Three Simple Things to Activate Your Volunteer Base

Summer is a unique time for most congregations. While many members are checking out of their routines and going on vacation, seasonal ministries are also ramping up. As many congregations get ready to kick off mission trips, vacation Bible school (VBS) and service projects, they’ll also be seeking more volunteers.

I’ve served in small and large churches. Every church needed to energize their volunteers. It isn’t just about the work itself. Serving and sharing the Gospel is practicing our discipleship. Equipping volunteers and setting them up for success is vital for ministry. When I was pastor with Lutheran Church of Webster Gardens, we had over 700 active volunteers, which represented more than 80 percent of our worship community. This matters, because as I stated earlier, discipleship and worship go together.

Here are the three most important things your volunteers need:

Volunteers Need to Know What to Do

This sounds pretty obvious, right? And yet, it’s surprisingly easy to be vague with your call for volunteers. This is an especially easy trap to fall into, when you need volunteers in a hurry. When you’re in “crunch time,” it’s understandable to focus on getting anyone in a vacant position so you can keep ministries moving forward. But really concentrate on communicating your needs. That will make the opportunity resonate with the right people. Someone who is wildly creative may not be satisfied serving on the altar guild. A shy person may not want to be a greeter.

Once you’ve matched the volunteers with the best roles for them, spell out exactly what you want them to do. When everyone feels successful, they’ll want to come back and they’re more likely to tell their friends they had a positive experience, which will encourage more people to sign up.

Volunteers Need to Be Equipped with Knowledge and Materials

Before the volunteers show up, ask yourself if you’re able to give them everything they need for their job. When someone volunteers at their church, this is one of many other obligations they have in their life. The more smoothly this work integrates with their family, school, or work schedules, the more they will get out of the experience and they more freely they can give of themselves.

Here are a few simple ways you can make sure your volunteers are equipped:

  • If possible, host an orientation so everyone can get on the same page. This also means all the volunteers will get to know each other before rolling their sleeves up, which can lead to camaraderie.
  • Make sure they have the chance to ask any questions before they start their project. Experts recommend offering groups of people at least 8 seconds of silence after the words, “Any questions?” to increase the likelihood of responding.
  • Conduct a thorough inventory of any materials, books or technology required for the volunteers, at least a few days before they start.

Volunteers Need to Know their Exit Strategy

People like to know exactly what they’re committing to. Look at the following two examples of calls for volunteers. Which one do you think is more effective?

  • We need some volunteers to teach Sunday School in our third-grade classroom.
  • We need four volunteers to teach Sunday School in our third-grade classroom. It takes two hours each Sunday. The task involves setting up the classroom with the materials we provide 15 minutes before the start of class, teaching, and 10 minutes of clean up after. We need people who are able to commit to the next four months.

The first one is too vague. While it may spark interest, many people would still feel wary because they don’t have enough information. It’s not clear if they’re being asked to come up with lesson plans or if you still expect them to be teaching Sunday School four years from now.

Do you want to learn more about inspiring and empowering your volunteers? Contact Rev. Bill Geis to learn more at (314) 590-6204.

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