How to Lose Volunteers (and Possibly Church Members) – A Tutorial for Pastors

  • Don’t keep people’s talents in mind when asking them to volunteer for things. Example: Ask someone with paralyzing stage fright to sing in front of the church.
  • Make sure people know that some volunteer work is more important than others. Example: Really push people to show up to a workday but not to join the choir.
  • Pile down people who are willing to work. Example: Have someone who is leading a Bible study, teaching a class, running a small group, serving on committees, working in the music program every Sunday, helping with VBS, attending work days, and more. They can balance that with their kids, spouse, job, and other parts of life. Burnout, shmernout.
  • Have more programs than your church can reasonably sustain. Example: Your church has 60 members. Have tons of classes, small groups, Bible studies, VBS programs, children’s programs, men’s and women’s group programs . . .
  • Schedule volunteer events at the worst possible times for the people you want to come. Example: Schedule a young parent event at 8 am on a Saturday or an event for older saints at 9 pm on a Friday.
  • Shame those who choose to not volunteer for certain events (or allow others to do so publicly). Example: Say from the pulpit, “It really is too bad that more of the young people in this church don’t come to the women’s group events.” Better yet, allow someone from the group in question to make such a statement and don’t say anything about it.
  • Prioritize where volunteers are needed based on how much you like the person or people who are running them. Example: Does your favorite person in the church work in the nursery but complain about needing more people? Make sure you push people in that direction, no matter what.
  • Don’t take into account other things that are going on in someone’s life. Example: Tell the young mother of two who works 50 hours a week, cares for her home and husband, and runs a women’s prayer group in her home that she needs to also be on a committee.
  • Don’t take into account how much work someone is doing in other areas of the church. Example: Tell someone that their work is required in programs you think need volunteers, regardless of the fact that they are volunteering in three or four other areas in the church.
  • Don’t require the same amount of volunteer work from everyone. Example: Really push heavily for some people to volunteer, but ignore the fact the many others do no work in the church at all (and are never asked to do so).
  • Make “volunteer” work non-optional in some instances. Example: Tell people that their child cannot be in the children’s program if they aren’t going to “volunteer” in said program.
  • Talk badly about those who don’t volunteer as much as you think they should behind their backs. Example: Tell everyone at a committee meeting that person x (who is not there) doesn’t work at the church as much as you think they should. Imply laziness.
  • Say nothing when your volunteers are treated poorly by members of the congregation. Example: Do people in your church yell at, belittle, gossip about, or insult your volunteers? It probably will help grow your volunteers holiness. Besides, you don’t want the people who act so poorly to leave the church, right?

Equip the Called

God doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called.

Like most pithy bumper-sticker theological sayings, this one has a bit of truth to it. God does have a record of using some unlikely people to accomplish His will. However, this doesn’t mean we should put anyone who is willing in any volunteer position we have within the church.

Imagine this with me for a moment:

Your favorite football team is taking the field. The starters are all new players, fresh off the street without much (if any) training. The coaches have not spent much time teaching them the game or analyzing their ability. Further, they have no pads or helmets, just t-shirts and basketball shorts.

How are they going to do? They’ll get crushed, right? In fact, many of them will probably end up with major injuries that may take weeks to years to fully heal.

Now imagine these two scenarios with me:

Your church has a brand new Christian. This person came forward at an altar call a few weeks ago and expressed a new faith in Christ. They have been regularly attending the Sunday morning service as well as a small group every other week, but have had little to no time spent talking with church leadership about their walk with Jesus.

Your church has a person who is a Christian and has been for a few years, but is struggling heavily—and seemingly losing the struggle—with addiction. This struggle is causing them to strongly doubt God’s love and forgiveness. No one in the church really knows about this other than a member or two of church leadership.

Let us say that both these people want to volunteer at the church and are willing to help almost anywhere needed, from stacking chairs at a potluck to serving on the church board. Where do you ask them to volunteer?

Most American churches are small ones in need of any volunteers they can get, and often both of the above people would end up quickly being asked to assume a position of leadership within the church, be it an explicit leadership position (elder, board member, etc) or implicit one (teacher—especially of an adult class or small group, worship team, etc). This is unfortunate because neither of these people has what they need to be in leadership. They are lacking their training, their helmets, and their pads.

Don’t get me wrong—I don’t believe you need to be nearly sinless and/or seminary-trained to serve in the church, even in many leadership positions. That said, many Christians need to be brought up in the faith before they are asked to lead others. Those that are new to Christianity and those that are fragile and barely surviving the struggle to kill sin and keep the faith need the church to train and serve them for a time before they can train and serve others.

To do otherwise is to end up with people bruised and battered and broken by our too-high expectations. They may leave the church; they may stay as the walking wounded.

Neither is good.

So ask the new Christian to attend a new believers class where they can hear the basics of the faith. Ask the barely-surviving Christian to get a coffee with you and talk about your own walk with God.  Come alongside them to help them learn about Jesus. Pray with them and for them. Allow them to volunteer in pressure-free situations – moving tables for a meeting, setting up the church for Christmas or Easter, working in the nursery, attending a church workday, until they are spiritually and emotionally ready to handle the demands of leadership. This is the way a church develops strong people that can lead others in service to God.

Originally posted at The Anon Church blog. Reposted here in its entirety.