Working With Volunteers


You are going to have to rely on the services of volunteers. You simply will not be able to handle efficiently all the details of church office work by yourself. For your own sake, and in the interest of
proper stewardship, initiate a volunteer program that is orderly, efficient, and uses the talents of volunteers to the best advantage.

Far too many churches have so-called volunteer programs that are not thought out. Recruitment consists of little begging campaigns; there is little or no training involved; and there is always someone crying “I can’t stand to work with volunteers! They are unreliable and they don’t know what they are doing! ”

There is no excuse for this. As a pastor you preach that faith without works is dead, and some members respond to that by volunteering their services in the church office. You can’t say to them, “I don’t want your help,” especially when they can see that you are absolutely snowed under with office and clerical duties.

Volunteers are well-meaning, but it is a sad truth that they don’t always know what they are doing. They make mistakes and you can’t scold them or threaten to fire them. When a volunteer types envelopes all day in the church office and goes home at five feeling very good and self-sacrificial , do you call her at six and tell her that nearly all of the envelopes were typed incorrectly? No, you don’t. You may mumble and grumble a lot about volunteers. Still, all the blame can’t be laid at the feet of the volunteers. If you set up a volunteer recruitment program with a training system, you will be one of the few pastors who will thank God for volunteers and know that you can’t get along without them.

How Not to Ask for Volunteers

Volunteers should be treated seriously and in a professional and efficient way. In the business world the value of a job is often judged by how much money it pays. This is not true in the church. People volunteer their time and talents as expressions of their stewardship and this service should be viewed and treated with the same respect given to paid work.

In light of this, don’t ever ask for volunteer services in a casual way. Don’t ever stop someone in the hall or on the street and casually ask that person to do something for the church or for you. “It’s not much of a job, not at all difficult, and it shouldn’t take up too much of your time” are familiar words and are seldom true. What you are saving is that there is an unimportant, grubby little job that needs to be done and you are looking for some dummy to do it. If a volunteer agrees to do the work after an approach like that, it certainly won’t be with much of a sense of mission!

Don’t ever approach a potential volunteer asking that person to do something for you or the church. Tell him or her that God has opened up an opportunity for service. Believe in your heart that you are offering a tremendous opportunity to serve the Lord and that you are doing the person a favor by offering that opportunity. Your attitude and enthusiasm will be contagious and you will help to foster a sense of mission and purpose in the volunteer. This is not being suggested as a “gimmick” to get people to work. Volunteer service must be viewed in this manner because your work is service to the Lord and the volunteer should see that he or she is privileged to be able to help in that service.

Initiating an Efficient Volunteer Program

A good way to obtain volunteers is to initiate an efficient volunteer program. It will entail some work but in the long run it will save everyone a lot of headaches and hurt feelings. By having a volunteer program you will enforce your attitude that volunteers’ service is an important opportunity to serve God and because it is, you expect this service to be performed efficiently and in order. People might be careless in the work they do for you or for the church, but they are not going to be careless in their approach to an opportunity to serve God.

The best idea is to initiate a volunteer program and then let someone else handle it. It would be a very good idea for you to talk to the volunteers you already have, either in a group or individually, to explain the program , make known your views on volunteer services, and give the volunteers a sense of direction and purpose.

The first step in setting up a volunteer program is deciding on the areas in which volunteers are needed. Of course, if someone has indicated a desire to sing in the church choir or teach a church school class, the choir director or church school superintendent should be informed. The volunteer program which you initiate will be mainly for work to be performed in the church office. Putting the newsletter together and mailing it, keeping mailing lists current, typing, helping with special mailings, filing, and answering the phone are some of these services. Once you have a list of the jobs that can be done by volunteers, write a brief job description for each job.

A job description for volunteers should include :

1. A description of the job to be performed, with specific details.
2. The purpose of the job.
3. The name of the one person to whom the volunteer is directly responsible.
4. The length of time of service. This should NOT be “forever.” It depends on the job. Many times a volunteer is asked to do a one time job and the time of service is the time it takes to complete the job. In the case of tasks which must be done on a regular weekly or monthly basis, you can enlist the volunteer’s services for a period of six months or a year. At the end of this time period, someone else may be asked to take this job or the person doing it may be asked to renew her or his commitment for another period of six months or a year. You may be lucky enough to have a volunteer who is very, very good at one particular job, and you would like that volunteer to continue doing that job for an indefinite period of time, but you must be fair and use the services of other volunteers as well.
5. The specific talents and skills needed for the job.
6. Help and resources that are available to the volunteer.
After you have decided for which jobs you need volunteers and you have written job descriptions for each of these jobs, you will need to fit persons to jobs. Most churches have talent cards which the members fill out indicating the areas in which they are willing to serve. This information is kept in a file and people are called when their services are needed.

One way to keep a file on available volunteers is to keep the information on 3″ by 5″ cards. On these cards, after the name and phone number of the volunteers, list special talents and skills, the days and hours they are available, and the date of their training session. Eventually note the name of the person or persons they, too, have trained. Also note the date and number of hours each time a person works. This way you will be able to make sure all your volunteers are used.

It is a very good idea to make sure that everyone who has volunteered gets called. There have been instances of members volunteering for service year after year and never being asked to help, because the pastor has come to depend on someone else to do the work. If that’s the way it is going to be, people should not be asked to fill out talent cards or volunteer for work. One woman checked on a talent card that she would be willing to work in the church office. By the time someone got around to calling her, it was too late. In the meantime she had had a baby and was unable to give the time for volunteer work. Someone should be responsible for receiving the talent cards, if your church uses them, and seeing to it that the people are contacted for any training programs that are available in their areas of interest. This person could also be responsible for taking the names of anyone volunteering apart from the cards. He or she would also make up the 3″ by 5″ cards for each volunteer. Once the cards are in the file, the volunteers should be used on a rotating basis.

A must in any efficient volunteer program is training. This can be handled in several ways. You can train one person for each job and then these volunteers will train others, or you can hold regularly scheduled workshops on the various aspects of church office work. Attendance at the workshops is considered adequate training. However it is accomplished, training is important. When you raise the value and prestige of volunteer service, you will get better workers. Take it seriously and they will, too.

Another advantage to training volunteers is that you actually will be able to tell a volunteer when he or she didn’t do a very good job or made too many mistakes. You train your volunteers; you take the program seriously; you have stated that this is service to God; so of course you are not going to let sloppy work get by. Tell the volunteer kindly and with love about the errors and ask that they be corrected. This will help eventually in the real sense of pride the volunteer team will take in its work.

Important Things to Remember When Using Volunteers

There are four things that you must do when using the services of a volunteer.

1. Be ready for volunteers when they arrive for work. If a volunteer has been asked to come to the church office to do two hours of filing, it should take approximately two hours, not three or four
because the work wasn’t ready when the volunteer arrived.

2. Provide a proper environment. If it is at all possible, have a desk or table set up at which the volunteers can work in a separate room near the church office. A corner of the church library often can be used for this purpose. The church office is a busy place with the phone ringing and visitors coming and going, and it is easier on everyone if volunteers work elsewhere.

3. Give them help and support. Granted, volunteers have received training beforehand for their jobs, but don’t make them search for a pencil or an eraser. Also assure them that someone will gladly give them help or answer their questions if necessary.

4. Recognize their services. Of course they are thanked, but it is a good idea to recognize the services of volunteers publicly. Some churches publish a list each month in the newsletter of the volunteers who have worked during that month. Some include a special section in their annual report in which all volunteers are mentioned. Some churches keep track of the number of hours each volunteer works and once a year the volunteers are named in categories such as “Forty-Hour Volunteers,” “Twenty-Hour Volunteers,” and so forth. In other churches all who work on the newsletter are enlisted for six-month periods and they are listed on the newsletter’s masthead as “The Editorial Staff.” In still other churches the volunteers are honored at a special dinner
once a year.

How wonderful it would be if the volunteers themselves formed a group and met on a regular basis just to talk over their problems and triumphs, and to help one another.

An Example of One Church’s Volunteer Program

Let us look at one church that takes its volunteer program very seriously. A coordinator of volunteers was appointed to recruit and involve volunteers in the church. This coordinator was installed at a Sunday morning worship service. A clerical assistant was also selected and installed. These are both volunteer positions. The coordinator’s job description states that he or she will serve as coordinator of all volunteers for committees and organizations, as well as for the church office. This coordinator is responsible for the time and talent cards which are distributed to members and new members, and initiates and maintains a year-round emphasis on recognition of volunteers. The coordinator is also in charge of the volunteer training program.

Once a year the coordinator distributes the time and talent cards to all members of the congregation so that new cards are received and original talent cards can be changed and updated. Following the tabulation of the cards by the clerical assistant, the names of volunteers are given to committee and organizational chairpersons and the pastor for immediate contact and follow-up. Then the coordinator initiates workshops and training sessions for all the volunteers ; and the church has a volunteer work force.

One of the ways in which this coordinator maintains a year-round emphasis on recognition of volunteers is to ask one or two different volunteers each month to write a brief statement responding to the statement: “Why I serve as a volunteer in this church?” These are published each month in the newsletter. At the end of the year all volunteers have had their statements included in a newsletter. The volunteers in this church know that they are doing something that is needed and important!

A pastor of another church believes so strongly in every-member involvement that he asks the people, “Where and how do you want to serve in the church?” not, “Do you want to serve?” When this pastor talks to prospective members, he explains to them, along with the other necessary information, his feelings about the volunteer program. It is a requisite to membership in that church that a person volunteer some time and service. The pastor has a long list of the opportunities available and members must choose at least one. It may not surprise you that this church lost a few members because of this policy, but it may surprise you that within a few years, after the dust settled, the congregation’s membership tripled and is still growing! For the most part , people really do appreciate high standards being set on their services and stewardship and they will try to live up to them.