Volunteers: How to Gain, Train and Retain Them

Date Posted: 3/23/2017

Building a culture of volunteerism involves recruiting others to be a part of an environment promoting changed lives.
In the midst of overbooked calendars and record setting stress levels, relationships become the currency of life. In similar fashion, relationships are the currency of a congregation’s successful volunteer program.
Experts from Vanderbloemen Search Group, consultants working with churches across the globe on a daily basis, recently shared insight on this critical aspect of building a vibrant congregation. Ana Robles, of the Texas Conference Center for Missional Excellence, enjoyed hearing these inspiring thoughts and sharing them with Cross Connection readers. “I learned that the way we recruit volunteers may not be the most efficient,” she shares. “Instead of using words like need and help we need to invite them into specific areas to be life changers.” Vanderbloemen experts have discovered that when volunteers truly see what they are a part of, they realize they can have a forever-impact because they are assisting a forever-focused church do its work more effectively.
What Former Volunteers are Thinking
If departing volunteers were quizzed about their experiences, many would say, “I had more to offer,” indicating their skills and passions were not engaged in their volunteer assignment. Others might say, “I would have served sooner – if asked.” Others could mention, “I would have stayed longer if I had been trained to feel more confident in my area of service.” And, sadly, some of them would introduce themselves, because leaders did not take the time to get to know them and provide a personal touch of building a relationship with them and pouring into their lives as they poured into others.
In his personal experience with children’s ministry, church blogger Jared Hogue has had great success in building formidable volunteer bases by offering a series of “next steps” meetings that help individuals see the big picture, vision and ‘heart’ of the church – and then discover where their passions and gifts are needed. “In kids ministry, for example, when prospective volunteers learn that 70% of young people leave the church when they are 18, but that number is cut in half if the young people have made a connection with a youth worker, they often want to be involved in impacting the future generation,” he says. “We’ve even had a Bring a friend to work day emphasis where volunteers invite others to shadow them and get a preview of that area of service.”
Ana agrees. “We need to empower our current volunteers to do the same, invite people to serve and once we have new volunteers signed-up to do what they're called to do; leaders need to make the time to train, inspire, motivate and encourage them.  Adds Ana, “Most importantly, leaders should thank them for their contribution—individually and church wide.”
Resources for Retention
Seasoned leaders know that it is easiest to recruit high capacity leaders when you give them high capacity roles. “Consider starting a master teacher class and train folks to sharpen their teaching skills,” suggests Jared. “Have one of your existing master teachers lead it and ‘own’ it.” He also welcomes churches to seek free and reasonably priced resources he provides via www.creativesheep.com.
Other retention tips relate to honoring volunteers’ time:

  • Provide clear schedules
  • Give routine reminders
  • Inform volunteers of any last minute changes
  • Get to know them (keep them happy and ‘invested’)
  • Be accessible to them
  • Provide a wide range of volunteer opportunities listed by day of the week needed, one-time opportunities, jobs listed by skill needed, including prominent roles and behind the scenes jobs for those more comfortable in a supportive role – and even family-friendly opportunities where all of the family can participate.
“Your best volunteers know others like themselves, and are a church’s best recruiting tool, so empower them to do that,” he says. “Maybe you have a member that could lead a fitness class and give your church an added layer of community, or perhaps be an ESL instructor, or help with home visits to the sick.”
Volunteer encouragement can aid in retention, whether that be a quick thank you note, text, acknowledgment of a birthday, a shout out from the pulpit, a nametag with special ribbon or free food. “It is a win/win for a church when they spotlight a volunteer’s work on social media,” adds Jared, “in that it provides a pat on the back as well as a glimpse into the ministry life of the church for those inside and outside the congregation.”
Bottom line: churches can facilitate a greater level of involvement beyond just attending services in many impactful ways.