If you have enough volunteers on your team and in your ministry, stop reading this now. Take the next few minutes to grab a drink, grab a snack, call a friend, or take a brief nap. If you’re still reading, then your church might be trying to figure out how to get more volunteers in this post-pandemic world.
Most churches across the country have not had as many volunteers recently as they had prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. A lot of volunteers had to take a break in 2020. During that period, volunteers had the space to consider their time and schedules and to decide where they wanted to invest their time, effort, and energy. If volunteers in your church have not gotten as involved in ministry as they did before the pandemic, a major factor may be the climate, or culture, around volunteering in your ministry — a climate shaped by the stories that are being told in and around your church.
The Stories Told and Untold
Imagine you’re visiting a friend for dinner, and you notice the cabinets are falling apart. One is on the floor; another is missing the doors. All the cabinets are empty. All the dishes are scattered about the countertops, and some pots and pans are in the hallway. There’s take-out on the table. You have a delightful meal and conversation and then leave, yet the dinner host never once mentions the cabinets. What story do you begin to tell yourself about their home?
That place was a mess. I always thought the Johnsons were more organized. I wonder if something bigger is going on there. I’m not sure I’d return there for dinner again. Maybe they’re remodeling their kitchen.
It’s hard to say for sure, but in the absence of story, people tend to fill in the blanks. Had they excused the mess, talked about the new cabinets that were being installed, and shared their dreams for entertaining in this space in the future, you might leave thinking differently.
Church is not too different. Our congregations tell stories about the church and the ministries of the church. Unless community leaders prioritize telling stories that embrace volunteers and share the deep impact and life-changing opportunities taking place, members and visitors will begin filling in the blanks themselves.
What Story Is Your Church Telling?
Do any of these stories sound familiar?
- 20% of our church does 80% of the work in our ministries.
- Our Sunday School teachers have been teaching the same class for 20 years.
- She’s served on almost every committee in the church.
- He was a member of the missions committee, and then he became the chair and has been doing it ever since.
- We just don’t have enough volunteers.
- There is so much going on that everyone needs to serve in multiple places to pull it all off.
- More than half of the people at each event are the people volunteering.
- We just can’t seem to get any new blood in our ministries.
- We just need a few warm bodies to help with VBS.
- If we don’t have enough volunteers, we’ll need to cancel the event.
What might change if a new story was told? What might look different if there were an intentional plan to celebrate what current volunteers have achieved? What might change if the common story told is that the church has an abundance of volunteers or all the people necessary to achieve what God is calling the church to accomplish? What might your church be able to do if the new story describes what was only possible because a volunteer was involved? In each case, when the common story shifts from something like the list above toward one of celebration, success, and abundance, the church will be better prepared to recruit and equip the potential volunteers within the church body.
A Climate of Celebration and Abundance
You might feel pressure from the hurriedness of recruiting volunteers for the next event, the lack of attendance at past training events, or the daunting challenge of moving toward a more sustainable system. However, until the climate surrounding volunteerism in the church shifts to one of celebration and abundance, it will be extremely difficult to move beyond minor momentary successes. Once the climate has been addressed, the path for recruiting, training, and equipping volunteers will become clear and achievable.