Volunteers don’t cost a thing.
Ah, that’s the myth, isn’t it? If they’re free, where are they when you desperately need more of them?
Unfortunately, volunteers are not free. Far from it.
I heard one Pastor put it rather succinctly, “God won’t give you more volunteers if you aren’t taking care of the ones you already have.” Makes sense, doesn’t it? What parent gives a child an endless supply of toys when he continually breaks them and simply expects more?
The truth is: volunteers are free in a culture that believes “you get what you pay for.” The unspoken mental conversation might sound like this: “Since I don’t pay you, I can’t really count on you to show up or deliver what you’ve promised, so I’m only comfortable giving you menial and unimportant tasks—especially those I personally hate to do.” Sound familiar? (P.S. It does to volunteers.) This approach, intentional or not, does not inspire the masses to rush to your call to arms.
You need volunteers. I need volunteers. Every church needs them. So what’s a ministry leader to do?
There’s a simple yet intentional paradigm shift that will make all the difference. I promise if you make this one small pivot in your thinking, it can make a world of difference in your ministry.
Ready for it?
The old-fashioned “Volunteers are Free” philosophy needs to change to “Volunteers are Priceless”.
What’s the difference?
In the “Volunteers are Free” culture, people believe “you get what you pay for.” But, in the more powerful “Volunteers are Priceless” culture, you believe “volunteers are: smart, energetic, talented, connected, experienced, generous (time, talent, treasure), resourceful, creative, reliable, committed, trustworthy, essential, and are our partners in ministry.”
What do you believe?
What do your volunteers think you believe?
Here’s one of the ways you can show your volunteers they are priceless. Incorporate this (almost) Universal Motivator into your volunteer culture: “volunteers want to make a difference—somewhere for someone.”
So, how do volunteers know they are making a difference?
Leaders connect the dots for them.
One of your most important jobs as a leader is to make sure your volunteers know how their specific effort has made a difference – for someone, somewhere. Specifically – how they have contributed to the success of your project, process or event. Don’t expect them to automatically make that connection. That’s your job! This is even truer when the jobs are mundane, repetitive, unpleasant or only have minimal requirements (ahem, like a pulse). To clarify your own thoughts, perhaps you might ask yourself why you are doing the project, process or event in the first place. What is the intended Kingdom Goal here? Everything needs a reason. And good leaders know the reason. Why is it important to have greeters on Sunday? Why is it important to offer childcare during worship services? Why is it important to have a special dinner event?
Let’s think about that for a moment.
Greeters are important because it’s scary for the non-believer or visitor to walk into your church and not know anyone or where to go. They don’t want to look or feel stupid or draw negative attention to themselves. They’ll feel welcomed by seeing a friendly face and getting directions they need. And, if they feel welcomed, they might be inclined to return. No guarantee, but if they don’t feel welcome, you already know that answer.
Your volunteers need to know this! Connect the dots.
Excellent childcare is important because parents wouldn’t be able to be spiritually fed unless they had confidence their little ones were being safely and lovingly cared for. (P.S. This includes changing dirty diapers before returning that little bundle of joy to his/her parents at the end of the service.) If their child is crying and has a red bottom, they may not feel they can trust the attentiveness and quality of your childcare service. They might not return to church, or if volunteering in another ministry area, quit. If the nursery is doing a great job, parents may grow in faith, come to church regularly, create a Christian home environment for the child to grow up in, etc.
Connect the dots.
And, why are you planning that special dinner? Is it to build community and strengthen relationships? Celebrate previous ministry victories? Showcase opportunities for future ministry involvement? Highlight and encourage spiritual development? Or something else? Identify the Kingdom Impact of that event, and . . .
Connect the dots.
Your volunteers need to know they are not just washing dishes, setting up chairs or picking up trash. They need to know are contributing to a Kingdom Goal that will: help people develop Christian relationships in a Godless culture; help people grow closer to God and know his will for their lives; help people find how God has equipped them to make a difference in this world, help the unfortunate, feed the poor, and comfort the hurting. They need to know if they were not there, your ministry event (project, process) would not have been as successful.
Remind them of their value and they will know you are a leader who believes volunteers are priceless. And, if you want them to volunteer for you the next time—connect the dots this time.
TIME TO TALK
Please share your ideas, thoughts, comments, contributions.
Your successful idea or practice can be just the thing that ignites energy into a new or challenged leader. We’d love to hear from you.
- What specific areas have you connected the dots for your volunteers? What exactly did you do or say? What was the impact on the volunteer motivation level?
- What other ways have you shown your volunteers they are priceless to your ministry?
- What are your biggest volunteer challenges right now?
FYI: In my book 81/2 SECRETS—How To Keep, Encourage And Stop Driving Your Volunteers Crazy, I have a whole chapter on what motivates volunteers: 3 (almost) Universal Motivators, de-motivators to get rid of, and tons of individual motivators that help volunteers recognize they are priceless. Stay tuned, I’ll be sharing more about these in future blogs.