Vlog: Recruiting & Retaining Portable Church Volunteers
March 14, 2019

In this vlog with special guest Rich Birch from unSeminary, he dives into how to recruit and retain portable church volunteers. 

Rich has been a 15 year client and friend of Portable Church Industries. He has been a part of 13 campuses with most of them being portable as so he knows a few things about how to do it well. Here are some of Rich’s best ideas on volunteer recruitment. 

First, the most important thing that churches should be focusing on before launch is their volunteers. It is the most predictive factor to if a campus will succeed or not. More important than location, campus pastor, or anything else. If a church plant or multi-site campus has a strong and healthy volunteer core, they will likely succeed

People (volunteers) are actually less innovative than you and I. So, we have to change our mindset around recruiting and actually think more about how we try to acquire someone who is frankly more resistant to change than we are (as the church planters). I think sometimes, we think about, “We love new stuff. I’ll try new things anytime,” but that’s actually not the kind of volunteer we want.

The other piece of that is, if we can acquire volunteers in the middle of that bell curve, they are more likely to stick around. This is because innovators, early adopters, they love to jump in and out of things, where that middle of the bell curve people are the volunteers that are more likely to stay with the church over the long haul.

So, what I would say is, we need to be thinking about early mindset around how do we acquire people who are less innovative than us and then the second piece of the puzzle is we should take longer in the wooing process. The reason why people volunteer really isn’t because they want to work for us, they are not interested in that. What they are interested in is relationship and the question becomes, how are we building our process around ultimately people getting more friends through volunteering.

How do we ultimately have a relationship driven process where our volunteers come out saying, “Hey, I know some more people at the church because I’m volunteering and I also happen to do this work.”

One of the things I love about portability is there is a whole segment of volunteers in the churches I’ve had a chance to serve in, who volunteer at our churches that I really don’t think are volunteering at any other church. The set up, tear down guys are incredible, but for whatever reason, they don’t find a place at a church in a permanent space. They are the kind of person you probably don’t want working with kids, and they are not a greeter, but you have them setting up, and they love it.

What kind of insight do you have for retaining volunteers? What have you seen that works really well?

This would be my #1 tip for you. If you are trying to retain volunteers longer, I would literally serve them a meal every week. That sounds crazy but, every week … Because it does two things. One, it slows the Sunday down and ultimately helps volunteers build more relationships. They find people to connect with over a meal. There is something spiritual that takes place when we have that time with one another. Two, it is a consistent “thank you” to your volunteers. I would say every week, “Hey can we find somebody in the church that loves, you know, cooking?” Believe it or not, there are people that are into that, and we say to them, “Hey, can we give you a small budget to come up with a new meal every week?”

Part of our secret sauce of being able to keep people for the long haul. As silly as it sounds, is getting people together around tables to have a meal either before or after, is a huge tip for keeping people engaged long term.

One more bonus idea on how to retain volunteers, outside of the meal, I would say is working hard on the training piece. People come to us because they want to develop and grow and so, we want to connect the dots between what we are doing at church and how can it make a difference in other areas of their life. On Sunday’s you should get people together, talk about the vision, talk about what we are doing today, and take a few moments to connect. With this type of a pre-service huddle, something we do all the time in our churches, you’d be amazed how many people are like, “I’m going to take and do this at my work.” Volunteers may not be able to pray at their work, but they probably have a chance to do a pre-service huddle and this is just one more way we can give value back to them.

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