What Every Volunteer Needs to Know

People rarely perform higher than the level and effort you put in to recruit them.

Have you ever been in a pinch and needed someone to serve immediately.  I mean, there are 10 babies in the nursery and you just found out one of your key leaders is not going to show. So you grab a trusted person (already background screened and approved to serve) and you ask them to step in and cover.

Afterword you find out they loved serving in the nursery and they ask if they can help more.  A few weeks later you’re walking down the hall of the church and your new volunteer comes up and says, “I know I’m supposed to be in the nursery today, but something came up.”  And the process begins all over again. You’re in a pinch and need a person to fill a spot.

Early in ministry this happened to me all the time.  It felt like this perpetual cycle that I didn’t know how to break.  I want to share how I broke the cycle, and how you can to.

What I learned is…people rarely perform higher than the level at which you recruit them.

Here’s what I mean by that.

If you ask someone to serve while walking down the hallway of the church on a Sunday morning, when something comes up and they can’t serve, they are going to catch you in the hall and back out.  Why?  Because, that is the standard that you set.

If you want your volunteers to operate at a higher standard, then you need to raise your standards.

Pretty simple thought.  I promise, if you do this it will radically change the culture of your ministry.  Maybe you’re like me.  Early on I couldn’t articulate my standards.  I never taught my expectations for volunteers. I just knew it when they were not being met.

As the leader you need to clearly define and communicate the standards and expectations for serving on your team.  So grab a legal pad and do a brain dump. Think of everything you want your volunteers to know.

I’m not talking about letting them know about the time you won the hot dog eating contest at the fair.  I’m talking about the unspoken expectations for those who serve on your team.  Don’t worry about what order you write them down, or if they make sense, just get them on paper.  You will go back and edit and prioritize them later. Think of all the times you were frustrated with a volunteer and capture the root cause for the frustration.

Have you ever watched a volunteer do something, or not do something, and think to yourself, what are they thinking?  Don’t they know? Think through those times and write them down.

In my experience nearly every time my expectations are not meet its because I failed to communicate what I expected.  I believe volunteers want to do a good job.  They want to make a difference.  They want to have an impact and be apart of something great.  Most often what is holding them back is us.

How are we holding our volunteers back?

We have never clearly defined standards and expectations.  We have never answered the unasked questions.

Every ministry needs a one-page document that lists the expectations to serve.  We need to share those expectations with all our new leaders early in the onboarding process.

Remember, people don’t do what you expect, they do what you inspect.

That means, it’s not a one and done proposition.  You need to follow up and create systems of checks and balances to make sure your expectations are being met.

When they are not, gentle coaching should take place.  If you wait until someone has neglected the expectations for too long it’s hard to course correct.  But, if you create a system and structure that allows for small micro-corrections week-by-week, raising standards and helping your team meet expectations becomes much easier and more natural.

Here are the most common questions volunteers need to know the answers to.  I call them the un-asked questions.

If you can preemptively answer these questions you will take your ministry to a whole new level.  It’s important to remember: your volunteers don’t know, what they don’t know.  Seems logical right.  That means they are new to your ministry and really don’t know the questions to ask.

As a leader you need to anticipate questions and give the answers.  Don’t assume the answers to the following questions are common sense. They are not.

If you want to have an amazing team you need to be intentional. Put yourself in a new volunteers shoes, and clearly communicate the standards and expectations.

  1. What is required before I serve? Are there any spiritual requirements?

In order to serve in our church you need to participate in corporate worship.  You can’t come and serve and than go home.  We have a motto: Worship 1 – Serve 1.  We want you to be apart of the life of the church.  We offer 3 worship experiences.  Pick one to worship in and then another to serve.

We want you to participate in a community group.

Everyone who works with minors needs to complete an application and have a clear background check.

  1. What time should I arrive?

Set a standard and communicate it often.  Don’t let this be left up to the new volunteer.  Pick a time and communicate it.

Is it 30 minutes, 45 minutes or 60 minutes before the service time? Set the standard and get them to agree to it before you ever schedule them on a team.  If you wait until they serve a month it will be harder to raise the standard.

Help the volunteer understand why there is a start time and what happens when they are late. If they know and understand the why behind the start time it feels less like a rule to follow and easy to buy in.

  1. What do I do if I need to cancel last minute?

Create a process that all volunteers use. I set-up a special Google voice number.  It’s a message and text only number.  It is set to go directly to all my ministry directors.  If someone calls out or cancels all of my directors are notified.

We train all our Kidmin volunteers to use that number.  They shouldn’t call my house or send me an email.  Don’t send me a message on Facebook.  They shouldn’t tell a friend to tell me when they get to church.  My team knows they should call or text the Google voice number and leave a message. I’m not going to respond, but I’m going to know.

We publish the number everywhere.  Bottom of emails, on every meeting agenda, in all communication pieces.

  1. How will you communicate with me & schedule me to serve?

Make sure to set the standard of how you will communicate.   Email, text, will it be through planning center?  Explain how and when you will communicate.  Set the standard and stick to it?

We use planning center.  I take 5 minutes in every new volunteer orientation and share how I want them to respond with planning center and why it is so important.  By setting the standard early it becomes apart of the culture.

  1. How should I communicate with you? (The Leader)

Explain the best way to communicate with you.  Should they email, call, text.  Often leaders push out a lot of information and expect people to respond to our communication, but then get overwhelmed and don’t give the same courtesy to their volunteers.  Explain the process and set a standard.

For me if its normal communication you should email.  I commit to respond within 24 hours.

If it’s a cancelation call or text the Google voice number.  I’m not going to respond, but I will know.  (I might follow up later after service or on Monday, depending on the reason they had to cancel serving.  This is being a good shepherd of your team)

If it’s an emergency call me on my cell phone.  If you call my cell, I’m going to do my best to answer.

  1. What if I know someone who might want to join our team?

Don’t miss the opportunity to capture referrals when you add a new team member.  Everyone knows someone else that isn’t serving and could join your team.

I always ask new volunteers, who do you know that would enjoy serving on our team.  (It might be a husband, wife, friend, or a family member)  If a new volunteer loves what they are doing, they are going to be excited to refer others to join the team.  If they do not love serving, fix that first.

I get every new volunteer to refer two people they know who would love to join our team.  I ask the volunteer to pray for them, and look for an opportunity to talk to them first.  Then I want them to introduce me.  I leverage the relationship before I reach out and invite the new person to join the team.

  1. What if this isn’t a good fit?

Not every volunteer fits in every position.  I let every new volunteer know that I am not trying to fill a position; I am trying to help them find the best place in our church to serve.  If for some reason you feel this position is not a good fit, let’s meet and I will help you get plugged in somewhere else.  Here’s how that usually plays out.

They start in the nursery and realize they don’t like changing dirty diapers, holding crying babies, or the smell of baby formula.  I sit down with them, figure out why it’s not a good fit, and move them to the 4 year old preschool room.  I have removed all the things that caused the nursery to be a bad fit.  This little conversation helps me retain so many volunteers.

  1. What is in it for me?

I always end the conversation with a list of benefits the new volunteer will receive for serving on my team.  Don’t get me wrong; I’m not trying to bribe them.  I just want them to know that serving with kids is rewarding and there are some amazing benefits that they may not have considered.  Check out this blog post for a list of 8 benefits for serving with kids.

People rarely perform higher than the level at which they are recruited.  If you want to change the culture of your volunteer teams, you need to answer the questions that every volunteer needs to know.

BONUS TIP: Always make sure your team knows the WHY.  Its not enough to know what to do, they need to know why we do it.  When someone knows the why, they are much more likely to adhere to the standard.  Remember, people don’t care about what you expect, they care about what you inspect.  Make sure to inspect, and follow up with expectations.

Are the people on your team’s meeting your expectations? A better question might be do the people on your teams know your expectations?

What Do You Think?

What are your expectations for your volunteers?  Have you defined them and clearly communicated them to your team?  What would you add to this list?

Most volunteers want to meet expectations; they just need to know what they are.

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About the Author

Andrew VanDerLinden

Andrew is the Executive Pastor at Community Church in Eastern PA.

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