How to Recruit and Build Your Volunteer Base

I’ve never been part of a church that had all the leaders and workers it needed. There always seems to be a shortage.  Why is that and what can we do to recruit and maintain a good volunteer base?

This is critical because most of the hard work in churches is done by volunteers, not paid staff.  Here is Chuck Lawless to help us plumb the depths of the issue.

Chuck Lawless currently serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions and Dean of Graduate Studies at Southeastern Seminary. You can connect with Dr. Lawless on both Twitter and Facebook.

Originally posted by Chuck Lawless

I hear it all the time: “Dr. Lawless, we just don’t have enough laborers in our church. Those who are serving are overworked, and too many people do nothing.” Perhaps these ideas will help you if your church faces this issue.

  1. Prioritize a strategy to pray for leaders. Jesus taught us to pray for laborers to enter the harvest fields (Matt. 9:37-38) – most assuredly praying for those compelled to go to the world, but hardly limited to those workers. Enlist a team to pray continually prior to recruiting, while recruiting, and even after recruiting seems to have met your current needs. Your church will have more laborers if you intentionally and strategically pray for more.
  2. Teach 1 Corinthians 12 – and unpack the text thoroughly. Drill down into the fundamental truths of this chapter. No believer should be able to read this text and remain unwilling to serve through the church.
    • God gives spiritual gifts to all of His people.
    • He puts the church together according to His plan.
    • Every believer has a role, including the seemingly weaker ones. Nobody is placed in the Body to sit.
    • A congregation is so interdependent that we rejoice and suffer with one another.
    • In our diversity as a church, we are miraculously united.
  3. Do a ruthless evaluation of your current methodology. Do the same people serve in multiple positions? Do new members know how to get involved? What percentage of members are not involved? Are members serving in the wrong places? Are ineffective leaders permitted to remain in their position? Does the current process reflect a 1 Corinthians 12 understanding of member responsibility? Be honest – if the current process is not working, something must change.
  4. Use “disciple” rather than “volunteer” language. Sure, church members are volunteers in the sense that they do not get paid for their service. We are not called to be volunteers in God’s kingdom, though; we are expected be obedient disciples of Jesus. We sign up to die when we follow Christ. That’s much different than being a volunteer.
  5. Assume people rather than positions are the starting point. Many churches start the recruitment process by seeking to fill current positions rather than considering the people God has brought them. This approach, in my opinion, de-emphasizes 1 Corinthians 12, neglects the possibility that God may intend new ministries to begin, and often results in “warm bodies” in the wrong positions.
  6. Require a membership class, and explain involvement expectations there. Many church members remain uninvolved because (a) they have not understood they must be involved; (b) they assume they’re not needed because others are serving; (c) they don’t know how to get involved. Address all of these concerns before a new member has a chance to develop a habit of complacency.
  7. Use a process like Rick Warren’s SHAPE or Wayne Cordeiro’s DESIGN to help members consider where they might serve. Tools like these move beyond spiritual gift inventories to help church members evaluate their life experiences, desires, skills, passions, and spiritual growth. This holistic approach helps members better understand all God has done to prepare them to serve.
  8. Recruit face-to-face. Bulletin notices, pulpit announcements, and email requests are helpful recruiting tools, but they are not enough. Recruit the way Jesus did: face-to-face, eyeball-to-eyeball, voice-to-voice. Use the most passionate, properly placed leaders to recruit others. Ministry leaders who believe in their work + members who understand their SHAPE or DESIGN equal a winning recruitment strategy.
  9. Provide training for workers – and let the church know you do. Too many church members have agreed to serve, but have then been left to fend for themselves. Even the most willing servants grow weary when they remain ill equipped and unsupported. Train them – and make the training publicly known so potential workers know they won’t be alone if they serve. Indeed, invite potential workers to attend the training.
  10. Honor obedience. Disciples of Jesus serve willingly, but “Well done, good and faithful servant” goes a long way in encouraging workers. Send personal notes. Make a phone call simply to ask, “How’s the ministry going?” Recognize workers publicly. Sponsor a banquet to say “thank you.” Appreciated workers can be great recruiters for the next crop of workers.

What strategies would you add to this list?


Three Essentials for leadership fruitfulness and longevity

I admit that I like lists.  I also notice that the Bible is full of lists, starting with the Ten Commandments. Paul has lists of attributes in I Timothy 3 and Titus one and Peter has his own list of leadership qualities in I Peter chapter 5. Additionally, we have lists of the deeds of the flesh and the fruit of the spirit in Galatians chapter 5. So making and using lists has a biblical basis.

It’ s probably true, though, that there is no end to the making of lists. Some of us like to create a daily “Do” list to remind us of what needs to be accomplished. Some of us list things that we want to achieve over a longer period of time to help us grow, reach our God-given potential and be the best leaders we can be. Then there is the “Bucket List” of things we want to do before Jesus calls us home.

I’m going to guess that some reading this might hate the idea of lists and break out in an allergic reaction just thinking about it…just kidding. I know it’s probably not quite that bad.

I often think about, and work at, keeping things simple in my life and ministry. Simplicity is one of my current key values. So, in the name of simplicity, following is my short list of just three things I consider fundamentally foundational to leadership fruitfulness and longevity, which I believe every leader aspires to.

1.  Identity in Jesus

 It all starts here. As a Christian leader, if I attempt to have my identity, value and worth in anyone/anything else, in time I will be in deep trouble. This is the first mistake mentioned in my book Mistakes Leaders Make,  “Allowing Ministry to Replace Jesus.” He doesn’t want idols to take his place in our hearts. Over time (if we are not vigilant and careful) our identity will become rooted in pleasing others, gaining respect, applause, accolades, promotion, popularity and success with Jesus pushed out of his rightful place in our affections.

 It can be very subtle like the proverbial frog in the water and we don’t realize it’s happening. I love what Colossians 3:3,4 (ESV) says, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Emphasis added). Jesus Christ is my life as a Christian leader. My life is not my ministry, my success, my popularity, etc. It’s true, as the old hymn has it: “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.” I wonder if we really believe this!

2.  Intimacy with Jesus

One of the keys in keeping our identity anchored in Jesus is growing in intimacy with him. I have observed over years of ministry that it’s possible to understand the good news of the gospel and have my identity clearly there and not elsewhere, but still not grow in my personal love relationship with him. Identity doesn’t automatically result in intimacy. It takes effort and time, which is not easy in a microwave culture that wants everything right now. Peter reminds us in his second epistle to “make every effort” (2 Peter 1:5 ESV) to grow and deepen in our intimacy with Jesus. 

 It takes effort, just as seeing any relationship deepen takes effort--whether we are talking about wives and husbands, parents and children or employers and employees. My favorite verse on this topic is Hosea 6:3 in the Living Bible:  “Oh that we might know the Lord! Let us press on to know him, and he will respond to us as surely as the coming of dawn or the rain of early spring.” I love the admonition to “press on” (to make effort) to get to know him. I love the promise made here that he will respond to us like the sunrise or the nourishment of rain we need to our dry and thirsty souls. What consistent spiritual disciplines are you practicing to develop deeper intimacy with Jesus? What do you need to start doing or do differently so there is vitality and genuineness in your intimacy with him?

3.  Humility before Jesus

It was the late John Stott of England who said, “Pride is the greatest enemy and humility our greatest friend.” It is truly, and only, the humble leader who will have a life and ministry that can consistently honor the Lord. I have seen enough celebrity Christian leadership gone amok to last me for the rest of my life. Jesus is the only celebrity and the rest of us are his bondservants. Let’s lift him up and keep all leaders in proper perspective; the higher the pedestal, the bigger the fall.

Humility is a life-long pursuit, with the power of the Holy Spirit, but a pursuit well worth the time and effort because our Lord values it so highly.

“I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite one.” Isaiah 57:15 (ESV, Emphasis added)

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8 (ESV, Emphasis added)

“You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia. Serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews.” Acts 20:18,19 (ESV, Emphasis added)

Gracious Lord Jesus, help us to have our identity in you and you alone. Help us to deepen in our intimacy with you. Help us to grow in genuine humility as we are led by you, seek to honor you and are empowered by you. In your matchless name, Amen! 


Building A Fire Under Your Team Without Burning Them Up

The last thing a leader should be doing is demotivating the team he should be motivating.  Some do it unintentionally others do it for selfish and egocentric reasons.

Here is some marvelous insight from the Leadership Freak (as he calls himself) Dan Rockwell on what motivates and energizing those who are helping you achieve your God-given vision and dream.

Originally posted by Dan Rockwell on May 23, 2014

It takes a miracle to re-ignite a fire once you’ve hosed it down.

Skillful leaders use words to energize and release. Foolish leaders rein in and control.

Everyone has a fire inside. Leadership’s role is throwing gas on it.

10 principles of energy:

  1. Leading is easy when teams feel energized.
  2. Energy levels are leadership’s responsibility.
  3. Untended fires go out.
  4. Energy is a gift. You can’t buy it.
  5. Energy indicates love. High energy says people are doing what they love.
  6. Everywhere you see energy follow it, study it, and fuel it with words.
  7. Progress and success energize. Create and celebrate wins.
  8. Excellence energizes. Mediocrity deflates.
  9. Failure deflates. Evaluate failure and move forward quickly.
  10. Remove wet logs. Energy is contagious but, one wet log cools the whole fire.

7 questions:

Ask seven questions to explore, ignite, maintain, and fuel energy.

  1. Your eyes just lit up, what energized you?
  2. What was energizing about that? (The second question is the most important.)
  3. How might we focus your energy to accomplish our mission?
  4. What cools your energy?
  5. How can I fuel your energy?
  6. How can you monitor and maintain high energy?
  7. Who on your team loves to do what you hate?

Tip: Explore low energy when energy is high. Don’t bring it up when people are down.

5 things energizing leaders never say:

  1. “Do it my way.” Every time someone does it your way they lose energy.
  2. “It doesn’t matter.”
  3. “Do it or else.”
  4. “I sure told them what to do!”
  5. “Just do your best.” Fuzzy expectations never energize.

It’s easier to throw wood on a fire than to start one from scratch.

6 ways to energize teammates:

  1. Clarify focus. Wandering in the weeds drains energy.
  2. Simplifying next steps.
  3. Keep people in the loop.
  4. Respect their talent and contribution.
  5. Solve meaningful problems together.
  6. Finish something today.

Are You More Like A Hummingbird Or A Woodpecker?

Now, let me say before getting into this that I am neither an ornithologist nor a bird watcher. If you fall into either of these two categories, you can correct me in my analogies and set the record straight.

It seems to me that there are leaders who are more like hummingbirds in their approach to life and leadership and others who more resemble woodpeckers.  Personally, I lean toward the woodpecker.  Of course, I’m not saying one is wrong and the other right, or that one is better than the other--just saying some leaders are like one and some like the other.


They move quickly, not spending a lot of time on each flower and give every sign of having ants in their pants (as the old saying goes.) They cover a lot of territory. Their wings (unlike other birds) move so quickly that they almost look like they don’t have any wings (like a propeller moving at top speed). Hummingbird-type people generate a lot of ideas very quickly moving at rapid speed from one idea to the next. They are known for talking very quickly and with great energy and excitement.  They can drive woodpecker-types crazy! (Usually high I’s on the DISC.)


They are known for persistently and consistently staying focused on one thing for extended periods of time; pecking away at the same tree and the same hole. They are quite content and patient to stay put and work on one thing, before moving on to the next. They are laser focused, determined and relentless.  They can be persnickety and stay with something until it’s darn near perfect. They can drive hummingbird-people crazy! (Usually high C’s on the DISC.)

If a team had all hummingbirds and no woodpeckers, they would be in trouble. The quick changes, bouncing from one idea to the next with very with little warning or think time can wear people out in short order. A woodpecker with a hummingbird as a boss or supervisor gets tired just listening about all the flowers he wants to “attack” in a given period.

If a team had all woodpeckers and no hummingbirds, it would be exceedingly boring with little joy but with long hours of hard work. There would be little creativity, future thinking or idea generation. “Just give me one tree and lots of uninterrupted time and I’m good,” says the woodpecker. Hummingbirds, with a woodpecker as a boss, would be frequently chomping at the bit to get going; feeling like a wild horse locked in a corral with open fields all around but no opportunity to go there.

We all need each other to build and maintain healthy teams.  We need plough horses and racehorses. We need dreamers and implementers. We need relational people and task people. We need those who ask tough questions and slow the process down and we need those who see nothing as impossible, have a bias for action and speed the process up. It‘s a matter of rejoicing over our differences rather than resenting our differences.

If you are a hummingbird, thank Jesus for focused and determined woodpeckers that God allows into your life and ministry. If you are a woodpecker, thank Jesus for hummingbirds who keep the air fresh with new ideas as they flap their faster-than-the-speed-of-light wings (well, not really that fast!)

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord, and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers then all in everyone. All these are empowered by one and the same spirit who apportions to each one individually as he wills.” 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 and 11 (ESV) 


Twenty-One Things That Can Keep Your Church From Growing

Discussions have been going on for decades about “Church Growth.” What causes a church to grow?  What ideas, best practices, etc, are out there from which you can learn principles to apply to your context and the people in your ministry?

I don’t know very many who give us ideas on ways that keep a church from growing; things we unconsciously or unintentionally may be doing that are hurting rather than helping.

Here is Ron Edmondson sharing with us 21 ways to keep your church from growing. Whatever your leadership role may be, I’m confident there’s something here for you.


Originally posted by Ron Edmondson

I was once asked to help a church process how to get younger people to attend. After we discussed some change recommendations a man pulled me aside and said, “Son, we don’t need no fancy ideas around here. We like being a small church.

I soon learned he represented the feelings of the church as a whole. They thought they wanted to reach younger people, but the truth was — when faced with change — they were really satisfied with the church as it had been for many years.

There’s nothing wrong with being a small church. Let me say that again — There is nothing wrong with being a small church. In fact, in some communities, what is considered small is actually large by comparison to churches in larger cities. I’m not opposed to small churches, but I do have a problem with some small church mentalities.

I think there is a difference.

As long as there are lost people nearby, I believe the church has much work to do. And, any organization, Christian or secular, that refuses to accept some changes will stop growing and eventually die.

The fact is that growing a church is hard work. It’s relatively easy to keep things small or stop growth.

In fact, I can come up with lots of ways I’ve seen that keep a church from growing.

Here are a 21 ways:

  • Make the entry to serving in the church lengthy or complicated
  • Develop followers not leaders
  • Squelch any dream except the pastor’s own
  • Refuse new people a voice at the table
  • Make sure everyone knows who is in charge — and it’s not Jesus
  • Cast your vision — but only once
  • Only do “church” inside the building
  • Demand that it be done the way it’s always been done
  • Give up when change is resisted
  • Make excuses when things go wrong
  • Quit dreaming
  • Resist any organized system, strategy or plans to grow the church
  • Stop praying
  • Insist you have all the answers before you “walk by faith”
  • Never challenge people
  • Treat new people as outsiders
  • Always refer to the past as the good times
  • Put more energy into structure than serving
  • Allow gossip to fester
  • The ministerial staff does everything
  • Be stingy investing in the next generation

Whenever I do a post like this I get a common — and expected — question. Well, if these are ways not to grow a church, then what are some ways to grow a church? And, that is one of the main topics I write about in other posts. But, for simplicity sake, try doing the opposite of some of these I’ve listed and see how they help the church to grow.

What am I missing? What else will keep a church from growing?