The ABCs of Finding Volunteers

How to gain, train and retain volunteers

by Ben Crawshaw

We’ve made the system easy to remember (if you know your ABC song).

1. ATTRACT: You have to attract the right kind of volunteers into your ministry. Some people may use the word “recruit” or “persuade” or “guilt”. Whatever the language you use, I think we all know that we have to have a way to attract new people in.

Having the right kind of people is one of the most important things you can do. The right leaders will fix the right issues. They will do the right things and fill the right roles in the right way.

How do people step into serving at your church? Is it hit or miss or is there a plan? We’ve found that it comes in many different ways. You don’t just have  to have it one way. There are many ways you could do this, but do you have a defined way in which you attract people into your volunteer areas? The point is not how you do it, but that you have a plan: a system that’s written down on paper, that’s agreed upon by your leadership team, that this is the way we attract people in to ministry roles and ministry positions.

Are you attracting according to a plan or under pressure?

2. BUILD: You have to build up volunteers before you send them into battle. You have to build up their confidence. You have to build up their knowledge base. So many times we attract people and just throw them into battle. If you just attract people and provide no training, most of them won’t stick. Training new volunteers the right way will help ensure they are more engaged and equipped for the long haul.

There is a lot of information to communicate to a new volunteer. As leaders, we often get focused on the information we need to communicate, which results in boring training meetings. We are going to help you create an engaging environment to build up new volunteers, communicate expectations, and roles and responsibilities. We will give you practical ideas for how you can communicate information effectively without wasting people’s time.

3. CONNECT: This is a missing ingredient. People stay connected because of relationship and responsibility. Connecting is all about making sure there are good relationships.

Bill Hybels says, “A new volunteer is a fragile volunteer.”

The first thirty days is the most fragile time for a new volunteer. A volunteer’s success will be highly dependent on those to whom they are connected.

Once we attract them, we need to surround them with the right people. Churches that do a really good job at creating a sustainable volunteer ministry have a connection system for somebody’s first thirty days.

What’s your process for a volunteer’s first thirty days? We will spend an entire module teaching you how to create a great “first thirty days” for your new volunteers. If you connect people well, they will stay longer.

4. DEVELOP: A burned out volunteer is not an effective volunteer. If you want to create a healthy volunteer ministry, you must pastor the people. This is an area of weakness for most churches. Developing a volunteer and creating systems where they’re cared for, communicated with, supported, loved on, and where they don’t feel burnt out is not easy.

Accomplishing this takes intentional focus. We are going to teach you how to create an ongoing system for developing your volunteers and lowering the burnout and fallout rate. Creating a system for developing volunteers will create a culture of volunteers who are fulfilled. It will also create a platform for you to multiply your ministry. Your next leader should be coming from the volunteer area in which they are already serving and if you have a good development system, people will step up and grow in their leadership.

(We’ll show you a system to provide CARE [Communication, Appreciation, Recognition and Encouragement] to your volunteers.)

5. EVALUATE: The final step is Evaluate. You have to evaluate your ministry. Look at the facts; don’t just depend on your feelings. We often lean on our feelings when it comes to assessing the health of a system or ministry. We feel like we have a good volunteer ministry. We feel like people are inspired.

Our feelings can be misguided and change like the wind. We may feel like its working one-day and not the next. Just because we feel like something is working does not mean it is true.

Jim Collins talks about confronting the brutal facts, in his book Good to Great. Consistently looking at the brutal facts will help you accurately evaluate what is going on. Church of the Highlands knows that one-third of their attendance volunteers in ministry.

How do they know this? They have a system to evaluate the effectiveness of attracting people, building them up, connecting them and developing them.

Knowing the numbers will help you know exactly what is getting done and what needs to get done.

What gets measured gets accomplished. Knowing the numbers will also help you monitor the health of your people. Are they moving forward in the discipleship process?

There is no greater responsibility as a leader or pastor than to equip the Body of Christ, the priesthood of Believers, for the work of the ministry. This system will create a sustainable volunteer ministry where people are thriving and growing in their gifts.

This is a condensed excerpt from Module 2 of Volunteer Rocket, our complete coaching and systems resource that helps churches of all sizes recruit and develop and retain more volunteers.