Over my 53 years of ministry in 20 different churches, I’ve  never been in a church that had all the volunteers they needed—even the big churches. Brian Howard, executive director for the Acts 29 Network,  shares some insights on how to kill it with volunteers.

Originally  posted by Brian Howard

Every church relies on volunteers to carry out its vision. Churches rely on volunteers for:

  • Kid’s Programs
  • Hospitality
  • Set up and Take-Down
  • Sanitizing chairs
  • Ushering
  • Greeters
  • Office Workers
  • Small-Group Leaders
  • Music
  • Audio/Video Production

We give a mountain of effort to recruiting new volunteers, but few of us seem to give the same amount of energy to volunteer care and retention. Volunteer retention is even more important than recruitment. It takes less effort to take care of the volunteers that you already have than it does to recruit new volunteers. How can you take care of your current volunteers? Here are five ways to care for and retain volunteers:

1. Ensure that Every Volunteer is Clear on What you Expect of Them

It is maddening to volunteer for something and then to get no direction. Rather than leaving volunteers hanging:

  1. Have a written job description for every volunteer role. (It doesn’t have to be ten pages long. A half of a page will do it.)
  2. Do basic training for all new volunteers. When a new batch of volunteers starts in a particular area, do basic formal training. This training may be 30-60 minutes long depending on what the role is.

A written description and orientation will get volunteers started in the right direction. Volunteers who don’t know what success looks like will not stick around for long.

2. Provide Ongoing Feedback

One of the reasons that volunteers quit is that they are not given ongoing guidance and feedback. The key to providing ongoing feedback is to make sure that someone is overseeing every volunteer and meets with them on a regular basis. This doesn’t have to be one on one, but can be done in teams and can also be accomplished virtually. Give them specific positive and specific negative feedback. “Great job!” isn’t as helpful as “when you said this, it really helped this person know what to do next!”.

Remember that it is more difficult to find new volunteers than it is to take care of the volunteers that you already have. So don’t forget about volunteers once they start!

3. Thank Volunteers Constantly

Thanking volunteers is perhaps the most valuable thing leaders can do to care for and retain them. And it’s super easy. Here are a few suggestions for thanking volunteers. Task a staff member to allocate an hour each week and:

  • Write Thank You cards.
  • Send Thank You text messages.
  • Call a few volunteers just to thank them.
  • Send 10 Thank You emails.
  • Recognize Birthdays

Saying Thank you is basic but critical. You spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on paid staff. Consider investing a few dollars and an hour per week thanking your volunteer force.

4. Require Every Leader to Write a Plan for Volunteer Management

Youth pastors, worship leaders, small group pastors, and children’s directors all oversee volunteer teams. Does each director on your team have a plan to care for their volunteers? One of the best ways to care for volunteers is to ensure that every director-level staff person has a clear and written plan for how he will care for the volunteers on his team. This plan should include written volunteer job descriptions, a plan for new volunteer orientation, a plan for ongoing feedback for volunteer teams, and a plan for thanking volunteers.

If there is no plan, nothing will happen. Make a plan and work the plan.

5. Build Camaraderie Among Volunteer Teams

Some of my closest friends in life have been built as we have served on volunteer teams together. Volunteers are much more likely to stay engaged if they build relationships among those they serve alongside. You can’t manufacture relationships, but you can make sure that volunteers aren’t serving alone. Create opportunities for volunteers to become a team. Relationships keep people serving together.

Caring for your current volunteers is a spectacular use of time. Spend an hour this week and every week investing in your volunteer team!