How To Enlist Volunteers

By: Wesley R. Willis, ED.D.

“We still need a Primary teacher, please see me after the service if you can help out.”

“The crib room director desperately needs three helpers who can work two Sundays a month. Please give her a call this afternoon.”

“Unless we can find leaders to direct our youth clubs, we’re going to have to cancel the program.”

Do these pleas sound familiar? Have you heard similar requests from your pastor? Perhaps you’ve made them yourself.

In many churches the critical shortage of Christian Education leaders has reached epidemic proportions. Staff is needed for teaching, committee work, superintending, and countless other positions.

And so to secure workers we put announcements in the bulletin, plead from the pulpit, and put notices wherever possible. We try to corral people hurrying through the halls, even appealing to guilt by implying dereliction of duty. And yet we have ministries declining, or leaders filling multiple slots, neglecting personal family lives.

Church leaders often wonder why Christians don’t respond to ministry opportunities. There may be two reasons why this happens. First, we take a haphazard approach to recruiting; and second we fail to recognize where our people are. If we employ the principles underlying the accompanying  chart, we can avoid haphazard recruiting, and better understand potential leaders in the process. Many recruiters assume that all church members will respond to same challenge – an assumption evident in our pleas. “Everyone interested in teaching please talk the Sunday School superintendent after the morning service.” And everyone avoids the superintendent like Typhoid Mary.

But why such a negative response? How come people aren’t standing in line waiting to help out? Perhaps the fatal flaw in our standard approach is assuming that all church members are in level five – fully prepared and resting – awaiting the summons. And when the cry for help comes, they will dash to the nearest phone booth only to leap out transformed – Super Leader!

Meanwhile, they sit there listening, but not hearing. Only as we address a person on his level will he respond and move upward toward meaningful service. Let’s examine each level in order to understand how to encourage progress.

Level One: Unaware/Aware

Everyone in the average congregation can be assigned to one of two categories – unaware or aware. That is, unaware of God’s expectations, or aware that God wants all to serve. Sometimes a majority of members fall into the unaware category. One new pastor was reprimanded by the board for challenging his people to get involved in ministry. They informed him, that was the reason they hired Him.

A congregation composed of unaware people rarely will be responsive to pleas for help. But all Christians can progress to the upper levels as they become aware of what God expects.

Perhaps this is the easiest level to work with. Ordinarily it is best when the pastor communicates from the pulpit what God expects. All Christian education must begin with the preaching of God’s Word. Biblical preaching will help Christians to become aware that God expects them to serve.

Level Two: Unwilling/Willing

Now everyone aware of God’s expectations can be assigned to one of the level two categories. These are either unwilling or willing. Some have said no to God, but others are willing to serve. The unwilling may know that God expects ministry involvement, but they have chosen not to serve.

How do we communicate with this person? In order to progress he must move from the unwilling to the willing category. Ordinarily more preaching won’t prompt such a response. But two strategies can help.

Personal contact often is effective. Through counseling or individual challenge, someone with credibility communicates one-on-one. The pastor, a lay leader, board member, or other mature Christian can encourage the unwilling to reconsider.

A second strategy is to spotlight those who are serving, showing the impact of their ministry. Ask teachers to share in an evening service the ways that God is blessing. Report responses to visitation. Let members know that God is working through others. And recognize them for faithful service.

Level Three: Immature/Mature

Everyone aware and willing can be assigned to a level three category – either immature or mature. Now maturity is not automatic, nor is it a consequence of how long one has been a Christian. Some have been Christians for many years but still wear spiritual diapers, having never grown up.

Rather, maturity is a combination of two things. It does involve time. A new Christian is immature because he has not been a Christian long enough to develop Christian understanding. This is why Paul warned about putting a “novice” into spiritual leadership (I Timothy 3:6).

However, in addition to time, maturity requires consistent application of biblical principles – practiced obedience. When a person knows and obeys God, and has been obedient for a significant period of time, then he can be called mature.

Now the question, “How can we help immature Christians become mature?” The key ingredient is personal Bible study. Preaching is important, but listening to sermons alone rarely produces spiritual maturity. Peter challenged immature Christians to seek the milk of God’s Word (I Peter 2:2). The author of Hebrews admonished believers to progress from milk to meat (Hebrews 5:12-14). Personal Bible study leads to maturity.

Such Bible study could be in a Sunday School class or a home Bible study. I know of one very successful church where hundreds of members are involved in the Wednesday evening Bible institute that they sponsor. They are growing up spiritually. They are maturing – moving from immaturity to maturity.

Level Four: Untrained/Trained

All aware, willing, and mature Christians fit into one of the level four categories. Those who have progressed this far either are untrained or trained. Again, training has little to do with how long a person has been saved. A person is trained who has discovered and developed spiritual gifts of ministry for service.

I worked with one fine Christian woman in her 60s who decided to try teaching. She enrolled in a training class and successfully completed the course. When we met after the very first time she taught, she was ecstatic. She loved teaching and has been progressing in skill ever since. While she had been a Christian for many years, she was untrained, with latent ministry skills. She had the spiritual gift of teaching but never had developed it. Being untrained, she was limited in opportunities for service.

Obviously, a person in the dead end untrained category needs training. Formal classes, one-on-one disciplining, church training sessions, and other techniques can be employed. But we must recognize that until a person reaches the fourth level there will be little response to training offers. Few unwilling persons still in level two are motivated to attend a training class, which is why so many offers of training are ignored. We offer the course before our people have reached level four. Conversely, those in level four often will request training. They know they need help and want
it. It is invigorating to be a pastor or D.C.E. when your members request help in learning to minister.

Level Five: Resting/Active

Finally we arrive at level five. Those who qualify at this level are aware of God’s expectations, willing to serve, spiritually mature, trained in ministry skills, and fit into either the resting or the active category. Many leaders assume that all Christians are resting and merely need to be informed of service opportunities. Thus, a pulpit plea or bulletin announcement should mobilize a vast force of presently inactive but fully prepared workers.

Sometimes you will find such a person, but probably he has just moved to town and recently started attending your church.

Instead of focusing on those resting, we ought to seek to move workers out of the active and into the resting category. All of us know Christians who are worn to a frazzle and desperately need a break. In one church where I served we had an excellent worker leading several major programs. For her own welfare we replaced her in all but one. Several weeks later her husband thanked me for giving back a wife and mother. She had been so active that she was neglecting other responsibilities. She needed a rest.

But in order to relieve exhausted workers, we need others ready to move into vacated slots. This can happen if we reach people where they are. Effective staffing is well-planned with a multi-faceted program. It must be operative continually, and it requires cooperation of many in the church.


Perhaps many in your church are unaware that God expects them to serve. A series of sermons on spiritual gifts, or a church-wide challenge to “join in the battle” could be a good start.

Some may be aware but unwilling. Leaders should plan personal contact with these. And encourage lay persons to share how God is blessing their ministries.

The aware and willing but spiritually immature need to study the Word. Carefully evaluate Sunday School curriculum even if the publisher claims it’s Bible-based. Does that curriculum get students into the Bible or does it just talk about the Bible? If students don’t need a Bible in class, the materials may be froth. Carefully selected electives can be valuable too.

Perhaps home Bible study groups would help. One church decentralized its Wednesday evening program. Members were encouraged to sign up for home groups where they would study the Word. Another church of about 300 has 20 study groups meeting in homes during the week. Members are growing individually and so is the church as a whole.

Training classes or other forms of instruction are appropriate when people are aware, willing, and mature, but untrained. These may be offered by your church, a group of churches, or a local college. Some churches encourage members to take correspondence courses to become trained to serve.

Finally you will have a leadership core aware of what God wants, willing to serve, spiritually mature, trained in ministry skills, and available to respond to opportunities. Then those who are exhausted in the service of the King can take a furlough. Workers can move from active to resting and back to active as need dictates; and your church will be growing to the glory of God.

Blessed is the pastor whose people dwell in level five.

(The above material was published by Scripture Press Publications.)

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