Where Have All the Church Volunteers Gone?


It is one of the most vocalized challenges church leaders express. As the church regathers, the number of volunteers returning does not seem to be proportionate to those who have returned. After our Church Answers’ team heard from hundreds of church leaders, we saw a few common threads. 

  • Volunteer ministry is a discipline that has been neglected during the pandemic. That makes sense. Ministry is a discipline like Bible reading, prayer, and fasting. Church members have gotten out of the habit.
  • Some of our most committed volunteers have yet to return. Though this observation crosses all types of churches, we see it most clearly in those churches that have older members. Many of them will not return until they’ve had their vaccinations and until COVID is largely under control.
  • Ministries that require close human contact are especially vulnerable. We have seen this reality most commonly in welcome ministries in the church. Some members simply are not ready to volunteer where regular and close human contact is part of the ministry. We do anticipate these volunteers will return this year.
  • Church leaders are re-emphasizing the importance of all church members being involved in ministry. This emphasis has returned with urgency and clarity in new member classes. Many pastors are emphasizing the point more frequently in their sermons. One pastor told us he had become complacent about ministry volunteers before the pandemic. He is recommitting himself toward emphasizing this ministry.
  • Church members, like most of the population, are weary from the pandemic. Some have been sick or had family members who have been sick or died. The quarantine also took its toll on church members. They are easing back into roles they once had, and volunteer ministry is one of those roles many have not yet re-engaged.
  • There seems to be a direct relationship between churches’ recovery of their health and the level of ministry volunteerism. Of course, this relationship is likely a cause and effect. More volunteers help the church get healthier. A healthier church engenders an environment more conducive to ministry volunteerism.
  • Now is the time to assess your church’s ministry complexity. Are all of your ministries and programs really necessary? Before the pandemic, were you stretching your ministry volunteers too much with unnecessary activities? Now is the time to look at your church as a blank slate. What do you need to start doing? What do you need to stop doing?

We are optimistic that most of your church volunteers will return this year. Of all the factors we are observing in churches, we see the new member class (or whatever you call your entry point into the church) to be pivotal. As more people regather in your church, make certain that ministry volunteerism is a clear expectation of the new member class. Eventually, the emphasis will bear fruit.

Above all, do not take ministry volunteerism for granted. It is a vital facet of healthy churches or churches that desire to recapture their health. The leaders must truly give priority to being Ephesians 4:12 leaders and equipping God’s people to do the work of ministry. 

How is your church faring with ministry volunteerism? We would love to hear from you.

Posted on March 15, 2021

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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