5 Practices to Help You Lead Volunteers

Volunteers amaze me.
Volunteers humble me.
Volunteers bless me.

The local church cannot function without the loyal and dedicated volunteers who carry on the leadership and mission of ministry. I’m amazed at how hard volunteers work. Their passion humbles me and their contribution to the Kingdom is a blessing that stirs my soul.

I could brag on any number of the teams at 12Stone Church, but for this post, let me say that the Set Up and Tear Down teams at our mobile campuses amaze, humble and bless me. Without them, there is no church. Showing up about 5:45 AM they begin to unload trucks with trailers packed full with everything from high-end tech gear to children’s equipment. With precision teamwork, it comes together nearly flawlessly, and then they pack it all back up in trucks and trailers that afternoon. 52 times a year. It’s an honor to be part of the organization called the local church, with people like that!


On occasion, a volunteer can get a bit sideways and cause some trouble, but candidly, I’ve found that for the most part, if we lead well, they serve well!

5 proven practices to help you lead volunteers:

1) Lead with clarity.

Very few things frustrate a volunteer more than lack of clarity. Loving relationships will cover much human error, but no matter how good the relationships, lack of direction gets old quick. Each time I re-read the part of Moses’ leadership story where the children of Israel “wandered in the wilderness,” they were rarely happy and complained much!

People flat out don’t like to wander aimlessly, only to wonder what lies ahead. If serving feels like running in a hamster wheel, going in circles without making progress, that invites even the best volunteers to quit.

In contrast, people will endure stress and difficulty if there is a sense of direction and some progress is being made. Knowing where you’re going with some idea of how to get there inspires volunteers!

The great news is that certainty of outcomes is not required, but clarity is essential. No one knows exactly how the journey will go or turn out, but when the vision is clear volunteers are in!

2) Train with purpose.

When I was a kid, I loved to hunt for cool stuff in the Sears Catalogue! It was a huge phone book sized advertising piece that categorized products in three categories. Good, Better, and Best! It was a brilliant advertising idea.

I think training fits into those same three groups. Any training offered compared to none is good! However, intentional equipping for specific ministry responsibilities is better. And developing people first for their personal growth, along with the church’s mission, is best.

Training your volunteers with an awareness of purpose is important, and a combination of better and best is ideal.

Equipping for specific skills is needed, but that is on the church’s agenda, and the mission of the church is, of course, good! But developing the people, so they are better personally, in addition to the mission of the church, is the best investment you can make. When you help your volunteers live better, they lift the level of ministry on their own!

3) Communicate with consistency.

I’m a champion of the local church but must admit that communication is the one area most churches struggle with and need to improve. It’s a broad and complex topic based on the tension of over-communicating and under-communicating, but for this article, let’s focus briefly on one aspect – consistency.

Volunteers are encouraged when they feel in the loop and know what’s going on. The people who are lifting the load should not be kept in the dark. You may not always be able to answer every question at the speed volunteers prefer, but keeping communication practical, real-time and consistent will help your volunteers know they matter! (And they do!) Here’s one helpful tip. If you were volunteering, what would you want to know?!

4) Encourage with sincerity.

Encouragement is the lifeline to volunteers. It’s like oxygen to a healthy and active body, you just have to have it! We all know that it’s virtually impossible to encourage someone too much, but let’s not be too hard on each other when we get running so fast that we occasionally miss an opportunity to encourage. Instead, let’s take this moment, and others like it, to be reminded of the extreme importance of encouragement.

So allow me to encourage you. First, it’s nearly impossible to encourage someone the “wrong” way. Second, encouragement is a skill, and that means you can learn to do it better. And third, the only way to mess up a moment of encouragement is to be phony or manipulative. So, simply stated, be sincere when you encourage. Encouragement doesn’t have to be elegant or precise, just from the heart!

5) Pray with passion.

It’s always been a frightening thought to me that we can build the church in the flesh, (by mere human effort and talent), but it’s true. Further, when that does happen, the results don’t last.

Prayer brings the life-changing power to your ministries. Prayer is the supernatural foundation that allows your volunteers to effect life change. Busyness in ministry without the power of the Holy Spirit is futile if not foolish. When your volunteers know of and experience your prayers, they serve at a different level, and in time, they also pray for you and each other!

One of the best-kept secrets to flourishing volunteer teams is prayer!

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