Faithful, hard-working volunteers who always have a great attitude are what every volunteer coordinator desires on their team. These folks will show up early and stay late; they offer their talents and serve with excellence. So how do you find or cultivate this type of volunteer? How can you get a whole team of them at your church? There’s no quick fix, but I do have some tested, practical tips that can get you on the right path.

Key #1: Discover their “why”

You know why you want volunteers—there’s a lot of work to be done and not enough hands on deck!  That, however, won’t get you a waiting list of people excited to serve. Shouldn’t they serve because it’s part of being a follower of Christ? Sure, but let’s be honest here. We’re all at different levels of spiritual maturity; many people who could be great volunteers may need to hear a “why” that’s a bit easier to obtain initially. Start by considering what’s in it for them. Will they make new friends? Have fun? Get to use a skill that’s not valued as much in their day job? Those are all great motivations to volunteer.

Key #2: Address their fears

Yes, I said fears. Why would anyone be afraid of volunteering? Mostly it’s simply an issue of the unknown. Put yourself in a potential volunteer’s shoes for a minute and consider these questions:

  • What are they going to ask me to do?
  • Am I qualified?
  • Am I committing to do this for life?
  • Will I have to leave the church in shame if I need to back out or change roles?

Potential volunteers are wondering about these issues as they consider signing up, so go ahead and answer these questions for them. Develop short descriptions of each volunteer role, including the time commitment, frequency, and skills needed. In a survey I conducted for one of my clients, out of nearly 200 volunteers, 69% said they think more people don’t volunteer because they’re just too busy. You could be missing out on volunteers simply because they think the time commitment will be too large.

Key #3: Tell them they’re needed

Some church leaders are so afraid of sounding desperate that they rarely mention the need for volunteers. How do you expect people to sign up if they don’t know they’re needed? Besides, people like feeling needed. It feels good to know someone’s counting on you and appreciates your efforts. So go ahead and spread the word. Here are several options:

  • Make announcements from the stage.
  • Run slides before the service starts, highlighting a department that needs more volunteers.
  • Create a video of current volunteers talking about how volunteering has benefitted them and how much they enjoy it.
  • Make it easy to sign up for more information on your website and via social media.
  • Put signs on your information booth with a place to sign up to volunteer.

Key #4: Respond quickly

Make sure your process for receiving and assigning people is efficient. Follow up with a potential volunteer within one business day. Call or email to determine where to place him—and then get him plugged into his new role within the next week. Ideally, you should have volunteer training at least once a month and have all new volunteers attend the training. Whatever your training schedule, on-the-job training is usually worth the “risk” to get someone started right away.

The key here is to get them involved as soon as possible and to equip them with the information they need to be successful. If formal training isn’t available right away, pair them up with an experienced volunteer for the first couple of Sundays to show him the ropes.

Please note: For roles where volunteers are interacting with children under 18, acting quickly means getting a background check started as soon as possible.

Key #5: Appreciate often

Simple gestures of appreciation go a long way with volunteers.  Here are several examples:

  • Say thank you.
  • Send handwritten notes and be specific about what they did that was so impressive and appreciated.
  • Learn their names—and their kids’ names.
  • Ask about their week.
  • Pray with and for your volunteers.
  • Ask for their input and follow-up on their suggestions.
  • Praise them in public.
  • Celebrate wins.
  • Throw a volunteer appreciation party once a year.
  • Be prepared and have supplies and information ready for them each time.
  • Keep them informed about changes, events or special announcements so they can answer questions from visitors intelligently.

It takes a concerted effort to build strong, healthy, and committed volunteer teams. Planning, preparation, and well-thought out communication are all part of the package. So what’s the reward for all this hard work? Volunteers who are excited about serving each week, who are connecting with each other, and who minister through their service to your members and guests.