How many volunteers?

How many volunteers does it take to change a light bulb?

Okay, seriously. This is not a joke. When you are trying to fill volunteer positions in your Sunday School or recruit volunteers for your Fall Festival, how many volunteers do you need?

You can probably come up with a pretty good estimate. As the deadlines draw near, it is easy to see how many positions are unfilled. At that point, you start to scramble for space in the bulletin (if your church still has one) or make phone calls or call in personal favors. As things get desperate (from your point of view — Ever wonder about God’s sense of humor as He watches this play out?), I have a better question for you:

How many volunteers do you actually have in your church?

I had an epiphany the day the pastor sent me into all of the Sunday morning Bible study classes to recruit volunteers for a Fall Festival. I looked at folks with walkers, young parents lugging diaper bags, people I knew were taking trips, etc., etc. After adjusting for all of the limitations, we didn’t have enough actual human beings to fill all of the volunteer positions we had created!

I’m not saying that people were unwilling. I’m saying that I did not see enough adults (youth included) to fill the slots — people who could be there to lift and tote, or watch kids carefully, or walk at a brisk pace (or toss balls back) for an hour or two, or cook at a grill for three hours.

If I had been looking for Bible study leaders, I would have run into a different set of limitations. Not everyone can be there 50 weeks out of the year or read well enough to plan a lesson or speak in front of even a small audience. For example, teenagers can do a lot of things, but they rarely lead a home group for couples. All of that shrinks your pool of potential volunteers before you ever consider their spiritual maturity or the personality fit.

In community theater groups, we knew that 10% of the tickets that people reserved for our programs would end up not being used. Life happens.  I haven’t seen numbers that involve church volunteers, though.

For every 100 people in your church, how many of them are actually available in your volunteer pool? There may be some guidelines that tell us how to calculate the number.

It’s time to go looking for them — or figure them out. If you know of any, leave us a comment!

Spread the Load! Part 2 of 2

by Kristi and Carol

What if …. Your usual volunteer pool is shrinking and your responsibilities are growing.

In part 1, we looked at the steps to evaluate your current situation:

TAKE A DEEP BREATH AND THINK: What is stressful to you or other leaders in your organization?

STOP FOR A SECOND AND LOOK CLOSELY: Are the job descriptions in your existing organizational structure up-to-date?

COMPARE REALITY TO WHAT IS ON PAPER: Although capable people are working hard, do their jobs match reality?

Now that you have identified the stress points and have a firm grasp on what your volunteers are actually trying to do, it is time to take action. Read on to see what “Org-C” did.


It looked like stay-at-home moms re-entering the workforce were depleting the pool of easily accessible volunteers. Older adult volunteers, though, had never previously been asked to take on this volunteer role. They were available to work on these tasks during the week and it gave them an excuse to get together with friends. Even better, they were excited to do something that they were good at.


Although many moms couldn’t come during weekdays to do prep-work, some could work from home.


It may seem counter-intuitive to increase the number of volunteer positions. To keep the supervisors focused on people (the volunteers they supervised), we created new job descriptions related to the computer work. These “extra” volunteers were designated to handle issues at the command center desk while the supervisors were in hallways and classrooms. They cross-trained in many areas and were able to help with tasks beyond the computers.


A gathering point a few feet down the hallway became a new check-in station for supervision and dispatching of rotating substitutes. This took the congestion away from the main command center. Handling substitutes seemed to get in the way of the supervisors’ core job, and it could easily be done by volunteers with administrative talents. We sliced off those responsibilities and created a whole new volunteer position. Several volunteers were passionate to fill this role, as it was scheduled just for the first portion of the program day, and if they wanted to, they could finish and leave. In many instances, these volunteers stayed to pitch in and help with other needs that arose.

Spreading the load may seem like a lot more work at the beginning, but purposeful adjustments in this area will have multiple benefits. After new positions were created and the load was more evenly shared at Org-C, the supervisors were more successful in supervising volunteers. Prospective volunteers began observing an organization that was no longer frenetically out of control. Instead, they saw an organization they could successfully join. In case after case, the volunteers who came into the new positions eventually spread their efforts beyond their initial job descriptions. Because they felt fulfilled in the role that fit their key passions, many had enough energy to help in other areas — and had the motivation to do so because they had become loyal to the supervisors and to the program.

BOTTOM LINE: If you can’t recruit more of the volunteers you are looking for, start looking for different volunteers for different positions!


3 Easy Steps to a Good Volunteer Experience

Jesus Walks on Water

Jesus Walks on Water







by Carol

Sometimes they call me the Puppet Lady.  I’ve been doing puppets since I was in first grade. 

Over the years, I’ve made and performed with many kinds of puppets around the U.S. and in foreign countries.  I’m far from a pro, but I have a lot of experience.

I few weeks ago, I moved my church membership, and now I am up over my eyebrows in puppets again. 

When the pastor saw “puppets” on a list of things I’ve done, he immediately introduced me to a closet full of Muppet-style puppets.  (More on church storage closets in the near future….)  They adopted me at first sight.

I’m just a volunteer.  How did we move from “puppets stuffed in a closet” to full-blown “puppet world” in less than 6 weeks?

1.  Pastor’s vision – The pastor has known me for several years, but he didn’t realize that I had worked with puppets. 

Suddenly, a closet full of little stuffed characters jumped to life in his mind as a ministry with important potential.

Investigating at the cross

Investigating at the cross







2.  Ideal opportunity – The pastor linked me with the VBS director, who immediately latched onto the idea of the puppets telling the daily Bible story.

3.  Connectors – The youth ministry had used the puppets a few times, so the youth pastor’s wife volunteered to help for VBS.  She knows everyone in the church.  We talked about what / who I needed, and she knew people with those interests and abilities.  A few other folks helped connect me, too.  I could not have found the voice actors, puppeteers, and other resources on my own in a church that was so new to me.

In a few short weeks, I have gotten to know a lot of people, they have gotten to know me at my best (and stressed — another story for later), and we have had a great experience together in a ministry I love doing.

Shouldn’t all volunteers have that kind of inaugural experience in a new church or ministry?

Is there a place for all? The challenge of creating volunteer positions for all giftedness! Part 2 of 2

by Kristi

In Part 1, we looked at a volunteer (Team Member 3) whose team had dissolved. Would he stay? Would he go? Let’s look at the rest of the story.

At times, leaders pressured with the task of recruiting volunteers to fully staff an organization can get blinded by the trappings of “we’ve always done it this way.” That way may not be bad or wrong. Sometimes, though, adjustment may be called for.

New Position
In the case of Team Member 3, we realized that putting him into a new team was not going to be a good solution. At the same time, we identified a stress point for our team and created a new job description that fit him very well.

In many cases, recruiting is a year-round process. Just when you think you are fully staffed, someone gets sick or moves away. Typically, it’s much easier to keep a veteran volunteer than to assimilate a new volunteer. In the case of a reluctant volunteer, helping them get one foot inside the door of your organization may be a key to inviting them to a higher level of commitment.

I am pleased to say that Team Member 3 fully embraced his new volunteer position. In some ways, he’s keeping just one foot in my department while the other foot is starting to drift towards the department where his children are now involved. His current role fills a vital need in the organization I oversee. The newly created position allows him to complete his volunteer task within the first half of the program, and he is then able to go to a Bible Study for adults.

Sure, a couple times a month he is a little bit late, but his fulfillment level is high because he still gets to volunteer in an area of passion without giving up new relationships in the adult class. Additionally, before the time comes for him to fully move to another area of volunteering, my department is capitalizing on his interests and experience within our organization to establish the new position and refine that job description.

New Vision
To help prospective volunteers get a glimpse inside your organization, or to assimilate new volunteers onto your team, evaluate “front doors.” Make sure that there are easy ways for prospective volunteers to get one foot inside the door of your organization. If you are really headed a positive direction and have a successful team for them to join, just a glimpse is likely to show them what they need to see.  It may be a huge part of convincing them to join at a deeper level.

Here are some ideas for starters:

1) Create new short-term jobs.

2) Have a system of purposefully using ‘substitutes’ along-side veterans.

3) Regularly host preview or open house type of events that showcase your organization.

4) Instead of staffing an event with all tried and true loyalists, invite prospective volunteers into one-time type positions that give them a taste of the organization and start building relationships with other volunteers.

5) Finally, don’t forget to find ways to help outgoing volunteers keep one foot in your organization, such as filling in as a substitute, or transferring their knowledge and interests to a new position.

Moving Forward
Remember, volunteers and volunteer organizations change and grow. Pay attention so that the volunteer positions change and grow along with them!

Is there a place for all? The challenge of creating volunteer positions for all giftedness! Part 1 of 2

By Kristi

While listening to responses from prospective volunteers, you have probably heard all the excuses under the sun.  But have you really heard these people?  In many cases, individuals are telling you that they can’t envision where they fit in.  Perhaps this relates to their interests and passions.  Maybe their current schedule or life pressures are clouding their vision and they can’t clearly see a fit for themselves in your organization.  Your job is to help them understand how they can fit.  If they get one foot in the door, it is much easier for them to enter the rest of the way through the door at a later date – either when life circumstances change, or when they begin to understand their fit.

Pull out a copy of your staffing chart – the document where you record who is volunteering where.  What are the positions for which you are still seeking volunteers?  We all run the risk of viewing our organization through the lens of “how it’s always been.”  As you evaluate your need for volunteers and strive to connect with volunteers of all types, consider these things:

1.  Look
Look carefully at the positions that are still unfilled.  Does this task have to be done in one particular way? Or at a particular time?  Can it be combined with another job description?  Are you asking the right type of people?

A couple years ago, the volunteer teaching team in one classroom consisted of 3 weekly volunteers and another couple volunteers that rotated through the month.  By the end of the term of commitment, Team Member 1 wanted to move to volunteer with a different age group for family reasons, Team Member 2 had major surgery and was not able to return, and when asked to renew his commitment for another term, Team Member 3 initially declined.  The team he had been part of for several years had dissolved, and he had no desire to start fitting in with a new group of volunteers.

2.  Listen
Listen carefully to the folks who are requesting to volunteer and those that are declining your invitation to join the team.  Is there a recurring theme among the interests or passions of either set of people?    Who are the individuals that are rejecting your pleas for more volunteers?

As I listened to Team Member 3, I was told straight up – “I still love children….”  Through this statement, I knew that his interest was still strong in the area where he previously volunteered.  There wasn’t another area that he wanted to serve in more than the current area.  Moreover, he was a really good and faithful volunteer – one that I really did not want to lose.

3.  Assess
The twenty-first century is moving right along at warp speed.  What are you hearing from people regarding their current schedules and pressures in life?  Is your organization keeping up with changes in society and your immediate culture?

Armed with a bit of information about Team Member 3 – and most importantly, with a relationship of good rapport as a supervisor over his team – it was easy to see that he was moving into a new stage of life.  Some of his Sunday schedule was changing as his children were moving out of one division into programming for older children.  His wife was moving to serve in a different area (a possible life pressure).  If he also really wanted to move to a different area, I wanted to let him.  But I also wanted to capitalize and put his passions and gifts to work.

The question was, “How?”

For the answer, come back for Part 2.

All heart, no skills – Pt 2 – Are skilled, experienced volunteers welcome?

In Part 1, we looked at the need for “heart” in ministry. When you “love the Lord your God with all your heart” and “love your neighbor as yourself,” God can use you to do great things in spite of your limitations. Paul knew that when he was weak, he was strong in God’s grace (2 Corinthians 12:10).

Too often, though, I hear, “No previous experience is required,” or “Anyone can do this.” It sends 2 messages: (1) experience may not be wanted, and/or (2) experienced people may be working with people that have no idea what they are doing.

Let’s take a look at some examples from the Bible:

In Exodus 26-29, the Lord laid out detailed instructions for Moses to follow in constructing the tabernacle. He told Moses, “You shall speak to all the skillful persons whom I have endowed with the spirit of wisdom” (Ex 29:3a).

Judges 7 tells us about Gideon’s army. Wouldn’t you love to have his problem? 32,000 volunteers! God let the fearful people go home. (What does that say about comfort zones??) But even 10,000 were too many. So He had Gideon set up a test – really, more like a quiz. The 300 men who stayed alert got to stay, but the others were let go.

Before David was king (knowing what God had promised, but still on the run from King Saul), David had men who volunteered to serve under his leadership. About 30 of these men distinguished themselves because of their skills and courage in battle.

Paul is sometimes used as an example of someone who misused his education and training in his misguided zeal to persecute the church. All of that background, though, came into play when it was redirected into teaching the early Christians about the Old Testament prophecies and the role of the Law.

And finally, in Acts 6, the Apostles told the people to select seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom. If we look carefully, we see that the men needed the people skills of relating and bridge-building. These are called soft skills, but they are skills nonetheless. Lots of people can serve meals; not everyone can calm an angry mob.

So what are the take-aways?
1. Don’t downplay skill or experience. Recruit it. Use it.
2. Don’t dumb-down your ministries. It’s never true that “anyone” can do things.
3. Don’t insult your volunteers. Challenge them to be and do their best.

All heart, no skills – Pt 1 – What does it take to be a volunteer?

“All heart and no skills,” the pastor declared, with a big grin.  He was looking at 9 volunteers who were ready to register the crowds that were set to stream through the doors.

He was kidding.  Anyway, I hope he was kidding.  The volunteers included several business owners, his own secretary, a lawyer, a PhD in church leadership, a computer geek who worked globally on a virtual task force, and a former YMCA volunteer coordinator.  No skills indeed!

Still, all they had to do was give the guests a piece of paper, a pen, and a smile.  Sometimes, heart is the best skill.

Back when I started as a missionary, about all that I had to offer was a smile.  In a foreign language, I would not have been able to explain to the guests what the piece of paper was for, and I could not understand if they asked me for a pen.

My best role model was the missionary I had known in Belgium.  He was the one who led me to the Lord.  His French was atrocious, but people knew without a doubt that he loved them.  He was a lot like Jesus.  Jesus was able to carry on a theological discussion at the age of 12, but it was His love of people that took Him to the cross.

When your heart is totally dedicated to something, it can often make up for lack of skills — or it can lead to the development of skills.  Jesus told us, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, love your neighbor as yourself [Luke 10:27].”

The best volunteers in the church have their hearts in the right place.  No question.  BUT….

Are you discouraging volunteers who do have skills? Come back for Part 2 of “All heart, no skills.”

3 ways to avoid “Oh by the way” recruiting – part 2 of 2

by Carol

We were looking at that bothersome tactic that some people use to recruit unsuspecting volunteers:  “Oh by the way” recruiting.  You lure potential recruits to make a simple, reasonable commitment.  Then you drop the “oh, by the way” on them.

You really don’t want to do that to your volunteers.  You are trying to build a ministry of people that God has truly called to give their time and talents to the ministry.

So, how do you avoid it?

1.  Sticking Points vs. Opportunities:  Be candid quickly.

What are you afraid of telling them?  Cost?  Timeframe?  Hours?

You want people to make an informed decision.  Until you get it out there, they are working in the dark (possibly thinking the worst, possibly clueless).

Recruiting is the process of giving people what they need to join the ministry (joyfully and with their eyes open).  People often want a challenge and want to do something that requires a real sacrifice.

2.  General vs. Specific:  Connect them (tentatively, anyway) to a position or team first.

If you issued a call for round pegs for a dozen round holes, people know how to listen. But if you called for round pegs, square pegs, saws, can openers, and doodads to fill various holes from Bermuda to Alaska, it’s tough to focus.

Connect them to a goal (a specific job or team) on the front end.

3.  Recruiting vs. Training:  Keep recruiting and training separate.

Some recruiting is done in meetings.  Ask yourself, “If they opt out, did they need to know this piece of info?”  If the answer is no, it doesn’t belong in recruiting.  (It may not belong in training, either.)

Bottom line:  Trust God.  He will bring the people who want the challenge and fit the requirements.

“Oh, by the way” recruiting – part 1 of 2

by Carol

This is one time that “do unto others” doesn’t work.  We’ve all had it happen to us and done it ourselves: “Oh, by the way” recruiting.

I wouldn’t have recognized it recently if I hadn’t just read a chapter of McKee & McKee’s The New Breed.  They describe an “Oh, By the Way” volunteer manager, but anyone can do it.  All you have to do is lure potential recruits to make a simple, reasonable commitment.  Then you drop the “oh, by the way” on them — the meeting schedule, the financial commitment, the orientation hurdles, the CIA-level background checks, the locked door until they sign the contract, the — well, okay, maybe not all that, but definitely more than they expected.

Now your recruit is in a quandary (predicament, dilemma).  Do they continue to check out the ministry?  Some commitments turn out to be worth even a huge commitment of time and money.  Or does your recruit bail out, feeling embarrassed about giving the impression that they don’t make good on their promises?

Sometimes it is hard to know the difference between “oh, by the way” recruiting and training — not to mention the difference between either of those and fortune telling!  You can’t always tell people what to expect when they sign on, especially if it is a new ministry.

Jesus recognized that ordinary people consider the cost before they attempt projects in life.  A builder estimates the cost of a tower (Luke 14:28-30).  A king thinks about the manpower requirements before going to war (Luke 14:31-32). 

True, a person cannot be His disciple without being willing to give up everything (Luke 14:33), but that doesn’t give you permission to use deception (if you know the cost) or lack of planning (if you haven’t thought ahead).

In our next post, we’ll look at three ways to avoid “Oh, by the way” recruiting.