How would you assess the strength of your volunteer teams?

  • Strong and vibrant
  • Steady and good
  • Struggling but functional
  • Trying to survive

Maybe it depends on the ministry.

Many of your volunteers have returned, and no doubt you are grateful for that, but how have they returned? How are they doing?

How are they at a soul level?

How strong are their serving capacities?

If your church’s staff and key leaders have been impacted by the realities of the past couple of years, your volunteers have been affected too.

Be careful not to make this leadership mistake as you lead your volunteer teams: Being so consumed with the pressure to raise the number of volunteers that you don’t have time to raise the level of esprit de corps.

When the esprit de corps of your volunteer teams decline, this results in volunteers who are dutifully faithful but at heart level absent. The outcome is a decline in both fruit and joy.

I’ve been leading volunteer teams for decades, and the first word that always comes to mind is gratitude!

I’m grateful for the leaders who can consistently recruit, train, and care for volunteer teams.

I’m grateful for the volunteers who selflessly and joyfully serve month after month and year after year.

Without either group, the church does not function, lives are not changed, and the mission isn’t realized.

My purpose in this post is to put words to some of what you may be feeling or experiencing and offer some helpful direction.

5 Good Questions to Assess Your Volunteer Teams

I recommend that as you think through ministry departments (teams), you consider each of the following to ensure your teams are healthy, productive, and enjoy serving.

1) Do your volunteer teams serve more from obligation or on mission?

It may surprise you, but many good volunteers serve out of a sense of obligation and, occasionally, even guilt rather than a passion to be on mission for Christ. How are your teams doing?

When you are short on volunteers, it can be challenging to get out in front enough to lead and recruit by vision rather than by need, but vision is so important for healthy teams.

Yes, there is a need in both cases, but one carries a hint of desperation, and the other carries the momentum of Kingdom progress.

Always start with the leader of the team.

  • How are they doing?
  • What is their motivation?
  • Do they need your coaching, encouragement, or training?

The leader always has a direct and immediate impact on the team.

Are your teams passionate about the vision?

Do they sense their purpose in the bigger mission of God?

Mature Christians carry a sense of responsibility to serve, but that’s different from feeling “obligated.” Instead, being on mission carries purpose, meaning, and the knowledge that they are partnering with God.

2) Do your volunteer teams serve according to function or lifestyle?

Function is about what a volunteer does; lifestyle is more about who they are.

It’s OK for a volunteer to start out serving according to their function, meaning the specific tasks they need to do. Their enthusiasm, in the beginning, brings passion to their ministry. But if they continue to serve merely by function, their passion soon fades.

Serving as a lifestyle, rather than function, is a more natural process that flows out of who a person is, how God wired and gifted them, and the outcome is more fruit and joy.

This requires more in-depth training than just for their tasks, including a biblical understanding of Ephesians 4:11-13, especially verse 12. “to equip his [God’s] people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” (See also Romans 12:4-8 and I Corinthian’s 12:4-20.)

Further, if you desire serving as a lifestyle to be part of your culture, the leaders must first model it.

3) Do your volunteer teams serve by the checklist or engage their imagination?

Please don’t misunderstand; I so appreciate a volunteer who knows their list of responsibilities and makes sure they happen, but there is so much more. And the more is the fun part!

When a volunteer serves beyond the basics by engaging their imagination to serve in creative ways that make a deep and profound impact, the result is often life changing. 

A volunteer’s basic checklist of responsibilities is typically 5-7 really good and important things, but the secret sauce is always in the second mile; it’s in the “above and beyond.”

The essential list covers what is expected; the above and beyond comes from imagination in the moment, often prompted by the Holy Spirit.

When training your volunteers, start with the “checklist,” but move quickly to a clear sense of empowerment to use their common sense, immediate resources, and imagination to not only meet the need but change a life.

Give them examples by telling stories.

4) Do your volunteers serve independently or with great teamwork?

It’s usually easier and faster to do it yourself, to serve independently, but teamwork always provides a bigger, stronger, and more lasting effect.

The reason volunteers tend to serve independently is that great teamwork requires more communication, strategic organization, and tremendous effort to achieve clarity and alignment. That’s the leader’s job.

It’s just easier and faster to take the ministry description and make it happen on your own, until you hit a problem; that’s often the first realization that a team is necessary.

How are you leading to create better teams?

Here are some basics to start with.

Establish trust.
The foundation of all great teams is trust. Consistency in extending grace and care is part of this trust.

Embrace clarity of expectations.
Make sure every team member knows and accepts their responsibilities.

Ensure direction and alignment.
All team members must know the direction you are headed in and what a win looks like.

Engage empowerment.
Set your volunteers free to use common sense and imagination to serve above and beyond.

5) Do your volunteer teams perceive serving as inconvenient or fun and love it?

If you sense among your volunteers that serving is inconvenient, it’s important to get to the root of that as quickly as possible.

Something is in your volunteer culture that needs to be corrected.

It’s true that serving is sacrificial and puts others before self, but that doesn’t carry the heart of inconvenience; serving is often a person’s greatest joy.

Sacrificial serving models the heart of Jesus, and while not always easy that makes it all the more meaningful.

I admit my bias toward serving in churches with amazing cultures where the volunteers absolutely love what they do, but that also demonstrates that it’s possible at any church.

The process of making ministry fun is counterintuitive because it takes more time.

Adding more minutes to a volunteer’s busy calendar may seem like it makes serving even more inconvenient. Still, the reality is that the fun, the camaraderie, the connections, and the relationships are the very things that help a volunteer fall in love with what they do.