10 Tips For Leading Church Volunteers

Much has been written about volunteers and their service, Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” and William Shakespeare famously said “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.”  Volunteers are the lifeblood of many successful organizations, without volunteer businesses like Habitat for Humanity, the United Way and the American Red Cross to name a few, would likely not serve in the capacity and scale that they do today. 

Just like these corporations, any church that wants to be successful, must have a strong volunteer corps - those people that make the church move and work by their service. And this service is amplified in a ministry as vital as the church safety and security ministry. Without volunteers to watch-guard and protect the flock while attendees worship and while the church performs its mission, evil may enter and prevail on any given day. This is why it is so vital that leaders of volunteers keep volunteers motivated to ensure they are willing to continue helping. The happier volunteers are, the more productive they will be.

Volunteers that aren’t led and fed properly may make up their own minds on what they will believe or how they will act.

Keeping volunteers motivated and productive is easier said than done in many instances. Groups of volunteers might all perform similar tasks, but each person is an individual and what motivates one won’t necessarily motivate another. Volunteers that aren’t led and fed properly may make up their own minds on what they will believe or how they will act. Have you ever felt any of these motivations when you were a volunteer: 

  • I do what I want because they aren't paying me.

  • When I don't feel like showing up, someone else can take my place.

  • I can do as little as I want.

  • I can say "no" to the pastor.

  • I get keys to the building.

  • I have the position of unchecked authority.

Guiding and leading volunteers and team members in a positive manner is important. Positive motivation includes rewarding volunteers for positive results and performances. As Simon Sinek, British-American author and motivational speaker says, "When people are financially invested, they want a return. When people are emotionally invested, they want to contribute."

Here are ten tips for keeping your volunteers

motivated and happy


Build Real Relationships

 Individual relationships are what connect us to an organization or a business. Everyone says that “business is all about relationships,” and the same is true when discussing volunteers and their relationships within the church. Think about group activities that you enjoy, maybe it’s camping or motorcycle riding whatever it is, you tend to prioritize activities and events where you connect with the people involved; the activity has more to do with who’s involved than what’s involved. Developing a loyal, dedicated volunteer that is motivated and engaged requires taking the time up-front to develop a real relationship. By making a personal connection through initial conversation or casual meeting you will be laying the groundwork for a volunteer that not only supports the organization but also helps recruit others.


Two Ears, One Mouth

The noted Greek philosopher Epictetus said, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” To help a volunteer make a deep connection with your ministry, listen carefully for what matters to them. Connect with them by listening so you can understand their underlying values and motivations, the things that matter to them and keep them engaged in your ministry.  By doing this, by hearing what matters to them, you show them that you feel that they are a priority and therefore they will make you and your ministry a priority. With so many other competing priorities in their lives, volunteers need to feel anchored and the easiest way to do that is to simply use the two ear and one mouth approach. Listen to: What kind of impact do they want to have? What matters most to them? Why are they volunteering?


Clearly Define Roles & Expectations

Volunteers are most effective in carrying out their responsibilities when roles and expectations are made abundantly clear. Without clarity, both the volunteer and the ministry operate on assumptions, which inevitably lead to misunderstandings or mismatches between expectations and actual results. Ministries have a tendency to water down or sugarcoat the expectations. There is a fear that the volunteer will be scared away if we tell them the negative side of the ministry. By not exposing the drawbacks along with the benefits, there is less engagement, less satisfaction and less mission as well as personal success. Good leaders of volunteers carefully find out how much time volunteers can offer, determine in what capacity, and then clearly define roles and expectations in an upfront and honest way.


Connect Them to the Mission

 Once you understand what a volunteer values, your next goal is to find an agreement between their goals and motivations and your ministry’s mission. Personal discussion as described above, helps the volunteer connect the dots between the impact they would like to make and your ministry’s needs and purpose. By zeroing-in on preferred connections, you help direct the volunteer’s time and talents to areas where they find the most resonance. That will help ensure they become a reliable, hopefully lifelong, advocate for you and your ministry.


 Look past the Sale for True Commitment

 It’s foolish to assume that, once we’ve connected with a volunteer and agreed-upon roles and expectations, we have a solid commitment from them. We don’t want to fall into a trap of being in such a need for volunteers that we quick-sell our ministry to them just to get them plugged-in and going. As a leader of volunteers you need to ask for, and then receive, a clear and intentional “yes” to the proposed role, responsibilities and expectations. If you get an “I think that sounds good,” then that’s not a clear “yes.” At that point, investigate and ask probing questions, try to figure out where the hesitation is coming from. Something likely still needs to be discussed or negotiated about the role in order to get a definite “yes, I will do that.”


 Create a Shared Vision

 Once you have volunteers on board for your ministry, you can gain further ownership and buy-in through collaborating on a shared vision for the future. If you already have a vision statement (see our lesson on mission and vision statements) this is a great time to share this with them and explain it. If you haven’t designed a vision statement yet, this is a great time to sit with your team of volunteers and design one for your ministry. This gives them a feeling or sense of ownership. Creating a vision for the future (whether that’s 6 months or a year from now, or longer) gives everyone a target. And coming up with it together is the best way to get the deepest buy-in and commitment. Vision statements made without regard for the people that are responsible for the success of the vision usually fail to motivate those involved with making it a reality.


 Delegate and Empower

 In any ministry, it can be scary to let go of control, especially when you’re handing it to a volunteer and not a paid employee. But, if you have laid the right groundwork, with good recruiting, good training and have good plans, policies, and procedures, then delegating and empowering should be easy. In fact, delegating and empowering your volunteers is a way to keep them truly engaged. This doesn’t mean you should be totally hands-off, especially if you sense that something isn’t getting done. But, by resisting the urge to jump in and save the day, problematic situations become terrific opportunities to support and mentor your volunteers, and to continue the important ongoing discussion about expectations and commitment level.


 Maintain Contact & Provide Support

 Just like delegate and empower above, ongoing communication will be a key to success. Leaders need to stay in proactive communication with their volunteers at regular intervals in order to establish where they may be struggling or need support. No volunteer wants to feel like they are on an island, left on their own, without the proper resources, coaching, connections or overall support. Just remember, there is a delicate balance to achieve: you must provide support while still empowering your volunteers to make things happen themselves. Resist the urge to “set and forget” your volunteers. Just because they don’t squeak doesn’t mean they don’t need grease.


 Respect Time

 Nothing makes volunteers feel frustrated and annoyed more than wasting their time. It’s important for meetings to start and end when expected. Another annoyance is when someone hijacks the discussion, focusing on minor topics or personal anecdotes that don’t apply. Be sure the conversation isn’t all about you, and honor the agenda the leaders have set. Whether you are a volunteer or a volunteer leader, remember, everyone’s time is valuable. Also, respect shift schedules as much as possible. A volunteer that is constantly asked to stay late or come early may get burned out or frustrated and be lost as a volunteer forever.


Appreciate & Reward

 If you are a leader of volunteers, this is especially important to remember. Use your words and actions to thank those with whom you serve. Set aside time to write notes and send emails and texts of encouragement. Become a master at noticing all the great things the people on your team do and acknowledging them, both privately and publicly. Remember: Praise in public, correct in private. While there are some situations where you may need to correct a volunteer publicly (to prevent injury, to stop illegal behavior or to address an immediate crisis, etc.), these are uncommon occurrences. And, even in these situations, you can stop the offending behavior and then remove the volunteer to a private setting to address their actions more thoroughly with them in private. Correcting volunteers privately, has proven that volunteers perform better over time. It is effective leadership.

Resist the urge to “set and forget” your volunteers. Just because they don’t squeak doesn’t mean they don’t need grease.

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Reflect on these points often and keep them in mind as you serve. In doing this you will develop a ministry team with healthy and happy volunteers, one that attracts new volunteers to your group. 


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Comments on 10 Tips For Leading Church Volunteers

  1. Randy Harris says:

    Thank you for addressing this important topic. While I use some of these ten I have gleaned more from others that will help improve what I am doing.

    1. Thank you for sharing. I am glad you found the information useful 🙂

  2. Gene McCarthy says:

    Thank you for the sage advice.

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