I have never met a church that said we have enough staff and volunteers for the ministries that we imagine in our mind. The opportunity to be busy in the church and out of the church are endless. That’s why I’m learning to ask myself a few questions about the volunteer positions I so desperately need.
How have I allocated volunteer hours in my church?
If I take a look at all the ministries I have, and all the volunteer ministry positions that are required for those ministries I will come up with the total number of volunteer hours that I actually require each week or month. It is also interesting to note how many volunteer hours are allocated to a) ministries inside the church vs the community and b) how are they allotted to fulfill each aspect of the vision God has called you to and c) how many volunteer hours relate to services that people attend versus activities that happen at other times.
How many volunteer hours are currently being used?
Based on the number of volunteers that you currently have, calculate how many potential volunteer hours you have each week. A good rule of thumb is to base it on three hours of volunteering per person per week. In some cases there are those who volunteer more and others who volunteer less. Stop and give thanks. If you were to hire for those roles at minimum wage, how much would it cost the church overall?
How many potential volunteer hours are there?
This is a very difficult number to get at. People do not have unlimited time and every context is different. As an example, the average family with three kids will have two working parents. These families might only have a few hours with each other in the evenings and weekends between commuting, homework, school activities, extra-curricular activities, house work, extended family commitments, and often a second job. This might make it difficult beyond attending Sunday services to volunteer, drop their kids off at a midweek youth/kids event, and attend a small group. Of all the members in my church (those who are actively “in” and don’t simply attend every once in a while) is the realistic number of potential volunteer hours closer to 1 hour each per week?
How is my ecclesiology and philosophy of ministry shaping my volunteer demands?
If I believe that services are central to the church I might try to allocate the most related activities and volunteer hours possible to services. If I believe that discipleship in small groups is most important I might try to allocate more volunteer hours to that over other areas. It’s important to do some self reflection about the ministries that each church is doing, the demands that places on those in the church to attend, how that affects volunteer capacity, and how that shapes culture. We often forget that our dreams and visions have real world effects.
How is my understanding of where we are shaping my volunteer demands?
I might want to run every ministry imaginable but I need to come to the realization that it might take time to build. Sometimes God hasn’t necessarily brought the right people to be able to serve in those ministries with their gifts. Sometimes the right people are in church but need time to heal, be encouraged, and be equipped to walk in their gifts. Sometimes I put greater pressure on myself and our church to start ministries that might never have needed to be started.
I’m also aware that our churches have ministries that need to stop because they are taking away from the important things that we need to be doing. They may have been valuable at one time but they need to be retired. It can take pastoral wisdom to help stop or transition existing ministries.
What does my volunteer system look like?
We all have a system. For some people the system is simply asking a person if they’re willing to help out and then put them on the schedule. I have found that unwritten systems are the hardest to find lasting volunteers for.
I find that churches gain greater traction when there is a clear pathway that helps a person get involved in serving. Here is an example of a pathway that works.
- A way to understand the church’s vision, beliefs, and goals
- A clear way for an attender to say “I’m in! I want this to be my church.
- A clear way for a person to find out about their gifts or experiment with ministry options.
- A clear way to volunteer, then get trained in whatever role is necessary.
- A clear way to start and get supported in their role. A clear way to end volunteering, rest, and do something different.
- A celebration and appreciation of volunteers
Here are some lessons I have learned about leading volunteers in churches as small as forty and large as four thousand.
- There are usually too many ministries and activities in the church overall.
- There are usually too many volunteers serving Sunday morning and not enough volunteers investing their life in people throughout the week.
- On average, a Pastors expectation (my expectation) of people’s ability to volunteer is too high.
- I have more than enough volunteers if we focus on what matters most and pace people well.
- Make it simple. Make it clear. Put it on paper. Give volunteers a role description, start and stop dates.