10 Ways to Attract and Keep Volunteers


Church growth expert and mentor to over 4000 pastors, the late Jack Whitesell, once told me that for every one active volunteer, the church has the ability to effectively minister to 6-8 people! In other words, the church cannot function or grow without volunteers. But volunteers are often difficult to lead and even more difficult to recruit. This is one of the greatest frustrations and problems pastors face. So, here are 10 ways to attract and keep volunteers. 10 Ways to Attract and Keep Volunteers:

  1. Identify their strengths and find the right fit for them. A volunteers growth potential is unlimited inside their strength zone, however outside of their strengths their growth potential is nil. Therefore, as early as you can try to discover your volunteer recruit's strengths and match them to the appropriate tasks.
  2. Recruit them with a personal ask. Many believe the best way to recruit volunteers is from the pulpit. In actuality, the most proven method of recruiting is still the personal ask. The majority of individuals will say yes when approached personally and are asked by a trusted individual.
  3. Tell them the difference they can make by getting involved. Don't just announce a position vacancy. This by itself is not enough to compel most people to become involved. Everybody wants to know that what they are giving their time to is making a difference. When you recruit someone personally, make sure you tell them how they will be making a difference. Often the best way to explain this is with stories and testimonies.
  4. Resist the urge to be need focused. Don't fill a position with just anybody because there is a need. If you don't have the right person with the right set of skills to fill the position, I have found that it is simply better to not run a program in that area of lack than it is to fill it with the wrong person.
  5. A positive atmosphere from current volunteers will attract others. Your best recruiters are your current volunteers. Everybody is attracted to places where there is fun and excitement. If your current volunteers are having fun, are positive and excited about their current roles, others will automatically be drawn to join your team. Therefore, it is vital to treat your current volunteers right and to make their job as positive an experience as you can and when you do, you will seldom lack recruits.
  6. Effectively skill develop the recruited. One of the best ways to keep your current volunteers happy and engaged is with proper training. There is nothing more frustrating than being asked to do a job and then not being adequately equipped to fulfill your duties. Treat your volunteers as you would your most valuable staff (because they are!) and provide the highest quality of training you possibly can.
  7. Maintain a high motivation of the recruited by celebrating their victories. Catch your volunteers doing something right and then make sure you celebrate them and their achievements! But, I would caution you to reward individuals privately and teams publicly. If you make a habit of rewarding individuals publicly you will create a culture of unhealthy competition among the rest of your volunteers and your efforts to motivated will back fire.
  8. Link new volunteers to their team and supervisors
. Another common frustration among volunteers is problems that arise around communication or the lack of it. It is imperative that your new recruits are clear as to who is their direct overseer. There is nothing more frustrating for a volunteer than receiving direction from multiple sources and being unclear as to which one you are accountable to.
  9. Provide regular supervision of the deployed. A common practice in churches that frustrate volunteers is that when we find a person to fill a vacant position we think our work is done and assume they will take care of everything from here on out. This causes immense frustration for volunteers because like everyone else, they have a desire to know how they are doing and if they are doing what is expected of them.  It is imperative to provide every volunteer with ongoing training, supervision, and feedback.
  10. Creatively reward the productive.
 What gets rewarded gets repeated.
 Volunteers don’t get paid but they don’t work for free either. Find creative ways to reward your volunteers just for the time they willingly give regularly for the cause.

Question: What have you found that helps attract and keep volunteers in your organization?

Training vs. Development

A friend of mine recently told me about an incident he witnessed at a local coffee shop. He was standing in line in the crowded store, when an elderly man sitting at a nearby table spilled a large cup of coffee all over his table and onto the floor, leaving a big mess. Standing just in front of my friend in the line was a young staff member. Nobody moved to help the elderly man, including the staff member in line. Just as my friend was about to act, the manager came out from the back and moved right to the scene and began cleaning it up. When the manager saw her employee standing in the line just in front of the spill, she asked, "why didn't you help?" The employee, seemingly shocked by the question replied, "Cause I'm on my break."

Have you noticed that in recent years there has been a sharp decrease in customer service in society? I certainly have! But, why is that? And what can we do about it?

I believe the decline in customer service plays to our advantage as the church, because if we reflect God's love as we are instructed in the Bible to do, then people will continue to be drawn to our church. Honor attracts people. The problem is, it seems poor customer service has crept into the church as well. Recently, my two associate pastors visited a large church while they were traveling together in another province. They both came back reporting that not one person talked to them before, during or after the service they visited. They explained how that made them feel, and it made us realize how important it is to have a group of happy, friendly volunteers on alert for visitors.  And that treating every person who attends with honor and respect could have a profound eternal impact on their lives.

We immediately began to evaluate our systems, our volunteers, and our training. What we came to realize is that training, or the lack of training, is not always the problem. We learned there is a big difference between a "trained" volunteer and a "developed" person. Let me explain.

Trained Volunteers:

  1. Embrace a micro - just my job and nothing else - perspective.
  2. Favor routine thinking.
  3. Are protectors of the status quo.
  4. Are controlling and directing.
  5. Are threatened by change.
  6. Move slowly.
  7. Identify obstacles.
  8. Avoid risks.
  9. Are system centered.
  10. Emphasize the how and the when.

Developed Volunteers:

  1. Embrace a macro - big picture - perspective.
  2. Favor innovative thinking.
  3. Posses revolutionary flair.
  4. Are inspiring and motivating.
  5. Are excited by change.
  6. Move quickly.
  7. Identify opportunities.
  8. Take risks.
  9. Are people centered.
  10. Emphasize the what and the why.

As we have meditated on this concept and began to focus on how to develop people instead of just training volunteers, the more we realized that the biggest difference between training and development is the WHY. A developed leader clearly understands the WHY and therefore sees the big picture of the organization and will do whatever is necessary to make that happen.

In the story of the coffee spill, a developed employee who understood the company's WHY is to "create an enjoyable experience" for all of it's customers, would have jumped right in and helped the man, cleaned up the mess and made him another coffee. But as a trained employee thought, "that's not my job and I'm not sure WHAT to do," so they didn't do anything. Do incidents like this one happen in your church or company? Maybe it's because we're just training our staff instead of developing people.

Question: How are your volunteers? Are they trained or developed? Please leave a comment in the "Leave a Reply" box below.