Is Your Volunteer Recruitment Working?

Where have all the volunteers gone?! We’ve all been asking that question. When the Covid pandemic caused shutdowns across the country, people who had been serving regularly for years suddenly found themselves with no volunteer responsibilities. Instead of showing up for youth group on Wednesday nights, they were eating pizza in sweatpants in front of their TV. Rather than getting up early on Sunday morning to usher or serve in the nursery, they slept until 9am and enjoyed a late breakfast. And they did it for a year – or more. Many people enjoyed a slower pace with fewer competing demands on their time. They began to re-evaluate their priorities and became more protective of their free time.

When churches began to meet in person again, some volunteers who were in a higher risk category decided that was a good time to step down from their regular volunteer roles, leaving open positions. And some volunteers who had been faithful attendees and servants had formed new habits that filled their former volunteer time commitment, and they just never returned to in-person worship attendance at all. As a result, many church leaders are operating with significantly fewer volunteers today than they had pre-Covid, and they’re re-evaluating their expectations and recruitment methods. How about you?

We need realistic expectations for our new reality. People today want more flexibility and autonomy than they did pre-pandemic. How can you modify your volunteer schedule to accommodate that? Can you set up multiple volunteer types, including some who serve on a regular rotation, some who serve less frequently, and some who serve on a drop-in basis?

When church leaders ask me how we recruit volunteers at Resurrection, my answer is typically “every way we can.” Recruitment is an ongoing process for us, and a method or message that speaks to one volunteer may not speak to another.

Here are some of the methods we use for recruitment, and some notes about their effectiveness:

  • Bulletin, website, or newsletter – least effective, in our experience.
  • Ministry tables in the lobby accompanied by an announcement from the platform/pulpit – typically gets a small response, unless the announcement includes a video or story highlighting the specific ministry’s impact.
  • All-Call from the platform/pulpit – Broad multi-ministry call for more volunteers, with an option to immediately indicate their specific interest; at Resurrection, this may result in a larger initial response, but with limited follow-through and “stickiness.”
  • Personal Invitation – Creating a culture of invitation results in a slow, consistent flow of new volunteers, and these volunteers tend to stick. Make it a practice to introduce yourself to people you see at church but don’t know. Spend 3 minutes before or after any church activity making conversations with people you don’t know very well. Invite them to be part of what you’re doing and encourage your other existing volunteers to do the same. Doing this with regularity will bear fruit.

Many people who could volunteer but don’t tend to think: a) you don’t need them, b) they’re not qualified, or c) they’ll be locked in for life. Let’s look at some messaging that works when you’re inviting people to serve:

  • First, make sure you’re offering an invitation, not expressing desperation. Someone who is invited to join a fun and meaningful service opportunity feels special. Someone who’s begged to serve because you need bodies feels like a means to an end.
  • Communicate your “why.” Why does your ministry exist? How does its purpose connect to the church’s overall vision/mission? How does it make an impact on the people you serve? Craft a quick 30-second invitation to new people based on the answers to these questions. Invite them to join your mission rather than to fill a role. That’s much more compelling for potential volunteers than your need to fill open spots.
  • Invite people to come “try it out,” with no long-term commitment. Encourage your existing volunteers to invite their friends to come serve one time alongside them. Let them serve a couple of times to see if the role is a good fit for them before you ask them to join a schedule. Create easy, no-risk entry points.
  • Remind your existing volunteers of your “why” over and over again. Be the CRO – the Chief Reminding Officer – of your ministry. Share stories with them of the impact they’re having, and highlight examples of when they serve with excellence. This keeps people’s passion alive and will result in an excitement to invite their friends.

Do it this weekend…Craft your inspiring, encouraging CRO message to share with current volunteers; then develop your 30-second invitation to your mission and practice inviting one new person to try it out.

Yvonne Gentile is our Guest Experience & ShareChurch Lead Director, a former retail industry executive, and co-author of four books. She and her husband Frank have been part of Resurrection since 1996. Together they enjoy movies, road trips, and spending time with family.