There are many reasons why churches aren't successful in recruiting and retaining volunteers, but one of the most damaging may be that we have an underlying incorrect assumption about how churches and their volunteer programs work.
We’ve all heard: “20 percent of the people do 80 percent of the work.” Sometimes those who are in the over-worked 20 percent in the church console themselves that is simply how life is and in the church we must suffer for Jesus.
Though trials are part of the Christian life, 20 percent of the people doing 80 percent of the work in the church is not an inevitable part of them. The 20/80 statement is merely a business observation—it is not scripture. The Bible tells us we are to have 100 percent involvement in the church. We make up different parts of the Body of Christ, but everyone has a job to do.
When we believe the 20/80 fallacy (which is what it is), the result is that the leaders (staff and key volunteers) of the church do all the work and the majority of the congregation members sit back, watch, and expect to be cared for and entertained. They complain if things don't get done and criticize how things are done. They don't grow as servants or disciples.
In contrast, by following the Biblical model church the leaders “equip the saints to do the work of the ministry” (Eph. 4:11-13). Leaders are to equip and encourage. Congregations are to practice their spiritual gifts; they become the volunteers who get ministry work done. The work is shared, no one burns out and everyone grows in spiritual maturity as they practice servanthood and their spiritual gifts.
How we can help turn the biblical model of total involvement into reality in our churches
Your church communications, or lack of them, play a vital role in the success of your volunteer programs. The communications needed to effectively grow a volunteer ministry are more than a list in the bulletin of volunteers that are needed, plus a plea from the pulpit.
If you don't create all the complete, clear, and consistent communication that’s needed to recruit and retain volunteers, don't expect people to sign up or to do what needs to be done. It does take significant time and effort to carry out the communications that follow, but you can either take the time to do them and the time to implement the following suggestions or you'll spend the time doing work that should have been delegated. If you don't take the time to work on effective volunteer communications, not only will you burn out, but your people will not grow to the spiritual maturity God commands they reach. The 80/20 fallacy will become reality in your church and you don't want that!
Here are some helpful tips on how to create successful ministry volunteer communications:
Before you start, don’t assume anything as you prepare to create these communications! You may know what it means to be an usher because you’ve been one for 10 years, but a new believer who might want to try welcoming folks, may not have any idea what is involved. The only ushers they know about are people who help them find their seats at plays or symphonies. They may not even know that the friendly greeters at the door are what you church calls "ushers." They have even less idea what it takes to do the job. You have to communicate all of it.
New believers or those new to your church, may not realize that someone has to make coffee or put cards in the pews or help clean the building and mow the lawn. They may not know the church needs help with web design or social media. From start to finish, you have to communicate the needs, define them, exactly explain how to fill them, and train people to do a good job in them. Here are some suggestions on the communications you need to create to do that:
How to get all the volunteers you need
1. Make a list of all the jobs you’d like to have filled by volunteers at the church.
2. Gather complete information on all the jobs listed including:
Information needed for every volunteer job in the church
Job title, e.g. Sunday School Teacher, Youth Volunteer, etc.
Don’t use church jargon titles that potential volunteers might not understand. For example, write something like “Grade School Age Sunday School Teacher”, not “Promiseland servant/helper.”
Description of EXACTLY what the job involves.
Again, in teaching Sunday school in some churches all the curriculum and craft information is provided, in others volunteers are expected to create their own. What are your expectations?
Clearly explaining what a job involves is vitally important, especially in churches that are growing and have many members who become believers as adults. People who did not grow up in church have no idea what churches do in tasks that seem obvious to those who did grow up in the church. Even if they sporadically attended a different denomination growing up, they might have no idea how your church does similar things. For example if someone grew up Catholic, they may have no idea how a contemporary, non-denominational church operates. A person, who grew up going to Sunday School a few times a year with Baptist neighbors, may have no idea how children's education classes work in the Catholic Church.
Constantly remember that what is obvious to you is not obvious to many of your new members and potential volunteers.
What are the requirements to be a volunteer?
Many churches are very strict on who can work with children and who cannot, as they should be. In some communities, children’s workers must be fingerprinted and backgrounds check done. Let people know up front if those things are required. A person may have done something years ago (shoplifting, joy-riding or smoking marijuana) or something that you may not consider serious enough for that person not to be a children's ministry volunteer, but at the same time, the potential volunteer may have a police record available publically through any criminal record check service and not want that information known in church.
In some churches you must be a member to volunteer in certain jobs. Let people know. There is nothing worse than an excited new believer wanting to do a certain job and to then be told, “Oh, I’m sorry, that position is only for church members… or only men can fill this position….or whatever.” Any standards that are important to your particular church are OK, but let people know what they are before you ask them to volunteer.
What, if any, are the technology requirements of the job?
Will they need to know how to use video equipment? Or any other multimedia tool? If you are using a computer/web-based system to organize and schedule your volunteers, do they have to use it to volunteer? Do they need a smart phone to access notifications and schedules? What if someone isn't comfortable doing that?
Do you make allowances for people who are not computer literate? Do you train people who want to learn?
How long is the commitment for?
One month? Every other month? A summer? Or is it a life sentence? Many churches are finding that more people volunteer if they know they are volunteering for a brief, clearly stated time. If the volunteer job is a good fit, they can sign up again.
When you publicize the length of a commitment, stick with it, unless you talk to your volunteers and tell them the needs have changed. For example, if you tell people they only need to serve in a certain position once a month, but you schedule them every week, because you don't have enough volunteers, that can cause resentment and confusion. Do you mean what you say or not? Do you take time to explain if needs have changed?
Who will train them and what does the training consist of?
Is it a position they can simply show up for and do, or do they need to work with someone for an extended time to learn a job? Do they need to take a class, watch a video, read a book? Once again, we have to constantly remind ourselves that what is obvious to us is not obvious to people who may not have grown up in church. Also, don't expect people who did not grow up in church to automatically know how to do things in the church. It is a completely different culture than outside the church and what is on popular media.
This may include areas such as a dress code. You may welcome anyone, dressed any way, but if someone is a greeter for your church, you may want a different style. Let them know ahead of time what that is. One thing that may be helpful is to think about who might be a role model for them to emulate, either in the church, local or national media, for both men and women. Some churches have a kind of uniform today—t-shirts with the name of the church team (greeters, children's workers, etc.) on them and that solves all the problems.
Who is in charge of their volunteer area?
Each position needs to have a contact person who is available to answer questions, both overall and when they are serving. Who, if anyone do they report to? If they can't come, who do they contact? Do they need to find a replacement? If they have a problem with a fellow volunteer, who do they talk to?
What if they want to quit?
If they want to quit, do you have a kind and informal exit interview process? Do you allow people to simply drift away or do you make it easy so they can try another volunteer job or resume this one if their schedule changes?
It is difficult to emphasize enough the importance of each of these areas of information. If you leave them out, you will get fewer volunteers than you would if you clearly communicated the needs and requirements and you will have more problems and confusion with those who do volunteer. There will always be questions, but with this key information written down, you have something to refer to.
3. Take the information you've collected and get it out to your congregation through every possible channel.
Remember that in this age of multichannel communication, you need more than one way to communicate your information. If you continuously communicate the importance of the volunteer ministries in the church and are continuously reminding people of what's needed and how to find out more, volunteering will become part of the positive DNA of your church.
Start with putting the material you collected from the forms above on your website. Your website can then be the hub that people can always access if they have questions about the various volunteer positions. All of the information above for every task on the website would be a tremendous resource for the church.
You can then excerpt summaries of the information on the website to put in emails, social media, the bulletin, and church newsletter. Link back to the website if people want more information.
Also extremely helpful are booklets and brochures to publicize needed volunteer jobs. These can be tremendously useful for Ministry Fairs during the year when you promote the ministries and volunteer jobs at the church. On a continuing basis, have them available at your welcome or information center.
In summary, to do all I've suggested above is a lot of work--but it is essential. You can't complain about a lack of volunteers in any area if all you did was put a couple of announcements in the bulletin and have the pastor announce it from the pulpit. If you don't work on a complete and continuing set of communications that define what you need in volunteers and communicate clearly all aspects of your needed volunteer positions in every available channel--you will be a victim of the 80/20 rule.
Even more important than making sure that the 80/20 rule does not happen in your church and too much work falls on you and a small core of people, is the joy you'll get when you get 100% volunteer involvement knowing you are obedient to the Lord in helping his people grow in their discipleship service to Him.