By Todd Adkins
Far too often when there’s a ministry gap in our churches, we focus on leadership placement over leadership development. We settle for warm bodies instead of weekly volunteers. After all, Sunday is coming and we need someone to fill the gaps.
I don’t need to tell you that recruiting and developing volunteers is difficult in any season of ministry; Lifeway Research findings show that few churchgoers say serving others comes easy to them. And now, with rapidly shifting ministry responsibilities and guidelines emerging from a pandemic, many churches are wondering how to recruit and retain volunteers to reopen and sustain essential ministries.
Our team advocates for establishing a leadership pipeline for ongoing volunteer recruitment and development. But how do you get the volunteers you need in place, whether it’s right now, for the fall, or next year?
Here are a few steps to help you quickly recruit and onboard volunteers.
Uncover Vulnerable Volunteer Roles
You must know which volunteer roles in your church are vulnerable. To quickly assess each role, rate the role’s effectiveness as low, medium, or high and the role’s impact as low, medium, or high. Once you’ve rated the effectiveness and impact of the role, note if the individual currently serving in that role is able to continue serving.
If the individual or a family member is part of a vulnerable group, the answer may be “no” right now. The higher the effectiveness, the higher the impact, and the higher the vulnerability, the more critical the role is to fill in your church for essential ministry.
This assessment may seem oversimplified at first glance. Some roles may be harder to replace than others because it requires specialized skills. Or you may say, “Aren’t all volunteers essential to carry out ministry?” We’ll cover a full volunteer audit in later steps, but this exercise will help you to first see the most vulnerable, high-impact roles.
For these critical roles, here are four judgments to consider when someone hasn’t been developed as part of your leadership pipeline and you quickly need to fill the role.
- Vision: Did the person have good judgment and make good decisions when it came to your church’s values?
- Strategy: Did this person’s decisions reflect your strategy?
- Crisis: How did this person handle themselves in crisis when it arose? Did they handle it well, or did they fall apart?
- People: People judgment is most important. Does this person have good judgment about people? Do they lead other people well? Do they put those people into good positions? If so, congratulations. I think you’ve found the person to fill your gap.
Now the four judgments should only be used in an emergency situation. But when you’re in a tough spot, this framework will help you. Now, it’s time to fully assess your volunteer roles across the church.
Audit Volunteer Roles
First, identify all volunteer roles in each ministry of your church. For each role, list the current number of volunteers serving in that role. Determine if the role should remain as is, should pause, or should be adapted in this season.
Next, add names of current volunteers who serve in each role for all ministry areas. Also note how often they serve and their assigned service or shift. Again, if a volunteer (or one of their family members) is part of a vulnerable population, consider if it’s okay for them to serve in this role according to new guidelines.
With lists of roles and names, you can review each ministry to see what areas are at risk, what areas have the most volunteer positions that are paused, and which volunteers could be redeployed to areas of need. You also see which volunteers may be at risk and help them find a safer role elsewhere.
Create Volunteer Role Profiles
Creating volunteer profiles or job descriptions helps you establish clear expectations for all roles in your church or ministry. If your church already uses role profiles, now is the time to evaluate and make sure they reflect new guidelines in place for each role.
Each profile should include weekly ministry responsibilities and core competencies required to serve. When you have a standardized template for role profiles, it provides clarity to your volunteers and leaders, many of whom likely serve in multiple roles and ministries.
Handing someone a profile before they step into a role allows them to know the expectations before they commit, which is especially important in a season when you may need to quickly onboard new volunteers. This clarity leads to another important point with ministry checklists.
Create Ministry Checklists
We know our job as church leaders is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, according to Ephesians 4. But the reality is that you can’t give away ministry unless you have clarified and simplified ministry processes to hand it off. There are often at least two personalities when it comes to giving away ministry responsibilities.
An “iron chef” thinks they are the only person who can complete ministry tasks to their standard. These leaders sacrifice equipping the saints for ministry on the altar of personal excellence.
Next is “Grandma.” Now Grandma knows how to make the cake, and we all love it. But the problem is she never takes the time to write down the recipe. She just does it herself time and time again because it’s so routine for her.
What most ministry processes need is a cake-in-a-box approach. It says, “Add two eggs, a cup of water, and a cup of oil to this mix, stir well, pour in a greased pan, and bake for 35 minutes.”
When you simplify a ministry process by creating a checklist, you improve your ability to equip and develop volunteers, especially in a season of rapid change. This process is scalable and repeatable, and these checklists also make it easier to create the weekly responsibilities for your role profiles.
Four Development Steps for Volunteers
Our team proposes a four-step development process: intentional, guided, collaborative and equipped ministry, adapted from Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey, Better Learning Through Structured Teaching.
Normally, these phases take weeks or months to complete. In this season, it would be easy to simply place people in roles and settle for warm bodies to fill the gaps. However, Paul’s charge in Ephesians 4 is to equip the saints for the work of ministry. There’s no asterisk in Scripture that we can skip this approach during trials and hardships.
During the intentional phase, provide the role profile you created and online ministry training through a tool like Ministry Grid. Then ask a seasoned leader to meet with a new volunteer over a phone call or Zoom. While the role profile and video training cover ministry responsibilities, the conversation allows for questions and insight from the seasoned volunteer’s experience.
For example, if you are recruiting a new kids ministry teacher, provide a role profile and kids ministry training. Then pair them with a current kids ministry teacher to review and discuss what they’ve learned.
I’d normally advocate that the next three phases occur over 6-8 weeks, but right now, you may not have time for that.
In the guided phase, pair the new volunteer with a seasoned volunteer for a week. After the new volunteer observes, allow them to discuss the experience and prepare for the next phase of co-serving. To continue our kids ministry example, the new teacher would observe the seasoned teacher and follow up with questions from their time in the classroom.
In the collaborative phase, the new volunteer jumps in and serves alongside the seasoned volunteer. They discuss the experience to troubleshoot and answer questions. With our example, this would involve the new teacher and seasoned teacher tag-teaming the lesson and group experience for the week.
In the equipped phase, the new volunteer takes over and the season leader observes. The seasoned volunteer then moves on to train others but is available for conversations as challenges arise. To complete our example, this is when the new teacher steps fully into the teaching role and the seasoned teacher steps back to watch them in action. They discuss the experience to best equip the new teacher to feel confident in the role.
I cannot overemphasize that there will be different timelines for different ministry roles depending on responsibilities. But this model can help you to expedite the process when you quickly need new volunteers.
For exercises and templates that accompany each of these steps, check out our FREE Guide to Rapidly Recruit Volunteers and Realign Ministries on Ministry Grid here.