The Mistakes of Coaxing Volunteers (and Fixes)

When’s the last time you volunteered your (unpaid) time to something or someone? Did you do it reluctantly? Or excitedly?

I speculate if you volunteered your time with any level of excitement it was because the person asking compelled you to serve. They presented it as a calling and did it in a compelling nature.

Recruiting volunteers is difficult work (that’s probably true of all volunteer recruiting efforts, but particularly in a church). But I think recruitment can be eased with a little work on the front end by the recruiters.

Cajoling vs Compelling (the already called)

Often we resort to cajoling or arm twisting. And from time to time, for one-time or short-term volunteer needs, the coaxing methodology suffices. But the volunteering doesn’t typically last.

Others of us tend to fill our volunteer slots through convicting messages. We play the prophet role and convict them into volunteering. We proof text scripture to help our convicting message or we just plain convict them with guilt. This method often leads to ministry volunteers who serve reluctantly, guilt-ridden and without joy.

But what if we could match their calling with a compelling need?

How can we be a part of them discovering their calling from God? A volunteer opportunity matches their hard wiring, their calling from Jesus, and a compelling need.

A compelling opportunity doesn’t have to be sexy or a fun assignment, per se. But it should show how their service can make a difference. People want to know their role will play a part in a bigger Kingdom initiative.

If you can compel them, how do you keep them?

Once you compel them, then you need to consider how to keep them. How do we ensure they stay connected? Retention takes ongoing work.

If you’ve already compelled them with a clear and compelling vision, then it’ll take coaching and celebration (I really only had to work to get the last “c” word).

We have a bad habit of getting volunteers in place, and basically leaving them there. We background check them, give them a name badge and implicitly, if not explicitly, say “good luck.”

Coaching and Celebrating

People are willing to take on challenges, even in volunteer roles if they believe the persons who lead them will coach and resource them. Volunteering time is a sacrifice, but volunteering when you feel unequipped and left on an island is punishment and people won’t take it for long.

Coaching is not a onetime thing. It can’t be limited to our cleverly themed annual volunteer meetings. It will require ongoing training and development (a pipeline of leadership training).

And as they serve with you, celebrate. Celebrate them and their work. But also celebrate the fruit of their work. Pause and make sure they know how God is using them and your church.

Retention of volunteers means we continue to compel them to service. It means ongoing coaching and it means celebrating what God’s doing. And that leads straight back to them seeing themselves as a part of that compelling vision you gave them.

So, next time you make the “volunteer ask” of someone, in advance ask yourself, “Will I be compelling them or cajoling them? Will I try to match their calling with a role, or force them to fill my biggest volunteer need?”

Calling and competencies left in our churches parking lots

I’m pretty convinced every Sunday people drive into our church parking lots who have been called by Jesus, been made capable by Jesus, but not yet been compelled to being on mission with Jesus. Other days of the week, they function as high caliber, caring, and committed people. But at church, they pull into their parking spot and basically leave all they have to offer in their car as they walk into our churches.

Part of that is on them and between God and them. Yet, part of that is on us. My guess is that if we were helping them to discover their calling and compelling them toward a vision that includes their service, well, they’d bring all of who God called them to be bear on our churches.

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