Are You Burning Through Volunteers?

The other day I bumped into an old friend at Starbucks.

My friend was overseeing the KidMin program at a new church and he asked if I could meet with him.

Then he made this statement, “We are burning through a lot of volunteers.”

If you are burning through volunteers then it tells you that your volunteers are not having a pleasant experience.

The only way to find out what is going on is to ask them what their experience was like.

Several years ago, I asked my good friend Jim Wideman if I could follow him around on a Sunday morning.

I was hurting for volunteers. Jim is known as the Volunteer Guru so I thought I could learn something by just tagging along and watching him.

To my surprise what Jim did was incredibly simple. He just walked around and talked with people. He didn’t do any work. He didn’t even talk about spiritual things. He talked about Alabama football and good barbeque.

What Jim did do was he made people feel good about themselves, so they wanted to be around him. I thought to myself, “I can do this.”

Volunteering is, by definition, a leisure time activity. 

People can only engage in volunteering when they are not at a paying job.

Our competition when we recruit is not paid employment; it’s whatever the person does in her free time.

So the choice we’re asking people to make is whether to volunteer at church or play golf, see a movie, or just plain rest.

Do people need more work in their lives or more play?

Should we be using guilt to persuade people they “ought” to serve others or rallying everyone around a mutual benefit opportunity?

Fun is not the only thing volunteers are looking for, but if they aren’t having fun they don’t hang around for very long.

Yes, what we do for the Kingdom has eternal consequences, but it’s okay with God if we have fun while we serve.

You need to create an atmosphere that people want to be around. It’s not that complicated. If people are learning, having fun and feeling like they are contributing they will hang around.  If not, they will leave.

How do you make serving at church fun for your volunteers?

Mark Harper

6 thoughts on “Are You Burning Through Volunteers?

  1. Barb says:

    One thing I do is make sure the teacher and a all team members have everything they need, the room is clean and ready when they walk in, they know where we keep everything so the time with the children has less drama and more fun.

  2. Jesse Rothacker says:

    Our kids ministry has 150+ volunteers over three services. It is especially hard to keep our classes staffed because we set the bar higher for kids ministry workers than we do for greeters, ushers, etc. So we have a limited group of members we can choose from, where other teams can choose from more casual attenders as well as members.

    One thing we’ve tried recently is shuffling the deck. If teaching becomes a burden for a volunteer, it’s usually because of the prep-time during the week. So we can offer a nursery spot to burned out teachers for a while so they can show up without preparing a lesson ahead of time. We had a grandparent-aged team that loves teaching the K-1st class, but they did not love our newest DVD-based curriculum when we switched to it. So we are switching them to the 4-5-year-old class that is a more traditional curriculum with similar ages.

    I also encourage teachers to improve object lessons to make them “their own” and share personal life stories that go along with the lesson. And I make sure to keep communication lines open so they don’t feel like they are “forgotten” in their isolated classrooms.

    To be honest, I don’t know how well I’m doing at keeping things “fun” because we always have new spots to fill. I know that is somewhat natural with 150+ volunteers but I’d love to hear more ideas from others on this topic. Thanks!

  3. Linda says:

    Great post Mark. Noticing people for who they are goes a long way in making lasting connections. I have had people tell me that some of the things I said to them, that I thought were just friendly chitchat, were a huge encouragements to them. And that was so enlightening and encouraging to me! Love the volunteering definition, it is good food for thought. Keep up the good work Mark – you are a blessing!

    • Super Church says:

      Thank you, Linda. I realized a short time ago, that when I stepped into church, it wasn’t about me and what I wanted, it became about others. Sometimes the “small talk” goes a long way. To me I was just chatting, but to someone else it made their day. When I realized this, then I could become more intentional with my words. Sounds like you know what I am talking about. Blessings.

  4. Harris says:

    i have just started praying volunteers in and GOD HAS ANSWERED my prayers. I allow the teachers to be themselves . Every now and then i get a volunteer who want to make changes that are beyond the ministry developmental growth. Therefore i tell them if they are willing do whatever is necessary to make the changes so for it with approval from the ministry Senior Pastors.

  5. Jeanne Bowser says:

    We just had a game night which was for parents and children. A fairly new volunteer was the only one that came as parent and volunteer. She and her daughter had a great time!! Along with the kids that were dropped off. The idea for a parent and kids game night came from one of my lead teachers! It was a success, except for parents not showing up and engaging.

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