Behind the successful operation of every church, you will find one primary attribute: a thriving team of volunteers.
Imagine attending church this coming weekend and not a single volunteer showed up.
There would be no worship music.
There would be no production team to stream service, get mics to work, or complete the lost list of other tasks that this team handles.
There would be no smiling face at the door to welcome you.
There may not even be lights on!
Without the help of volunteers, churches simply cannot function as smoothly. While churches may get by with just a few helping hands, the necessity of a healthy volunteer base is crucial.
But right now in the church, we are having a volunteer epidemic.
During the pandemic, volunteerism plummeted. Because most churches weren’t meeting physically for a season, volunteers were not needed to do the tasks necessary for the operations in the church building. Other volunteers, such as worship team members, production, and online campus volunteers, became more important than ever before. However, volunteering looked completely different in 2020.
We are almost 3 years out from the beginning of the pandemic and volunteer numbers have been decreasing since it hit. To give you an idea, 44% of Americans reported that they volunteered at a church organization in 2017 (pre-pandemic). In 2020, that number decreased to 38%, and as of 2021, it sat at 35%.
This decrease may make sense considering that overall attendance has decreased since the pandemic. However, as attendance begins to level out (with a hopeful increase), the volunteer numbers don’t seem to be catching up.
There are a thousand different reasons why people may not be volunteering anymore or are unwilling to begin volunteering. While the pandemic was a major reason for the shortage, there are other concerns we want to address. To solve the church volunteer epidemic, we need to identify the hindrance to volunteering and offer some practical solutions to combat them.
While some people may naturally be inclined to want to serve at church, this is not the case for every single person in your congregation. Oftentimes the thing that affects our volunteer teams from growing is a lack of understanding of the purpose of serving.
Take some time to teach your congregation about why we serve before even making the ask to serve. Demonstrate to them the heart of Jesus, the meek servant, who willingly humbles himself to serve those around Him. If our aim is to be like Christ, serving our community is a great way to become more like Him!
This heart for service must be one that is tended to within our churches. When we begin to see the “why behind the what” it makes doing the “what” much more possible and meaningful.
Another hindrance to volunteering in your congregation is that people don’t know what they’re getting into. They may wonder:
Will it take a lot of special training?
Do I have to show up at church 3 hours early?
Will it take a lot of time out of my schedule?
Am I qualified to even serve at all?
These are very real questions we have all had at one point or another regarding volunteering. A simple way to address these questions is by hosting a volunteer interest meeting. During this meeting, you can give potential volunteers an overview of what the life of a volunteer looks like and you can also practically answer their questions.
This meeting can be a great opportunity to get a feel for those interested in volunteering and even connect current volunteers with those checking it out.
Speaking of connection, there are few things more relatable than a personal testimonial.
Just think about searching for a new restaurant. Yes, you could look at the restaurant's website and online menu, or you could get the personal, unfiltered experience of a real-life patron.
A personal story is engaging and can seem much more authentic than just a rundown of how church volunteering functions.
Have your current church volunteers share their personal experiences with volunteering. They can share what they do, why they decided to volunteer, and how it has affected their relationship with Christ and the church. These stories in and of themselves may be used to answer some of the questions that potential volunteers may have.
We are all just like Liam Neeson — we all have “a particular set of skills.” They may be used to take down bad guys in Europe, but they can be used in our church community!
One major mistake we can make is filling volunteer positions just for the sake of it. While there is no question there are needs that need to be met, we must be willing to find the right people to fill those needs. Just filling a position is not enough, we must get to know the heart and passion of each volunteer.
This all comes down to a simple conversation! You may find through a short coffee meeting that someone in your church is going to school for graphic design and wants to be a social media content creator for a living. You may meet a girl who has a passion for administration and currently works as a secretary. You may even overhear someone singing during worship and realize they’d be great on the team.
These personal encounters help us get to know our volunteers as much more than individuals meeting a need. They are real people with passions, skills, and callings who can learn to cultivate these areas through volunteering!
If you want to see your volunteer teams grow and thrive, it is wise to ensure that the teams that already exist are healthy and whole. If there are major issues and unresolved problems within your already existing team, it wouldn’t be the best idea to bring in a brand-new volunteer.
Tending to our volunteer community is essential if we want to not only see success but also empower these volunteers to graft others in and do their jobs with passion. Practical ways you can do this is by doing occasional check-ins with your volunteers. You can host individual team meetings and or one-on-one conversations. Whatever is best for you, but just make sure communication is open and healthy.
On a less serious note, you can also tend to your volunteer community by just having a bit of fun! Have your team's connect by having game nights, group activities, and brainstorming sessions together.
In the end, volunteer teams are meant to be a thriving community in and of themselves. There is a unique bond possible when you choose to volunteer. Ensuring the health of this bond will make others want to join the community too!
Depending on your church, your volunteer sign-up process may look different. Some churches may choose to employ a “volunteer class” where volunteers are walking through the ins and outs of church service in a classroom format. While this isn’t always 100% necessary, it is a good opportunity to get to know prospective volunteers better.
Aside from this “volunteer 101” option, volunteer sign-up should not be a complicated process. Migrating all of your volunteer info to a digital format can be helpful both to keep it concise and make it simple for potential volunteers.
On your website particularly, you should have an informational volunteer page. This page can include:
The page should make it simple for prospective volunteers to see where they can serve and give them an action step to go for it!
This point may seem cliche but it is the most important step we can take to solve the church volunteer epidemic. In Matthew 9, we read this about Jesus:
“When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
The lack of workers in the Kingdom is not a unique problem to just our time, it was an issue even when Jesus was doing His ministry on earth. Although it is a real issue, Jesus offers a solution for us: pray to the Lord of the harvest!
It is ultimately God alone who causes our churches (and volunteer teams!) to exist. Without Him, we can do nothing. Above all else, we must seek the ways and provision of God if we want to see our churches grow and thrive!
While current volunteer numbers are lower than ever, we do not have to lose heart. There are still so many passionate people who love Jesus and want to serve His Church. Our only jobs are to cultivate the heart of service, get to know each prospective volunteer, make serving a breeze, and pray for God to send the workers.
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