Leading volunteers is a craft. One that requires constant tweaking and learning.
Yet there are some principals you learn about leading volunteers that never change.
Volunteers want to know that what they do to matters.
Volunteers want to enjoy what they do.
Volunteers want to feel needed and known.
Now, I can convince a volunteer to do just about anything if I present a compelling need. People are pretty generous and willing to do something they may not enjoy in order to meet a need. For a season, they will ‘grin and bear it’.
But as ministry leaders, working with volunteers means we operate within the tension of matching the ‘wiring’ of volunteers with the needs of our ministry. And there are plenty of times the two don’t always align.
Have you ever…
…had a need for 1st grade leaders, yet all you seem to attract are people that want to hold babies?
…needed to redirect a volunteer from a full team at one service to a deficit at another?
There are many factors that influence where and when a volunteer serves. And our ability to nimbly navigate these factors can set us up for success or failure.
You may have a great need that has yet to be filled. And you are welcome to brow-beat a volunteer into taking on that role even though you know it’s not a great fit. But that’s nothing more than a precariously placed band-aid.
Over time the band-aid will start to peel back. And every effort you make to press it back in place in the name of “serving Jesus” is futile.
Eventually that volunteer exits.
And you’re left with the same hole.
How do we avoid this?
How do we prevent ourselves from attempting to force someone into a volunteer ‘hole’ we know they’re not suited to fill? How do we ensure we don’t pressure people to remain in volunteer roles they no longer enjoy?
I have 3 postures I fight to maintain when leading volunteer teams. One keeps the volunteer team engaged for the right reason. The other two help me ensure that I see beyond the tip of my own nose:
Posture #1: Connect them to the “Why” as often as possible.
This is nothing earth-shattering. It’s widely known thanks to Simon Sinek. But it’s really true. In every interaction with volunteers I’m fighting make sure they know why they chose their Small Group over beating the traffic or lunch with friends.
The responsibility is mine to ensure that I can clearly communicate the “Why” behind the what. And “Doing it for Jesus!” isn’t enough. Call me unspiritual, but people will only “do it for Jesus” for so long before they decide there are other things they’d rather do for Him. Ministry leaders need to figure out how to succinctly communicate the “Why”.
It’s more than a mission statement. Your mission statement is your ‘jumping off point’. You need some key phrases that are simple and short but packed with purpose.
Why do we do Small Groups?
Because we believe faith is transferred in the context of a relationship. And relationships can’t be built in large settings of kids.
Why do you ask Small Group Leaders to serve weekly?
Because kids won’t believe they can trust your God until they know they can trust you. And when you show up predictably in their life, they start to believe God does too.
Why do we need one Small Group Leader for every 8 kids when a school teacher teaches an average of 25?
Because you can’t truly know 25 kids… but you can know 8. You can know their birthday, their favorite color, the name of their pet(s) and their favorite sport. And I want you to know all of those things about your 8.
Posture #2: Willing to move someone out, even when it hurts.
Recently I invited a Small Group Leader to shift to a support role on one of our teams. It wasn’t that we had an abundance of Small Group Leaders in that grade level. Actually, we need more. And her subtraction from that group creates a greater deficit.
But this volunteer was clearly not happy in this role. In my interactions, I watched her move back and forth from “love it” to “hate it” enough times to know… this is not a great fit. But she knew the need and didn’t want to leave the rest of the group “high and dry”.
Though I value her willingness to “take one for the team”, she is far too valuable to allow her to languish in a role she does not enjoy simply because I have a need. I’d much prefer to shift her to a place that she enjoys serving. Doing so ensures I get the best of what she has to offer rather than what she’s able to manufacture on her own strength.
Am I willing to move someone out for long-term gain, even when it creates short-term pain? Can I love them enough to give them the opportunity to find a new place to serve, even if it leaves me with a hole?
Posture #3: People won’t fill a hole they don’t see.
Sometimes the plate has to stop spinning and drop before someone walks along and says, “Hey, I can pick that up.” It’s never comfortable to allow a ‘hole’ to be exposed. But the truth is, that can get the attention of your next potential volunteer.
I’m not advocating that you step back and allow things to fall apart in the name of ‘exposing holes’. No one wants to jump on a sinking ship. Every week my role requires me to ensure that every role is filled so that kids have an experience that makes them want to return.
But allowing someone to see that a need exists helps them to see where they might fit. And every volunteer wants to find their fit.
Leading volunteers is a craft. You never completely put it down and as dynamics change, we have to figure out how to adjust. Maintaining these postures has helped me adjust as needed and successfully retain some amazingly gifted volunteers.