Moving People from Sitting to Serving

I’ve never encountered a church that has too many volunteers. Most of the churches we talk to are struggling to get enough volunteers in ministries like children, students, and hospitality.

Believe it or not, your church has all the volunteers you need to be successful. But right now, they might be sitting and not serving. You don’t have a volunteer crisis. You have a volunteer development and recruitment crisis.

To put it another way, most churches don’t know how to develop more and better leaders in their churches. We want to help.

Today, we’re going to give you three high-leverage tactics you can use to recruit more volunteers in your church.

Tactic 1: Ask Earlier

Earlier this year, I worked with a church that prided itself on the fact that they encouraged newcomers to take a year, learn the culture of the church, and “heal-up” before becoming a volunteer. 

I hear some variation of this often. Sometimes churches will tell me that they have a lot of folks who join their church who have been hurt by a previous church. With a genuine heart to serve them, they tell newcomers that they don’t expect them to volunteer for at least a year.

The motivations are commendable, but underneath the kind intentions, here is what the church is actually communicating:

  • “Serving at our church will put you at a higher risk of being hurt by our church. So if you’re less involved, you’re less likely to get hurt.” 
  • “Being less involved is a better way to heal than being more engaged. You can’t heal if you’re serving others.”

I assume that you don’t want to communicate either of those sentiments. 

More than this, when you encourage newcomers to wait to volunteer, you are building a habit of sitting. The laws of physics come into play. Once a person becomes accustomed to sitting, they have to overcome inertia to begin serving. 

An object in motion tends to stay in motion. A person who has an interest in your church and is actively learning who you are, what you value, and how they can engage is much more likely to start serving than a person who has a routine of disengaging and sitting. Your newest folks are likely to be the most enthusiastic. 

Therefore, tactic number one is to ask earlier. 

How soon should you ask a person to begin volunteering? Almost right away. As soon as a person has shown any interest in being a part of your church (like attended a newcomer event), invite them to join a volunteer team. Don’t pressure them, but ask them.

The longer a person builds a habit of not serving at your church, the more inertia you have to overcome later.

Tactic 2: Ask specifically

Another big mistake is that churches just run a very generic call-to-action on serving. 

“We’d love to have you volunteer with us!” Sometimes churches ask specifically, but only due to an urgent need, “We desperately need nursery volunteers!”

A better way is to ask them to serve in an area that aligns with their giftedness. 

“Asking specifically” means you have to find out what a person’s giftedness is! A lot of churches are using Growth Track right now, and it’s got this built-in. You can download an editable sample of the Growth Track curriculum from ARC here. In Growth Track, one of the classes is devoted specifically to helping newcomers identify their divine design.

You don’t have to use the Growth Track model. But it is important to select assessments that you believe will help you connect people with their best volunteer opportunity. 

I recommend running two assessments: the DiSC and a Spiritual Gifts inventory. 

The DiSC is a temperament assessment with four types. D- and I-type personalities are extroverted while S- and C-types are more introverted. D- and C-types are task-oriented, and I- and S-types are people-oriented. These combinations of introversion/extroversion and task/people orientation provide four distinct “buckets” that are helpful for categorizing volunteer opportunities. 

Combining the DiSC with a Spiritual Gifts inventory can provide a clear way of helping a person find their best volunteering opportunity. You can download PDF versions of both of these assessments for free by using the form below. 

This assumes some up-front work; you’ll have to categorize your volunteer opportunities by ideal DiSC type and by Spiritual Gifts alignment.

Once we’ve done the background work, when we put folks through assessments in an environment like Growth Track or some other membership class, we can make a more specific ask. 

For example, a person who scores as an introvert who is task-oriented—that’s a “C” type traditionally in the DiSC—AND who has the spiritual gift of administration might be a great fit to volunteer during the week entering data from Connect Cards. No one wants that job… except them. They’d love it! 

Tactic 3: Share stories

People want to feel like they’re contributing to something meaningful when they serve. If they don’t, they’ll burn out eventually and quit.

It’s important to show people the difference volunteers are making. 

First, you need to do this one-on-one. When a volunteer does something valuable (big or small), notice it and celebrate it. Call out a greeter when he has an especially bright smile, and let him know his enthusiasm is contagious. Celebrate with a team of children’s ministry volunteers when a child makes a decision to follow Jesus.

These mini-celebrations are critical. However, it’s just as important to share stories with the whole church. Make people jealous. Share the amazing things God is doing through your volunteer team with the entire congregation.

People will hear these stories, and they’ll want to experience that, too. You won’t have to beg them to serve. Everyone wants to be a part of a winning team. If you show your church how your volunteers are winning at service, they will want to be a part. I promise. Especially if you combine this with Tactics 1 and 2. 

Telling stories on a consistent basis are the “jabs” that make the “hooks” of tactics one and two work. Do not underestimate the value of telling stories.

At the Malphurs Group, we believe you should never have to beg for volunteers from the pulpit again. God has sovereignly placed all the volunteers you need today in the congregation right now. If you start leveraging these three tactics in tandem, we believe you’ll begin to move people from sitting to serving.

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).

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