Retaining Volunteers

After the Holy Spirit, volunteers are the most valuable asset to your ministry. It often seems like a battle to recruit volunteers, but once you’ve got them, retaining them can provide lasting, sustainable fruits in ministry. Here’s why:

  • Retained volunteers already know the program, the process, and the people.
  • Retained volunteers are trained, even if it’s just from the experience of volunteering.
  • Retained volunteers are a perfect on-ramp for recruiting and equipping new volunteers.

A key piece to keeping volunteers year after year is to understand their motivations, reservations, and limitations.

  1. Motivations: Each volunteer is present with a different type of motivation (kids in the program, spiritual, social, etc.). Understanding each person’s motivation allows you to tap into the root of their drive. In other words, start with their “why.”
  2. Reservations: Some volunteers feel unequipped in certain areas. They may only want to lead in a limited way due to their understanding of their skill set. You must empower and train when possible, and responsibly challenge them to take further steps. Remember: 
    • God prepares the called, He doesn’t call the prepared. No one is worthy of so great a task as building the Kingdom.
    • “Let me show you” and “let’s work together” are great ways to remove reservations.
  3. Limitation: Knowing your volunteers’ limits will help you best value their time. Some volunteers cannot attend weekly or may be limited by a family situation or health, where as others will show up to anything no matter what. Pour into each role accordingly as you build your team.  For example, not everyone plays ultimate Frisbee at free-time on a retreat, but everyone matters during free-time. Let each person know their vital piece so they have ownership over their role and make it as unique as they are.

Once these pieces are understood—and this is often accomplished through relationship—then you can cater the following actions to the specifics of your volunteers’ situation.

  1. Weekly Ownership: Make their presence matter every time they show up. Assigning specific responsibilities in the program, thus growing your volunteers’ responsibility for the program, helps make it their ministry, not just a ministry they help with.
  2. Pour out gratitude: This should be done often and should be specific to the individual. Instead of “everybody, that was a great session,” try, “Judy, it looked like the kids really enjoyed that game you led. Great job!”
  3. Train and Empower your team: Being mindful of the reservations and limitations that the volunteer has, form them. This should be done in formal formation days, but also in little bursts of “on the job” training.
  4. Delegate toward their strengths: This is a win-win as it affirms gifts they have and allows them to have ownership in the ministry.
  5. Be a leader worth following: Holiness is attractive. Effective meetings and organization are also attractive. Be a leader that makes it easy for people to renew their yes to serving.

Live this out today!

Whether you are the pastor, a staff member, or just a volunteer, take action today to do something to retain a volunteer. I challenge you to send out 2 text messages right now to volunteers letting them know how thankful you are for their yes to serving God in ministry.

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