Volunteers and the head/heart connection
By Deborah Wipf

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Think of your top volunteers — those people who are committed, consistent and always willing to serve. What attracted them to serve at your church? Was it your sign-up sheet? Nah. Maybe it was your training process. Hmmm ... that doesn't seem right either. Even without knowing anything about your church, I feel safe in guessing that your top volunteers started serving because they connected with another volunteer or with a particular program.

As selfless as we would like to be, we don't give up our time and talent solely out of a sense of duty. We're much more likely to make those sacrifices when we see a potential return on our investment — especially a return that we emotionally connect with, like seeing children learn about Jesus or the poor valued and helped.


Does your church struggle to communicate the volunteer program's vision?
  • 1. Yes
  • 2. No

Now, I really like systems and processes — hey, that's how I’m wired — so I'm not saying we throw those out the window. However, systems and processes don't connect with people or capture their hearts. First, you have to connect with them emotionally to get their attention. Then, you need to connect with them logically to keep them coming back.

If your volunteer program is struggling, first determine whether you are communicating the vision. Why should people volunteer at your church? Will they become part of a team and establish new friendships? Who will they help? How will lives be impacted as a result of their service? You need to answer those questions every single time you ask for volunteers.

Here's the good news: You already know the answer to these questions. You just need to take the time to write down the answers and then figure out how best to communicate them. This could be used for material on your website, bulletin, preservice announcements, etc. Another method that's very effective are short videos of volunteers sharing their story of how serving has impacted their lives. That's better than anyone on staff asking for help since it's coming straight from a volunteer.

Once you've connected and they've signed up, you have a short window of time to keep their attention. This is where the systems and processes come back in — you knew I wasn't going to leave them out, right?

Let's say a potential volunteer fills out a sign-up form on Sunday morning. Within one business day, that person should receive a phone call or email from your church thanking him for his interest and letting him know when to show up for the next training session, which should be scheduled to occur within a week of any volunteer recruiting drive. He attends the training session that includes information regarding the time commitment involved, a description of what he'll be responsible for, etc.

That session should also include time for socializing. This is where your new volunteers get to meet your staff and volunteer leaders. Finally, you let him know when and where to arrive for his first service. His leaders should introduce him to the team, show him the ropes as a reminder from training and answer any questions.

I'd suggest each serving team (greeters, ushers, parking, etc.) have a fun group outing every couple of months so they have a chance to get to know each other better. Volunteer leaders can send out birthday or anniversary cards, recognize volunteers who have served for six months, a year, etc. Those events and recognition reconnect with their hearts and help them stay connected with their team. Why would they stop volunteering when they have a group of friends they serve with each week? Plus they get to see lives changed and people reached with the Gospel. That's a powerful combination.

Recruiting and retaining volunteers isn't all about getting people excited to serve or all about making sure they go through the proper process — it's both. Capture their hearts with the vision, connect with their heads by explaining your expectations and providing training, then continue repeating that process on a regular basis.

Deborah Wipf is the president and founder of Velocity Management Group, a company dedicated to helping the leaders of nonprofits with the business side of running an organization. She loves ministry, big vision, details, project plans and organization. Combining these passions into becoming a "business coach for churches, ministries and nonprofits" is how Deborah seeks to serve God and help people.

Over the last 10 years, Deborah has worked in the for-profit arena developing the skills needed to pursue her passion — helping nonprofits. Connect with Deborah online on Facebook or on Twitter (@VelocityMgmtGrp).