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.”

Are we volunteers?

Does the church have volunteers?

It depends on how you define volunteer.  There are many different definitions.  Some apply in the church; some do not.

Most of the definitions touch on the idea of “monetary” reward.  That’s because there are all sorts of ways to reward people.  Volunteers can be rewarded with everything from a simple smile to an expensive prize for selling the most kumquats (or whatever).

You may think that church volunteers don’t get paid.  Seriously?!  Do the terms crown (1 Peter 5:4), treasure (Matthew 6:20) or even reward (Matthew 10:42) ring a bell?  Of course they do!  But we also know that we love and show love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19), not because we expect to gain something from it.

From time to time on this blog, we will come back to the question of whether the term volunteer is right for the church context.  As we put together this website, our functional definition is that a church volunteer is a person engaged in the ministry of the church in a capacity other than the responsibilities of a paid staff position.

In the meantime, we delve more deeply into the concept in our article, Are We Volunteers?   Click here →   VolunteerProject.net – Are we volunteers