Which congregations don’t need volunteers these days? Perhaps the better question is: what is my congregation doing to get capable and committed volunteers?
The good news, in a 2010 Statistics Canada study,* is that volunteering in Canada is holding steady. Still, approximately 50% of us volunteer in the church or in the community. Furthermore, we Canadians who attend church are more likely to give of our time and our talent (almost 2/3 of religiously active people volunteer). Finally, church folk tend to give 40% more hours than non-church attendees.
The challenging news-- for every potential volunteer, there are many more opportunities today to volunteer outside the church than there used to be, and much more competition among groups seeking volunteers! As well, church folks tend to among the most active volunteers outside the church. So, the real issue is, again, what are we doing to recruit and keep good volunteers?
When I read the literature, and when I reflect on my own experience, I see four ways where we can improve in our efforts to seek out, obtain, and retain volunteers.
1. Invite people in the church community to become more active in the life of the church.
The more we have invested in an organization, and the more we get out of it, the more likely we are to volunteer. I think of my experience as a parent. I tend to be involved, and give of my time, to programs and groups that my children are involved in. The 2010 study found this to be the case across Canada. Interestingly, as an aside, sports and recreation activities receive more "volunteer hours" today than the church. ** The challenge then, reach out to those already in the pews. Invite them to join programs and groups that are in place. Seek feedback as to what other new initiatives might be offered for members.
2. Make an Intentional and personal ask.
I think the number one reason we have a challenging time with getting volunteers is this - we don't approach individuals and ask. Don't get me wrong, we ask ... but lots of time the ask is a general invitation delivered in the bulletin, on a poster, or spoken from the pulpit.
I think of my mother's story from years ago. She had been sitting in church for weeks, hearing the call from the pulpit for volunteers to lead the Messengers group. She also read about it in the bulletin. The message was clear, if we don't get leaders, we will have to cancel the group! I imagine my mother sitting there, with many others, thinking the same thing - "He isn't talking to me. I don't think I could do that." But unfortunately the story doesn't end there. The Minister, after worship one Sunday, approached my mother and said, "I think you would make a great Messenger leader, would you consider taking it on for a year?" Mom says she was in shock. She said, "Oh, I am not sure I am able to do such a thing." He replied, " I think you would do a marvelous job. Would you take some time to consider it and I will get back to you?" Mom said ok. After some prayerful consideration Mom said yes! Furthermore, she recruited three other leaders, had three very successful years of leadership, and enjoyed the experience a great deal!
I firmly believe that Mom would never have taught Messengers if she wasn't approached personally. Research bears this out. The 2010 Volunteers study states that 45% of non-volunteers had not become involved because no one had asked them! That may seem strange to those of us who think we are asking all the time! A personal ask by someone who seeks us out, and acknowledges our gifts, is wonderful thing. Even if we end up saying no, we feel recognized and affirmed.
3. Provide Support to those who agree to volunteer
This, to me, means: a clear message telling me specifically what you want me to do (a job description), training or orientation, and support from a designated individual. The truth is, if we have a good experience volunteering, we are more willing to become even more involved, and to give back more.
4. Give Recognition/Appreciation
Most volunteers I know will say that they don't need recognition. However, let us not interpret that to
mean that they don't appreciate it! I am sure all of us who volunteer want to feel that our time is valued, that we are making a difference. Furthermore, I believe that there is real energy in offering gratitude. To illustrate, I share this story: A few years ago there was a congregation who had a considerable increase in givings on one particular year. They began to ask themselves, "What did we do different?" After some reflection they concluded that the only significant difference from the year before was the start of a very intentional comprehensive program of recognition and gratitude. They concluded that the increased finances was a positive by-product of the new energy felt around the church.
Friends, the good news is that there are enough volunteers out there to support our individual ministries. The challenge is, and will always be, how are we going to actually seek out, ask, and support volunteers? I sincerely believe that if we will take the time to create a plan utilizing the four principles above, we will experience success. I wish you well..
** organizations associated with sports and recreation accounted for 19% of volunteer hours, those providing social services for 18% and religious organizations for 15%