How to trap new church volunteers

At our district conference the issue of volunteers came up again.  I’m learning that many of the congregations in my district have a chronic problem with recruiting volunteers.  I repeatedly hear about tired leaders and people so focused on getting their job done that they don’t have time to invest in relationships with entry level volunteers.

As I’ve mentioned before,  people are smart.  They can tell that

  1. the job descriptions are to big for one person
  2. existing leaders are burned out and
  3. that their is a fear that no one will step up.

Once the need gets critical, all too often volunteer development and member participation is handled like we’re trying to catch a new volunteer in a trap – SNAP! You’re the new chair of the canvass committee.  Ha! Ha! Ha!

Their too smart for that.  You can’t trap them.  That’s why you’re in trouble.

Instead, we need to be connecting the work of the church to the gifts of our members, building passionate and exciting teams, and empowering people for ministry.   These topics and more we’ll discuss in the repeat offering of my Mobilizing Volunteers webinar, date to be set next week.

Stay tuned for a webinar update.

6 thoughts on “How to trap new church volunteers

  1. The opposite of trapping people is to tell them the job doesn’t really require much time or effort, in essence, that its not all that important. Alas, board members are often recruited under this guise.

  2. Most people don’t join a church to do a hard job or to endure the stress of building collaborative relationships among independently-minded people (often found in a UU congregation) to accomplish goals. They have other reasons and, I suspect, take on these jobs out of a sense of obligation to live up to their end of a covenant relationship with the church community.

    Instead, people join for reasons that have to do with spirituality and search for religious connections with other people. When people in the church leadership become so focused on earthly goals and day-to-day management that they forget the reasons they themselves and others join, then when the job is done and the goals are reached, they look around and find that they never took the time to forge those connections and develop that spirituality. They have no friends – only colleagues. Why stay?

    If that isn’t fixed, leaders will continue to get burned out. Some will even leave.

    PS: asking the overworked leader to take on leadership development as yet another task may not be the answer either.

    1. Thanks for your comment Tom. In my years as a lay leader working with youth, young adults and adult small group ministry leadership development has been at the heart of my ministry. I think the term leadership development fails to capture the spirit of what is happening when we intentionally build relationships, help people find ways to use their gifts, skills and passions, and engage in deeply meaningful work and ministry.

      I’ve been reading a lot lately about thriving communities and movements that have more of a “tribal” mindset. I think one of our problems is that many UUs do not. You can’t have a tribe, a movement, a revolution if the leaders aren’t passionate about bringing others into the fold.

      For a congregation or Unitarian Universalism to thrive it is essential, in my opinion, to have lay people who are leaders of leaders, not just the primary doers of every task themselves.

      One of my favorite church authors, Lyle Schaller, says in one of his books that volunteer and paid staff should be evaluated first and foremost by the number of new leaders they developed over the course of the year.

      I guess my point is that by making leadership AND ministry development a primary priority and responsibility we don’t end up with overworked leaders. We end up with exciting, productive and growing ministry teams.

      1. Peter,

        Thanks for the reply. I guess my basic questions in all of this come down to:

        A. How is “deeply meaningful work and ministry” connected with “health, growth, and vitality”? I have seen lots of people in my Congregation engaged in what, to them at least, is “deeply meaningful work and ministry” and yet the Congregation still struggles with defining collective goals, a collective mission, and a collective vision that will promote its long-term health, growth, and vitality. If I am to help guide a Congregation as it struggles with these issues, I need to better understand the connection.

        B. Establishing the “tribal mindset” of which you speak strikes me as a profound cultural change. Bringing about a cultural change in an organization often takes years and the work of leaders whose education and experience also spans years. How do we, the inexperienced chuch leaders, instigate this cultural change and then sustain it over the long-term necessary to truly make it part of the Congregation’s culture? How do we do this when the need for change may exist but not the impetus from within the Congregation?

        C. Granted that there are Congregations that have brought about such change. I suspect, however, that those Congregations were ready for change and that there was a consensus on both need for and direction of the change. Is it too much to ask leaders who lack both the education and experience in fostering organizational and cultural change to take this on? Is it realistic?

        Thanks for reading this.


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