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Inreach: Volunteer Appreciation
February 21, 2007

Every once in awhile, we have the pleasure of bringing you guest columnists; pastors who share their learnings and practices “from the field”. Below is one such article.

Journeying Towards Encouraged Volunteers
by Brian Stevens

Every church, every ministry, every team within a ministry context shares a common challenge: getting great volunteers on board. Whether you are leading youth, running a kids ministry program, delivering meals to seniors or planting a church from scratch, you need volunteers. And once you have them, you have to retain them!! If you take 5 minutes to browse your latest catalog from CBD or head off into your local Christian bookstore, you will find a boatload of advice for treating your volunteers well.

Three years into a church plant in the suburban Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area, I’ve managed to learn a few tricks that just might help you in your ministry context. So, at the risk of duplicating what that whole boatload of books might tell you, here’s what we’ve done that we find to be helpful with attracting and retaining volunteers:

Ask Early
We are committed to asking people to take some form of responsibility after the 3d time they are our guests. If the music, preaching and people haven’t driven them away screaming within 3 visits, they are statistically very likely to stay for the long haul. So, we ask people very early to get involved. People love responsibility and the feel of being connected. Who are we to argue with that? We plug them in to set up teams, coffee teams, red carpet (welcoming) teams—anything and everything that is entry level. We make sure to clearly and repeatedly give people permission to say “no.” And then we ask. In fact, we tell people to expect calls from ministry team leaders who are recruiting volunteers.

Train Faithfully
All new volunteers are given instructions. Some jobs are very simple (setting up chairs, arranging goodies on trays, etc) and need very little training. Others require more management. Whatever the need, we supply it. We have people shadow for a week or two on their new job. We can’t toss volunteers to the sharks.

Remove Roadblocks Aggressively
Folks who miss worship to minister to kids receive a CD of the service that is instantly burning after the closing prayer. Our Set up/tear down teams (“Hero Teams”) get an email through ConstantContact to remind them of their upcoming set-up gig. In that email, they can link to a list of substitutes in case they can’t make it or they can simply hit ‘reply’ to let their team lead know that they will be there. Those are both high touch ways to remove a couple big roadblocks to serving. Every roadblock we face can be removed with a bit of creativity, technology or ingenuity.

Thank Frequently
Our volunteers are all thanked each Sunday before they leave. Their team leaders see to it that they are thanked. I personally thank every volunteer I run across on Sundays. It seems like a small thing to do, but it pays massive dividends. Later that day, all volunteers receive an emailed “Worship Update” via ConstantContact. In that email, they are thanked for their work, given a link to the week’s teaching in MP3 format (in case they didn’t get the CD), and all “wins” are celebrated in that email. If someone comes to faith that morning, it is celebrated by all volunteers almost instantaneously.

Communicate Often
We have no bulletin at The Journey. Instead, we have a weekly ‘e-Blast’ sent through ConstantContact. We use the e-Blast to announce upcoming events, classes and such. More importantly, we use it to cast and re-cast vision, to share what’s going on and to honor a different volunteer each week in a ‘volunteer spotlight.’ The e-Blast has become a significant vehicle for thanking volunteers, recruiting volunteers and sharing our vision with all the whole body.

Now you’ve got our recipe for treating volunteers well. Of course, no matter what you do, there may be some folks who feel underappreciated or unappreciated. To combat that, you may consider using a great variety of approaches (not just ours!) that will help you value your volunteers effectively.


Brian Stevens
Lead Pastor of The Journey