Making Volunteers Feel Valuable
As a little girl, my church was the incubator in which I first developed my leadership muscles. I braved the stage to sing “special music”. I gave my first piano recital. I single-handedly created the summer VBS program. I spoke to our high school youth group, and I led my peers in the annual candy bar fundraiser. If it wasn’t for the church, I’m not certain my leadership gifts would have had the opportunities to develop as early as they did.
Ministry leaders are entrusted with a very unique opportunity – the opportunity to identify and develop the giftedness of others. I believe serving in the church is one of the greatest ways people discover their gifts and put them into practice. As church leaders, we get the tremendous blessing of seeing people uncover their gifts and thrive in serving with them.
Large majorities of people don’t get to utilize their gifts and talents in the workplace. Their day jobs pay the bills, but rarely nurture their gifts and talents. We have the opportunity to allow them to use those gifts inside the church.
When we embrace this perspective as ministry leaders, it can create a seismic shift in the experience we create for our volunteers. When volunteers feel valued and invested in, they become essential partners in ministry.
Unfortunately I’ve seen far too many leaders, including myself, drift toward seeing volunteers as another task we have to manage, rather than individuals to invest in. With that in mind, here are a few things I’ve learned volunteers want us to remember as we lead them:
“Connect me to the big picture.”
Volunteers need to be reminded of how their act of service connects to the vision and affects life change.
“Don’t use me.”
Volunteers don’t want to feel used and abused. We need to remember that there are a lot of things competing for their time and attention. Remember that volunteers aren’t here to help us; we’re here to help them. Our primary goal as ministry leaders is to equip the entire body for the work of the ministry.
“Help me understand my gifts, purpose, and calling.”
Volunteering is an opportunity for people to exercise gifts that might be otherwise ignored or undervalued. Help a volunteer bring a dream to life. If they aren’t functioning in the sweet spot of their gifts, purposes, and calling, help them find a position where they will.
“Invest in me.”
Care about what they care about. Don’t just communicate when you need something from them. Find ways to get to know and understand them. Be intentional about developing relationships with your volunteers.
Return phone calls and emails quickly. Give thorough instruction. Volunteers’ time is a precious commodity. Don’t waste their time with poor communication or confusing instructions.
Be respectful of your volunteers’ other commitments and responsibilities. Remember that they’re also working full time jobs and juggling the demands of family and friends. With that in mind, don’t ask them to do something that you aren’t willing to do.
The pace of ministry is a rat race. The pressure of Sunday never stops, and the “to-do” list is endless. There is always one more phone call to make or one more email to respond to. The day-to-day busyness of ministry makes it easy for us to drift into being doers instead of equippers. When we recognize this tug-of-war on our time, we can begin to reframe our perspective and approach to leading volunteers.
Our volunteers will feel valued when they become our priority. If they sense they’ve become just another task for us to manage, we can do all the right things to lead them and still fail in our efforts.
Volunteers are looking for a place to belong and to be accepted. When our primary concern is for who they are becoming, their service becomes a beautiful bi-product that supports the ministry and blesses the church.