Four Reasons Your Church Is Losing Volunteers after COVID-19

September 14, 2020

One of the most common challenges we are hearing from church leaders is the unexpected loss of volunteers. It is always a challenge to get and keep volunteers, but the problem seems exacerbated since the pandemic.

The challenge is real. Here are four of the most common reasons your church is losing volunteers. 

  1. Some members are in their own phased-in plan to return to church. These members are hesitant to return to in-person activities. They are still concerned about exposure to COVID-19. They may be participating in socially-distanced worship services, but they are not quite ready for next steps. The good news is that these members will likely return to active volunteerism.
  1. Some members were already phasing out before the pandemic. Your church was likely to lose them anyway, not only to volunteer ministries, but to the church entirely. They were headed toward dropping out; the pandemic accelerated the process. 
  1. Some members have lost sight of the vision during the pandemic. They were motivated to volunteer as they captured the vision for the church. But it has been difficult for pastors and other church leaders to articulate a clear vision during the pandemic. Most leaders were doing everything they could just to hang on during these unprecedented times. 
  1. Some members have moved away from volunteering since their small groups were not meeting in person. Many church members in small groups are motivated to volunteer together with fellow small group members. That motivation obviously diminished during the pandemic when the groups were not meeting in person. 

A number of church leaders are doing a commendable job of holding on to volunteers during these tenuous times. Here are four best practices that are being implemented to counter the four common reasons volunteers are dropping out of their positions. 

  1. Stay in touch. Even if your church has begun regathering, stay connected to church members and volunteers through multiple touchpoints. Encourage small group leaders to connect regularly with others in the group. Volunteers can fade away when they aren’t hearing anything about and from the church.
  1. Keep the vision in front of the church. Remind the church members of why God has called them to do ministry together. Use multiple and creative ways to communicate the vision. While the pandemic may have moved the church to do the vision differently, it has not made the vision go away. 
  1. Emphasize gathered groups more than ever. Yes, we are all grateful for technology that allowed our groups to continue meeting digitally. But the in-person connection just can’t be replaced. As soon as it is wise and safe, encourage your groups to resume meeting in person. Most volunteerism comes from group members. 
  1. Move quickly to bring new persons into volunteer positions. We are following a fascinating trend in many churches. The mix of those attending in-person services includes more new people than before. While churches are losing some of their existing members, God is bringing new people into the congregation. They represent key opportunities for new volunteers.

 We at Church Answers will continue to monitor the developments in church volunteerism. I would love to hear from you. What is your church experiencing in this key area of church life?

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20 Comments

  • Thank you for this wonderful teaching. Just as you rightly said,some of our members left and we also gain some meaningful members. And some are yet to be resume. The beauty in what happened this 2020 is that we were able to lunch out and plant centers in four locations ,which ordinarily we wouldn’t have done. We thank God for that step. And presently we are believing God for labourers in every department of the church and also finance to moved because those four locations they are not holding on Sundays, so of we can get at list two buses to be bringing them to Sunday service that will be nice. And I know that God have answered. Thank you so much for mail and encouragement.

  • Dear Thom, I came across your site te and it has been very interesting reading all the comments. I would greatly appreciate your insight on a dilemma my husband and I are experiencing. We attend a church that at one time asked for the congregations input/vote on major decisions. Now the Bylaws have been changed and that is no longer required. The Pastor, Staff and Decons make huge decisions. This year our church created a Pre-school without the congregations input. This past week we were informed that a lease was signed for a new building church/campus. We launched a Spanish Service last fall. All these are great opportunities and would be a blessing to the Kingdom of God and the unchurched; however with each of these decisions the congregations input was not asked for until after the fact and with each addition we were asked to financially support them. It concerns me especially during this Pandemic when church attendance and volunteerism is down. It kinda seems like the “Cart is being placed before the horse”! I love my church family and have respected my Pastor, Staff and Decons, however this is disturbing. I want to respond in a godly way and submit to the church leadership, but I also feel the congregation should have input and not just ask to support these endeavors financially. I look forward to hearing back from you. Thank You and God bless you.

  • Sadly, long before there was a pandemic it was becoming harder and harder to recruit volunteers in the church. That goes along with the general apathy towards the things of God that is sweeping our nation. It’s only going to get worse as we see “the love of many wax cold”.
    Perhaps the church should be seriously searching for ‘out of the box’ methods to fulfill the work of the ministry minus the volunteers she has long depended on. Maybe it’s time to scale back on some of our less essential activities and focus mainly on the core ministry of the church, which means better, more efficient use of available manpower.

  • Thanks to Thom and the team, for the webinar last week on Reclaiming Our Attendance. It was a great blessing and hugely insightful.

    Here in Scotland, we are under government’s reasonable instructions, churches are restricted to maximum 50 persons per service. We are not allowed to sing or do anything loudly. Everyone must have masks on except when leading or ministering. We are ok with the Government guidelines for the reasons stated below. Many churches here are yet to resume in-person sanctuary services and continue online. We recently resumed sanctuary services but only focused on core teams in sanctuary service. We have rotating teams and ministers from Sunday to Sunday. We had multiple services before lockdown but have decided to run one sanctuary service on Sundays till 2021.

    We all have to return to the Bible search for and understand patterns for what we are going through globally. We need like the Men of Issachar to seek the Holy Spirit to help us better understand the times that we are in and how we should be doing things during this pandemic. Lets consider that with Noah, the actual flood lasted 40days but the drying-up took much longer so that the entire time Noah and his contingent were in the Ark was altogether about 12months (from my own calculation). So I reckon and planning on the basis that it will be about Easter 2021 (ie. one year global lockdown) before the pandemic dries up (and with vaccine etc). And then another year till 2021 for the general fear in the populations to subside and life returns to the new normal. There is no going back to the old normal as many things have changed permanently. SARS which was the last coronavirus outbreak lasted only 4months and much of the world did not even feel the impact. I understand in the US you had four people die fro SARS. In West Africa, they had Ebola and learned from it.

    If this is lasting much longer than 4months then we must turn our hearts and spirits to ask and understand: Dear LORD what are You doing in the meantime and how do we cooperate with You in what You are doing? Lord what type of world and church are You wanting to emerge post-COVID so we can work with You to build the new world and new churches of God’s desire. So we are spending time trying to prompt ourselves, God’s people and leaders, to plan for and seek to create a new world and new type of churches and missions post COVID. The Lord surely will not want us to return to church as normal?

    • Isaac Somuah Hodogbe - West Africa (Ghana) says on

      Thanks brethren,
      I have glanced tro ur writes up, infact there are more to learn from. We need to seek the lord’s concern and know our role to play else everything will be messed up.
      Again, we all need to cooperate with God whatever way He wants us to.
      God bless u sir

  • Volunteers?????volunteers???????

  • Thom, your observations on best practices are interesting. A major stumbling block that impacts each of these four topics is the need of LEADERSHIP to pull things together. We can try to stay in touch through technology, but if there is no organized plan (such as the old fashioned method of having “shepherds” assigned to members of the congregation), or a person(s) identified to make a connection with prospective volunteers, or someone to keep in touch with shut-ins, these ideas fall flat. For churches that have persons serving in key offices who lack organizational skills, the “stay in touch” idea, and others you list, happen haphazardly, if at all. Add to that, the six months our churches have been closed, and we will see major defections. People need to be loved, served, and appreciated during “closed doors,” more consistently than ever. Unfortunately, the problem is compounded if a church has a pastor or council officers unable to address these challenges.

  • Janettte Olivier says on

    hi i am a pastor of two small (in members) congregations. Most of my members are 60 years and older. we struggle to get together for ‘in person’ fellowship, due to the facts of people being to scared to come, or just to volunteer to do pre and post cleaning is a challenge and the biggest of them all is financially we are also not doing to well.
    i would like to hear some advise in how i can keep contact with my members, and encourage them. i send out 3 voice notes via whatsapp cause most of my people that is affordable,

    thanks
    Janette, Cape Town, South Africa

  • Many people cannot risk getting sick or unknowingly transmitting the disease to their parents or even strangers. The pandemic is not yet over. In fact, it is raging in places.

  • David Zetterberg says on

    I think both the assessment and suggested response is spot on. In our region nothing is even close to ‘normal’ so it is very hard to know what is really going on with people. Very few parents have returned with their kids because there hasn’t been any children’s ministry available. But even though it started this week few parents came. Most of our schoold districts are doing distance learning so parents have a lot of doubt that their kids will be safe at church when their own school district can’t promise that.
    But I think the biggest issue might be that we, as ministry leaders, are failing to paint a clear, passionate vision for serving. Which is understandable amidst a pandemic where there has been little human interaction. We need to focus on stiring their hearts to serve others as a natural part of our lives no matter what might be happening around us. Christian service needs to be a part of our DNA.

  • 2 more reasons:
    1) Many volunteers are in the “at risk” categories and are avoiding crowds, or, if they are coming, they are coming and leaving quickly and don’t want to be greeters, ushers, etc.

    2) Some volunteers have been told by their workplaces that if they attend church (or serve in areas) they will lose their jobs or be forced to quarantine every time.

  • You are “spot on” with these insights. The sad thing about some of these dropouts is the fact they use the pandemic concern as an excuse for failing to fill their positions at church. I see most of these same people at ballgames, grocery store, gas station, social functions, etc. Their spiritual consciences have “been seared with a hot iron.”

  • Robin G Jordan says on

    ….after COVID-19? All indications are that the pandemic is far from over. A Utah study shows that infants and toddler cant contract the virus in day care and, while they may not develop symptoms, transmit the virus to members of their family. The government of the UK is already introducing more restrictive measures due to rise in the number of COVID-19 cases in the UK. The number of COVID-19 cases in my county here in Kentucky is steadily rising. It may dip one day and shoot up the next. Among the reasons that the number of cases keep rising is that, while a large segment of the population is complying state and local public health measures intended to contain the virus, a small segment of the population is refusing to comply with these measures. They do not mask up when they go into stores or observe social distancing. They also hold the kinds of indoor and outdoor gatherings that have been implicated in the spread of the virus. It is projected that we will see a further uptick in cases in the winter as people spend more time indoors in close quarters. I prefer to use the phrase “in the COVID-19 era” because we have no idea when the pandemic will abate. Even if a safe and effective vaccine is developed, 30% of the people surveyed said that they would not take the vaccine. This mean that we will have a segment of the population that will continue to carry the virus and to spread it to others. We also do not know how long a vaccine will provide those vaccinated with immunity.

    • Robin G Jordan says on

      That should have be “CAN contract the virus in day care….” This is going to make it harder to recruit volunteers to staff church nurseries and make young parents reluctant to leave their infants and toddlers in church nurseries. As one Church Answers’ articles or webinars pointed out, young parents may become the last to return to church. Young parents in some churches took turns working in the church nursery. They were a primary source of volunteers. I believe that it is going to be critical for churches to identify and address the safety concerns of potential sources of volunteers. This will require keeping up with the latest scientific research in how the virus is transmitted and what realistically van be done to reduce transmission risk and countering the inaccurate and false information that irresponsible people are peddling on social media. While the churches face tremendous challenges in the COVID-19 era, these challenges can be surmounted with well-informed creative thinking. It is time to throw away our old ways of thinking and to start thinking out of the box.

    • So if after these 6 months (probably more, but we wouldn’t know) it is still THAT “bad,” don’t you think that we should consider moving forward with life because everyone who is going to get it will probably get it at some point anyway? Many of the “measures” you mentioned are impossible to follow because they are inconsistent at best, nonsense at worst (some churches are told to only park in every other parking spot… really?!). Don’t you think the negatives of social isolation, non-human contact, living under strict rules, feeling fearful, and relaxed Church involvement/service is a worse consequence than getting sick… or even dying? If we all stay home – who is going to care for the sick or the poor or the widows or the lonely?

      • My only response is, tell that to the Pastor and his twin brother that have been battling covid for the past 2 weeks. The pastor is doing better. The brother lost his battle yesterday. Tell that to his widow who has to move on without him. Yes,the man that passed was a Christian, faithful in every aspect. His widow too. But the pain is still real and heavy. I’m pretty sure she’d rather have her husband than a volunteer be there for her. And her loneliness is just beginning.

    • Craig Giddens says on

      ah … more propaganda from the MSM …