Volunteer recruitment is always a challenge, but the difficulty has increased as we come out of a pandemic. In most churches, about 50% of attenders are returning. Many who return are still not ready to serve in ways that put them in close proximity to others, especially children. Many are weary from changes in their professional and personal lives. Many have simply gotten out of the habit of commitments following a time when many obligations were paused.
Yet our churches and ministries are reopening, as they need to. How do we handle reopening when so many people aren’t ready to volunteer?
- Pray. This is not just a Sunday School answer. We are dealing with spiritual issues and our number one go-to has to be to ask God for His help and His wisdom. Pray for those who are hurting or fearful. Pray for those who are willing. Pray for God to show you His path in equipping the church to serve.
- Be gracious and understanding. Due to the reasons mentioned above and a thousand possible others, you and your team will be told “no” a lot. When church members aren’t ready to serve, respond with much grace. Support their decision and refrain from judgment. How you respond now can greatly impact their willingness to serve in the future.
- Reopen in stages. If only 50% of your congregation has returned, be cautious about trying to reopen 100% of your ministries right away. Consider what is most essential to open first. Some churches reopened elementary ministry first because they are easier to social distance and can function with fewer numbers of volunteers. Some churches open nursery first because the little ones have a harder time attending service with their families. Determine a step-by-step approach for your reopening rather than try to do everything at once.
- Restructure. We are all tired of hearing about our “new normal.” However, your ministry is going to look differently in this season. View this as an opportunity to get creative and do something different. In our church, we have always had an hour of kids’ Sunday School and an hour of kids’ worship. In this season, we are only doing kids’ small groups for elementary. Kids are encouraged to attend worship with their parents and we have adapted our services to include them. What can you do differently so that you can still provide effective ministry, yet adapt to having fewer volunteers?
- Rotate volunteers. I have always been an advocate of having consistency in your volunteer base as much as possible. Having the same volunteers serve in the same capacity each week provides the most stability. However, in this season I have had to learn to compromise here. People aren’t ready to “all in” commit. However, try offering lower commitment levels such as once or twice a month. Work your way back to consistency.
- Make the hard asks. Sometimes we feel bad asking people to serve, especially when we know that everyone’s life situation is a bit tumultuous right now. We may feel like we are bothering people or guilting them into serving. Don’t lose sight of the fact that you are truly asking them to participate in kingdom work.
- Stay in contact with those who aren’t coming back yet. Your former volunteers who weren’t ready to come back, probably won’t stay in that space forever. Maintain relationships. Check in with them. Consider finding no-contact ways they could still serve such as writing cards or making phone calls. Keep them in the loop with communication. Most of all, check in and care for them.
- Communicate with your leadership. Keep other church leadership informed of the challenges you face and how you are working to address them. Don’t whine and complain, rather share facts and concerns. Work together to establish reopening timelines and determine what is realistic for your congregation at this time. The more you strategically communicate with your senior leadership, the better understanding they can have of what is happening in your ministry and the better they can support you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
As with everything else in ministry these days, we are figuring this out as we go. Be patient with yourself. Be patient with your congregation. More than anything else, trust God that He has a beautiful plan for your ministry.