No matter what your ministry context is or what denomination your church is a part of, we all have a common problem. As a matter of fact, it’s probably the greatest challenge church leaders face in ministry. If we don’t find a way to overcome it, we will shortchange our ministry potential. But if we can overcome this challenge, we will see a greater Gospel impact than we ever imagined possible.
So what’s the problem? Well, it’s a tale as old as time (or as old as the Church at least). Good volunteers are hard to find!
Without volunteers, we are sunk. Staff can only do so much. Real life change in our communities will be brought about through the saints we have equipped as volunteers. Show me who your volunteers are and I’ll show you the quality and potential of your ministry!
You see, we need more than just warm bodies. It’s not about having the right amount of people, it’s about having the right people. I love the way Jim Collins says it in his book Good to Great. “Companies (and churches) that go from good to great start not with “where” but with “who.” They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. And they stick with that discipline— first the people, then the direction— no matter how dire the circumstances.” If we want to get where God has called us to go, we’ve got to have the right people walking with us.
Every church leader since Acts 2 has faced this problem. How do we find the right volunteers? I’m familiar with this problem just like you are, and I’ve recruited the wrong people more times than I can count.
The good news is the best volunteers all seem to have a few things in common. Through a lot of trial and error (more error than trial), I’ve identified five traits that high capacity volunteers share. These are the leaders of leaders within your church, and finding them is as simple as following the breadcrumbs of these high capacity traits.
5 Traits Found in Great Volunteers
High capacity volunteers are fast. This doesn’t mean they would beat Usain Bolt in a footrace, but it does mean they are quick on their feet. Fast volunteers are able to act quickly and do what needs to be done. They don’t let grass grow under their feet while a problem grows with it. Instead, they find a solution and move forward toward the goal.
Our world moves faster now than ever before, and ministry is no exception. So we need volunteers who can keep up with the frenetic pace of life. Take this example from Easter weekend at our church.
During our 10am service, we were running out of space. Our worship center filled to capacity, and the people kept coming! We were prepared with an overflow room down the hall, but quickly filled all available seats there too. We needed more seats and we needed them fast!
In a matter of seconds, we had a team of ushers and other volunteers pulling chairs from a nearby closet and finding creative places to set them out. Without their help we would have turned people away. However, because they were fast we were able to seat 200 additional people and accommodate everyone!
High capacity volunteers are fast. They react to problems quickly and bring solutions with them.
High capacity volunteers are also fluid. Fluid volunteers have the ability to change direction quickly and easily seize new opportunities. They are able to go with the flow, and will see and seize new paths while others are still processing.
Ministry in today’s world is fast, and opportunities can come and go in the blink of an eye. Fluid volunteers will see an opportunity and act before others would even notice it. Some of our best ideas and boldest moves have come from the minds of fluid volunteers in our building. If we had to wait on staff to see them it would have resulted in missed opportunities and “what if” thinking.
Whether we like it or not, change happens often in ministry. The question isn’t whether things are changing, but rather can our volunteers keep up when it does? The best volunteers are fluid enough to handle change well. How fluid are your leading volunteers?
Flexibility can be defined as the ability to bend under pressure without breaking. Rigid people break under pressure, but flexible people bend and adapt. Ministry is hard, and it comes with a lot of pressure. Our highest capacity volunteers will always be those who are flexible enough to handle the tough times of ministry.
Have you ever heard the saying “pressure makes diamonds?” Well, in my experience it also makes duds! Pressure and ministry go together like spring and allergies. There’s no escaping it. High capacity volunteers bend, adapt, and get better under that pressure.
I don’t know about you, but I want diamonds, not duds. A ministry (or church) will never be better than its volunteers. So if you have a bunch of duds for volunteers, you will end up with a dud of a ministry. The Gospel is too important for that! When looking for volunteers, look for flexibility.
Faithful volunteers are gritty volunteers. They are people with too much grit to quit! They won’t bail when things get tough, but will dig in. If nothing else I know this: your most faithful volunteers will become your favorite volunteers!
We’ve all had volunteers quit before. Odds are they quit at a really bad time too. I don’t know why it happens this way, but it’s like they could sense when you most needed them and chose that exact moment to hang it up.
Faithful volunteers are different though. They are the ones who rise to the occasion and reach higher when others step away. If I have to choose between talent and faithful, I will always choose faithful!
Faithful volunteers are also consistent. They are the volunteers you can count on to be where they are supposed to be, when they are supposed to be there, and doing it to the very best of their ability. Faithful volunteers will fix the damage left by those who were not.
When recruiting volunteers for your ministry, faithfulness is a non-negotiable trait. Find people who are faithful and your ministry will find a new gear!
This last one is easy to overlook, but do so at your own risk. Being fun won’t make someone a high capacity volunteer on its own, but being boring will always make a dud!
When was the last time you talked with your spouse and said “Let’s do something boring this weekend”? Or what about this? Have your kids ever told you they were having too much fun and needed some boredom in their lives? Of course not (unless your kids are aliens)! Why? Because we all love to have fun and enjoy ourselves.
One of the fruits of the Spirit is joy. I don’t know about you, but when I think about joy I think about fun. Not boredom. I want to be around people who are fun and that I can have fun with. And the people in your church do too.
I personally believe the Church should be full of the most fun people on the planet. We have more reason to celebrate, laugh, and high five than any other people around! Fun volunteers get this and its contagious.
If you were visiting new churches, which would you prefer to attend? One with fun, joyful and smiling people greeting you at the doors, or one filled with sad and sullen saints? I bet you would choose the first one, and so would I. Why not choose the volunteers to get us there? So the next time you look for new volunteers, go where the fun people are.
There is a lot more to good volunteers than these five traits, but they are five traits I’ve found present in my best volunteers. All I know is that our ministries will always get better when we get the right people on the bus. What about you? What do you look for when recruiting volunteers? Which of the five traits above is the most difficult to find?
I would love to hear your thoughts. If you would like to continue the conversation or if you have any questions, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.