4 Reasons Your Church Doesn't Have Enough Volunteers

4 Reasons Your Church Doesn't Have Enough Volunteers

Aaron Buer

Digital giving apps and tools

Has any church really ever had enough volunteers? It’s easy to get frustrated when you don’t have the people you need to run a ministry or a program.

“Come on people! Get out of your seat and serve!”

I know you’ve said it because I’ve said it.

Here’s the thing. At our church, while we don’t have this volunteer thing totally nailed down, we have made some significant progress over the last few years. We’ve moved from “we desperately need people” to “we only need a few more people.” Hey, I don’t want to overpromise.

Anyway, based what we’ve learned, here are four reasons you don’t have enough volunteers...

Reason 1: You Aren't Asking

Ok. Stop being offended. I know that you ask in your bulletin and I know you ask from your stage. Heck, you might even ask through creative videos. What I’m suggesting is that these methods are not the most effective way to ask.

Here’s a quote that from the moment I heard it, has impacted the way I think about recruiting volunteers:

“When you ask everyone, you ask no one.”

The idea is that when you ask for volunteers from your stage or through your bulletin, most people think one of the following:

  • “Oh, someone will do that.”
  • “That sounds cool. I am probably too old/young/weird/cool/busy/unqualified.”
  • “I should do that. Maybe next year.”

There is a massive difference between asking everyone and asking someone.

In contrast, consider this conversation to an individual person:

“I think you should do this. I think you would be great at it!”

This is a totally different conversation. It’s relational. It communicates value. It’s a personal invitation.

recruiting volunteers

[tweetthis]When it comes for asking for volunteers, when you ask everyone, you ask no one.[/tweetthis]

So, why don’t you have enough volunteers? It might be that you’re asking in the wrong way. Whenever possible, we should make our ask through a personal invitation.

Reason 2: Unclear Next Steps

Let’s be real, many of us have complicated next steps.

“If you’re interested in serving go to our information center (located 7 miles from the auditorium through an actual maze of corridors) and fill out our volunteer application. Then we need a picture taken for your name badge. Then, give us your social security number for a background check. Then, we have a mandatory 3-day training and then... oh wait, are you a member? Never mind you can’t serve.”

Ok. So I’m exaggerating a bit but you get the idea.

What we have discovered is that our chances to land and recruit go up dramatically when our initial next steps are more engaging. Here are a few ideas.

1. Tours

An idea we’ve tried that may or may not work well in your church is to offer tours for different volunteering opportunities. Basically, we announce a volunteer need from the stage and then invite people who are interested to join a guided tour of that ministry during the worship segment of our service. In our student ministry, we also invite interested volunteers to tag along with a staff member for a night of programming.

2. Cards

In the past, we set up tables in our atriums with volunteer sign up lists for various ministries. Now, we make cards for each volunteer position we need filled.


Each card contains a short description of the role and a section for a person to fill in their contact information. For whatever reason, taking a card, filling it out and dropping it in a bucket feels more tangible and meaningful than writing down your name on a list.

3. Texts

Another tactic we’ve used is to invite our people to text a number immediately if they are interested in serving. We then follow up each text with a conversation the next week.

“If you’re interested in serving as a small group leader in our student ministry, text your name to (555) 555-5555 and we’ll contact you next week.”

(Google Voice provides a way to create a free number that people can text to. Google Voice then organizes those received texts in an inbox-like environment).

There are a variety of ways to offer clear next steps. It doesn’t matter as much what these next steps are as long as they are clear and immediate.

Reason 3: Volunteers Aren't Recruiting

The best recruiters are passionate and engaged volunteers. They believe in what they are doing and know exactly who would be a good fit. Because of this, we ask our volunteers to recruit for us. One simple way to do this is to periodically ask your best volunteers:

“Who do you know that would be great at what you do?”

And secondly:

“Would you be willing to personally invite that person?”

These conversations have led to some of our best new volunteers. If you’re struggling to find great volunteers, consider asking your best volunteers to join the recruiting effort.

Reason 4: It's Not a Good Experience

Another reason that churches often don’t have enough volunteers is that volunteering isn’t a positive experience. We are often guilty of recruiting for a needed position with little thought of the person we place in that position. This is a natural result of constantly being desperate for more volunteers.

It’s crucial that we ensure that volunteering is a life-giving experience. We need to care for the volunteer really well. There are three ways to do this:

1. Encouragement

You really can’t say thank-you enough when it comes to volunteers. Words, cards, swag, free lunch or coffee, more words...


The key question is who is owning the role of encouragement with your volunteers? This is a crucial element to providing a positive experience.

2. Problem Solving

The easiest way to communicate that you don’t value a volunteer is to do nothing when they encounter a problem.

Whether you forgot or ignored the person, the result is the same. For you, it is another issue. For them it is THE issue. Resolving problems for our volunteers is a great way to communicate value and provide a great experience.

3. Alignment

Good-hearted, well intentioned people from your congregation will often volunteer for a particular role because there is a need. This doesn’t always mean they will be good at that role. In fact, it’s often a mismatch.

One of the best ways to put people first in your church is to help them find volunteer roles that align with their gifts and passions. Sure, this could involve awkward conversations but they will be worth it because volunteers who serve in positions that align with their gifts will be more effective, happier and will serve longer.

4. Fun

If volunteering feels like a chore, then we’re going to have a terrible time recruiting volunteers. However, if the experience is genuinely enjoyable, it will be relatively easy to build momentum.

How exactly do you make volunteering fun? I think it comes down to people and experiences. Identify people who are already volunteering who are fun people. Put them in charge of fun.

“Hey, you are so much fun to be around. You have a real gift. I think you can use that gift to make this volunteering experience fun for everyone. Can you try to make sure everyone has a great time?”

The right person, visioned in this way can make a dramatic difference in the experience of the people around them.

The second way to have fun is to focus on experiences. For example, even the most “unfun” of volunteer assignments can result in fun if there is something enjoyable to do together after the work is done.

Consider taking your volunteer crew out for dessert once a month or show up with pizza near the end of the task. Create experiences for the volunteer crew to engage in together.

Taking the Next Step

Let’s wrap this up. Why don’t we have enough volunteers? It might be because your people are the absolute worst. Or, more likely, it may be that...

  • when we ask everyone we ask no one
  • we need to clarify our next steps
  • we need to ask our all-star volunteers to help recruit
  • we need to focus on providing our current volunteers with a fantastic volunteering experience

If you’re looking for a place to start, start with the people you already have. Focus on providing them with a fantastic experience. A core of effective and happy volunteers is a great foundation.

If you have any questions, ideas stories, or advice of your own relating to why churches don't have enough volunteers, please leave us a comment below. We’d love to hear from you.

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