Most churches are completely dependent on volunteers.   

When the relationship is healthy, it is a double blessing. Volunteers help the ministry succeed in its mission, and the ministry provides an opportunity for the volunteer to serve. This symbiotic relationship is the lifeblood of your ministry. 

However, this dual-benefit relationship can also be a two-edged sword when issues with a volunteer’s service arise. 

As a pastor, your responsibility is to guide and direct the church. And for those of you with limited resources (as if some don’t have limited resources…who am I kidding!), you wear many hats.  

To maintain your sanity, you need to be able to rely on your volunteers to help you run the church. It is in everyone’s best interest that you set your volunteers up for success. 
 
Here are four ways that you can empower and encourage volunteers to succeed: 

Set Clear Guidelines From the Start  

We all begin relationships with the best of intentions. You meet a new volunteer that is excited to serve and has great expectations for how they will serve in their new role. Everything goes smoothly at first and things buzz along harmoniously.   

Not long into that service, though, one or both of you stops living up to their end of the unspoken expectations. This causes tension and, if not dealt with, leads to resentment that ultimately ends in failure and hurt. Often the relationship is damaged, along with the ability to get things done.  

By setting very clear expectations from the start, you can avoid many of the issues that may arise down the road.   

Remember as a kid sitting in class the first few days of the school year? Your new teacher walked in and laid down the classroom rules. Perhaps, like me, you worried that the next year of your life would be torture. But then remember how a few weeks later you grew to respect that teacher and ended up liking them (hopefully!).   

This is what I’m talking about…not trying to portray yourself as tough and mean, but setting a clear standard of expectation for the position that the volunteer will be serving in.   

  • What is expected? 
  • In what timeframe? 
  • What does a job well done look like? 
  • What happens if those expectations are not met? 

Always remember, it’s easier to give more leeway than to try to tighten the screws later on. 

Empower Volunteers to Succeed 

There’s nothing worse in ministry than stepping up to serve, and not being given the opportunity to succeed. No one likes or works well for a micromanager. The manager is stressed because they feel the need to be involved, and the volunteer feels frustrated, unable to make decisions on their own. 

If you’ve set clear expectations, you should assume that the volunteer will serve without continual oversight. 

By setting the guidelines, you are giving the volunteer what I call “flexible accountability.” What I mean by this is that the standards are set and laid out, and within those standards the volunteer has the agency and freedom to own their role in their area.  

An empowered volunteer will enjoy their role and do far more than one that feels they are under the overbearing watch of a micromanager. 

Be an Encourager  

Everyone has a love language that they respond to. While each of us has a primary love language, I’ve yet to meet anyone that doesn’t appreciate a word of affirmation or a simple thank you. Your gratitude towards those that serve will go far. 

When was the last time you let your volunteers know you truly appreciate their efforts? 

When was the last time you gave more than a casual “thank you” in passing?  What was the last thing you did for your volunteers to show how truly grateful you are for their service?   

As pastor, you are leading leaders. Your role is to lead the ministry leaders of the church and guide them to lead those that serve in their ministry area. Role model the way and encourage them to be encouragers as well. 

Now, that encouragement may be a simple thank you, but it must be intentional. For example, pick up the phone and call them during the week when they least expect it. Handwrite a card and mail it to them or recognize them for doing a specific job function well. Recognize them during a team meeting and single them out for something they did well. 

It doesn’t have to even cost you any money. Everyone appreciates being recognized for their efforts.  Make sure you take time to do so. 

Provide Regular Feedback for Volunteers

As pastor, you should view your role of overseeing volunteers similarly to an employer, employee relationship.  True, in most cases, your volunteers are not getting compensated for their efforts. But you still need a standard of accountability for that person. It’s the only way to maintain a healthy structure to your ministry. 

Note: If the volunteer is being compensated, be sure you’re handling your payroll correctly and adhering to state and Federal guidelines. This adds a new level of complexity to your church, and payments need to be handled in such a way that the church is above reproach. 

In the role of volunteer overseer, the guidelines we’ve already laid out still apply: Setting clear guidelines, empowering volunteers to succeed, and providing regular encouragement. But there is also another element to success – maintaining a feedback loop to let them know how they are doing, specifically related to the guidelines and functions of their role.  

Look at it similarly to a performance review. By establishing a regular pattern for providing feedback, your volunteers will always know how they are doing in their role. They will know where they excel and where there is opportunity for improvement and growth. This may sound like overkill, especially if you struggle to even get people to volunteer. But trust me when I say it is often better to not have a position filled, rather than to have a volunteer that does not fulfill the expectations of the position.  

Having a feedback loop sets the volunteer up for success as well. By explaining and demonstrating that there are expectations for the position, it shows that you value the position, and they should too.  You’ll be amazed at how they will hold their role in a higher esteem. Turnover will decrease, communication will increase, and the ministry as a whole will be healthier. 

Experiencing Success

In a time when we often qualify volunteers by whether they have a pulse, having clear expectations and continually reviewing those expectations will set your volunteers up for success.  

The good news is that this doesn’t all have to fall on your lap. As you set the example with your ministry leaders, they, in turn, will follow these guidelines for the people under their guidance. 

While these suggestions won’t magically make new volunteers appear out of thin air, you will find that retaining quality volunteers becomes dramatically easier. 

If you’re looking for additional resources and ideas to help your church succeed, sign up to receive free church finance, administration and growth tips delivered right to your inbox.   

What do you do in your organization to attract and retain quality volunteers? 

P.S. When you’re setting your expectations, a volunteer covenant can be a useful tool. If you don’t have one, we’ll send you a sample volunteer covenant form you can use for your church