For many church leaders, having too many dependable volunteers is not a common problem. Certain areas consistently need more volunteers, such as children’s ministry. Having a reliable rotation of volunteers is critical to smooth operations year-round.
Of course, members should never be guilted into doing something they really don’t want to do. This can result in poor morale, higher absenteeism, or even neglectful environments for children and other vulnerable groups.
Here are some ways to encourage voluntary service:
Make your church members aware of the need. It seems obvious, but unless people are given a direct call to action, they may not be aware of ministry needs. Unless they are volunteers in a ministry that is visibly understaffed, then they will be very aware!
Communicate the specific needs with instructions about volunteer qualifications. Place them in the church bulletin, announcements, on the church website, and in church emails. It’s best to repeat the message through more than one medium to help people remember.
People have real fears about volunteering. A big one is the fear of commitment; especially if the person has no “test” period and is thrown into an area of ministry they might end up hating.
A great way to address (and hopefully absolve) this fear is to offer a one-time, no strings attached service opportunity. Some positions don’t support one-time service as well, like hosting a small group. But wherever you can, open it up to a temporary time so that people can get their feet wet. They might just discover a new ministry that they love.
Make It Social
Position the service need in a way that guarantees the person will be serving with someone they know. It’s ideal to get people out of their comfort zones, but baby steps are important when growing a reliable roster of volunteers.
Tell people they can sign up to volunteer with a friend, spouse, or even their children if appropriate. Or, advertise the service need to already-formed groups, such as Bible studies. A service opportunity where the Bible study can participate as a group can turn into a lot of fun!
It’s not wrong to want incentives. The question is, what kind of incentives will work for your congregation? Volunteer appreciation lunches can work, as long as they aren’t held at an inconvenient time. A lunch directly following service will likely have a higher turnout than a lunch or dinner scheduled at a random time during the week.
Bonus points for offering childcare! In this case, it can be helpful to pay a group of non-regular volunteers, such as teenagers, for a couple of hours of babysitting.
Provide A Gifts Test
Think about the popularity of personality tests such as Myers-Briggs. Translate that idea to the church by offering a gifts test. It should be fairly easy to garner participation, since people love to learn about themselves, and it doesn’t lock people into a commitment.
By taking a gifts test, church members will understand the areas of ministry of which they are best suited. They will be empowered and even excited to dive into a specific area of ministry where they know their skill sets will make a difference.
Make It Simple
It always helps to make the volunteer process as seamless as possible. This also helps when trying to increase monetary giving. Just as monetary giving can be encouraged through an organized and consistent envelope system, service can be encouraged by providing clear instructions and expectations; and especially by giving the volunteers plenty of advanced notice!
When volunteers are given two, or better yet three, weeks of notice, they have enough time to either accept or take the initiative of switching times with someone else. This eases the burden of the schedulers, as they won’t have to scramble as much to find last-minute replacements.
Examine Your Own Service
Last but not least, as a church leader, examine the example YOU set in regards to service. When pastors and elders have a heart of service, it trickles down through the congregation and encourages the body to be involved.
When it comes to implementing new ideas, sometimes it takes a bit of touch and go to discover what works and what doesn’t. But one thing is guaranteed: church members who are appreciated, validated in their specific skill sets, and guarded from becoming burnt out will be more likely to serve faithfully. As volunteer morale increases, regular monetary giving might just increase, too, creating a positive cycle of generosity which circles back to a healthy church body.
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