America runs on Dunkin’ but the church runs on volunteers. They’re the first face that guests see on a Sunday morning, the backbone of the finance team, and the only reason the new stage design was set up in time for service. They teach children about Jesus and teach parents how to teach their children about Jesus, make building repairs, run the church office, take out the trash—and that’s just the tip of the volunteer iceberg.
When we recognize how important volunteer roles are to a church, we realize how crucial it is to make sure volunteer teams are set up for success. It’s challenging enough just to recruit volunteers (or often seems impossible, according to over 70% of church leaders in the 2015 National Survey of Congregations). But when faithful volunteers have stepped up, the next big step is making sure they’re on the same page as the rest of the team and have everything they need to serve well.
When volunteers aren’t clear on roles, it’s like an employee orientation that only covers the dress code or an org chart with no job titles. You have the perfect recipe for misalignment. The consequences of the confusion can affect the experience of guests who visit the church, the desire volunteers have to serve, and how effective the church can be in reaching people.
But it’s possible to have aligned, informed volunteers who are moving in the same direction. Here’s how.
Rally around the mission and goals
Among the most important things for every volunteer to know is the mission they’re serving. Communicate the “why” behind what you’ve asked them to do. Show volunteers how their role specifically fits into the big picture mission of the church.
- “You’re not just babysitting during services, you’re having an eternal impact in the lives of children who are the future of the church.”
- “You’re not just typing information into an iPad to sign people up for small groups, you’re serving the church at large by connecting people in a way that helps them grow as disciples of Jesus.”
Don’t be afraid to attach encouraging, tangible goals that help volunteers see the impact of the ministry they’re serving in. Of course, it’s about people and not numbers, but working toward a common goal to call and pray for 50 first-time guests this week, for example, can be eye-opening and motivating.
Get organized and established
A volunteer can know that they’re a part of a certain team, have the t-shirt, the lanyard, and the start time, but still not have clarity on where they fit. Much like a team of employees, a team of volunteers needs clear roles established.
Build an organization chart that shows every volunteer what they’re responsible for and who they’re responsible to. What are their most important tasks? Who do they go to if they have a question? As you work through the volunteer team structure, watch for areas of need where more volunteers can fill in and whether there should be different areas of responsibility within the team.
Train and communicate strategically
When it comes to having volunteer orientations and getting messages out to volunteers, times are changing. Remember two things for your strategy to train and communicate with volunteers: people are busy and technology is evolving.
You’ve designed the volunteer training to include what’s most important for each ministry team to know. The information is critical to their roles and required for them to be able to serve successfully. But not everyone can make it to in-person orientations. What now? It’s time to get creative and utilize video training, live streaming, digital orientation guides, and more. Sending emails is fine but be open to using other channels to keep in touch with volunteers, such as social media groups and group texting that are much more likely to be opened. Communicate in ways that get the message both seen and heard.
Volunteers are an incredibly vital part of the church, so let them know you appreciate their time by casting clarity for their roles. Alignment is needed in every area of the church, including volunteer teams. It’s the glue that pulls every team together and makes sure they’re going the same way. Carey Nieuwhof put it this way:
“Alignment happens when you have a team of people—from the top leadership right through to the newest volunteer—pulling in the same direction not only around the same goals, but using the same strategy.”
It’s not just an org chart. It’s a tool that keeps everyone informed on everyone’s responsibilities. It’s not just an hour-long training. It’s an opportunity to communicate the mission of the church and how every volunteer matters in it. They’re not just warm bodies that help make sure weekend service happens every week. They’re essential community members whose alignment with where the church is going is what keeps the church moving forward.
It’s all about leadership
Being in church leadership often means being tugged in many different directions. You want to steward your influence well, but you’ve found that leading people is one of your most difficult tasks. You know what you need to do (create a volunteer system, have more effective volunteer trainings, and improve your personal leadership skills) but you’re not sure how.
The Senior Pastor’s Guide to Leading Volunteers is a free eBook from Church Fuel that will help you learn to pastor, train, and develop volunteers. Download it today for practical tools and ideas that you can start using in your church right away.