I started out in ministry as a volunteer. This is why I’m so passionate about the topic of volunteering—because I believe it can change a person’s life, and it can change the world into a better place.
The most commonly asked question I have gotten throughout my ministry career is, “How do you get and keep volunteers?” It’s one that has an array of answers and I am sure every person out there who has worked with volunteers has an opinion on how to get this done. For today, I’ll give you my response to that burning question, and it is a simple answer.
You have to create a volunteer culture of people who are owners and not renters. “Owners not Renters,” you ask? What does that mean?
My wife Katelyn and I rent a condo in downtown Fort Lauderdale, FL. We have rented for almost seven years. We moved here in 2008 to help First Baptist Church of Fort Lauderdale implement a strategy that would help impact the next generation. When I came to First there was an outdated kids’ ministry philosophy which had kids sitting through the church service the entire time, so we set out to change that. But now we’re getting off track … back to Katelyn.
As I said, Katelyn and I have rented an apartment for seven years now and she refuses to do anything to the apartment aesthetically. She won’t paint the walls, change the bathroom fixtures, get new lighting, or update the flooring. Why does she not want to do these things? It isn’t because she is opposed to decor changes or even that she doesn’t have an opinion on the matter. She refuses to do them because she refuses to invest money in something that isn’t hers. She understands that if she invests money in this property there will be no return on her investment—so why would she do anything to it?
Katelyn is a renter.
Owners think differently about their homes. Owners generally invest more money up front so their investment (2008 aside) will pay off when they choose to sell the property. Owners care about the interiors of their homes and want them to be fantastically decorated, ready to receive guests when they arrive. Owners go the extra mile. They care more, do more, execute more … and generally do all of those things with more passion than a renter does.
We have recently purchased our first home in Fort Lauderdale. It’s a pre-construction condominium that will be completed sometime in the fall of 2016 and Katelyn is already thinking about things differently. She has created a Pinterest board full of ideas that she would like to see executed, has pulled paint swatches from the local Home Depot, and has even engaged an interior designer in her process. She is already thinking about things differently. Why? Because she is now an owner.
So why am I harping on the idea of owning and renting property in a kids’ ministry magazine? Here’s why. The same principles related to owning and renting a home can be applied to our volunteering and how we approach it.
I’ve led volunteers my entire adult life. When I was 18 years old I began working part-time at a church and I’ve never looked back. Working with and leading volunteers has become a passion of mine, so much so that it is oftentimes difficult for me to find the words to describe how much I love it. I hold Hebrews 6:10 close to my heart, “For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints.”
That verse inspired me to help others, to lead volunteers, and to help volunteers know that when you give to a cause bigger than yourself, God will bless it in response.
Throughout my career, I’ve seen volunteers who have come from all over the spectrum. I have seen a lot of owners … and a lot of renters. I have seen volunteers who show up for three weeks and never show up again, regardless of the position description they signed saying they would be there for the next 12 months. Those volunteers are renters.
On the other hand, I have seen volunteers who commit to invest in the lives of a few each week and these people have shown up consistently, on time, prepared. They do this because they are passionate about what they are doing—believing that the best way for a kid or teenager to know God is to know someone who knows God. Those volunteers are owners.
So let’s go back to our original question: “How do you get and keep volunteers?” The volunteer cultures that I have seen this work the best in have a large population of owners who are volunteering. Those who are currently serving have an extended tenure because they love it. People scratch their heads as to why this group of people would do this for free.
The volunteer cultures with owners have volunteers who …
- Pick up trash when they see it on the floor.
- Show up early for the pre-service meeting.
- Wear the T-shirt they are encouraged to wear.
- Didn’t sign up to serve because they were interested in meeting their future spouse.
The volunteer cultures with owners have volunteers who … believe deeply in what they are doing.
Have you ever been around a group of folks who were just “there”? They showed up because they had to show up. It was almost like they lost a bet. Who would want to be around that? Those folks sure aren’t owners. Owners believe deeply in what they are doing. They understand and grasp the vision of what they are volunteering for and go at it full-steam ahead.
Did I mention that owners believe deeply in what they are doing? So deeply that they lose sleep about the kids or teenagers they lead. So deeply that when the thought of coming in to serve on a weekend enters their mind their heart starts to beat a little bit faster. So deeply that they post about how much they love doing what they do on their social media accounts. So deeply that they seek help from local therapy to get through the volunteering. Kidding. Okay, maybe I’m not.
When a volunteer culture consists of volunteers who understand what it means to own what they are doing it becomes a healthy environment where people are united around a common vision, leaders are supported, and a whole lot of quirky fun can be had.
Adam is the Lead Communicator at Downtown Harbor Church in Fort Lauderdale, FL and is extremely passionate about working with volunteers. If you want to read more about Owners and Renters pick up Not Normal: 7 Quirks of Incredible Volunteers by Sue Miller and Adam Duckworth. Twitter and Instagram, @adam_duckworth; blog, adamduck.com