What Is Keeping Volunteers From Volunteering?
By Teena Stewart
It has been said that 90 percent of church work is done by 10 percent of the workers. Most church leaders would likely agree that this appears to be the case. When was the last time you had enough people to chaperone a youth group outing or enough volunteers to take care of the overflow of clerical work in the church office? If you are like most church leaders, you may even struggle to find enough greeters for weekend worship services.
During a recent spiritual gifts and ministry discovery class, course leaders asked students: What is keeping volunteers from volunteering? Below are their insights coupled with my own that I gained from serving as a volunteer and as a volunteer ministry director.
People fail to get involved because:
They Are Unaware Of The Need
Church leaders assume church members know about ministry vacancies and opportunities. Staff members are usually in the inner circle of church operations and know where volunteers are needed, while those on the outside of the circle are often left guessing. Do not assume people know what you know. Broadcast needs frequently. Keep promoting them. Print ministry opportunities in programs, post them in e-mails, announce them from the pulpit, and put them on bulletin boards. Publicizing the need for volunteers should become a habit.
They Do Not Know What Their Gifts Are
When people are not sure of their abilities and gifts it is hard to know where to serve. Spiritual gifts and ministry discovery courses help people assess their gifts and learn the best way to use them for ministry. Understanding spiritual gifts is important, but it is just a piece of the puzzle. It is also important to identify the skills, talents, and experiences individuals have so they understand how to use them in ministry. All these go into the development of the whole person and together they make up a valuable package. If you do not already have such a class in place, consider starting one so church members can learn how they are best equipped to serve and, more importantly, where they should be serving.
They Do Not Know How To Get Connected
If you already have a gifts discovery or ministry assessment course in place, you are on the right track. But what do you do with class graduates after the course? You can increase the chance of connecting them with ministry by creating a contact list of ministry leaders and the ministry areas they oversee. Make sure to include phone numbers and e-mails so prospective volunteers can notify them of their interests in serving.
They Think Paid Staff Is Handling Everything
The associate pastor of a large church asked several new Christians to share their testimonies during the worship service. One man nervously agreed and then asked, “Is it okay if I read a psalm afterwards?”
Rattled, the pastor groped for words, but before he could respond, the man continued, “If it’s okay with you, I’d like to read from the 23rdPsalm.”
That capsulates the challenge many churches are facing. Being raised in church and volunteering in ministry from an early age was once the norm; these days it is the exception. Many current church attendees never even set foot in church until adulthood. They are biblically illiterate and unfamiliar with how to play church. They have no concept of how a church operates because they have never participated in church ministry. Things appear be running smoothly without them so it never occurs to them that they should become anything more than spectators.
They Are Burned Out And Unappreciated
One surefire way to prevent being over used as a volunteer is to do a bad job. You will not be asked to volunteer in that capacity again. But if you do an adequate to excellent job, look out. You will be in demand. The more dedicated you are to the ministry of the church, the more you risk burnout. In some cases volunteers are responsible for their own burnout because they do not know how to say no. But sometimes church leaders are to blame because they keep returning to the people they know they can trust. It is so convenient and comfortable to use someone who is tried and proven. Why seek out new workers?
Before asking a volunteer to serve, find out where he is already serving. Look for new people who are not already ministering somewhere. Allow existing volunteers to move around in ministry, so they do not work in the same roles year after year. Give them permission to take a break from volunteering and do not just ask them to do more when they do a good job. Stop and say thank you. It can mean the difference between keeping someone connected in ministry and losing him completely.
They Do Not Have Time
This remains a huge challenge with our over-busy society. Parents come home from their day jobs to a slew of additional responsibilities, such as soccer practice or school activities. There is little time for anything else. Emphasize the importance of setting priorities to congregational members so they understand that God should not get the leftovers. Stress the importance of saying no to excessive activities. Once they understand the importance of prioritizing, they will be more likely to have time for Christian service.
Fear Of Failure
Those who have not been exposed to church ministry before are reluctant to volunteer because they fear failure. Serving in ministry is a new idea and they are afraid they will not do the job correctly. Assure volunteers that they will receive training for the position in which they will serve, and then make sure training happens. Appoint a leader over each ministry area to be available to answer any questions and address any needs. Allow volunteers to wade in slowly. Assign them simple tasks and then increase those responsibilities when you see that they are ready.
They Are Waiting To Be Asked
We often do not have because we do not ask. One of the most obvious and overlooked reasons for why people fail to volunteer is because they are waiting for someone to ask them. You can promote volunteer opportunities through printed bulletins, announcements, drama and multimedia presentations, but the most effective way is to ask one-on-one. The personal approach works best and volunteers are often the best at recruiting other volunteers.
People fail to volunteer for many different reasons. But the better we understand why people avoid service, the better chance we have of incorporating these members into the Body so they become active participants. Leaders must learn to recognize, communicate with, and help them see their value as potential ministers. When this happens, barriers start to give way, enabling more people to become wholehearted ministers for Christ.