According to a recent Gallup poll, the percentage of people who volunteer their time is at 58% in the U.S. This number includes all types of volunteering, from Habitat For Humanity to Christmas food pantries.
Expect the number of people eager to give their time to your church to be even lower than that. Things are not all doom and gloom, though. Following this guide will have you on your way to a solid group of faithful volunteers.
This article will bring you up to speed with the latest tips in church volunteer management. I will cover various processes like background checks and identifying strengths and weaknesses, as well as software that can keep your volunteers organized.
My name is Alexandria Schmidt, and I spent twenty years in multiple churches helping coordinate everything from bake sales to full-scale youth productions of our local Passion Play. Let me help you manage your church volunteers with three simple concepts.
- How To Manage Church Volunteers
- Church Volunteer Management Tips and Best Practices
- Church Volunteer Management Software
How To Manage Church Volunteers
Volunteering at non-profit organizations such as churches, soup kitchens, and food pantries is not a relic of bygone days. Even at the current low of 58%, which is due to many factors, especially the COVID-19 pandemic, we can see that a significant majority of people are willing to spend their time helping someone.
How can you ensure that they spend their volunteer hours at your church? I will cover how to find and keep good volunteers in this section.
Recruiting Church Volunteers
Recruiting starts with you, the pastor. Enthusiasm and excitement for your next project go a long way towards bringing people into your church’s inner circle. People are like plants who need water and sunlight to grow. Let your encouragement and praise be that water and sunlight. A discouraged volunteer is one who will not return.
Step 1: Ask For Help
Don’t be afraid to announce the church’s needs when starting a new project or ministry. Some pastors are more willing to ask for money than time, but it is our congregation’s time that is most valuable. Also, when announcing a need for volunteers, give people at least a month to fix their schedules to help you. Asking for Wednesday's help on Sunday morning will leave you very short-handed.
Step 2: Screen For Possible Legal Issues
Once you have announced your needs and given encouragement, what do you do? First, most churches and church events involve children in some capacity. Consult the National Sex Offender Registry in the U.S., or the equivalent for your country.
If a frequent volunteer seems to be ready to move into church leadership, you might even want to conduct a background check on them. This is typically done through your local law enforcement office. Not doing so could possibly open you or your church to legal issues, so consult with your church’s lawyer concerning your local laws about who can and cannot legally volunteer.
Step 3: Get To Know Your Volunteers
Spend some time talking to your volunteers. Even if it is just a moment or two each, you can get an idea about which parts of ministry they are passionate about. Volunteers will stop coming back if they are not in a role that they enjoy.
Of course, not everyone can do exactly what they want every time. That’s where your encouragement and praise as their leader comes in. A person who feels as though they did a good job will be happy, even if the job was not their first choice.
Step 4: Lead From The Front
Finally, the most important thing that you can do to recruit and keep volunteers is to do the jobs yourself. I was assistant youth pastor to a head pastor at a church of over two thousand people, and we held a Passion Play every year with a cast in the hundreds. Year in, year out. Our volunteers always grew. The reason is that he was legendary for giving his all in everything he tried. Lead by example. Do the work, and the people will follow.
Training Church Volunteers
This section will examine why and how you should train your volunteers. Volunteering is for simple tasks, right? How much training does a person need to wipe down the Bibles after-service? Unless your church elders are getting paid, they count as volunteers. Unless your sound person or choir director is getting paid, they are volunteers. Volunteers frequently occupy key parts of our ministries and our church leadership.
Each church is its own entity with its own needs, so this article cannot specify what exactly to do, but this section will provide general advice. Training volunteers is a complex task. A worship leader might need to be trained on which songbooks are allowed by your denomination. A deacon or elder might need to be trained in what they are allowed to counsel a church member before sending the problem to an ordained minister. The bake sale cashier might need to be trained in the proper care and handling of the cash box or donation app. The number of ways your church members can volunteer, and the amount of training each position needs, is as different as the people themselves.
So, how do we train them? In my experience, the bake sale cashier only needs a few minutes of instruction. They will not be praying over someone or preaching. You, or your volunteer manager if you’ve trained one, can show them how the money handling procedures work, and then send them on their way.
These simple tasks, which are the bulk of church volunteer opportunities, require some common sense and little supervision. This is a good thing because your leadership volunteers will require a higher investment of your time and energy.
Training your church elders is sometimes governed by denominational bylaws or other regulations, so, once again, consult with your lawyer or your higher clergy (such as a bishop) before deciding who to promote from a regular volunteer.
Typically, elders require a great deal of experience in the church, having proven themselves through prayer meetings, church projects, and simply doing the work of keeping the church-going. I was always taught to be wary of people who want to skip the steps of simple service before reaching the point of standing before the stage and leading people to Jesus at the end of service.
Church elders, or deacons, are just about the highest point a layperson can reach in their local church. Pray with them, study with them, and make sure they are there for the right reasons. Power-hungry elders can split a church like firewood.
In my personal experience, those people are somewhat rare but watch out. This is part of the purpose of training: to weed out the people who would use their position to do harm.
Caring For Your Volunteers
Good volunteers are a church’s most precious resource. To keep them coming back, they must be cared for. As I have said a few times before, encouragement and praise are your greatest tools in keeping volunteers happy. Still, after a long day of packing groceries for a food drive, those church members are probably going to be hungry. That sounds like a perfect time for a pizza party!
Yes, the pizza party is cliche, but it can be very cheap (depending on where you get your pizzas) and most people love it. What else can you do to make your volunteers feel special and encouraged to come back for your next project?
The Phone Blitz
We’ll cover volunteer scheduling below, but, on your volunteer list, you should have an email or phone number. Hopefully, both. Get on the phone with your leadership team and call the volunteers to give them a personal “Thank You” from the pastor and church elders.
We all have announcements on Sunday morning, usually just before or just after praise and worship. Place a general “Thank You” to all volunteers, or a specific one if a volunteer did a really great job. This can have the dual effect of bringing in more volunteers who are glad to be paid with their name being called.
Find a Christian leadership retreat or conference, such as these. Take your volunteers there both as a treat and for development. Bulk rates in hotel rooms can bring costs down, and churches near big cities may not even need to stay in hotel rooms for these kinds of conferences. Although, the trip is half the fun in itself.
You might also consider organizing your own church conference.
These ideas may not work for your specific congregation, but they should get your brain moving in the right direction.
Church Volunteer Management Tips And Best Practices
In this section, I want to take you through some tips and best practices for church volunteer management. We might double back over a couple of points from above, but reinforcement is key to learning.
Establish Clear Roles
As you put on more events and develop your core volunteers, you might find that they start forming volunteer groups. Some will only show up for the bake sales. Others will only show up for food drives. Some will show up only to fold announcement papers if you even do that anymore. The point is that your volunteers will find people and jobs that they are comfortable with and attempt to stay there as much as possible.
While this is not a bad thing, per se, these small groups can develop into cliques if left unchecked. You can avoid this by establishing a very clear hierarchy from the beginning. By giving the role of gatekeeper to a person from the start, you stop everyone from trying to claim it at once. Just be sure the person in charge of each group is someone who is willing to bring new volunteers into the fold.
Establishing clear roles is also extremely helpful in figuring out where things went wrong. It’s going to happen. Some disaster will befall your event, and you will want to find out how to stop it from happening next time. By ensuring that everyone has a specific job, you can tell who messed up and might need more training. Just be prepared. That person is going to be with you a significant amount of the time. Those are the breaks of being the one in charge.
Finally, on this point, establishing clear roles allows you to identify those who are willing to step outside the lines for their own benefit. As I said earlier, these people are not common, but it only takes one to cause deep pain for many people. Your ministry leaders should be willing to do anything for the cause, but not for their own gain. Volunteer management is about protecting your church community as much as it is about helping it grow.
Define Realistic Goals
Realistic goals are all a part of that enthusiasm and praise I looked at earlier. Like all things, setting your goals is a balancing act that comes with experience. If your goals are too easy, your church leaders won’t feel a sense of accomplishment for achieving them. Meanwhile, harsh goals can suck the joy right out of any number of volunteers.
How do we find that balance? Experience, for one. For two, ask other pastors in your area how successful they have been. Maybe research your local area’s recent history for the type of event you are planning. If you have never done this type of event before, set your goals just slightly under the average. Always give yourself some wiggle room to find ways to praise people for reaching the goals you set.
On that note, not every group has to have the same goal, even within the same event. Let’s look at a 5K Fun Run. You might divide the volunteer groups into pre-race day and race day teams. Pre-race day might consist of the children’s ministry trying to collect donations for the runners and the route planners working with the city to find an appropriate day.
Neither group would have the same goals, and their success does not depend on the other. The race day team might have a team that is in charge of getting each runner checked-in and pointed toward the start/finish line and start/finish team that would keep the time and prepares the finish line for the runners as they cross it.
All of those small groups work together to create the event even though they each strive toward different goals. What their goals should depend entirely on your church community and the number of volunteers you have to work with.
Other Best Practices For Church Volunteer Management
Here are a few other quick tips for managing your church volunteers.
- Background checks can save your church legal trouble. When in doubt, consult an attorney.
- Social media (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc.) is how many people communicate with the world these days. A tech-savvy volunteer coordinator can wrangle a large number of volunteers with a couple Tweets. If you don’t know how to use social media, find someone in your volunteer pool or leadership group who does. Read this article about using YouTube in your ministry to get you started.
- Lead from the front. Don’t ever ask your volunteers to do something you wouldn’t do. They will know that there is a double standard, and they will run.
- Discipleship is key to great volunteer leaders. Just like the previous point, don’t promote someone who is not willing to serve. Churches have rules, and your ministry leaders need to be people who can listen. They don’t have to be robots who do exactly as you say and nothing else, but humility is one of the spiritual gifts. As someone who has stacked and folded thousands of chairs before getting a chance to preach, this one is close to my heart.
- Speaking of spiritual gifts, don’t neglect spiritual training for your volunteer group. As you train them to assist with event check-in or whatever is at hand, don’t forget to relate back to the reason why you are all there in the first place: outreach into your neighborhood and community. Whether your focus is on soul-winning, fundraising, or just reminding people of a safe space in the community, always take a few minutes to pray with your volunteers or quote relevant scriptures about your event. This fosters solidarity and mindfulness around your larger goals.
A final point on those rare instances of a disruptive influence among your volunteer staff. Mercy and patience are always in order, but some people will not take the hint. You are the boss in your church, and you have the right and responsibility to kick someone out who is making it difficult for others to work.
Tell them they can come back after they have cooled down if you want, but protecting your congregation will increase their respect for you and make them more likely to come back.
Church Volunteer Management Software
Church Management Software, or ChMS, is any computer program or mobile app that allows you to keep the information about your church and its members in one place. Sometimes, ChMS will also allow you to track your volunteers. I will highlight the best ChMS for churches that are trying to grow their volunteer program.
Here are the criteria I used:
- Is it user-friendly?
- Does it have competitive pricing?
- Is church volunteer scheduling part of its functionality?
After careful analysis and some playing around with demos, I have to recommend ChurchCRM. ChurchCRM is free, easy-to-use, and fits the above criteria. More than just volunteer scheduling software, it has event registration, Sunday school groups, fundraising, and more. Maintain your rosters of volunteers with a few clicks or swipes. Installation can be a bit tricky, but the ChurchCRM team has a very helpful video right on the page I linked.
I don’t think ChurchCRM is the end of your search for a management solution, but it is more of a beginning. You can find links to articles that will recommend more specialized and expensive software below. Think of ChurchCRM as something to help your church’s volunteer program grow to new heights. You will find different needs and solutions as you and your volunteers grow in ministry.
If ChurchCRM is a little too techy to start, Flocknote is another option that deals primarily with texts and emails for organizations. The setup is simpler, and it requires a subscription that starts at $8/month to fully unlock its features. Flocknote also requires $39/month to reach a similar level of function as ChurchCRM, although it has a simpler user interface.
ChMeetings is another option I would recommend. It’s the easiest to use, but it does not have the same robust support for volunteer management as the other two apps.
Find specific church volunteer management software here.
If you want more in-depth looks at a variety of software for churches try these:
- 10 Best Church Management Software For Small Churches
- 10 Best Church Management Software
- 10 Best Church Database Software For Information Management
- 10 Best Church Data Management Systems
Most pastors will find that their needs outgrow or simply change from what they were in the past. These articles will give you a nice reference for when that happens.
Church Volunteer Management: What Have We Learned?
We have learned that one of the biggest obstacles is not just volunteer recruitment, but volunteer retention. I looked at ways to raise those retention rates through care and training while maintaining clear roles for our volunteers and giving them realistic goals. Finally, I took a quick look at the best software for a pastor who is looking to dip their toes into church volunteer management in the 21st century.
Comment below with questions or ideas about managing church volunteers. Look for more articles in the future about managing your church, your congregation, and the software that can help you do it.
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- Young Disciples: Turning A Youth Group Into A Youth Church
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