Church Volunteer: How To Get People To Volunteer At Church [2023]

Table of Contents

If you are like most ministry leaders, you have 1 of 2 church volunteer problems. 

  1. You’re not attracting enough volunteers for church ministry.
  2. You are losing volunteers faster than you can replace them. 

Getting the church volunteer conundrum solved is critical if you want to create a thriving church and a thriving ministry team. 

Without enough church volunteers, too many responsibilities begin to fall on your church staff which leads to even bigger issues like pastor burnout

If you or someone you know is facing pastor burnout or ministry burnout, check out our article: PASTOR BURNOUT XYZ

In this article, we will discuss practical solutions to both issues. 

We will cover:

  • Section 1: Why People Don’t Want To Volunteer At Church
  • Section 2: How To Get People To Volunteer At Church In 3 Steps
  • Section 3: Preventing Church Volunteer Burnout

Let’s get started! 

Section 1: How To Get People To Volunteer At Church

If you can’t get church volunteers then you have what I call the 1st person problem

The 1st person problem sets in when leaders have too much work to handle. Being overworked is like drowning. When someone is drowning their #1 focus becomes survival

Lifeguards are taught how to approach, grab, and even strike someone who is drowning so they themselves will not be drowned by the panicking individual. 

When ministry teams don’t have enough church volunteers, they are constantly scrambling to meet their own needs. Once this constant state of survival becomes normal, ministry teams forget to consider the needs of their volunteers in the continued effort to meet their own needs. 

When ministry teams fail to consider the needs of their volunteers, they begin offering potential volunteers win-lose opportunities. 

A win-lose opportunity is an opportunity that is only good for one party – aka – your church. One party wins, and the other party loses.

But you might be thinking, “how are my volunteers losing?” “Shouldn’t they WANT to serve God and the Church?” “Isn’t it even expected for those who aren’t in ministry to give of their time?” 

It’s this thought process that is at the very core of the church volunteer problem. Let me explain further. 

Consider for a moment, the perspective of one of your volunteers. They go to work every week just like you. Maybe they even consider their job their own ministry. They work hard and go home in the evening to their families where they give of themselves there as well. 

On the weekends their bosses call and ask for them to come in even though it’s their day off. They constantly fight to make sure they have both personal time and time with their families. They often feel that there is too much going on in life to keep up with and many often get discouraged. 

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Amidst all of these pressures, they go to church to be asked by your ministry team to volunteer. Not only this but they are often approached as though they are expected to give of their time (this of course varies from church to church). They are then put into a volunteer position that they half reluctantly accepted and feel obligated to sustain. After all, it’s expected of those who aren’t in full-time ministry to give of their time, right?  

The Christian authors Dr. Cloud & Henry Townsend explains that “love abounds in freedom” in their book Boundaries. If you take the freedom away and expect that people volunteer, they will push away from your ministry. If instead you allow them freedom and value them whether or not they volunteer, they will be attracted to your ministry. 

When people feel they are obligated to volunteer (and feel guilted or shamed if they don’t) they perceive volunteering as a chore (a win-lose situation) instead of an opportunity. 

If you develop a reputation of consistently creating win-lose opportunities for potential volunteers, they will avoid you at all costs because they will feel like you only care for them according to what they can give or produce. 

Would you believe me if I told you that I have worked with ministries that have so many people trying to volunteer that they have to put a cap on how many church volunteers they accept? 

These ministries have mastered the skill of creating Win-win opportunities: 

A win-win opportunity is exactly like it sounds. It’s an opportunity where everyone wins. The church wins and the volunteer wins. No agreement should ever be made with volunteers unless everyone walks away with all the facts and still feels enthusiastic about the agreement. 

Creating a habit of win-win arrangements not only makes your ministry better but the lives of your volunteers better too. And isn’t this exactly what Jesus did for His disciples? 

Jesus added tons of value (wins) to the life of his chosen disciples. He led them into a deep relationship with God. He also gave them a vision, mission, and purpose. He gave them the best education money could buy while only asking for loyalty and obedience. He gave them salvation, understanding, and of course, a whole bunch of fish. 

Here is the critical part so read this part closely. 

Jesus gave WAY more value to his disciples than they gave to Him. 

People are magnetically attracted to the things that add the most value to their lives. When Jesus went out, he met physical needs & spiritual needs. 

I don’t spend much time discussing spiritual needs because churches are usually very skilled in that area. I focus on meeting the physical needs of your audience because this is what I see ministries failing to do most frequently. 

Here are some ways Jesus met physical needs:

  • He gave His disciples fish before recruiting them as disciples.
  • He fed and performed healings for the the 4,000.
  • He often healed the lame, blind, sick, demon-possessed and asked for nothing in return. 

When you create systems that continually meet the needs of your volunteers WAY more than they meet your needs – you will have to limit the number of people who can sign up. 

In addition to this, you volunteer turnover rate will also go down. Why would someone stop volunteering for a church where they always feel noticed, cared for, valued. Why would they quit if they felt you were continually making their life better? They wouldn’t.

In the end, it’s much better for church to make sure they are focusing in on and meeting the needs of their volunteers. If you can do this properly, you will never have volunteer problems. If you don’t do this property, you will constantly be recruiting. 

If you’re enjoying this post, you might also enjoy our post titled: 8 Bad Habbits That Kill Church Growth

Section 2: How To Get People To Volunteer At Church In 3 Steps

Step 1: Find Your Volunteer’s Problems

Create a short survey with questions that identify the biggest problems your existing volunteers are experiencing in life. 

Step 2: Create A Benefits Package

Get your ministry staff together and review the survey results. Brainstorm ways you can solve these problems for your volunteers. In the beginning, this will be difficult, but with practice, you will begin to see how to systematize these perks. 

Here are some suggestions for your volunteer benefits package but be creative and tailor your package to resolve the struggles in your audience’s life: 

  • Coffee With The Pastor: Create one-on-one time with the pastor and each volunteer. Many volunteers need to feel cared for and this time of guidance and advice may be exactly what they need.

 Not only is it a win for the volunteer but if you give a volunteer one hour a week and they are taking away 3 hours of work, then this is a huge win-win for the ministry team. You get to do 1 hour of ministry and you get rid of three hours of tasks you didn’t want to do anyway. 

  • Work Opportunities: Give opportunities to your volunteers first. One pastor I know secures work for volunteers who are struggling financially. 

For example, The volunteer who leads security for the church was offered a position as a school security guard when the pastor was made aware of the open position. Because of his experience leading security in the church he got the job on the spot. People began to realize that the volunteers at this church were being blessed and more people began volunteering.

  • Give Credit: Allow your volunteers to track their hours to use for college or job applications. Let them know that as long as they do a great job, you will be their best reference

As you spend time talking with your potential volunteers, ALWAYS ask what they are passionate about and what their struggles are. Before long, you will be able understand them more fully and you will be able to change people’s lives by creating value in ways you couldn’t before. You will be amazed to discover that most of the time thiw won’t even require any addition effort from you. 

Step 3: Optimize Your Benefits Package

As with anything you try for the first time, it may not be perfect. So be sure to give your volunteers some time to experience the new perks and then ask them what they think about it. What do they love and what do they wish was included. 

Over time your volunteer benefits package will begin to work in exactly the same way Jesus’ did. Your volunteers will feel that they are overflowing with the care you have poured into them. They will then begin to tell their friends how AMAZING it is to volunteer with you. 

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Section 3: Preventing Church Volunteer Burnout

This leads us to our second problem – losing church volunteers faster than you can replace them. 

Many ministry teams have systematized their 1st personal problem – turning it into a volunteer repelling machine

Here is how this cycle starts: 

  1. Churches meet newcomers at the front door and spend time and energy on them until they feel their needs are being met and they are genuinely cared for. 
  2. The church then asks them to commit to volunteering in the area of the church’s biggest need. 
  3. Once the new volunteer agrees, all the attention that previously was given to them is focused back at the front door where the leaders focus on recruiting new volunteers and no longer invest into the old volunteers. 
  4. Over time the volunteer begins to feel unfulfilled, uncared for, and even bitter. They then begin to find excuses as to why they can’t show up for their responsibilities and ultimately stop volunteering altogether. 

This cycle happens because the church continues to create win-lose agreements which the volunteers unknowingly sign up for. As the reality of the volunteer “opportunity” sets in, they realize they will not be cared for as they were in the beginning. 

What’s worse, every time a church volunteer stops showing up, there is added pressure on church staff to get back to the front door and find another person who is willing to fill the gap. 

Here is a video where I share additional thoughts on how this cycle affects your church and how to resolve it. 

This cycle creates incredible stress on the ministry staff because ultimately all of the church volunteer’s duties fall on your shoulders when they don’t show up. 

This type of church volunteer recruitment strategy is NOT sustainable

Consider Jesus’ ministry. The majority of His resources were not invested in the crowds (who often failed to commit to his teaching) but instead with his most dedicated followers- the 12 disciples. 

Jesus spent all day every day investing in his most dedicated followers by giving them time, attention, energy, teaching, training, discipleship, purpose, vision, etc. 

When the crowds went home His disciples did not, and He continued to pour into them. Because He spent so much time on them, Jesus made them more like himself than those in the crowds. The more like Jesus they became, the more responsibility they were able to take on themselves. 

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Jesus raised these men up to take his place when he was gone. They could do more than He could on his own. 

When you use your resources to build up your most dedicated followers – your volunteers – they will thrive and they will build the church for you. 

Not only this, but other people will see your volunteers thriving and they will also want to be one of your most dedicated followers. 

Investing the majority of your resources into your most committed followers incentivizes the crowds to commit. 

Investing the majority of your resources into the crowd’s de-incentivizes commitment because you already gave the best away. 

Closing the back door of the church can be done by stopping this cycle. 

Here are the steps to stop this cycle:

  1. Take a break from trying to recruit new volunteers. This seems counterintuitive, but it works. Be aware that the work WILL FALL ON YOU as you begin to stop the cycle. (But, it’s probably falling on you anyway, so just hang in there a little longer.) 
  2. Focus on your volunteers. Learn what makes them tick. Take time to discover what they are passionate about, why they chose to volunteer, and what they get out of volunteering for your church. Most importantly, use the survey questions above to discover what their deepest felt needs are. 
  3.  Have a meeting with your church ministry team and brainstorm the best ways to meet the needs of your volunteers. Consider how Jesus met the needs of his disciple’s physical and spiritual needs. 
  1. Begin implementing your volunteer benefits package and check back in with your volunteers frequently to gauge their experience (they don’t even need to know you are doing this).
    1. Side note: Give your volunteers 100% freedom. Don’t shame them, blame them, or get frustrated if they aren’t consistent. Say something like “we appreciate everything you do for the church but we want what’s best for you most of all. If you can’t volunteer, just let us know if you can no longer volunteer and we will take care of everything.” 
  2. Use the feedback you get from your existing volunteers to continually optimize how you serve your volunteers. Focus on giving back double the value they give to you. 
  3. As you begin to see a noticeable increase in the satisfaction, enthusiasm, and passion of your existing volunteers – begin offering WIN-WIN volunteer opportunities to others. Be sure you continue to invest in them through your volunteer benefits package. As you continue this – people will begin to be excited to serve your ministry. 

To bring volunteers to a place where they are mature servant leaders, the church staff must FIRST be servant leaders to their volunteers. 

As you serve your volunteers by creating win-win opportunities, providing them with the best opportunities, meeting their deeply felt needs, you will begin to sustain your volunteers for the long term

Thanks for reading this article on how to get people to volunteer at church. 

What will you include in your volunteer benefits package? 

Share your ideas in the comments!

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