Every church leader is looking for ways to get more people out of their seats and into “the game.” Every non-profit organization wishes they had more volunteers showing up to help. We want our members or constituents to be more than just passive observers—we want them to buy into the vision with their time, sweat, and energy. Why? Because we know they will help get stuff done; but more importantly, we know they will be personally transformed through their hands-on experience.
1. Stop Using the R Word
How many of us, when we are talking about finding new volunteers, use the R word? The R word is “recruiting,” and I suggest we ban it from our vocabularies. We tell leaders they need to recruit more. We announce to our congregation that we are recruiting new volunteers. What’s wrong with using the word “recruit?”
No one wants to be recruited. Recruiting sounds like something we do to people, not for them. Who recruits in our culture? The military recruits. A college admissions department recruits. Sometimes a company will recruit. But it’s all very corporate and institutional. There’s nothing wrong with that in a college or military setting, but it’s just not as effective as inviting people to make a difference with their lives.
Stop using the R word, and instead start using the I word. Instead of recruiting, begin to talk about inviting. The word invite conveys the notion of individual responsibility. The church can recruit, but anyone can invite. This gives everyone (not just the leaders) ownership. Even a brand new greeter can invite others to join him. The woman who checks in kids and hangs up their coats can invite a friend to join her.
2. Teach Shoulder-Tapping
So how do you teach people to invite? You do it by building an army of shoulder-tappers.
Many times when a ministry leader needs volunteers, the normal route is to go to the pastor and ask him or her to make an announcement. Or sometimes we go to the person who lays out the bulletin and beg her to include an advertisement.
Here is the problem with asking for help from the platform, newsletter, or bulletin: If the pastors or the church staff members are the ones seen as responsible for finding and placing new volunteers, then the growth of your church will be limited. Why? Because very few people will respond to pleas for help. In fact, hardly anyone will. No one wants to board a ship that appears to be sinking! Rather, most jump in and help because they want to make a difference with their lives or because they want to meet some people and crave community. That’s why you must talk about shoulder-tapping.
Shoulder-tapping happens when all leaders and volunteers believe it is their responsibility to “tap the shoulders” of the folks next to them and invite them into ministry. I’m not referring to the people sitting next to them on Sunday morning, but the people standing next to them in life—the people with whom they are in relationship. It is so affirming to hear, “Join me.” This tells me that someone wants to be with me, that I have worth, and that I can make a difference.
Every volunteer in my ministry area has contacts that I don’t have. They have nurtured friendships and developed relationships that are different from mine. For that reason, the shoulders they tap will be within a unique network of relationships. When you encourage and equip every volunteer to invite others to join them, you will begin to unleash the potential of the church.
3. Remove the Hoops
One of the problems we may encounter when releasing our congregation to shoulder-tap and invite others into ministry is that too often we have roadblocks or obstacles in our systems which make it very difficult for people to plug-in.
If there are hoops for a person to jump through before they can serve, they may just give up. First they must find out about the serving opportunity (which we sometimes make very difficult), then they have to apply, and then they might have to write out their testimony or meet with a leader to make sure they are spiritually mature, etc. Many churches require church membership before you can serve; some even require additional classes or “hoops” to make sure no one is representing the church that doesn’t completely believe the same things they do.
Don’t you get tired just reading the list? Your highest potential volunteers will rarely endure such an arduous process. There are many places they can volunteer in their community or at their kids’ school where they can just jump in and begin making a difference.
Here is one key idea on how to remove the hoops and make it easier for people to quickly engage in ministry: Make sure every ministry area has “easy-access” positions. That is, make sure there are volunteer positions available in every department that require no hoops to jump. You don’t ask if they are a Christian or a member. They don’t have to sign anything or commit to a long season. Rather, you get them engaged quickly on a team where they can develop a relationship with others who can help discern good next steps.
For example, in your Guest Services (sometimes called First Impressions) ministries, some great easy-access roles might be greeter, traffic ministry volunteer, coffee-service helper. In your worship service, you probably have tech or set-up roles that could be easy-access. With outreach ministries, let people just show up to help build a house, serve meals, or assist the poor. In your kids ministry, let them help with check-in and greeting parents (this would be the one exception where you’d have a single hoop to jump – authorization for a background check).
After those in easy-access ministry roles have served for a while, you can begin to help them take additional steps. In the context of relationship, you can see where they are in their spiritual journey and in their commitment to the church, and then you can decide if they are ready to take steps toward becoming a small group leader, singing on a worship team, or teaching a class.
You will never have a high percentage of your congregation volunteering if you don’t engage everyone in inviting and remove the obstacles that are in their way.