Every ministry in the church needs volunteers. They are the lifeblood of a healthy church. When I first started out in ministry, I could get people to try it out and serve. Lots of folks would serve for a few months but they would drop off as quickly as they jumped in. Just as churches talk about having a back back door where people leave their churches…I had a huge back door with volunteers leaving sooner than expected. They weren’t leaving the church; they were just leaving my team. I had to figure out why the volunteers I had recruited weren’t sticking.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was good at courting them but horrible at building a longterm relationship with them. I basically would “ask them out” and once they said “yes” I stopped working on the relationship. I didn’t add value to them after they joined my team. As you would expect in any relationship that operated this way, they eventually walked away. And looking back…I don’t blame them.

Luckily, over the years I’ve learned the importance of adding value to volunteers AFTER I’ve recruited them to serve. Here’s some practical ideas to foster a relationship where people will want to serve for the long haul.

  1. Communicate Often – All relationships are built on consistent communication. Send weekly emails. Make monthly phone calls. Remind them what they mean to you and to the church. Verbalize the difference they are making in the lives they serve. Keep them informed of their connection to the greater vision of the church. Provide feedback of a job well done or areas that need improved. Keep the channels of communication wide open with your volunteers.
  2. Build A Family – You have to think of volunteers as family members, not employees. Employees fulfill a duty but family builds a bond. Lean into the fact that people serving together build a deep connection with each other. Provide opportunities for community and connection. Hang out with your team socially as much as possible. Create a space in your ministry area for volunteers to grab a cup of coffee before your services. Families are messy, they have their ups and downs but they stick together through thick and thin…and this is how it should be with our volunteers.
  3. Regularly Have DTR’s – Remember having a “define the relationship” conversation with someone you were dating? It is through those conversations that a couple determines if they are on the same page or not. In ministry, we need to have DTR’s with our volunteers as well. Don’t assume they know what you expect of them. It is impossible for volunteers to fulfill unspoken expectations. Clearly spell out your expectations on paper and walk through those expectations step by step with your team.
  4. Unleash Your Volunteers To Lead – Don’t micromanaging your volunteers. Instead, equip them with the tools they need to do the ministry you’re asking them to do. Train them on how to use those tools. And then empower them to lead. Don’t expect them to do it just like you. Give them the freedom to lead within their giftedness…and when you do your volunteers will be more likely to stick.

Remember, it’s not enough to simply court volunteers by casting a compelling vision and getting people to step up and serve…we have to maintain a healthy, longterm relationship with the people on our teams if we want them to stick. What do you do to keep volunteers on your team?

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