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The Reason You Can’t Find Volunteers

The Reason You Can't Find Volunteers

Recently on a beautiful drive Sherry and I were comparing notes on what makes a healthy ministry volunteer culture. (Some couples talk about vacations, some about retirement, we brainstorm ministry ideas; that’s just how we roll.) Working with ministries around the world the one question we hear more than any other is, “How do you find good volunteers?” Almost every church is desperate to find more children’s workers, parking lot attendants, ushers, small group leaders and dozens of other volunteer positions. As we drove through the beauty of the Rocky Mountains in early spring we agreed on two basics:

Most churches can’t find enough volunteers because they recruit to the wrong thing.

Having an abundance of volunteers is driven by a healthy volunteer culture.

Let’s look first at recruiting. Whether they intend to or not almost every church appeals to need. The church NEEDS volunteers. We need people to watch children, to hand out bulletins, to count the offering, to lead small groups, to play in the band. We can’t do what we do without volunteers. Imagine what church would be if we didn’t have volunteers; we’d have to shut down programs and change how we do church. We appeal to people’s sense of duty, or to their guilt. We parade the needs of others in front of members hoping they will feel the need to step up to the plate. We remind the congregation that only 20 percent of the people do 80 percent of the work of the church.

As it turns out, recruiting to need is effective with about 20 percent of the people who attend your church. If you are really effective, you may get to 25 percent. The challenge is we are inundated with needs every day. We drive past people with cardboard signs describing their needs. We are challenged at the grocery checkout line to donate to needy children. On TV Sarah McLachlan shows us pictures of sad animals, pleads with us to meet their needs as she sings “In the Arms of the Angels” (I’m not sure who’s in the angels’ arms, but it seems very sad). There are only so many needs we can care about, much less meet, so we draw the line somewhere. For most people the needs at church are low on the list of things they care about enough to help fill, so the appeal to need falls on deaf ears.

If your church or ministry is struggling to find enough volunteers, are you trying to recruit by appealing to need? In the word of the great theologian Dr. Phil, “How’s that working out for you?” The alternative to recruit to need is to build a healthy volunteer culture. It is slower and harder, but is really the only path to accomplishing God’s mission through your ministry. Tomorrow we’ll look at the three crucial building blocks of a healthy volunteer culture.

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Geoff has served on the leadership teams at Seacoast Church and Saddleback Church, and as Managing Director of Exponential. He is the author of several books, including Together: A Guide for Couples in Ministry written with his wife Sherry. Along with writing, Geoff coaches churches and leaders around the U.S. and in Europe. Geoff lives in Denver, Colorado. Twitter: @geoffsurratt