5 Essentials to Leading and Motivating Volunteers

Have your volunteers returned?

As more of your congregation return to church, your need for quality and committed volunteers increases.

However, that might produce a unique kind of tension.

It’s good that people are coming back, and new people are coming, but my hunch is that some of your best volunteers haven’t returned yet.

Tension can increase at the thought of people returning to a sub-standard worship and ministry experience if you don’t have your full volunteer teams back.

You feel the pressure.

However, don’t pass that pressure on to your volunteers.

Guilt is not a good motivator; instead, invite them back to a big vision.

If a volunteer isn’t back yet because of heightened health risks, go slow and give them time. Pray for their health and encourage them.

For your volunteers who have returned to most of their “regular” lives but not church, it’s good to engage in an honest and encouraging conversation.

Perhaps something like:

“We’d love to have you back on the team; you carry an important role in reaching people for Christ. Have you thought about when you will return? That helps us prepare for you.”

I’m surprised at how many wonderful volunteers are responding with “I really haven’t thought about that.” I’ve recently suggested, “How about Easter?” Their response, “Yes, Easter!”

I know that’s just my experience, but the principle is to reach out and engage. That communicates care. Being pushy and using guilt expresses desperation.

You are not a desperate leader. You kept church alive through 2020; you can handle this transition back to full volunteer teams for sure!

5 Essentials to Leading and Motivating Volunteers

1) Clear vision with a positive spirit

Recruit to a vision, not a job description; volunteers want to know they are part of something that matters.

Help the people you serve be part of something bigger than they do on their own.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking all your volunteers will come back at a phone call. Think about how long they have been gone. In many ways, you are starting over and re-recruiting.

The vision needs to be clear and always presented with a positive mindset.

Hope and faith always win over pressure.

  • What is the vision for your ministry?
  • What’s the why behind the work?
  • How will life be better for those you serve?

Answer the question about why they should care and why it matters so much.

2020 was difficult, but we have every reason to be positive, full of faith, and hope in a bright future.

Lead in a way that communicates that truth.

2) Excellent training and necessary resources

When it comes to equipping volunteers, you must give them the tools and show them how.

Don’t assume anything.

Your volunteers thrive when you set the example and show the way, then empower and get out of the way.

The effectiveness of your ministry depends heavily on who you select and the quality of the training you provide.

Of course, that assumes great culture, smart strategy, and lots of prayer.

When great training and the needed resources are provided, the result is a quadruple-win.

  • The volunteers win.
  • The people you serve win.
  • Your leadership wins.
  • The church wins.

Tips on training:

  • Keep it relevant to the actual tasks and responsibilities. 
  • Keep it brief, no longer than needed.
  • Make it worth their time, and be prepared!
  • Don’t get overly philosophical or preachy.
  • Keep it interesting; change up your approach on occasion.
  • Make it inspirational and fun
  • Serve fantastic snacks! (No cheap coffee!)

3) Consistent communication

Few things will frustrate your volunteers more than inconsistent or non-existent communication.

A common phrase from frustrated volunteers sounds something like, “I never know what’s going on.”

It doesn’t matter if that’s exaggerated; the word “never” speaks to their level of frustration and the reality they experience.

From a church consultant’s view, communication is among the top flaws in most local churches. It’s not an indictment; it’s a simple reality.

The church is complex. It exists both in the natural and supernatural realms; it’s led by human beings and can’t function without volunteers, all of whom have opinions. Of course, communication is challenging.

Tips on communication:

  • It’s better to over-communicate than under-communicate.
  • Give grace because you’ll never get it perfect; however, don’t allow that to become an excuse.
  • Keep it accurate and up to date.
  • Avoid last-minute changes if at all possible.
  • Keep your communication creative and fresh, but not so clever that you waste time crafting it.

4) Clear and reasonable expectations

Your volunteers want to know what is expected of them, both in their actual ministry in outcomes.

Communicate specific expectations in terms of every volunteer’s ministry responsibilities.

In terms of results, let your volunteer teams know what you are asking God to do through their ministry. Ask them to pray with you for specific outcomes, both in big picture Kingdom advancement and detailed specifics of the particular ministry.

For example, you want a nursery volunteer to know that ultimately, they serve so more people know Jesus, and more specifically, that parents can participate in the worship service to hear God speak through the message.

Even more specifically, that the babies would be safe, fed, changed if needed, comfortable, and cared for. And again, train them how to do that.

5) Genuine care and encouragement

Even the most dedicated and mature volunteers, leaders included, need to know you genuinely care about them.

Volunteers need to be appreciated and encouraged, from your heart to theirs.

Your volunteers appreciate vision, organization, and training, but your care and appreciation is the fuel that keeps them going.

Express your care and appreciation by telling them, often. Thank them for serving, send notes, respond quickly when they call or text, help solve their problem or train them to solve it, and stay connected to their personal life as much as is appropriate.

Make ministry fun. That doesn’t mean it’s always easy, or the expectations have been dismissed; it’s about choosing joy and keeping a light heart.

9 thoughts on “5 Essentials to Leading and Motivating Volunteers”

  1. Thank you Dan for this very relevant article. This makes it easy to focus on what is important. I also loved your “no cheap coffee!”

    1. You are most welcome David. I’m glad it’s helpful to you.

      I love and appreciate our volunteers and I’m sure you feel the same about those in your church. Their generosity and dedication is truly both humbling and inspiring.

      Surely they deserve great coffee! 🙂

  2. Gerald Polmateer

    “Your volunteers thrive when you set the example and show the way, then empower and get out of the way.”

    That is a powerful statement. Great leaders lead people to higher heights.

    About two years ago my wife and I watched as a mother bird built a nest. Eventually some small birds were in the nest. When it was time for the little birds to leave the nest the mother bird was in a nearby tree and encouraging the little birds to leave the nest until all of the birds finally left the nest. The mother bird believed the little birds could fly, but the little birds were hesitant to leave the nest.

    1. Hi Gerald,

      Thanks so much, always good to hear from you. Good illustration about the birds learning to fly!

  3. Morning Dan,

    Thanks for all your encouragement and insights on shepherding God’s flocks.

    I have a question: if I want to translate your article to Chinese (. I am a pastor in a Chinese church), how should I go about it ? Where and who should I contact?

    Thanks and blessings to you,

    1. Hi Joseph,

      Feel free to use my article any way you would like for your church!

      PS… Please let me know if you received a notice that I responded or if you came back to check. Thanks.

  4. Thanks Dan, I’m the headusher so was encouraged in the communication part of your writing, which I believe is the strength of the ministry and it shows that you care about the team or the ones serving with you

    1. David,

      You are more than welcome. And I agree, communication is so important. Thanks for your comments.


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