By Jonathan Howe
If you’re on staff at a church or a leader in any way, you likely interact with volunteers on a daily basis. And unfortunately, you’re probably not sitting on an endless supply of volunteers. It’s quite possible that you’re looking for people every week to fill a hole left by a volunteer who’s sick, out of town, or unreliable.
But is it possible that you could be running off volunteers? With some of the emails, letters, and communications I’ve seen from churches over the years, it’s entirely possible. Poor communication can cost you volunteers and church members. That’s why it’s important to avoid these communications blunders.
- Calling a volunteer the wrong name. I had a friend who was approached recently about a new job. She was extremely qualified and really interested in it, but in her reply, she called the person wanting to hire her the wrong name. She never heard back from him, and the company hired someone else. The same goes for almost any other aspect of life. If you call a volunteer by the wrong name, you risk losing them.
- Using poor grammar and spelling. Always have a second set of eyes look at ministry communications or announcements. And always read over your emails again before you send them. I even have a delay timer set up in Gmail that gives me 30 seconds after I hit send to make a final edit. I use it almost daily.
- Making it difficult on the volunteer. Want to turn off volunteers? Have trainings at inopportune times. Want to frustrate volunteers? Communicate with them in a way that makes it hard to keep up with the info. There are new communications tools coming out every month. Resist the urge to try the newest and shiniest toys when it comes to communication. Tried and tested methods are often best.
- Waiting until the last minute. Don’t send out important announcements about Sunday morning on Saturday night. Don’t wait until days before a deadline to send a reminder. Give people lead-time and be redundant with your reminders. I guarantee there are people who will completely miss the first 14 emails, but the 15th will catch their eye.
- Not returning calls or emails. If you get a call or email from a church member or volunteer, try to return it within 24 hours if at all possible. Even if it’s a quick email to say you have something else that’s pressing, and it may be a day or two until you have an answer for them.
- Delegating important communication to your assistant. If something in your ministry is important enough for you to communicate it, then you need to be the one it comes from. It’s good to empower your assistant, but important information needs to come from you if at all possible. If it doesn’t, volunteers and members deduce that it’s not a priority for you, so why should it be for them?
What would you add to this list? Have you made any of these blunders?
Repetition indeed is the seed of retention.
Usually when I think I’m over communicating…I’m not.
Repetition indeed is the seed of retention (see what I did there?).
You could add to that: not appropriately celebrating volunteers. Yes, they likely serve for a sense of calling. But that is no reason to take advantage of them.
Volunteers that have been celebrated feel like what they are doing matters to the staff. If they aren’t, volunteers might just as well think they don’t matter to the staff. Feeling like a teammate with the staff is important to volunteers – you will get more from them if they have a sense on being “on the team.”
Beyond that: Rom 12:10 teaches that honoring one another Should be a value Christians espouse.
I see all of these in our church organization. I am blessed to put our weekly service info in area papers and online, but there are times when I don’t get that info from the pastor even though I ask week after week. I don’t want to be annoying, but people comment on how they love knowing so they can read the Scripture.
Last-minute things are also an issue. If we know about it a month or two ahead of time, it should not be such a “surprise.”
I enjoyed the article, and plan on sharing with our leadership.
Great information.thank you.
Have a start up date and an ending date for volunteers. In small churches especially, people won’t volunteer because once you do so, you are doing it for the rest of your life. By having an ending date, it gives people the option to opt out or to sign up again.
Very true. I agree.
Though some may think this cumbersome and/or old-fashioned, I still send out handwritten thank you notes, even to our youth volunteers! I know it is not necessary, but I also know that it is noticed and appreciated by the comments on the following Sunday! For most it IS a calling, but I do want to honor the willingness to answer that call to serve, making our church a warm & welcoming place to gather for worship each week! I also loved the reference made by David G. to Romans 12:10!
Excellent advice. Great information!
Yep. The handwritten note is the opposite of this list. It’s probably the thing that makes the most impact on someone when they get it.
About 12 years ago, my pastor sent me a form letter inviting me to join a particular ministry. It is a very time consuming and exhausting ministry, and with young children at the time, I just couldn’t see adding that to my busy schedule. But in the margin, he wrote me a note encouraging me to consider the opportunity, and specifically explained how my spiritual gifts and personality would be a fit. I was so flattered that I joined immediately, and 12 years later that ministry and the folks involved in it continue to be huge blessings in my life.
Spot on! The Church relies on volunteers, moved by the grace of God in Christ and the power of the Spirit. If congregations don’t celebrate and appreciate the volunteers they have, and try to create a Godly atmosphere in the congregation they will drive away the very people they need. What volunteer will want to put up with in fighting or disunity in any organization? If church members can’t clearly understand from church leadership what their purpose and calling is, they will walk away. Isn’t this exactly the message of I am a Church Member and other books Thom has written
Sending the wrong info to the wrong people can be a killer. If you need ‘warm bodies’ for simple, no prep/no trng reqd tasks (& there are many such needs!), sending tons of info on trng mtgs for allied areas will ensure tou get no volunteers. All ministries should have well-developed communications strategies to ensure the right folks get the right info (right info = minimum volume of task-essential info) at the right times.
Similarly, there’s lots of info that does not need to be (and thus should not be) broadly distributed. This will, at the best–though it certainly isn’t good–create confusion and make lots of unnecessary work, and at the worst it can cause very significant problems.
Also, when thanking a group of volunteers/parishioners in the newsletter or in front of the congregation for their work on an event, ministry, etc., please be very careful when saying a list of volunteer names. Inevitably, someone is going to be left off that list… someone who did a ton of work, and those hurt feelings will linger forever.
In the nonprofit world, a happy volunteer is your absolute best advertising, and it is the same for churches. Happy volunteers/parishioners tell everyone how much they love their church, and how they feel valued there. Parishioners who feel their volunteer work is unappreciated or ignored will vent to their friends and co-workers, and that negative talk/publicity is very difficult for a church to overcome.
That’s a great point. Someone almost always gets left off and that’s not a fun fence to mend.
Nope, it’s not! Ironically, the one group of volunteers who tend to be left off the ‘thank you’ list the most are the ones involved with Communications. I guess it’s because they do so much work behind the scenes, but they often put in 10-15 hours on a single event. Fortunately, at our church, that group has a great sense of humor and perspective about these things!!
Agreed, that’s one reason why, for Pastor Appreciation, rather than sends snacks/gifts just for the Pastors, I’ve tried to send things for the entire church staff. w/o the staff & volunteers in the office, much of the “work of the church” wouldn’t get done.
I actually tend to forget to thank my wife for her work in my ministry. When there is a time to recognize volunteers I have to remind myself to include her. It comes from a humble idea about not touting myself (and by extension my wife?), but ends up making me look like I just don’t appreciate her.
It has become almost a joke…almost.
Not sure the Lord speaks of ‘volunteers’ per se, but He does say –
Luke 6:31 Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.
Romans 12: 4 For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6a Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly
Ephesians 4 the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
1 Peter 4:10 As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. 11 Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Jesus did speak to volunteering – serving for free. Matthew 10:8b “You received without paying; give without pay.” Jesus modeled volunteering, willingness to serve others. We all received the gospel for free.
I have been a volunteer church pianist/organist for over 50 years at the church where I am a member. I have played for countless church services, funerals, etc. taken time off work, purchased music, etc at my own expense. Last year my brother died and a few months later my daughter (who was a church member) died after a long illness. The church usually sends flowers, prepares a meal and/or sends a Subway tray when there is a death in a member’s family. The church did not send flowers, provide any food or acknowledge their deaths except for about 6 sympathy cards from some of the members when my daughter died. I do not understand and feel hurt and taken for granted. Yet, I am still playing for services.
Mary I am so sorry this has been your experience. I am sure this increases your sorrow as God’s people demonstrate that they are distracted from loving one another. Jesus’ heart is deeply grieved by this also. He has done so much to save and enable his people to demonstrate his love but they are distracted. I could tell you how I have seen God’s people distracted from obeying their Lord in but that would be a distraction.
Jesus has seen and noticed EVERY note you have played and your heart of love for Him as you have served Him in your dedication. He is the one who will richly reward you FAR beyond any human expression and for eternity. Your perseverance through this trial of sorrow brings great joy to the Fathers heart. I know you know this but I will proclaim it.
My mother is 96. She has played the piano for church for 80 years, both as a missionary teaching saints on the other side of the globe to lead worship for 20 years and at her home church. She can play any hymn in the hymn book for memory and in any key known to man. She is no longer asked to play at church, but at her weekly Bible study group in her retirement complex she gets more compliments, flowers and phone calls than every before in her life for her leadership at the piano. Like you, she is persevering in faith. Like you, her real reward is coming and will be one of GREAT joy never ending. You may be playing with her in glory soon.
Thank you for your reply. It is a message of encouragement and comfort to me-an old widow woman.
#5 is the one that personally hurts my heart.. just don’t get it.