Years ago, I thought of myself as a relatively smart and effective youth pastor.
My high school youth group at our church was averaging around 100 students and things were going really well.
Five years into my ministry career, I transitioned to the church where I now work and joined a student ministry that blew my mind.
The level of volunteering in this student ministry was off the charts.
The volunteer small group leaders functioned as the pastors of the students.
They owned their roles.
They LOVED serving in the ministry, liked each other, and there were a bunch of them who had been serving for years and years.
The student pastors had built a volunteering culture that was so strong that I just couldn’t get my mind around it.
Over the years, I learned what made that volunteering culture work.
I want to share some of the strategies I learned with you because these ideas work, not just in a student ministry...they work anywhere.
Celebrate More Than Ask
Stories move people more than needs.
This is why we celebrate volunteers more than we ask for more volunteers—especially from the stage.
If you need more volunteers for a ministry in your church, there are two ways to communicate that need.
- You can stand up in front of your people and tell them about the need and challenge people to step into that volunteering need.
- Or, you can paint a picture of how meaningful that role is. You can empower volunteers to tell stories of the impact and value of volunteering.
I learned this lesson when we showed a video of a volunteer sharing the story of how leading a small group of students impacted her life.
If I remember correctly, our volunteer applications tripled that summer.
Understanding this, something we have done to build our volunteering culture is to celebrate ministry in our weekend services consistently.
We don’t wait until we need volunteers, and we don’t restrict our celebrations to the recruiting season.
We celebrate ministry in some way, every week.
The idea is to celebrate volunteers more than asking for volunteers.
It raises the value and visibility of volunteers throughout the year.
If you want to build an amazing volunteering culture, celebrate what your volunteers are doing regularly.
Do it from the stage, do it at volunteer gatherings, do it through social media...do it everywhere you can.
Retain Not Recruit
Over the last couple of years, I’ve come to understand I’ve been focusing on the wrong group of people when it comes to volunteers.
I’ve always focused on the volunteers we need.
If we have ten current small group leaders but need five more, I’ve always focused the majority of my attention on the five that we need.
I’ve changed my focus.
I’ve learned that it’s far more effective to focus time, energy and resources on retaining the volunteers we have.
When our current volunteers find meaning, purpose and joy in their role, they not only serve more effectively, for a longer time, they also become missionaries for the ministry.
The most effective recruiters are volunteers who love what they do.
I get it. It feels counterintuitive and maybe even risky, but focusing on retention rather than recruiting will help you build a better volunteering culture.
And how do you focus on retention?
Well, one of the best ways is to make your ministry the best place to serve.
The Best Place to Serve
By this, I don’t mean that it’s better to serve in my ministry than yours.
It’s not a competition.
What I’m after here is that a volunteer would simply say,
“Volunteering in that ministry is the best!”
The most important aspect of a volunteering culture is the experience of volunteering.
Quite simply, if volunteering in your church is a bad experience, you’ll never build a volunteering culture.
It has to be a great experience.
If people love serving, it will be easy.
So how do you make sure people love serving?
It has to matter.
If the volunteering roles you are inviting people into aren’t meaningful, you have a problem.
If I show up to volunteer and I sense that you don’t really need me, or that you aren’t fully utilizing me, I’m probably not going to last long.
Give your volunteers a role that matters. If it matters, they will own it.
It has to be relational.
The thing that impressed me most about the volunteering culture that I encountered in our student ministry was how it felt like family.
Our volunteers and staff loved each other.
I mean, it was apparent s that they actually liked each other.
They hung out before and after events because they just liked being together.
If you can build a community where people love being together and hate the idea of leaving because of the relational connections, you’ve really got something.
Whatever you do, make it about relationships and caring for each other.
It has to be fun.
Nobody has time for drudgery!
If volunteering isn’t a good time, people aren’t going to stick around.
And, this doesn’t have much to do with the actual work.
It’s possible to have fun cleaning toilets.
It’s about attitude, energy and leadership.
Find ways to make the experience fun before, during and after volunteering and people will keep coming back.
When volunteering matters, is relational and is fun, people will love being a part of the ministry you lead, and it will become the best place to serve.
Help Them Win
The last way to build a volunteering culture is to help people win in their roles.
All I’m saying is that nobody enjoys failing and everyone loves winning.
If you want to build a fantastic volunteering culture, then you must focus on development.
You must teach, mentor and guide your volunteers.
Training, feedback and visioning are all important.
Every volunteer should have a clear understanding of how they are doing and the next step to work on.
This requires leadership from you, the leader of the ministry.
But it’s worth it.
Volunteers who know they are winning are volunteers who will stick around, mentor other volunteers, and recruit more volunteers.
Help them win and the ministry will win as well.
Well, these are just a few of the lessons I learned when I joined a strong student ministry team who really understood how to build a volunteering culture.
I learned so much from them, and I hope some of my learnings help you build a better volunteering culture in your church or organization.
Thanks for reading. We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.