Creating a Healthy Volunteer Culture in Ministry

Working in ministry is a high calling. It is also almost 80% (sometimes more) volunteer driven. If that is the case, creating a healthy culture for our volunteers is a big deal and, as ministry leaders, this actually needs to be on our front burner all the time. Why? 2 reasons:

1. Volunteers are VITAL to a healthy ministry –You cannot create a healthy, vibrant ministry on your own. You need people around you. That is why the Apostle Paul goes to all that trouble talking about the different spiritual gifts and different parts of the body of Christ.

2. A healthy volunteer culture is necessary for growth – If you want your ministry to grow (spiritually, numerically, etc…) then every part of your ministry area needs to be healthy. Healthy things grow. One of the most important areas that needs to be healthy is our volunteer culture.

So, how do you do this? How do you create a healthy volunteer culture within your ministry? Well, there are probably hundreds of different ways to lead a volunteer team, but what I have discovered is that there are FIVE things that ministries who have healthy volunteer cultures do that create this. Here is what they do:

ENERGIZE

Vision. Inspiration. Ministries with healthy volunteer cultures spend a great deal of time and resources energizing their people to the cause. A healthy volunteer culture begins with a clear and compelling vision. People won’t be willing to go ALL IN unless they are called to something that feels worth going ALL IN for. Critical Question: “What can we do to energize people to the cause of our ministry?”

ENLIST

I like the word enlist… I tolerate the word recruit. The reason I like the word enlist (outside of the fact that it starts with E and satisfies some kind of OCD alliteration complex I have) is because it has, at its foundation, engagement. When we enlist someone’s services… we are telling them that they are a valuable, important, and vital part of what we are about to do. When we enlist the services of another… we are not only asking them to come and do something for us, but we have a significant investment we are pouring into them. As ministry leaders, we should ALWAYS be enlisting the services of others and asking our current volunteer team to do the same. In a healthy volunteer culture, this seems to happen pretty naturally because people are DRAWN to the culture and want to be a part. Critical Question: “Who isn’t currently on the team that we want to enlist?”

EQUIP

It’s not enough to cast an energetic vision and enlist people to the cause… you have to train them and give them the proper tools that they need to be successful. I can’t tell a group of people that we are going to build a house, get them motivated to do it… and then say “oh, by the way, I don’t have any tools for you to use or resources for you to build it. You’re going to have to figure that out.” If they are true leaders, they’ll figure it out, but it will look nothing like you envisioned, or they will rally themselves to build their own vision. If they are not leaders… they’re out. We need to VALUE equipping our volunteers to lead. We need to give them every tool possible to help them successfully go after the vision. Critical Question: “What tool, resource, or training does our team need that they don’t currently have to go after the vision?”

EMPOWER

After you have energized people with a compelling vision, enlisted their services, equipped them to lead, you then need to empower them and release them to do the ministry that God has called them to do. This is what get’s people off of the sidelines and into the game. This is what takes people from being a “renter” who can up and leave whenever they feel like it with no stakes in the game, to an “owner” who feels the weight and responsibility of this being “their” ministry and wants it to succeed. This is the point where you find yourself saying things like “You have what it takes” and “I believe in you.” Critical Question: “Who do we need to release to do the ministry that God has called them to do that we have not yet?”

ENCOURAGE

The Apostle Paul instructs us in Ephesians 4 to use our words to EDIFY or to BUILD UP and not to tear down. This is huge with our volunteer teams. If you want to build a healthy volunteer culture, encouragement goes a long way. This does not mean lie to them and just puff them up with fluffy words when things aren’t going well. As leaders, we need to correct when needed. But here are my two rules: be honest AND be encouraging. Not either or. You can say hard things and also be encouraging at the same time. One HUGE way to keep a team motivated and engaged to the cause is to energize them with encouragement. Critical Question: “Who do we need to encourage that we have not yet?”

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