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How to Create a Solid Volunteer Program

By Raul Rivera

The Apostle Paul uses the illustration of one body with many parts to describe the Church in 1 Corinthians 12. As a body requires many parts in order to properly function, so, too, does your church.

As a minister, you are busy with the typical responsibilities of pastoring, leading, counseling, and shepherding a church congregation; you surely cannot do everything. Even if your church has several full-time or part-time staff members, that is still not enough individuals to take care of everything at the church.

This is where volunteers come into the picture. Churches largely depend upon the service and dedication of volunteers in order to properly function and operate. But the question many pastors have is, “How do I create a functional and efficient volunteer program?”

Within this post, I am going to address this very question and give you 6 strategic components necessary to manage and maintain a volunteer program. However, before we discuss these 6 components, I want you to consider a somewhat different approach to volunteerism that I believe will change the dynamic of your church.

Fostering a culture of service

I think we can all agree that without volunteers our churches simply would not be the same. We want our churches to offer the best programs and services to those who walk through our church doors, and in order to do that, we need volunteers. But if you are not careful, it can be easy to value the “success” of a program or service over that of the act of volunteering, or worse, the actual volunteers.

Because of this, it is important that you and your church foster a culture of service. But how is that accomplished? Although there is no specific blueprint for that to take place, I believe we can look to Scripture for guidance.

The Apostle John tells us that, “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19 NIV) God’s love is the source of all the love that we as humans are able to give and receive. In a similar fashion, I believe we can say, “We serve because He first served us.” Christ Jesus is the ultimate example of a servant leader.

As a pastor, the act of fostering a culture of service begins with your example. Just like Jesus showed us what it means to be a servant leader, so must you show your church congregation.

Next, let us look at 6 components necessary to manage and maintain a volunteer program that helps facilitate a culture of service.

6 strategic components of a volunteer program

Creating a volunteer program at your church allows for efficiency and excellence to be a standard when it comes to serving at your church. A volunteer program helps to ensure quality programs and services at your church, as well as a great experience for volunteers and nonvolunteers alike.

Below are 6 strategic components to consider:

1. Identify the needs in your church

If you take a moment to think about it, I am sure that you can quickly bring to mind several areas in your church that are in need of immediate volunteer assistance. Whether your church has just one service on Sundays or multiple services, it is necessary to identify all areas where volunteers are needed.

Perhaps your church could use more nursery or children’s ministry volunteers. Maybe there is a large need for more ushers, greeters, or hospitality team members. Whatever the need may be, it is important that you and your staff or leadership team take time to adequately acknowledge those needs. This will allow you to know which areas in your church have the greatest need for volunteers.

2. Create descriptions

Once you have identified the areas of your church that are in need of volunteers, it is important that you create detailed descriptions of each need. You can almost think of this as creating a job description. To do this, simply answer the who, what, when, where, why, and how of each volunteer opportunity.

  • Who: Which type of individual would be best suited for this service opportunity. There may be some volunteer opportunities that are more physical than others. In that instance, you will want to make sure that this is clearly stated within the description.
  • What: Clearly state what is involved and expected from each volunteer opportunity.
  • When: Indicate when the volunteers for each opportunity will be needed. For example, ushers may only be needed during Sunday morning worship, but children’s ministry volunteers may be needed during your Sunday worship service as well as during your midweek worship service. Also, indicate how early they will need to arrive to the church when it is their day or time to serve.
  • Where: State where the specific service will be conducted. For instance, where will your greeters need to be “stationed” on Sunday mornings? Letting your volunteers know ahead of time will help prevent unnecessary confusion.
  • Why: Let your volunteers (and potential volunteers) know why this area of the church needs volunteers.
  • How: Be clear and concise in how you expect the specific volunteer act to be conducted and completed.

3. Recruit

You cannot expect for your congregation to know that the church is in need of volunteers. Yes, there are some church members who are ready and eager to serve. You do not even have to ask them to give their time to the church. But the majority of church members need to be informed.

One way to inform your church members of the volunteer needs in your church is to create a flyer or print something in the bulletin. It does not have to be something that is printed each week. You could decide to address volunteer needs once each quarter. The frequency is up to you.

4. Establish a streamlined volunteer process

Once you have identified the volunteer needs in your church, create descriptions for each volunteer opportunity and the process that recruits will need to take. It only makes life easier for you and the volunteers if you have a streamlined volunteer process in place. Let me explain.

Once an individual has expressed interest in serving at your church, you will want to consider having the following steps in place:

  • Volunteer application: Have each person complete a volunteer application. This allows you to keep adequate record of those who are actively serving at your church. Our Document’s Suite contains a template for a volunteer’s application that you can customize to your church’s needs. You can click here for more information.
  • Background and reference checks: This step is especially important for any and all children’s and youth workers. Many churches are good about conducting criminal background checks, but it is important not to stop there. You should also conduct a reference check on each individual. The importance of reference checks was highlighted in a case in which the Florida Baptist Convention (FBC) was found liable, and ordered to pay 12.5 million dollars, for the acts of a minister within their organization, even though prior to hiring him they had conducted a criminal background check. The FBC had failed to conduct a reference check.
  • Training: Make sure that any necessary training is available for your volunteers. This will help facilitate a better experience for everyone involved and it will allow the volunteer(s) to feel more confident when serving.
  • Chain-of-command: Although volunteers are not employees of the church, it is, at times, necessary to manage them like employees. When issues arise, it is best practice for there to be a clear chain of command. This allows for any potential issues to be handled efficiently and effectively.

5. Maintain a smooth volunteer experience

The key to this component is communication. Keep your volunteers informed of what is going on at the church, especially if it involves the specific area in which they serve. By keeping an open line of communication, your volunteers will feel valued as active participants and members of the church.

6. Show appreciation

By now, it is no secret that volunteers are some of the most vital and integral parts of your church. If not for the volunteers, who would greet newcomers in the morning and make them feel welcome? Who would help teach the Bible classes and small groups that make up a huge part of your church community?

One way to show appreciation to them is to host an appreciation dinner and present them with certificates. No, your volunteers are not serving for recognition by man, but it cannot hurt for them to know that their church truly values the time and service they so freely give.

It is a team effort

I have never seen a professional sports team win a championship with the efforts of just a single player. Rather, it takes the effort of the entire team. It is the same way with your church. You cannot do it on your own; period. A team effort is required in order for your church to dominate your community with the love of Jesus Christ.

Likewise, you need a team in place when it comes to your church’s compliance efforts. We would love to be a part of your team. If you are on the fence about allowing us to join your team, I want to invite you to join us at one of our conferences near you. If you are unable to join us then give us a call at 770-638-3444. We would love to hear about what God is doing through your church.

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