A strong ministry is often built on the goodwill and participation of individuals. Your volunteer program is an important way for you to advance your mission and run essential services. You may rely on paid staff for administration and church operations. But volunteers may run Bible studies, support groups, outreach programs, and a host of other intiatives that you perform in the community.
Finding and keeping volunteers can be a challenge. By spreading the word about available opportunities and elevating the volunteer experience, you can have a robust roster of people willing to help on a long-term basis.
Why Do Churches Benefit from a Volunteer Program?
Perhaps more than any other nonprofits, churches often strive for a foundation of service. That goes hand in hand with asking folks to get involved with church initiatives. A faith community is fundamentally about spreading the message of scripture. That necessarily involves people engaging with one another on an individual level. It often means getting their hands dirty for the work of the church.
Volunteering gives congregants the ability to see how the church matters to the community. It also gives them the chance to get to know other members of the faith. This type of interaction ultimately contributes to the idea that everyone has a role to play in helping others and helping the church body as a whole.
Ten Key Steps to Recruitment
So, how do you get the volunteers that you need? Getting people on board is important, but so is keeping those who provide ongoing service to the community. Here are some steps that can help you gather those individuals and make them long-term participants in your volunteer programs.
Promote the Volunteer Program
The first step seems obvious, but it may be overlooked. It's essential to let people know the volunteer program exists. Many of your congregants might expect that people “help out” from time to time, but may not be aware that volunteers can have dedicated roles. That level of participation can come with significant personal satisfaction that your members may want to experience.
There are many ways to promote the volunteer program. Include a note in your church bulletin. Have a dedicated section on your website. Discuss the volunteer happenings during services. Let people know who they may contact if they are interested in volunteering. That's achieved by including a contact name and email on your website, and by asking the volunteer coordinator to give a wave or hello during services.
Ask People to Volunteer
It's always great when volunteers come to you. But sometimes, it helps to go to them. Recruitment is often an outreach activity. People may not know they are wanted, or needed, as volunteers, until someone asks them. Approaching small groups of people at church events is one way to put out the call. That way, it's a personalized invitation but doesn't put too much pressure on individuals who may not be able to participate.
You can also put out the call to volunteers in your church messaging. Let people know what volunteer positions are currently available and what they entail. It's kind of like a job description, but the emphasis is on encouraging people to increase their role in the community.
Treat Volunteers With Respect
Some church commentators note the importance of staying away from a hierarchy. Specifically, pastors and members of the church leadership are no more vital than volunteers. That's easy to understand from a spiritual perspective. In the hustle and bustle of busy church life, it can sometimes get lost. For that reason, it's key to remind all members of teams to respect one another.
Reduce Barriers to Volunteering
As a church community, you should be no stranger to the idea of reducing barriers. These come in many forms. Sometimes, people want to volunteer but have family commitments, health issues, or other constraints on their ability to do so easily. The requirement to fill out forms may pose a challenge for those who struggle with literacy. The list of specifics may be long. But the easier you make it for people to join your church, the more folks you can make part of your faith community.
Try to adopt this low-barrier mindset while developing your church volunteer program. Be on the lookout for barrier issues and ask church members to report them. That way, no valuable person is lost because of a simple matter of lack of accommodation.
Develop Different Tiers of Participation
Most people will volunteer for their own sake. Indeed, it is often expected that people humbly do the work of the church. But even the most dedicated individuals need to expand their skills and grow within a position. This helps to keep them engaged and interested. As they become more capable in their roles, those roles should shift to allow them to bring more to the church community. For example, you may promote experienced group leaders to board members. Seasoned volunteers can train and oversee new recruits.
There is real value to this process for the church as well as the volunteers. Experienced volunteers bring institutional memory to the programs they run and to the organization as a whole. Often, volunteers know more than new staff recruits just because they have been there to see how the church has evolved.
Reward Volunteers for Their Efforts
As much as volunteers want to learn and advance, they also appreciate the recognition. This helps volunteer leaders to reinvigorate and revitalize their team. This is important in any nonprofit, but especially so with the work of the church. Faith communities deal one-on-one with people experiencing many challenges. Often the task of the church is to support those who need food, clothing, shelter, and other necessities. This work has numerous rewards. But it can also become tasking for volunteers, who may feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of people who need help.
A recognition program, which can be as simple as a semi-annual potluck or regular “kudos” in the church newsletter, can remind volunteers of their value. Everyone needs to be noticed every so often, at least to know that they should keep doing the good work they are pursuing — because it does mean something at the end of the day.
Both paid and volunteer personnel needs the tools to perform their roles well. Volunteers are often asked to show up at a particular place and time and simply go to work. This can make the program work less efficiently. It can also make volunteers feel like they do not have the knowledge or skills they need to contribute as much as possible. A robust training program can help resolve these issues. This may take the form of online modules, a paper manual, or a buddy system where a new volunteer shadows an experienced volunteer during their first few shifts.
Give Regular Feedback and Support
As much as church volunteers may want to do their work humbly and without fanfare, they are individuals who may need assistance. It never hurts to have a regular check in with each volunteer to find out how they are faring in their individual roles. You can offer encouragement and offer a few words of thanks to everyone. You can also take this opportunity to hear from the volunteer. Specifically, you might ask whether they feel the particular role they are fulfilling is right for them or whether they'd like to try something new.
It is through these one-on-one conversations that you can discover how best to support your volunteers. There are usually little changes that can make it easier for them to do their work and increase their level of satisfaction. This makes them more likely to continue volunteering. It also gives you ideas on how you can improve your volunteer programs in the future.
Show the Impact and Results of Volunteer Work
Even the most dedicated team members can question whether their efforts really make any difference. As part of your church updates during services, or during volunteer team meetings, try to highlight the impact the volunteer program has. For example, you can share stats about the number of meals served at the community kitchen.
This is particularly important for initiatives that don't have an obvious impact. For example, those who offered to assist with moving boxes when the church moved to a bigger location might be hard pressed to see how they helped. You can make that connection by reminding them what the new location means in real terms. It might be the growth of church programs, expansion of the size of the community kitchen, or a larger congregation able to attend services.
Focus on the Team
At the end of the day, a church is a community. That means it's as important to emphasize team goals as it is to support individual volunteers. In all of your efforts, try to encourage everyone to work as part of a team. That means mutual respect, support, and collaboration to advance the common goal. Together, volunteers make a huge impact on the community. Emphasizing that community helps individuals to feel a part of things, as the church becomes more and more important in their day to day life.
Every church has its own ideas about the roles of volunteers. By focusing on the organization's key mission, it is easy to develop strategies that emphasize respect and efficiency. That leads to successful church programs that grow the ministry. You can help your church to grow, one volunteer at a time.