Volunteers are the lifeblood of any ministry. Most—if not all—ministries could not function without their volunteers. But, there is another equally important truth: We must enlist and work with volunteers for their benefit.
God uses our service to grow and mature us in the faith. It is in the doing of God’s will that we have a greater sense of who God is and His further direction in our life. Christians who do not serve are usually not growing and maturing Christians.
So, how do we best call and work with volunteers?
1. Ask people to serve—and ask people whom you know will say no. Obviously, we should ask people to serve. Yes, there are a few hearty souls who will volunteer on their own, but most people must be asked. You’ve likely been in a meeting about enlisting volunteers when one or more names come up, and someone says, “There is no point in asking him because he doesn’t have time.” So, why ask? Well, first, you never know until you ask, and most of us have had someone we didn’t think would volunteer to say yes. Second—and just as important—people should be asked to serve. It is affirming, and it shows them that they are valued and needed. Everyone wants to feel affirmed and needed.
2. Beware of asking someone to volunteer who is enthusiastic but not ready. There are new believers and those new to ministry and church who are excited to be there. It is easy to ask them to do something. And, we should give new believers and attendees opportunities to serve. However, it is easy to allow such enthusiasm to immerse them into roles they are not yet equipped to fill. Where possible, we must be extra cautious toward helping new believers have a positive experience in their first volunteer role.
3. Never fill a volunteer role because you need somebody there. Many of us have learned the hard way that putting someone in a volunteer ministry role just to “fill an empty slot” is usually not helpful and is sometimes disastrous. Leaving a role unfilled is sometimes better than assigning the wrong volunteer there. When a role is covered, it is easy to assume it is being fulfilled. Consequently, tasks can sometimes go without being completed or not executed correctly without us even being aware until a major issue arises. When a volunteer role is empty, we at least know the tasks aren’t being covered.
4. Carefully explain what the volunteer role entails. A part of getting a good yes or no response when enlisting a volunteer is making sure that he or she understands what is needed or required. Also, a correct understanding of the role will go a long way toward the volunteer doing what need to be done. A friend once shared with me about being called and asked to serve on a church committee and was told, “Don’t worry, they never meet or do anything.” In this case, the person who was being asked to serve didn’t feel valued nor felt a reason to say yes. When we ask volunteers to fill a role that has no purpose nor function, it can be insulting.
5. Explain to the volunteer why he or she is being asked to serve in a specific role. This will help volunteers know if they fit and how they might function in the position. Also, it is affirming to volunteers who are asked to serve in a role when they are told that the group or individual asking them to serve recognizes certain gifts and abilities in them. Honest affirmation goes a long way with volunteers.
6. Make sure volunteers know it is okay to say no. Often, when volunteers do not perform well in a position, it is a result of them feeling they didn’t have a choice to say no. So, they are serving reluctantly out of guilt or feeling manipulated. If there is the genuine chance to say no, then the yes is an even better and stronger yes.
7. Make sure volunteers do not feel deserted once they say yes. Most of us have said yes to something and then never felt we knew where to go from there. It is helpful to give volunteers a starting point and some simple directives. What is the first thing that should happen? When a volunteer has genuinely said yes and fits the role, they will likely do very well by just being pointed in the right direction and who to contact if there are issues or questions.
Keep on asking people to volunteer! They need to be asked to serve just as much or maybe even more than you need them. God will use it to grow them. The more positive experiences volunteers have, the more likely they are to say yes to future requests and even to progress to more demanding roles. Those of us in ministry leadership roles need our volunteers—and they need us.
Arliss Dickerson served as Baptist Campus Minister at Arkansas State University for 32 years and serves as Leadership Development Consultant for the Collegiate Ministry Office at Lifeway. Currently, he’s the Interim Collegiate Minister at First Baptist Church, Jonesboro, Arkansas. He is a husband, father, grandfather, growing believer, and poor but improving golfer. He loves collegiate ministers!