Each week, our church staff gathers for an hour of prayer. Every department has a few moments to share prayer requests. They typically begin the same way: “Pray people would be moved to volunteer to …” then you can fill in the blank with any number of church ministry opportunities.

If you listened in on any given week, you would think we had no one to hold babies, teach kids, go to camp with middle schoolers, greet people, run video cameras, or serve at the local food bank.

The truth is, we have volunteers. We just don’t have enough volunteers. We really never should have enough, because as we have more people in our ministries as we reach more people for the Kingdom, we need more volunteers to help us.

As we need more volunteers to help us, we offer more people the opportunity to grow as disciples of Jesus. This means they will invite more people, and we will have more people in our ministries. This means—we need more volunteers!

Positive Spin on a Desperate Situation

After a drought of people in 2020, we saw a return to church in 2021. Studies have shown that about two-thirds of churchgoers came back to church by the spring of 2021.

But there may be a group of people, many of whom were your key volunteers, who are just not going to come back to your church. Many of them were mature believers who gave and served. Their absence means that most of the growth you are now experiencing may be people who are new to your church or new to faith. And they may not be ready to serve.

While calling increased numbers and new families the cause of the problem puts a positive spin on the situation, I’m sure you are as painfully aware as I am that it doesn’t address the problem. So how can we prevent losing our precious volunteers who have answered the call to serve?

Treat them like gold.

The person who fulfills their serving role each week feeling treasured, precious, and known is more likely to return the next week—and to bring friends along with them.

I once had the husband of one of my volunteers carefully place a tiny vial containing a shiny piece of rock in my palm one Sunday. He closed my hand around it. “Do you know what that is?” he asked me.

When I told him I didn’t, he said, “That’s gold. I’ve been a business owner for a long time. I can tell you it costs more to recruit, hire, and train a new employee than it does to keep one you have. This is to remind you to treat the volunteers you have like precious gold, so they will never want to leave your ministry.”

We know this. We appreciate people, give them gifts, and say thank you. But do we truly treat them as something precious to us? Do we stop and look them in the eye and tell them the things that we see in them?

The person who fulfills their serving role each week feeling treasured, precious, and known is more likely to return the next week—and to bring friends along with them.

Value their time and commitment.

Remembering that it is easier to keep a current volunteer than to recruit a new one, be considerate about how you engage someone’s time in ministry. Allow them to communicate scheduling needs by making it easy to do so. Send out your schedule for the month early enough that they can let you know when they won’t be able to come.

If you see someone serving once a month who could grow in their faith by serving twice a month, call that out in them. We once decided to invite our current volunteers to “Serve 3.” This meant we wanted them to serve 3 more times in a year.

We even gave them a special t-shirt for doing it. It might look like picking up an extra service time on a weekend when we needed help or serving for an additional Easter service.

That simple ask just 3 times a year showed our team we valued them, their commitment to serve, and the time they gave. Many of our team increased their serving because they experienced that increased fulfillment. Most of the volunteers who took us up on it are still our most committed volunteers to this day!

If you see someone serving once a month who could grow in their faith by serving twice a month, call that out in them.

Cast your big vision and show them our big God.

Our volunteers love our church, and they serve in our church because of that love. What keeps them serving is their call and commitment to make passionate disciples of Jesus Christ. Our volunteer t-shirts used to just say “KidsWorld,” but this year we made a change. They now say, “Making Passionate Disciples,” which is part of our mission statement.

I wanted our volunteers to not just be committed to KidsWorld. I wanted them to actually clothe themselves with the vision of what we are called to do. It’s easier to walk away from a place than a biblical calling to make disciples.

And making disciples matters. It means that on those days when our ratios are all out of whack and rooms are chaotic, we remember we are making passionate disciples. When student volunteers are acting their age when we want them to act like adults, we remember we are making passionate disciples.

When parents are late because they were with our prayer teams—and we are tired and hungry and ready to go home—we remember we are making passionate disciples.

I used to pray for the exact right number of kids for the number of volunteers we had for that day. But now I pray that God would surprise us. I ask Him to give each of our leaders exactly what they need in order to know they are making passionate disciples that day, whether that is a quiet encounter with one child or a moment when things are so chaotic that the lesson will only work if God shows up in a big way.

Those are the moments that will keep our volunteers coming back.

Get feedback.

Treasure your volunteers enough to be ready to hear the hard things about your ministry and your leadership. I have used a simple red/yellow/green feedback system in the past. It helped my volunteers to feel valued. They would fill out a form that asked for three types of feedback.

The red feedback involved things that were a problem that might cause them to stop serving. Yellow feedback was for things that were confusing or questions they had that were creating caution in their serving. The green feedback was about things that were going great and what they wanted to continue to move forward on.

I also asked them for prayer requests and one goal for their serving in the next ministry year. I responded personally to each concern and question. This included me sometimes sitting in on their small group to observe. Sometimes I took them to coffee for some specific coaching. I affirmed the things that were going great. We then prayed and planned for their goal for the next year.

When volunteers feel valued and trusted enough to be asked for feedback, it helps close the “back door” of serving. They might then look forward to what God might accomplish with and through them!

You can do all these things and still lose volunteers. Even so, please know that God loves your church. He loves your ministry and the kids you serve even more than you do. He knows you, He loves you, and He leads you as you lead those entrusted to you.

If He calls you to it, He will help you to do it. He will use the people you specifically pray for to shepherd the children He gives you.