By Dennis Garcia
I recently took an informal poll asking church leaders I knew to name the top two or three challenges they’re currently facing in ministry. Overwhelmingly, leaders identified recruiting volunteers as their No. 1 problem.
For those in church leadership, this doesn’t come as a surprise. In my nearly 20 years of ministry, finding volunteers has always been a constant struggle.
Most of us are familiar with the 80/20 rule, also known as Pareto’s Principle. Pareto was an Italian economist who observed that 20% of your input accounts for 80% of your results.
In the church world, we frame it this way; 20% of our church members do 80% of the work. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but it’s usually in the ballpark of what we find to be true.
If recruiting volunteers is a nearly universal problem for the church, what can we do about it? How do we change the narrative and encourage greater ministry involvement from our congregations?
A New Paradigm
I’m not going to answer these questions. Instead, I’m going to borrow a move right out of Jesus’ playbook and ask you a question.
Rather than asking, “How do we recruit move volunteers?,” it’s time to ask, “How well are we stewarding the volunteers we have?”
In Matthew 25:14–30, Jesus tells a story of a master who leaves on business. In his absence, he entrusts his affairs to his three servants.
Two of the servants were faithful and experienced success. The third was afraid of his master and did nothing.
When the master returns, he rewards the first two servants for their faithfulness and rebukes the third.
This is ultimately a story of stewardship. Those who are faithful with little are trusted with much. Inversely, those who are not faithful with little, are not trusted with more.
Maybe our lack of volunteers has less to do with recruiting strategy and more to do with how we’re stewarding our current volunteers.
So, how well are you stewarding? Here are five things to ask:
1. How are you engaging your volunteers?
With this question, I’m specifically referring to engaging the many spiritual gifts within the body. In many churches, the two most public volunteer positions are the singers and teachers.
I once had a church member say to me, “I don’t sing, and I can’t teach. Is there any place for me to serve?” We need to do a better job engaging people with all the gifts and abilities God gives, not just the two obvious ones.
2. How are you encouraging your volunteers?
One of the most difficult things is when a volunteer quits because he or she feels unseen or undervalued. Encouraging and appreciating our volunteers is simple but often neglected.
This is one of the most critical factors, however, in retaining volunteers. Leaders must be intentional and systematic to ensure all volunteers know they’re loved and are a valuable part of the church’s ministry.
3. How are you equipping your volunteers?
There’ve been a few times in my life when I’ve been asked to serve in a particular role but never received the education or training necessary to be successful. Those were difficult and challenging times.
No one likes to be thrown into chaos without a life vest. In his letter to the church of Ephesus, Paul tells church leaders a key component of their leadership is to equip the saints for ministry.
Equipping our volunteers isn’t optional. It’s an essential part of our duties as good leaders.
4. How are you empowering your volunteers?
Early in my ministry, I made the mistake of trying to recruit volunteers to serve in MY ministry. I needed people to fulfill MY goals and help ME achieve success. This is not good leadership, nor is it biblical.
Rather than recruiting volunteers to serve in our ministry, we need to be empowering people for their ministry.
In the same passage referenced above, Paul reminds church leaders every member is a minister. Peter writes in his epistle that believers are a “royal priesthood.”
We’re not recruiting volunteers to simply fill spots; we’re empowering God’s people to minister as God has called them to do.
5. How are you inspiring your volunteers?
People serve, not because there’s a need, but because they have an opportunity to make a difference. This is why asking for help in the bulletin or from the stage is one of the least effective ways of recruiting volunteers.
Every volunteer should know their role is important to the mission of the church. We inspire our volunteers when we remind them every job, every task, and every act of love is a necessary part of the ministry of the church.
A New 80/20 Rule
In a video to church leaders, Allyson Evans of Life.Church encourages leaders to follow the 80/20 rule. She says, “Spend 80% of your time developing your current volunteers. When you do that, they’re going to find all of your new volunteers.”
The Life.Church 80/20 rule recommends spending 80% of your time developing current volunteers and only 20% of your time recruiting new volunteers. It sounds counterintuitive.
We know from the Parable of the Talents, however, that those who are faithful with little can be trusted with much. Be a good steward of those God has brought under your care. Lead them well and see how God provides.
Dennis Garcia (@dennislgarcia) is the husband of Toni, father of Miranda and Kephas, and church planting catalyst serving in Southern New Mexico for the North American Mission Board.