By Eugene DePorter
While visiting a church recently, I heard a young preacher say, “I hate volunteers.” It shocked and distracted me so much I wasn’t able to grasp what he was trying to communicate.
In my 26 years of ministry at Southeast Christian Church, Louisville, Kentucky, I have depended greatly on the faithful, unselfish efforts of volunteers. They have contributed to helping many people know Jesus, and I will always be grateful for their impact.
Most churches appreciate the value of volunteers, but recruiting these servants is a continual challenge. Jesus told his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few” (Matthew 9:37). Where do we find these workers? How do we recruit them?
Don Waddell, one of my wise colleagues, once listed four responses to the question, “When do volunteer recruits say yes?”
1. When the work is perceived as worthwhile.
2. When the work is organized (i.e., workers must act together).
3. When the time demands are defined, clearly understood, and adhered to.
4. When the role is compatible with their spiritual gifting, passion, temperament, interests, or experience of the volunteer recruits.
My experience confirms each item on this list. People will invest themselves if they believe it will make a difference, but no one likes to be taken advantage of. Volunteers need to know the expectations, and their openness to serve is greater when they see an opportunity that fits their gifts and abilities—that is, when volunteers believe the activity is something they will enjoy.
Churches seeking volunteers should consider the following steps:
• Create a positive volunteer culture within the church.
This has been a strength at Southeast. Volunteers are highly valued and appreciated in all areas of the church. When people see others enjoying their volunteer role, they are motivated to find a place where they can serve. It can be contagious. A church that promotes a culture of volunteer service will experience positive results.
• Recruit volunteers with a personal touch.
Regularly advertising volunteer opportunities and churchwide volunteer recruitment drives can be effective, but a poll of our volunteers a few years ago produced some surprising results regarding how they were recruited to their volunteer position.
When asked about their method of recruitment, our volunteers listed the following: Church paper or bulletin (10 percent); new member referrals (10 percent); churchwide recruitment (20 percent); Bible study/home group (10 percent); personal contact (50 percent).
The personal invitation to serve is by far the best recruitment method. In a face-to-face encounter, a recruiter can effectively share the need and reveal how a potential volunteer’s gifts and abilities can meet those needs. The person being approached has the opportunity to ask questions to clarify the expectations. At the same time, the recruit will be motivated by this personal invitation, as he realizes he is wanted on the team. He will understand why the person making the request believes he can accomplish the task. He will have the confidence to accept the responsibility.
• Create volunteer roles with different levels of responsibilities.
The volunteer jobs should not merely be “grunt work.” The members of your church have a variety of skill levels and most will prefer roles with some level of responsibility that coincides with their abilities. Yes, some people prefer menial tasks, but don’t be limited to that segment of the church.
• Create a volunteer care system.
When a church leader invests in the life of the volunteer, she is much more likely to remain a volunteer. Taking the time to talk with her, sending her a thank-you card, visiting her or her family in a time of need, or giving her some small gift of appreciation will increase her desire to continue volunteering in your ministry. These personal contacts are much more effective than the basic volunteer appreciation dinner.
• Create volunteer roles that include young people.
My daughters began serving in children’s ministry when they were in junior high because the minister to that age group encouraged all the kids to serve. When a young person’s heart is cultivated to serve, it will carry over into adulthood.
• Create volunteer roles that people enjoy.
It’s important to match the right people to the right role—and try to add an element of joy. The job might not always be fun, but a supervisor can find ways to make it fun.
When Jesus told his disciples the workers are few, he gave them a hint of where to start. Matthew 9:38, “Ask the Lord of the harvest. . . .” Church leaders should begin by praying for volunteers. God is faithful and will reveal those who can effectively serve. Then church leaders should inundate the church with personal invitations. The more personal investments we make, the more likely the people we are recruiting will volunteer. And then you may find yourself saying what I often say, “I love volunteers!”
Eugene DePorter has been on staff at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, for 26 years. He currently serves as U.S. missions minister.