The Church Revitalization Podcast – Episode 116
Is your church currently able to retain volunteers well?
Losing a volunteer is the worst. Given how hard it is to recruit new folks, whenever someone steps away from the ministry, it can leave a huge gap. Retaining volunteers is just as important as recruiting them.
You might be surprised to learn that one of the biggest reasons people will quit a volunteer role is a lack of clear communication.
Sometimes people burn out, enter a new season of changing priorities, or some other life event leads someone to step away from a volunteer role. But I would contend that a significant percentage of volunteers could be retained (even if on a modified schedule) if you improve key communication skills.
At the end of the day, volunteers want to know what’s expected of them and why their role matters. When people feel like a replaceable cog in the “Sunday Morning Machine,” it’s only a matter of time before they shuffle their priorities and step away. But when people begin to understand that the Lord has called them into ministry and that their service isn’t about meeting needs for the church but about fulfilling their call, volunteering gets reframed.
So how can we communicate better with our team members so that we retain volunteers and so that they embrace their calling from the Lord into ministry?
Three simple habits can transform your team, reduce attrition, and enhance your volunteers’ understanding of their importance.
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Weekly Team Email
I know what you’re thinking. Email is the worst. No one wants another email cluttering their inbox. But this isn’t true. Getting everyone on the same page each week makes everyone feel better about serving.
Confusion causes friction. Friction causes frustration. Frustration causes burnout. Burnout causes attrition.
Sending a weekly email to your team (the tech and worship team, the children’s ministry team, etc.) with specific, timely, relevant information is a great way to build trust and reduce confusion.
One tip is to bold the name of people in the email. This makes it so people can scan the email quickly, look for information that’s relevant to them, and skim the rest.
The weekly email can be simple. Here’s an example sent to a worship, tech, and greeting team:
Example Volunteer Team Email
We’ve got a great worship service coming up this weekend. We’re continuing our series in the book of Nehemiah. Let’s all be praying that the Lord would use this week’s message to live out the main point: good leadership starts with a healthy prayer life.
Here’s what you need to know:
- Scott is preaching, Jenny is our service host (doing announcements and the communion meditation)
- Jim is leading worship, Ken is on drums, Seth is on electric guitar, Amanda is on keys, Chris is on bass.
- Dave is on sound, Kimberly is on lights, Rob is on ProPresenter, and Kris & Gary are on the livestream
- Greeters this week:
- Ned & Sally (front doors)
- Lisa & Harold (lobby)
- Keith & Fred (parking lot)
- Sam (Connection Point booth)
Quick note: Last week half of the greeters forgot to put lanyards on. Don’t forget to grab those before our greeting huddle. It helps newcomers know who is there to help and answer questions. Thanks in advance!
This week’s key announcements:
- Growth Track starts NEXT Sunday at 10am
- Christmas Carols and Hot Cocoa Night is December 19 at 6pm — asking each person to bring one neighbor or coworker—we’ll have a free Christmas gift for each family that attends
The work you’re doing matters and is making a difference. I appreciate everything you do for the Lord, and don’t forget that every Sunday is someone’s first Sunday and the impression you make can make an eternal difference. Keep up the good work!
P.S. The Cue Sheet from Planning Center is attached.”
Ok—why did I write out that whole sample email? Because I want you to see how simple it can be. Simple information can make the difference between confusion and clarity. Over time, showing up for your folks with clear and consistent communication will build trust and engender a deep sense of connection to your ministry. If you want to retain volunteers at your church, make sure everyone has the information they need.
Stand-up Volunteer Meeting
You sent a weekly email. You got everyone on the same page. Job done, right? Wrong. Every week you should host a 5-minute stand-up meeting. Prior to the service (or whatever volunteer opportunity where you have a handful of volunteers serving together), meet up to review the information from your weekly email and to pray together.
This is one more chance to make sure everyone is clear on their roles and a chance to give feedback. If you’re a church with more than one service, you should huddle up before each service—even if it’s the same team (i.e. the same band playing in more than one service). These stand-up meetings or huddles are an excellent way to give timely feedback and build team cohesion.
Imagine as a greeter coming together with other greeters before the service and praying for the guests that will come through the door. Isn’t that so much better than simply showing up and going to your post? Does it take planning and intentionality? Yes. But these short meetings help your people understand that they aren’t just doing a job—they’re fulfilling their calling to make and mature disciples.
Individual Contact With Volunteers
Surely by now, people have heard enough from you, right? They get a weekly email, they go to a stand-up meeting on the weeks that they serve—that’s enough, right? No. Your volunteers need to hear from you directly from time to time. Encourage them. Notice their hard work and give them specific praise. If they’re dropping the ball on things, it’s good to gracefully call them out, too!
When you take the time to care about people and their service, you reinforce the reality that they aren’t just a replaceable cog in the machine. You know them, see them, and care for them.
Don’t neglect the power of honor. Recognizing your volunteers at the individual level goes a long way to build trust and retain volunteers.
None of these tips are revolutionary. They’re free. They aren’t difficult. But in my years of ministry, I’ve noticed that the majority of churches don’t consistently do all three of these things—and they pay the price in volunteer attrition. They may do one or another of these habits, or do them irregularly. But if you want to retain volunteers at your church, the key is clear and consistent communication.
Show up for your team in the way you communicate and support them, and they’re unlikely to step away from the ministry barring an external factor neither of you can control.
BONUS: Get a free Team Discussion Guide in the video description on YouTube.
Scott Ball is the Vice President and a Lead Guide with The Malphurs Group. He lives in East Tennessee with his wife and two children. (Email Scott).