volunteers, this passage is also a great way to show people that each of us is uniquely gifted to serve a particular purpose, and each of us can benefit the entire body. During or after a sermon on this passage, consider whether it’s appropriate to share about the opportunities available to your church. You may want to talk about some of your partner ministries and highlight some of your greatest needs. This isn’t about guilting people into volunteering. This is about being the church. Whether or not people are capable of volunteering, they should walk away from a teaching on 1 Corinthians 12 feeling affirmed in who they are and confident in what they’re capable of. On the other hand, nobody should walk away from this thinking “volunteering is for hands, and I’m more of an eye, really.” There are plenty of very legitimate reasons for 11 not getting involved in your volunteer program, but that’s not one of them. If you bring volunteering into the conversation, it should be clear that there is a role for everyone.
- Help people identify their gifts
A lot of people have no idea what they’re gifts are. They don’t really know what they’re good at, or they feel like the things they’re good at don’t line up with how the church talks about “gifts” and “talents.” For some, the topic of spiritual gifts stirs up questions about their identity. Helping members of your congregation identify their gifts isn’t just valuable to your church or your volunteer program—it’s part of the process of helping people recognize who they are in Christ, and truly seeing that they are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). 12 There are lots of different methods for identifying spiritual gifts, but what they all come down to is this: being familiar with the different expressions of the Holy Spirit and being familiar with yourself. There is no substitute for knowing the Holy Spirit and knowing the people in your church. But not every pastor has the privilege of personally knowing every person in the church—and not every pastor has the time to evaluate spiritual gifts with every member of the congregation. Lifeway provides a free spiritual gift assessment tool you can share with your church. If you can, try to identify volunteer roles in your church that align with each expression of the Holy Spirit, so people can easily see where they fit.
- Appreciate the volunteers you have
Volunteer appreciation plays an important role in a healthy volunteer recruitment program. Why? Because your current volunteers are some of your biggest assets. 13 People are most likely to share a very positive or a very negative experience. You can’t guarantee every person will have a positive experience, but you can do your best to make sure every person knows they are valued. Public volunteer appreciation also gives you the opportunity to show people what volunteering is like and how your church feels about its volunteers. This isn’t about providing some extravagant gift as incentive to volunteer. It’s about showing your church that it’s an honor to be a volunteer, and to talk about what makes someone a good one. Highlight ways your volunteers are pointing people to Jesus, setting up the gospel, and caring for the people in your congregation. Any public volunteer appreciation you do should leave people with two thoughts:
- That’s so cool that so-and-so does that for our church.
- I wonder what I could do to help?
- Showcase volunteer testimonies
It’s one thing when a pastor says, “Hey, you should all volunteer. I think you’ll like it.” It’s another thing when someone you know shares how much they love what they do. When you want to draw people to a particular role, consider letting one of your volunteers share about their experience. This could be a huge growth opportunity for the volunteer, and you might find that their testimony is far more compelling than anything you could say. Help your volunteers put their experience into words. If they aren’t comfortable sharing on stage, see if filming their testimony would be more comfortable.
- Highlight the benefits
14 Your volunteers’ desire to serve shouldn’t be rooted in any form of compensation. But as you probably know, volunteering can be a deeply enriching experience. Highlighting those benefits upfront can help fuel someone’s desire to serve others and be part of your ministry. I’m not saying you should try to accommodate the person who asks,”What’s in it for me?” Highlighting the benefits of volunteering is a strategy to draw the right people into your program. People who have the motivation to stay involved for the long haul. If a desire for better relationships with fellow church members, spiritual growth, and the satisfaction of serving others motivates someone to volunteer, they’re probably the type of person you want to have on your team. Once you get people to join your team, it’s time to dig into the next big piece of your volunteer program: training. 15 Training: The Backbone of Your Volunteer Program Nobody likes to feel like they don’t know what they’re doing. Maybe more than that, nobody likes to look like they don’t know what they’re doing. If either of those scenarios is the reality for people who volunteer at your church, it might not just be a personal problem—it could be a training problem. When new volunteers step through the door to your church office (or send the email, make the phone call, etc.), they’re committing to try something. Some are willing to try harder than others. Solid volunteer training captures that “I want to help” energy and turns potential volunteers into people you can count on. It also helps people decide if something is really the right fit for them. Poor training, on the other hand, dries up a potential volunteer’s desire to help—fast. Just because you have a training program in place doesn’t mean you’re covered here. People learn in different ways. If you’re only utilizing one strategy for training your new volunteers, people who would otherwise be a great fit for your church may feel like they “just don’t have it,” and give up. The more complex a volunteer’s role is, the more important it is that you provide multiple ways for them to learn. The volunteers who work with your presentation software, for example, are going to have varying levels of technical expertise. Some of them might be able to jump into a program on their own and play around until they figure out what they need to do. Others need to have a clear model they can follow, or one-on-one instruction. Whether they’re putting together the slides or running the presentation, the task will require some people to learn and grow more than others. 16 Anytime you have a new batch of volunteers, part of getting to know them should involve finding out how they learn best. If they don’t know, then you can default to your go-to training strategy. If they can tell you how they learn best, it’ll help you make the best use of your time together. In this chapter, we’ll look specifically at training someone how to run your presentations, but the strategies apply to any volunteer role. Here are four basic strategies for training new volunteers.
- “Hands-on” training
One-on-one attention is the most obvious way to train someone how to use a new program, but it’s also the most time consuming. It requires you to give personal instruction to each volunteer, and only you can decide if you have the time to do that. Hands-on training doesn’t mean you throw a new volunteer into a live presentation and watch over their shoulder while they struggle through the service. The best way for them to practice is in a controlled environment—a no-pressure situation. Guide them through each step of the service, and then see if they can repeat the process without you. You could walk them through a practice presentation. Maybe have them create a copy of last weekend’s service using the pieces you had—a list of songs, notes from the pastor, events coming up, verses that need to go on slides, etc. You could also write out step-by-step instructions for them, which is a good test of both their ability to follow and your ability to communicate directions (so you can get better at training, too). Or, have them write down what you ask them to do, so they remember it better (and they can put it in their own words). Whatever you have them do, the important part of one-on-one training is that an expert (or at least someone who mostly knows what they’re doing) is right there to answer questions or provide correction. 17
- “Hands-off” observation
Similar to hands-on one-on-one training, this strategy allows you to give personal guidance to a volunteer. The difference is, this may not require you to set aside additional time for training. Just do the job as usual, with one change: Have them watch you work through the entire process start to finish. Invite them to join you when you’re putting together the presentation for the next service. Pull out an extra chair and let them watch you during the actual service. Let them see everything the job requires you to do. Watching gives your volunteer the freedom to ask the questions they need answered, so you don’t explain things they already figured out through observation, and they don’t feel dumb for not understanding what you’re telling them to do. If you have steps written out somewhere, show them when you check off each step. Encourage them to take their own notes along the way. When you’re done showing them the whole process, that may be the best time to switch seats and let them drive. See if they can follow your steps, but encourage them to ask questions, and wait until they ask for help—don’t preemptively create and run the entire presentation for them.
- Learn, teach, repeat
Once you’ve trained a new volunteer, see if they know everything they need to be able to teach another new volunteer. Sometimes explaining a process to someone else helps you understand it better. You’re not just playing “telephone” with detailed instructions—you’re explaining what you just learned in your own words. 18 This strategy is perhaps the best test of your own ability to train others, and it’s one of the best ways to multiply your expertise and your time. The more people available to answer technical questions, the less burden there is on you. If people know in advance that they’re going to have to teach someone else how to do what they’re learning, they may ask more questions the first time around and pay closer attention to what they’re doing. They’ll be more prepared to perform the tasks themselves, and they’ll be better equipped to repeat the process for someone else. If you choose this strategy, be sure you remove other factors that could add to the stress of teaching (don’t use a live presentation in front of your whole church). Be sensitive to the fact that teaching is stressful enough on its own for a lot of people. If someone isn’t comfortable teaching others, it’s okay to choose another strategy—they might just want to understand the process better before they try to show someone else.
- Independent learning
A tech-savvy self-guided learner probably doesn’t want you to hold their hand through every step of the training. Sitting through meetings or in-depth one-on-one sessions may actually slow down their learning process. They may prefer to learn how your presentations work by playing with the features themselves. They still need to know your church’s process—but maybe not how to use the tools. Who knows—they may even discover a better way for your church use a tool or do a job. These people need a one-stop-shop where they can find out everything they need to know and explore their new role on their own. This could be a page on your website, or something as simple as an email with links to pages, articles, and tools you want them to be familiar with. That’s one of the ways Proclaim makes it easy for new volunteers to get started. If you’ve got a self-guided learner on your team, they can see all our training videos, step- 19 by-step guides to presentations, and training on particular features and processes on our Proclaim help page. Find what works for your church Even if you’re just getting to know your volunteers, you have a relationship with each of them. Get to know your team, and if possible, be willing to try a few different training strategies. If someone doesn’t understand what they’re supposed to do, it doesn’t always mean that they aren’t a good fit—they might just need you to teach them in another way. Any of these strategies can be mixed and matched based on your needs and the learning styles of your volunteers. Use training as the time to give your volunteers every opportunity to see if this is the right fit for them—before your church has to count on them, and before they commit to making the role a regular part of their life. So your team is starting to grow, and you’re figuring out the best way to train your new volunteers. We still need to talk about why people quit, and how to keep them from doing it—but first, let’s make these new volunteers feel more appreciated (so more of them will stick around longer). 20 Appreciation: The Secret to Making People Feel Valued I’ve been volunteering as a youth leader with Young Life for six years. Once or twice a year, one of our regular leader gatherings includes a time where volunteers are recognized for their years of service, and the community of people who support us generously provide a small gift of some kind. It’s something simple to physically accompany the words, “Thank you.” A Young Life shirt, a hat, a blanket, or a mug stuffed full of candy. Gift cards to the coffee shops we call home after countless hours spent in conversation with kids. Vouchers for a free meal at a local restaurant or a service provided by a local business that supports the ministry of Young Life. A couple of years ago, a friend who was volunteering with me was bothered by the gift. It was too extravagant. It wasn’t fair to ask people to thank us with their money. And the gift was too impersonal to really feel like sincere gratitude. To him, the whole thing felt inauthentic, forced, and inconsiderate of the people who have already done so much to support us. I understood how he felt, but I also believed that for these people who only knew some of the volunteers personally, the gesture was sincere effort to show every volunteer that they genuinely support the work they do, whether they know each volunteer personally or not. But my friend didn’t feel valued as a volunteer, and he hated feeling like people had a financial burden to say thank you to him. He’s not an ungrateful person. But the thought and effort that went into the gift and the gesture of physically providing something to say thank you was lost on him. It didn’t communicate what it was intended to communicate. And unfortunately, when we use 21 cookie-cutter formulas to show appreciation, some people are going to feel unvalued every time. People receive love in different ways. The things that make you personally feel valued, respected, and cared for might not mean much to someone else. That doesn’t mean they’re ungrateful—it might just mean that they’re different than you. (It’s still totally possible that they are ungrateful, but that’s a whole other conversation.) My friend feels more valued through words of affirmation—a note or personal conversation would’ve meant more to him than that gift ever could. My local Young Life area doesn’t by any means limit the way they thank volunteers to these gifts (they send cards and seize every opportunity to thank volunteers throughout the year in one-on-one and group meetings) but to my friend, the build-up made the gift seem like it was supposed to be the pinnacle of thankfulness, and it fell short. Making large groups of people feel appreciated is too complicated to try just one thing. The bigger your church or ministry is and the more volunteers you have, the harder it is to get to know them all on a personal level—and the more important it is that each volunteer feels personally valued. This is the only formula to make someone feel valued: get to know them. Learn what makes them feel personally cared for, and then do that. Do lots of completely different things to appreciate them and see what sticks. Note: one of the best indicators of how someone prefers to be appreciated is how they choose to show appreciation to others. As you get to know your volunteers and genuinely seek to appreciate them, here are seven ideas for you to try. Full disclosure: most of these come straight from Gary Chapman’s 5 Love Languages series. While Chapman’s focus is on marriages, the principles apply to any personal or professional relationship that involves communicating you care about another person. 22
- Acts of service
For some of your volunteers, words, gifts, and even time spent together isn’t what actually communicates that you appreciate them. You can spend time with someone you don’t like. You can give things to people out of obligation. You can say things without really meaning them. Some of your volunteers might feel most loved when people do nice things for them: give them a ride to some appointment they’re dreading, or make a meal for them when they’re stressed or busy. Help them study for that class, offer to babysit, or take care of something else they keep putting off because they’re too busy. (My go-to is usually babysitting). Acts of service shows people that they are worth making sacrifices for, that you’re thinking of them, and that you care about them enough to help make their lives a little easier. If you don’t know enough about your volunteers to know what’s going on in their lives and what you can do for them, it may be time to refer to method #2.
- Quality time
Some of your volunteers may feel most loved when someone makes a point of spending quality time with them. Go to a movie or the park, or invite them over for dinner. Bring your families together. Find something to do where you can just hang out with the people you want to appreciate—something that says, “You’re worth spending time with.” It’s not an appointment. It’s not a meeting. And it has nothing to do with the ministry they’re involved with or the role they serve in. It’s two people investing in a personal friendship. 23 When you like being around the people you serve with, the time you spend serving becomes that much more enjoyable, too.
- Words of affirmation
This is me. I’m the guy that constantly wants to know what you think of me. My greatest fear is being misunderstood. And the single greatest thing someone can do to show me they appreciate what I’m doing is to tell me. When someone tells me I did a good job, it motivates me to do a good job again. When someone calls out a specific thing that they notice about me—something I did or said, how I approached a situation, or how something about me makes me well-suited to my role—it gives me the fuel I need to keep doing and saying those things to the best of my ability. People who respond well to words of affirmation aren’t constantly looking for a pat on the head or waiting to be singled out for every little good thing they do. But when you notice someone doing an exceptional job, or faithfully and consistently serving your church or ministry in a particular way, tell them. Tell them how glad you are to have their help. If you notice specific things about them and the way they serve that role, all the better. If your words of affirmation aren’t specific, they don’t mean as much. People can tell when you just said the same thing to four other people. Or when you don’t really know what it is they do for you. People who respond well to words of affirmation feel cared about when you give them personal feedback. When you can identify particular ways they are succeeding or specific things they are uniquely gifted for. I’m a writer. And my wife is always looking for new ways to encourage me to keep writing. 24 The best way she can encourage me is to read things I write and say something about them. It’s specific and personal from someone who knows me and understands why I write. That personal affirmation is all I need to feel like what I’m doing matters. The best way to encourage your volunteers who respond to words of affirmation is to get to know them, look at the things they are doing well, and to say something about them.
For some volunteers, a thoughtful gift says “I appreciate you” in a meaningful way. It shows that you were thinking of them when you weren’t with them, and that you care about them enough to spend time and/or money on them. Whether it’s a treat you baked or a gift card you chose, it communicates that you notice them and the work they do. Like words of affirmation (and really, all of these ideas), the more personal or thoughtful your gift is, the more valued it makes someone feel. A personal gift that cost you nothing can sometimes do more to communicate your appreciation than one that cost you (or your donors) a fortune.
- Cast the vision
Nobody likes to feel like what they’re doing doesn’t really make a difference. If your role is small and you don’t feel like it matters, it’s a lot easier to leave it behind. Show your volunteers why what they’re doing matters. This can go hand-in-hand with words of affirmation, but it’s worth covering in volunteer training, too. Everyone who volunteers for your church should know how their role contributes to your church’s mission, makes your services the best they can be, and ultimately points people to Jesus. 25
- Honor their time
Every time they show up to a meeting, training, practice, or event, your volunteers are sacrificing things to be with you. They’re giving up time with friends and family. Time doing the things that help them recover from a long day at work and the wear and tear of life. Some of your volunteers would rather be meeting with you than at home doing something else. But some of them would rather be home, or would like to get home as soon as possible. They’re here because they care about your ministry, they recognize their part in what you’re doing, and because they know that boring or time-consuming meetings are often a necessary part of doing things we enjoy. Show your volunteers that you appreciate what they do by honoring their time. A couple of years ago, I was with a group of team leaders discussing how long our volunteer meetings would be for the upcoming year. Some of our volunteers wanted to spend more time together so that they could get to know each other better. Others felt like we already spent so much time together, and asking them to take off another hour for an informal social time was going to be a struggle. The compromise? We established an optional hour for dinner and hanging out before the “official” meeting started (which always lasted at least two hours anyways). We absolutely wanted to encourage people to get to know each other better and to spend more time together, but we didn’t want that to come at the cost of losing (or discouraging) volunteers who already felt stretched too far for time. How much you emphasize honoring people’s time will completely depend on the makeup of your team, but it’s important to recognize what people are giving up to be with you. Show them that you appreciate what they are already doing enough that you aren’t going to take up more of their time than you have to. You don’t have to cancel all your meetings and shush all small talk. Honoring your volunteers’ time can be as simple as starting and ending on time, being where you’ve 26 asked them to meet you before they arrive, and not letting your meetings have long gaps where nothing is happening. Clearly communicate any changes to the schedule in more than one way. Don’t just send an email—if people aren’t used to getting last minute schedule changes from you, they may not even check their email. Make sure someone has established contact with each person on your team so that nobody shows up when they don’t have to. As you get to know your volunteers, you’ll get to know the best ways to reach them last minute (which hopefully doesn’t happen very often).
- Help them grow
As your volunteers give more of their time to your ministry, they should experience personal growth—or know what they need to do to experience it. This could be closely tied to #5: as they understand more about why their role matters to the ministry, they can grow in their understanding of how God uses them in the lives of others. Help them connect the dots between what they’re doing and what God is doing. When you meet together, challenge your volunteers to try specific things that could help them grow personally and in their role. Give your greeters better tools for starting conversations, or something to reflect on while they meet new people. Give your tech volunteers freedom to experiment or try new things (I’d start with a controlled setting), or a more experienced person they can work alongside and learn from. Give your worship team members the opportunity to share something they’ve been learning or reflecting on lately—with the team or the congregation. The specific growth opportunities available to your volunteers completely depends on your church. But for most roles, some of the biggest things that will help volunteers experience personal growth are mentors and community. If you don’t have the capacity 27 to personally walk alongside your volunteers, find someone (or a group of someones) who has the time and energy to invest in the people that serve with you. Help them recognize their potential and show them they are worth investing time in and developing a personal relationship with. With respect to #6, giving your team opportunities to get to know each other can go a long ways towards personal growth and ultimately feeling valued. Know your volunteers Even the most thorough vetting process doesn’t do much to help you get to know someone personally. And the bottom line is, if you want your volunteers to feel valued, you have to know them on an individual level. Being on a first name basis isn’t good enough (but it’s definitely a start). And if you’re looking at this list thinking “I don’t have time to do any of these things,” maybe it’s time to bring someone on board who can. Who knows, maybe someone will volunteer? Maybe you’re already doing these things, and you’re reading this thinking “So why am I still losing volunteers left and right?” If you’re tired of watching your best volunteers walk away for good (or you’re worried they might some day), it’s time for us to talk about burnout. 28 Burnout: The Reality Every Team Faces Sometimes volunteers are just going to quit, and there’s nothing you can do to change their minds. People move. They get new jobs or go through transitions that make volunteering more difficult or stressful. But sometimes people quit for completely preventable reasons. They’re worn out. They don’t feel like what they do really matters to you or your ministry. They feel stuck in their role. Or they feel like no one cares if they show up or not. Each of these feelings are personal. But that doesn’t reduce these issues to personal problems or give you permission to dismiss them because you think someone “just isn’t the right fit.” They’re symptoms of burnout, and you can take steps to make sure other volunteers don’t burnout, too. These are feelings you can address before they ever become problems. And if you don’t take measures to protect your team against them, you could find yourself reading an unexpected resignation letter or having a tough conversation with one of your best volunteers. Whether you’re experiencing burnout yourself or you’re simply concerned about the health of your team, these 12 methods will help you avoid losing valuable volunteers. A lot of these methods overlap, but they each contribute to helping your volunteers feel more connected to their roles, your ministry, and the people they serve with. If you’re serious about fighting burnout, see how these 12 tips can help your volunteer program:
- Share the impact volunteers have
29 One of the best ways to remind people why what they do matters is to show them what happens as a result of their work. We don’t always get to see the direct fruits of our labor, and some roles will see more tangible ways they impact your mission, but you can always remind someone what they are contributing to, and how their contribution affects the outcome. Talk about your mission and how what they do each week makes that mission possible, or fulfills that mission in some way. If you’re having trouble communicating this to your volunteers, try to imagine your church without that role. What changes? Imagine your church without greeters. How would visitors feel when they set foot in your door? Imagine you didn’t have a volunteer running your presentations. Who would that role fall to each service? How would you work around it? Imagine that nobody in your church volunteered to play or sing in the worship band. What would worship look like each week? None of these things determine whether or not your church can share the gospel. But every volunteer role has a purpose, and they each empower your church to share the gospel more clearly, with more people, or in different ways. There’s a reason for every role. Identify that underlying purpose—the reason why your church or ministry depends on that volunteer—and highlight that purpose to your team as often as you can. Help them see how they fit into the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:4–30). Note: Be sensitive to how your team responds when you emphasize the importance of their role, and the context in which you share it. In the wrong setting, (like when someone is late to a meeting, or after you’ve just made an additional request) a reminder about the importance of a volunteer role becomes discouraging, and it can contribute to the volunteer burnout you’re trying to prevent. 30
- Give your volunteers rest
If you pay attention to your volunteers and know them personally, it’s a lot easier to tell when they need a break. Your ministry depends on your team, and they know that, but it should also be clear to volunteers that they can say no when life is too crazy. If you make volunteering an all-or-nothing commitment, you’re going to have less volunteers, and the ones you do have are going to wear out faster. This isn’t giving people the freedom to be late or to not show up when they’ve said they would be there for you—it’s about giving people permission to tell you when they can’t or shouldn’t do what is being asked of them. I’m not saying you should bend over backwards for lazy people (although Luke 13:6–9 has always made me more flexible with lazy people). All I’m saying is: pay attention. Sometimes people won’t tell you when they’re unusually stressed—they might even tell you they’re fine. What “rest” looks like is up to you and your team. For some ministries, summer is the least active time of year, and volunteers enjoy a more casual commitment. But if every volunteer role is equally active year round, you may have to find other ways to give volunteers breaks. Maybe “rest” means you celebrate your volunteers and the hard work they’ve done all year. Maybe it means less meetings, or you find a way to give them a day off from their role. Obviously, giving people a break is a lot easier when you have more than one volunteer in every role—which brings us to the next big way you can fight volunteer burnout.
- Distribute knowledge
When you’re the only one who knows how to do your job, that job can quickly become more stressful. This usually happens in some of the most difficult or important roles— 31 less people want to do it (or are capable of doing it), so the burden falls on a handful of people (or one person). They have to commit more of their lives to the role, and they feel less freedom to say no. I’ve never heard a church or ministry say, “We have too many volunteers. Seriously, we don’t need your help.” There are never enough volunteers. But that doesn’t mean we have to look at this situation and say, “Too bad.” Encourage your more experienced volunteers (or the ones who have more time) to learn multiple roles. Or see if anyone on your staff would be willing to give a volunteer a break now and then. When it comes to the long term health of your ministry, your team has to be able to support each other. It may seem like you’re asking your volunteers for one more thing, but this gives you the opportunity to show your volunteers that they can lean on each other (and you) when they need to.
- Appreciate your volunteers
You can never adequately compensate your volunteers for all the work they do for you. And the vast majority of volunteers aren’t looking for compensation. They’re volunteering. And if they’re volunteering in ministry, they’re probably hoping to get something you can’t hand them—like spiritual growth, or a more intimate relationship with God. Volunteer appreciation isn’t about compensation. Knowing that should help you decide how to appreciate your volunteers. Volunteer appreciation is about encouragement. It’s acknowledging the sacrifices your volunteers make for you and your ministry, and helping them see that what they do matters. The ways you show your volunteers that you appreciate them should come from knowing them personally and discovering what makes them feel most cared about. 32 If your volunteers feel like you care about them personally, it makes it more enjoyable to remain in their volunteer community.
- Build a volunteer community
My volunteer team doesn’t just meet together to plan youth group or go over “official volunteer business.” We’re friends. We spend time together because we enjoy each other. Sometimes our “official” meetings take longer than they need to because we hang out and talk about life—even though we’re all tired of meetings and we’re always trying to make them shorter. We didn’t become friends overnight. We’ve been volunteering together for years. During that time we’ve made an intentional effort to be part of each others’ lives. Being friends made it that much harder when one of our team members had to quit. We understood her reasons for leaving, but her absence deeply affected our team—and it was harder for her to leave because she knew she’d see us less. Building community isn’t about guilting people into staying. It’s about developing genuine relationships that lead volunteers to enjoy their role more.
- Provide clear goals
Once a volunteer has mastered the basics of their position, what’s next for them? Doing the same task in the same way at the same place gets old fast. Goals give volunteers direction for growth and can keep “the usual thing” enjoyable. Providing goals can also help your ministry get more out of your volunteers. Goals could be simple, like learning the names of 10 new people each service. Or they could be bigger, like leading a song for the first time, or preparing a devotional. Give your volunteers the option to challenge themselves to grow. 33 When people stop growing, that’s when they start getting that nagging feeling that something needs to change. If you can, you should try to map out a “volunteer career path” for each of the roles your church or ministry offers. Show volunteers that there are opportunities to take their desire to grow even further. Be reasonable, and don’t push your volunteers into the deep end, but keep fueling their desire to help by acknowledging their strengths and giving those strengths an application. “You’re great at _____. Have you ever thought about trying ____?”
- Prevent burnout, don’t react to it
By the time someone gets around to telling you that they’re quitting, they’ve probably made up their mind already. Unless you have a close relationship with your volunteers (and even if you do), they’ve likely discussed the decision with other people before they talked to you. When they get to you, they may already be too committed to their choice for you to change their minds. If your plan to fight burnout is reactionary, you’ll almost always be too late. Burnout doesn’t usually happen all of a sudden. It begins with boredom, dissatisfaction, frustration, or fatigue. Over time, those feelings grow into a desire for change, and then a decision based on those feelings. You can’t prevent every volunteer from burning out. And most won’t stay for life. But if you’re proactive about fighting burnout and you pay attention to how your volunteers feel about their roles, more of them will stay for longer.
- Come prepared, every time
34 Few things are more frustrating to a volunteer than a leader who isn’t prepared. Your volunteers take time off work, get babysitters, and plan around the time they spend with you and your ministry. When you show up late or unprepared, it can make your volunteers feel like you don’t care—or like you don’t understand what they’re giving up to be with you. Honor their time, be prepared, and give as much notice as you can when a meeting is going to be shorter or longer than usual. Those changes affect people’s lives.
- Remind them why they serve
People volunteer for a lot of different reasons. Some of those reasons—like spiritual growth or a desire to serve God—can keep volunteers going for a long time. Other reasons—like “meeting new people” or because a friend volunteered too—won’t be enough when the going gets tough. Identify the reasons why your volunteers signed up. If you think those reasons will help your volunteers persevere, reinforce them. If the reasons why they signed up won’t last or stand up to friction, try to encourage them with some of the reasons why your other volunteers have stuck around—or else help them hold onto those reasons when things get difficult. These reasons are tools for positive reinforcement and encouragement, not ways to induce guilt. Know your volunteers, and pay attention to how they respond.
- Find a mentor for every volunteer
One of the single greatest ways you can help a volunteer grow is to get them a mentor. Whether that’s a more experienced volunteer, a pastor or staff person, or another member of the congregation who enjoys developing relationships with people. 35 There are probably some people in your church right now who are more than capable of mentoring, but they either don’t know it or haven’t been given the nudge they need yet. Find ways to share this need with your congregation—it’s someone else’s spiritual growth opportunity. When your volunteers have people they can talk to about their personal lives, their relationship with God, and how they feel about their role, it’s easier to address burnout before it happens. A mentor can identify the beginnings of burnout, and you can equip them to help reignite the flame.
- Pray for your volunteers
This should be obvious. Your volunteers are your partners in ministry, and your brothers and sisters in Christ. Pray for them. Pray for their families. Pray for their own personal ministries. Pray for their gifts. Pray for their jobs, which give them the flexibility to continue working with you. Pray for their personal relationship with Jesus, and pray that he becomes an even greater part of their lives. Pray that Jesus would give them all the encouragement they need to continue. The better you know your volunteers, the more specifically you can pray for them. But even if you don’t get to develop a personal relationship with every volunteer, smother them all in prayer.
- Train them well
Whatever your volunteer training strategy is, make sure your volunteers are thoroughly prepared to fulfill their roles. Nobody likes to feel like they’re lost, or to look like they don’t know what they’re doing. A new volunteer doesn’t have to feel that way for very long before they’re ready to be 36 done. Solid training is one of the best ways for you to proactively fight volunteer burnout. Know your team Every single one of these techniques for fighting burnout depends on you to know your team. If you don’t have the capacity to get to know the people who serve with you, or there are too many volunteers for you to manage, assign team leaders for each role, and help them identify signs of burnout, too. If you don’t know the people who serve with you, you could easily wind up doing more harm than good. Fight volunteer burnout, don’t cause it. 37 The Great Invitation Volunteering truly is an opportunity. It’s not just a hole your church or ministry needs to fill—it’s a chance for the members of your church to grow in exciting new ways. It’s a way to build community with fellow believers and grow closer to the God who made us. Every role gives a glimpse of Christ and helps advance the kingdom of God. It’s not the only way for your congregation to do that, but it’s an opportunity most have the ability to attain. If you can successfully recruit, train, appreciate, and retain your volunteers, you’ll find yourself surrounded with a growing number of people who have seized the opportunity to serve, and your ministry will have more hands to lift up Christ. So go, and invite your congregation to take part in this profound opportunity. 38 39 About the Author Ryan Nelson is a volunteer leader for Young Life and a blogger for Faithlife in Bellingham, Washington. Ryan has led multiple teams of volunteers over the years and he’s come to know them all as friends. He frequently writes for the Proclaim blog