6 Ways to Recruit More Volunteers

If you’re a church that’s trying to grow, it’s really difficult to find enough volunteers to fuel the vision that God has given you. I know this because I’ve lived it. One of my first roles in the church I serve was the role of volunteer coordinator. I took on the role as we were transitioning from a small 2,000 square foot rental space to a 7,200 square foot permanent facility. The added space was awesome. We were going to be able to provide a much better worship experience; however, we also needed a lot more volunteers to make it happen, a position that many of you probably find yourself in.

During that time, I remember writing letters to 72 individuals in the church, sharing the pastor’s vision with them and how they could help us accomplish it.

Luckily, they all said yes, and once we moved into our new building, our church grew like crazy.

Today, the church I serve has close to 300 volunteers spread across two campuses. These volunteers may serve as much as every week or as little as once a month. They serve in the children’s ministry, in our café, in the parking lot, on the stage, and in countless other ways. And they’re a huge reason why our church has continued to grow.

I wish I could say we have plenty of volunteers, but the truth is when you have a big vision from God, you’ll probably never have enough volunteers. Just this week I received a message from a volunteer asking to be taken off the schedule because they’re now working on Sundays. Unfortunately, this sort of thing occurs all the time.

This is why, if you want your church to grow, you have to constantly be recruiting volunteers. It’s not the easiest thing to do, but I have learned some ways to make it easier.

  1. Create a culture of serving. I cannot emphasize this one enough. It’s imperative if you want to be successful. You need to create a culture were serving is the norm, and it’s not just something the spiritually elite do. It’s something everyone does because everyone has been called to serve. The first church I ever went to, I attended for three years, and no one ever asked me to serve. I was a young Christian passionate about serving and yet never got the opportunity. That should never happen.
  2. Offer opportunities and not needs. You have to be very careful about how you talk about serving. People respond to invitations and opportunities, but rarely do they respond to needs. You should never say, “We need more volunteers in the nursery.” You should say, “We have a great opportunity for someone to love on some babies, so their parents can hear God’s word.” A shift in your language can actually shift the culture. We don’t want people feeling like they’re guilted into serving. We want them to feel like they’re making a difference in someone’s life, because they are.
  3. Recruit in the lobby, not from the stage. Recruiting one on one is a lot more successful than making a plea from the stage. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask people to serve from the stage, but you should always combine it with personal conversations. Keep in mind, you shouldn’t be the only one recruiting. A healthy serving culture has every volunteer recruiting other volunteers.
  4. Get people plugged in quickly. Another mistake that we’ve made, and I see many other churches make is taking too long to get someone plugged in. Once someone says they want to start serving, you need to get them on a schedule within the next two weeks. There might be some exceptions, if they have to go through a background check or want to play on the worship team, for example, but in most cases, don’t wait to get them started. The longer you wait, the greater chance that they change their mind or forget all about it.
  5. Don’t give up too easily. Not everyone is going to want to serve. You’re going to get some no’s. You’re also going to get some people who say, “Let me pray about it,” which is usually a more “Christian” version of no. However, you shouldn’t take that as meaning no forever. Sometimes people are in seasons in which they can’t serve. Sometimes people don’t want to commit. There are lots of reasons people may say no. Don’t be afraid to come back to them six months to a year down the road and ask again. Many times you’ll find their answer will change.
  6. Check to make sure they’re enjoying it. One of the worst things you can do is get someone signed up to serve and then forget about them. Set up a reminder to follow up with them after the first time they serve, then again a few weeks later. Make sure it’s a good fit, and they’re enjoying it. This communicates that you care about them and gives you the opportunity to move them to another spot if they’re not. The better you care for them, the more likely they are to recruit others to volunteer.

Recruiting volunteers is an ongoing process for every pastor I know. What would you add to this list? What have you found that works? Leave a comment below, and also if you enjoy tips on leadership and growing your small town church, make sure to subscribe.

Seven People You Should Fire Today

I’ve been pretty lucky in ministry. Over the years I’ve only had to fire a handful of staff and volunteers. It’s the least enjoyable part of my job but also one of the most important. And if you’re a pastor, it’s one of your most important jobs. Allowing a person to continue in a role that they shouldn’t be in is incredibly harmful to a church. I see this happen over and over again, especially in small town churches. This needs to stop.

If you’re a pastor who has the power to fire someone and you’re allowing this to happen, then you need to put your “big boy britches on” (Southern Term) and have that conversation.

If you’re a pastor serving in a church that doesn’t allow you to have that power, I feel your pain. Still, you need to do everything you can to convince everyone who needs convincing to let that person go.

If that still doesn’t work, your best bet is to try to convince them to quit. Worst-case scenario: it backfires on you, and you get fired. But hey, now you can go to a church that actually trusts its pastor to make decisions that are best for the church.

If you’re having trouble deciding on who should be fired, let me give you some people I would strongly consider.

  1. The Troublemaker – This person always seems to be in the middle of drama. They create problems, instead of solutions. You constantly have to mediate between them and the latest person they ticked off. If it was one time, you can show them grace. If it’s ongoing, then you better fire them because I guarantee they’re running people off from the church.
  2. The Big Talker – These people can talk the talk but never seem to walk the walk. They make promises they never keep. They may talk super spiritual, but they never actually get anything done. And they always have an excuse.
  3. The Unqualified – I’m afraid the only qualification needed in many churches is popularity. When churches take it upon themselves to vote people into important positions within the church, we shouldn’t be surprised when they fail. It takes a lot more than being popular to lead a ministry. If they can’t or won’t do what’s required of the position, then they need to be fired.
  4. The Faker – In the history of the church I serve, we’ve only had to fire one person because of character issues. That’s one more than I would’ve liked to. They put on a good show and a good face, and we fell for it. I wish we’d fired them at the first sign of character fail. Unfortunately, we gave them a second chance, and they failed again. You better be really careful with this one because not dealing with it early can come back to bite you.
  5. The Unsocial – Ministry is relational at its core. Almost everything we do is for people, with people, and about people. If you don’t love people, you probably don’t need to be leading, because we’re in the people business.
  6. The Entitled – Be leery of those who think they deserve a position. It could be because of their last name or because of the money they give to the church. They will cause you problems, and if you’re not careful, you’ll be the one looking for another church.
  7. The Unteachable – Out of all of these, this one may bother me the most. Here’s why, I’ve had to let really good people go because they just refused to be teachable. People who had tons of potential but didn’t want to listen. I wish I could say that these people could change, but I don’t think they can. If you have someone on your team that doesn’t want to listen to anything you say, it’s best not to waste your breath and just let them go.

What type of people would you add to this list? Are you able to fire people in your church, why or why not? I’d love to hear your comments. Also, while you’re here, don’t forget to subscribe to get my new Ebook “The Basics: 13 Steps to Turn Around Your Small Town Church.”

Thoughts on Growing a Small Church

(Less than 50 Attending)

I recently had a friend reach out to me for some advice on growing their small town church. His situation is very similar to many others in small rural communities. He was asked to take over a denominational church that had been struggling for years and had dwindled down to less than 30 people attending. At one time the church had been successful, but because they haven’t been willing to change, they were on the verge of having to close their doors. What follows in this post is the advice I gave him and the advice I would give you if you were in a similar situation.

Before we jump in, let me just say, you have a very difficult task ahead of you. It is very hard to build momentum in an established church that has seen better days. Especially one that is apprehensive about change.

Less people attending also means less volunteers and generally less money coming in. I don’t think it’s impossible, but I do think you’re going to have some days you want to quit and some days you want to run your head through a wall.

If you think you’re up to the challenge, then here is where I would begin.

  1. Build Relationships. Lots of them, inside and outside of the church. When you have less than 50 people attending, you should know everyone’s name, the names of their kids, and the names of their pets. The benefit of a small church is you really can know everyone. When they miss church, check up on them. When they’re in the hospital, stop by and visit for a minute. You’re not going to be able to do this forever. Eventually, you’re going to need to recruit others to help, but in the beginning stages, this falls on you. Also, make a point to get to know others in the community. Know who works at the bank, who runs the local grocery store, the old guys who are always sitting at the same table at the local meat and three. You get the idea. Make it a point to go to local ball games, hang out at the library, and go to community events.
  2. Form a Core Team. This terminology is generally used for church planters, but in essence that is what you’re doing. Once you’ve started building relationships, I want you to choose three to six couples to be on your core team. These are people you can trust, people you enjoy doing life with, and people who can help you execute the vision you have for the church. Just call it your small group in the beginning so no one gets suspicious. These are the people who are going to help you turn around the church. Start holding meetings with them to share your ideas, hopes, and dreams, and make it a point to listen to theirs. They’re much more likely to buy into the vision if they’ve played a part in forming it. If you can’t recruit this team, you’re going to fail.
  3. Get the Right People in the Right Places. Ideally, the people on your core team should be the people leading the most important ministries in your church. The big three in my mind are kids, first impressions, and worship, in that order. In some churches, the entire congregation votes on these positions. That’s why it’s so important to build those relationships and have a solid core team. Unfortunately, in some churches, change is only possible when you overthrow the old regime. Just be careful that they don’t overthrow you first.
  4. Start Making Improvements. Not only in the way you do ministry, but in the way your facility looks. New flooring, new paint, and new fixtures can do wonders for an old building. If you don’t have the money, you can try to raise some, or just fix what you can. A lot of churches would look better if they just de-cluttered and had a really good cleaning. For instance, if you have fake plants in your auditorium, get rid of them. I’d also try my best to get rid of pews if you have them. You can adjust the numbers of chairs you have to help with critical mass, but you can’t adjust the number of pews. And even if you could, they still scream “traditional out of touch church.” Sorry, pew lovers.
  5. Rename or Rebrand. Ideally, I would never want the denomination in the church name. Because what happens is that someone who has a bad experience at a church that’s the same denomination as yours will never come to your church. Your church and that church may be completely different, but you’re labeled by that denominational name. Now, by all means hold on to the beliefs of the denomination, just don’t put it in the church name. I know that’s not always possible, so for the rest of you, just rebrand your church logo to make it look more modern. Try to avoid doves, and fire, and those other things that were popular in the 80’s.
  6. Celebrate the Small Wins and Learn Patience. Realize that this is going to be a marathon and not a sprint. For every three steps forward, you’re going to take two steps back. Learn to celebrate the small wins, like a new family joining the church, a person getting baptized, a young couple dedicating their child. My friend has seen 25% growth at his church in the 6 months he’s been there. They’ve grown from 28 to 35. That’s something to celebrate. The church I serve only grew by 5% last year, and you know what, we were celebrating. Getting people involved in church is difficult right now. They have a lot of options, so celebrate the small wins.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. There’s so much more I’d like to add, but I’d rather hear your thoughts. What would you add to this discussion? Leave a comment and let us know, and if you’re in a spot where you’d like some help with your church check out my coaching page and see if I could be of help to you.