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How to Motivate Volunteers

By Tammy Dimos | Church Administration

Volunteers are essential to ministry in churches. The success of many churches hinges on the strength and passion of their volunteers. Unfortunately, volunteers burn out.


While 70% of volunteers at faith-based organizations will continue to serve from one year to the next1, they are susceptible to burn-out.  One of the main reasons volunteers stop serving is due to a lack of connection or passion for their current ministry.


So what can you do to energize your volunteer staff and keep the passion alive?


This is a question that ministry leaders face each week.  I’ve had the privilege of serving in various roles in the church including the role of Connections Coordinator, connecting volunteers to ministry positions in my local church. Prior to this role, I served in the early childhood ministry where I led a team of almost 200 volunteers performing 120 different roles each week.  My challenge each week was to find new volunteers to help serve in our growing ministry and keep my current volunteers engaged and motivated.  Of course, these are the two main challenges every ministry leader faces.


Let me share several lessons I’ve learned over that years to cultivate and grow volunteers for your ministry.  Some of these are based on successes, but a few were learned in the midst of failure.  Maybe you can learn from my successes and failures.


Here are 2 key rules I follow when interacting with volunteers:

  • I let my volunteers know I care about them.
  • I help my volunteers understand they are essential to fulfilling the ministry’s mission & vision.

Here are some practical ways you can do this in your church:


  1. Care for your volunteers. Let them know their service is appreciated. Send a card or text when you know they had an especially tough week as a volunteer.
  2. Treat them with respect. Even when I’m busy, if a volunteer stops me in the hallway, I stop, look them in the eye, and engage with them.
  3. Pray with your volunteers before each service.
  4. Pray for individual volunteers during the week, and let them know it. As Philippians 1:3 exhorts us, “I thank my God every time I remember you.”
  5. Provide stability, structure and planning. Give them a schedule and plenty of time to plan for their volunteer service. Don’t catch them as they walk in the door and ask them to serve. This will work for a while, but will eventually cause your volunteers to dread walking through the door because they don’t know what is on the other side.
  6. Focus on what motivates your volunteers. They’re not in it for the money! They aren’t motivated by the same things as employees are so you can’t treat them like employees. Focus on these kingdom-minded principles like serving others, building the kingdom, making visitors feel comfortable, removing distractions and making it easy for guests to enter into worship and meet their Savior.
  7. Build a culture of volunteerism. This culture should be communicated often and lived out by leadership.Make it part of your core values. Teach it to newcomers, during membership, and from the pulpit. Like Deuteronomy 6:7 says, "teach it at all times."
  8. Expect the best from them, and challenge volunteers to give their best.
  9. Volunteers come with different capabilities. Find out each one’s capacity and give them appropriate opportunities to serve.
  10. Let your volunteers pick a ministry they can be passionate about.
  11. Let volunteers know why they are needed. Make the need clear and don’t apologize for the need.
  12. Give them opportunities to fill a need or do more.If a volunteer is underutilized, they will get bored or feel unneeded.They may look to volunteer somewhere else or even quit.
  13. Don’t be afraid to ask someone to serve. The one you never expected will usually surprise you.
  14. Protect your volunteers--guard against the volunteer who overcommits. Some people will answer every call to volunteer and neglect their own spiritual needs. Three out of five volunteers between the age of 25 and 54 are parents with children under 18. They understand the importance of serving and are modeling that virtue to their children, but they still need time to be a parent and be discipled!
  15. When change happens (and it will), give your volunteers time to process and absorb the change. Allow them to ask questions. If your church changes the color of your volunteer lanyards or shirts, it may cause some people to grieve. Allow them to go through their stages of grief.
  16. Let them know they are valued. As an example, we send postcards on a regular basis to let the volunteer know their service is appreciated—especially if the volunteer stepped in on short notice to fill a need.
  17. Greet each volunteer by name and ask them a question not related to their volunteer service. Find out how their week is going. Ask if the family is well. Ask if they enjoyed their recent vacation. I make it a point to know something personal about each volunteer.
  18. Text, email or call a few volunteers each week. Let them know you were thinking about them and ask them how they are doing. Often times, the Holy Spirit will prompt me to contact someone at just the right time.
  19. Visit your volunteers (or their family members) when they are in the hospital.
  20. Surprise your volunteers with candy. Nothing says “I appreciate you!” like chocolate!
  21. Recognize and reward volunteers in front of others. I like to follow the motto: “Praise in public; confront in private.”

For some volunteers, the only time you may get to interact with them is a few moments before or after they serve. You will have to be intentional to really engage and interact with your team. We accomplished this by asking our volunteers to show up 15 minutes before their scheduled start time for a group meeting. During this meeting I did my best to convey how much I appreciated each person while sharing important information for the week.  I would try to share a positive story about how their service impacted a child or parent that week. I also reminded them why they are serving and who they are serving. And I used this opportunity to remind them to treat each child and adult just like we would want our own family members to be treated. Lastly, I asked for prayer requests, and then we prayed together as a group.


Other Ideas:


Are you short on volunteers?  Let me encourage you to actively recruit the older adults in you congregation. Almost half of all volunteers 65 years or older prefer to volunteer at faith-based organizations1.


Need help with retention?  A study by the Urban Institute2 found four key practices that had a positive influence on volunteer retention.  This included recognition activities, training, matching skill sets with positions (screening), and letting volunteers recruit other volunteers. Not surprising, the study concluded, “Having volunteers represent the charity implies trust, evidence of a positive organization culture, and confidence that the charity provides a worthwhile experience for volunteers.”


Trying to match skills with need?  Consider an assessment tool or questionnaire during the volunteer recruitment process to help you identify skills and match a need with a volunteer. Taking advantage of a volunteer’s skill, or professional experience can greatly increase the value of their service contribution, and provide the volunteer with greater satisfaction. 


Overwhelmed?  Do what you can and ask God to fill in the rest!


1Statistics provided by the Federal Agency for Service and Volunteering.  See their website here


2Mark A Hager, and Jeffrey L. Brudney, “Volunteer Management Practices and Retention of Volunteers”, The Urban Institute, June 2004. http://www.urban.org/research/publication/volunteer-management-practices-and-retention-volunteers.


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