3 Keys to Sustaining Volunteers for the Long Haul

Volunteers are the lifeblood of churches. Churches truly can’t function without them. They give their time, talents, and resources to support the church's mission and to make a difference in the lives of others. We want volunteers who serve with excellence to stay in their roles for a long time – maybe not forever – but we certainly don’t want a lot of volunteer turnover. However, it can be challenging to keep volunteers engaged and motivated over the long haul.

Sustaining volunteers takes great intentionality. It requires us to develop relationships, keep inspiration high, and maintain regular, open communication.

This is the last post in a four-part series on volunteer management basics. Here’s where you’ll find the other three on Recruiting, Connecting and Equipping.

1. Develop and Maintain Relationships

There are all kinds of reasons people say they serve in a volunteer role – giving back, making a difference, staying busy (if they’re retired) – but perhaps the most frequent thing people say they love is that they make friends while serving. The value of feeling connected to others can’t be overstated, especially these days when people may be connected online but feel lonelier than ever.

Here are a few tips to help you develop and maintain relationships with volunteers:

  • Get to know them. Learn their names, their background, and what they care about. Introduce them to others who have the same interests.
  • Remember and acknowledge their birthdays and other important dates.
  • Provide opportunities for growth and development. Encourage volunteers to learn new skills and to take on new challenges. This will help them stay engaged and grow in their faith.
  • Offer flexible service options, if possible. Make it easy for volunteers to serve in a way that fits their schedule and interests. Offer a variety of service opportunities and allow volunteers to choose the ones that are the best fit for them.
  • Be flexible and understanding. Things don't always go according to plan. Be understanding and supportive when volunteers make mistakes or need to take a break from serving.

2. Keep Inspiration High

Start with the “why.” Help volunteers understand the value of their service and the impact they are making. Remind them of the church's mission and vision, and how their role contributes to achieving those goals. Share stories about how their work is making a difference in the lives of others. Consider yourself the “Chief Reminding Officer.” It is your job to keep the vision, mission, and impact of their role top of mind for all volunteers.

Share success stories. Celebrate the successes of your volunteers and share their stories with the church community. This will help inspire other volunteers and show them their work is valued and appreciated. It also serves as a model for others to emulate.

Make it fun. Create a fun and welcoming environment for your volunteers. Make sure they have the resources and support they need to be successful. Encourage them to socialize and to get to know each other.

Show appreciation. Take the time to thank your volunteers for their service. This can be done verbally, in writing, or through public recognition. Let your volunteers know that you appreciate their hard work and dedication.

3. The Power of the Huddle

Regular huddles are a great way to sustain volunteers. Huddles are short, informal meetings where volunteer teams come together briefly before they serve. Huddles are for sharing updates, encouraging each other, and troubleshooting any challenges they are facing. Huddles can also be used to provide training and support to volunteers. This regular recurring communication opportunity keeps volunteer motivation and encouragement high.

We try to include the following in each huddle:

  • Vision: Cast vision and remind them of their why.
  • Inspiration: Share a story or example that illustrates the impact they are having.
  • Information: Share any practical information they need for today and any changes since they last served.
  • Prayer: Share joys and concerns and offer a brief prayer.

Here are some additional tips for conducting effective huddles:

  • Keep them short and to the point. Aim for 10-15 minutes.
  • Start and end on time. This shows respect for everyone's time.
  • Have a clear agenda.
  • Encourage participation. Create an environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas.
  • Be positive and supportive. Focus on the team's accomplishments and how you can work together to achieve even more.

For some leaders, these things come naturally. For others, they require supportive systems (Hello, calendar reminders!), processes (advance planning for huddles), and partners. Invite key volunteers or volunteer leaders to help with your efforts to sustain the team. With intentionality and attention, you can create a volunteer culture that is sustainable and rewarding for both volunteers and the church.

Getting Started:  When volunteers feel valued, appreciated, and supported, they are more likely to continue serving for the long term. Where will you begin?

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.