Raising Up Volunteers

By Jerry Welch, Family Discipleship Pastor, Colonial Heights Baptist Church

When I first started in ministry almost 30 years ago, I don’t think I had any idea how much time and energy I would spend recruiting and training volunteers. As church staff members, we have the honor and privilege, and sometimes the overwhelming task, of leading a volunteer army. Leading a team of volunteers can often feel like herding cats. I’m not a big fan of cats, but I do love volunteers. I love to see people using their giftedness in service to the King. I love inviting people to spend their lives working for the glory of God. I love seeing a team come together – people from various backgrounds and with vastly different skills working together to pull off something that none of us could do alone. That’s just FUN!

But…the work of identifying, recruiting, training, and providing accountability for a lot of volunteers can be exhausting and not so very fun at times. In some ways, that is the fault of the volunteer. We all know some people who treat volunteer work like they treat their neighbor’s cat. They may be nice to it, smile at it, and even tolerate it in their yard, but they’re not rushing out to feed it when the neighbor is out of town. People may smile at the idea of volunteering but getting them to actually step up and take ownership of the job is an entirely different story. 

So how do we go about raising up volunteers? To take a swipe at a completely different analogy (and gladly leaving the cats behind), I will compare the process to growing a garden. First, we must make the conditions right. We have to define what is needed based on what we want to grow and then prep the soil to make it fertile for growth. In the church that means we have to create a ministry structure that is conducive for volunteers. We do this by clearly defining the expectations and then clearly communicating the needs. We provide the fertile ground of equipping and encouragement to prepare the volunteers for sustained growth and effectiveness. 

Secondly, we must put in the proper plants in our garden. If we want to grow tomatoes, then we need to plant tomato seeds (or little tomato bushes). If we want to grow corn, we need to plant corn seeds. If we want pumpkins, we must plant pumpkins seeds. If we want to grow disciples, then we must recruit healthy, committed disciples of Christ who will reproduce themselves in others. We must choose wisely who we recruit because we will reap what we sow. This means that we are at times very selective. We avoid filling the gaps with “warm bodies.” This doesn’t mean that we are looking for perfect people (or plants). But we are looking for people (and plants) who are ready and willing to grow and who are eager to be used by the Lord.

Thirdly, we need to maintain our garden. For plants to flourish, they need good hydration, a balanced diet of nutrients, and some room to grow. We must water the plants, add some fertilizer, and remove some weeds. Our volunteers need similar things. Jesus told His disciples, I am the Living Water, the Bread of Life. Our volunteers are nourished through Jesus. He alone can meet all their needs. And we sometimes will need to help them remove the weeds that threaten to stunt their growth. This is the difficult work of correction (or pruning). Done with godly wisdom and a redemptive attitude, even this difficult work will help them become stronger and healthier.

Finally, we need to reap the harvest. Under the watchful eye of God, well-nourished volunteers will grow in vitality, joyfully stretching in joyful praise toward the sun (or Son). And they produce fruit (more disciples). 

Do you want to raise up good volunteers?  Then develop an environment in which volunteers thrive, a place where they feel loved, equipped, nourished, appreciated, and accountable.