By Helen Gibson
In fact, just over 70 percent of respondents to the 2015 National Survey of Congregations said they found recruiting volunteers continually challenging or even impossible.
As such, pastors and church leaders may find new research from the Bureau of Labor Statistics useful, as it paints a picture of who volunteers — and for what types of organizations and activities — across the United States.
The survey, released in 2016, the most recent year such data is available, shows around 1 in 4 Americans, or 24.9 percent, said they volunteered at least once over the course of the year.
Women tend to volunteer more than men, at a rate of 27.8 percent to 21.8 percent, respectively, according to the survey.
White individuals were more likely than those of other races to volunteer, at a rate of 26.4 percent, compared to those who identify as black (19.3 percent), Asian (17.9 percent), and Hispanic (15.5 percent).
Americans 35 to 44 years old and those 45 to 54 years old were most likely to volunteer, at rates of 28.9 and 28 percent, respectively. On the other hand, people 20 to 24 years old were least likely to volunteer, at a rate of 18.4 percent.
Those with higher education levels are also more likely to volunteer. Among respondents 25 years old or older, 38.8 percent of those with a bachelor’s degree or higher said they volunteered, while 26.5 percent of those with some college or an associate degree, 15.6 percent of those with a high school diploma only, and 8.1 percent of those without a high school diploma said the same.
Whether or not someone is married with children may also affect the likelihood that they volunteer. Around 1 in 3 married people (29.9 percent) said they volunteer, while about 1 in 5 of those who’ve never married (19.9 percent), and 1 in 5 of those with other marital statuses (20.2 percent) said the same. Parents with children under the age of 18 were also more likely to volunteer (31.3 percent) than people without kids (22.6 percent).
This makes America’s typical volunteer a married, white mother between 35 to 54 years old, with at least a bachelor’s degree.
What types of organizations and activities do Americans volunteer for?
Church leaders may be encouraged by one finding from this study in particular. Researchers found that religious organizations were the main organizations people volunteered for, with 33.1 percent of people responding this way.
This was followed by educational or youth service organizations (25.2 percent) and social or community service organizations (14.6 percent). The preference for religious organizations held true regardless of gender or educational attainment.
However, younger volunteers were generally less likely to volunteer for religious organizations than older volunteers. Among those ages 16 to 44, more volunteers dedicated their time mainly to educational or youth service organizations than religious ones. The reverse was true for those 45 and older.
Among all volunteers, the most reported volunteer activity was collecting, preparing, distributing, or serving food (11.3 percent), followed by tutoring or teaching (9.2 percent), fundraising or selling items to raise money (9.0 percent), and engaging in general labor or supplying transportation to people (8.8 percent), among other activities.
How do volunteers get involved?
The percentage of volunteers who said they got involved with an organization by approaching that organization themselves was about equal to the percentage of those who said they got involved after being asked to volunteer, at rates of 41.6 and 41.2 percent, respectively.
However, some interesting insight can be pulled from the responses of those who said they started volunteering after someone asked them to.
Among those who were asked by others to start volunteering, most (23.7 percent) said they did so after being asked by someone already involved with the organization. Significantly fewer said they started volunteering after being asked by a relative, friend, or co-worker (14.5 percent). And even fewer said they started volunteering after they were asked by a boss (1.5 percent) or someone else (1.4 percent).
Bringing in more church volunteers
Around 4 in 10 volunteers said they got involved with a particular organization by approaching that organization themselves, so make it easy for your church’s members to figure out how they can get connected to certain ministries.
Regularly provide them with information about volunteer opportunities and be sure to make the next steps clear, so they know who to approach and how to get involved with an organization or ministry.
Another 4 in 10 volunteers said they started volunteering after being asked by someone else — and most often, that was someone who was already involved in that organization. Encourage those who are currently serving in a particular ministry area not only to keep serving, but to invite others to join with them.
You may also find it helpful to reach out to those who are statistically less likely to volunteer. According to this survey’s findings, that includes men, young people, racial minorities, single people, and those with lower levels of educational attainment.
Try to understand the unique barriers to volunteerism that may exist for these groups and encourage them, as well as all the members of your church, to get involved.
Daniel Im, LifeWay’s director of church multiplication, described it as a way to grow spiritually on a recent volunteer recruitment episode of the 5 Leadership Questions Podcast.
“When you serve, that’s actually how you become more like Christ — because that’s what Jesus came to do,” Im said. “So why don’t you do what Jesus did, and why don’t you grow and become more like Him?’”
HELEN GIBSON (@_HelenGibson_) is a freelance writer in Cadiz, Kentucky.