No matter what size your church is, you likely have volunteers helping to keep your church’s ministries afloat. But how many of you have lived in the shoes of your volunteers? Do you know the challenges they face? The things they wish you knew about them? Why they choose to stay committed to their roles? How they want you to support them?
I’ve attended churches of varying denominations over the course of my lifetime, and I’ve been involved in leading and serving on ministries at many of them. Across the board, there seems to be a common theme amongst church volunteers: we love serving the church but often feel as though we’ve been given an impossible task that Church Leadership (i.e. pastors, elder boards, etc.) just doesn’t understand.
Why People Volunteer
Most people volunteer in the church because we’re called to serve. And the beauty of the church today is that there are a variety of areas where people can serve to fill just about anyone’s “servant tank.” When we serve others through a ministry opportunity, we’re using the gifts and talents that God gave us to help others who aren’t able to do those things. And when we’re doing what we’re called to do, there’s a joy that fills us that only comes when we’re doing what we were created to do.
Another reason people volunteer is to get to know other people better. It’s not always possible to form relationships with people you only see for a short time on Sunday mornings. Having multiple touchpoints through serving on church ministries throughout the month in smaller group settings provides a safe place for people to connect. Drew Massie, one of the Lead AVL Techs at North Woodbury Alliance Church in Mt. Gilead, OH says that he and his wife started coaching the church’s softball team for just that reason. “Getting to know the other players on both our team and the other teams is one reason why we joined a particular league.” He adds, “You get to be friends with your competitors instead of just seeing them as someone to beat.”
Ministry opportunities also allow people to grow closer to God. “We get past the small talk part of meeting people to build deeper relationships so we can walk through life together and grow in our relationship with God,” said Jen Goasdone, a worship team member and small group leader at a church in Elizabethtown, PA.
Finding & Caring for Volunteer Leaders
Finding the right volunteer leaders to lead your church’s ministries can be challenging. So, what do you do to find quality volunteer leaders and keep them well cared for and supported so they stay? Here are some tips from volunteer leaders themselves:
1. Understand that Volunteer Leaders Have Full-Time Lives Outside of Their Part-Time Ministry.
Many of your volunteer leaders have families to care for and spend time with, and they work full time jobs outside of the church. Finding that balance between family, church and work can be challenging, so be mindful of that when creating schedules and asking them to give of their time. I personally had to take a 4-year hiatus from serving on worship team because I worked late on Saturdays and was asked to serve 3 out of 4 Sundays a month. It got too difficult for me to do, and it took a long time for me to want to serve again.
2. Create Boundaries Within Their Leadership Roles to Protect Them from Getting Burned Out.
Find out how many hours a week they can give to their ministry and encourage them to stick to that. Know what’s going on in their personal lives so you can help to mitigate any potential stressors that may come up in their ministry roles that will make them feel as though they can’t choose between family or ministry.
3. Provide the Proper Initial and Ongoing Training Necessary to Help Them Be Effective Leaders.
Some of your leaders can teach themselves, so provide them with training videos and textbooks or manuals to help them learn. “I learned a little about things by watching others do it, and then I taught myself by playing around with things on my own. I’m good at trial-and-error learning,” says Massie. “When we bought a new sound board, we went from an old analog sound board to a brand new Presonus digital board. The new board had a lot of things that we didn’t have before. I had to learn how to use it on my own by reading the manual and a church sound textbook.”
Others will require hands-on training that can only be found by providing them time with a professional who can expertly teach them. This can be done by hiring someone to come to your church or through sending your leaders to conferences and workshops where hands-on training is offered.
4. Connect Them with Other Leaders in the Church.
Provide regular leadership team meetings at times when they can attend where leadership skills are taught and peer learning can take place. “Having more connection with the other small group leaders would be helpful to collaborate and get ideas from each other, and see what other groups are doing,” said Goasdone.
5. Clearly Communicate the Vision and Direction the Church Has for Ministry Opportunities.
One of the biggest frustrations any project or plan can have is a lack of vision. Goasdone shared, “It would help to build excitement to have that purpose made clear. With small groups, there was initially very little oversight and no one checking in. Leadership had the vision, but it wasn’t very clearly shared.” Whether the lack of vision comes from leadership not communicating it clearly enough, or it comes from not having any vision at all for where the team is headed, this is by far one of the worst things you can do to burn out your volunteers.
6. Provide the Proper Funding for Each Ministry to Grow.
“Funding has been an issue; we have plans and things that we want to do tech-wise throughout the building, not just the main sanctuary. It’s all planned out, mapped out, but we don’t have the money to do it,” said Massie. “We don’t know if the one projector [in the sanctuary] is going to turn on every Sunday, but we just don’t have the money to replace it.” Lack of proper funding in the ministry budget only stifles the growth possible and cripples the ministry. Sometimes this comes from a lack of funding coming in, which does make things extra difficult. If that’s the case, seek ways to still provide for your teams in other ways, or let them know that you’re working on a plan.
7. Allow Your Leaders to Think Outside the Box.
Encourage them to bring new ideas to the table to grow the ministries and then let them follow through with their ideas. Massie shared, “I had ideas as to how to show the need for people to be part of the tech team, but the elder board at the time wouldn’t let me follow through on any of the ideas I had because they didn’t want the church to be seen as having a need.” Don’t let your ideas of “the show must go on” impede the ability for growth to happen. Massie adds, “I have a good enough relationship with the pastor and worship leader now that I can talk to them and they’ll bring my request up at the appropriate meeting to get it approved. Or they’ll schedule the meeting at a time when I can attend if it’s something I need to be there for.”
8. Meet Regularly with Your Volunteer Leaders to Check on Their Spiritual, Mental and Physical Health.
It doesn’t have to be long sessions, but regular check-ins can keep your leaders going strong. Anticipate the team’s needs, but encourage the leaders to determine how to best lead them. “Over the past year, the pastor has started coaching calls with small group leaders,” shared Goasdone. “I appreciate that it’s not too directed. It pushes me to grow and trust my vision for the group and plan, not just count on other resources.”
9. Don’t Try to Do Everything Yourself. Trust Your Volunteer Leaders.
Jethro had to pull Moses aside and encourage him to appoint elders to help with the disputes and issues that arose amongst the people of Israel. He recognized that Moses couldn’t do everything himself. But that takes trust. If you don’t have someone in a position to manage a certain area of the church’s ministries, find someone.
And don’t be afraid to find someone just to manage the organization and follow-through of recruiting people for ministry opportunities. “People have really great ideas, but lack follow-through. A lot of women seem to be gifted in organization, so this is an area to empower women to use their gifts to help lead things,” Goasdone offered.
10. Help Them Recruit.
Your volunteer leaders can’t do it all themselves either, but all too often, there’s a lack of commitment from your congregation. Without a little nudge from church leadership, many people will refuse to serve at your church. Either they think someone else is already doing it, or they don’t think they’re qualified, or they’re afraid they’ll be asked to do more than they signed up for. Regardless, you need to help educate your congregation and step up in the recruitment efforts if your volunteer leaders need extra help.
While all of these things are valuable to help your volunteer leaders feel cared for, the most important thing you can do to is get to know them as people. Remember that they’re not machines: they’re human beings with full time lives outside of church with the desire to serve the church with the time they’ve committed. Get to know them as people and build relationships with them. Model what good leadership is like, and they’ll have more success as leaders themselves.