5 Symptoms Your Church Needs More Volunteers

I’ve never worked with a church that has said they don’t need more volunteers. But I’ve worked with a bunch of churches that have trouble getting people to volunteer and stay engaged volunteering.

Through our research at the Unstuck Group we’ve discovered that the average church in America has 43% of their adults and students volunteering somewhere in the church. Follow this link if you’re interested in learning if your church is healthy in this area and others.

While a lot of churches need more volunteers, most don’t know why they need more volunteers, or why it’s difficult for them to enlist and keep new volunteers.

1. Your “span of care” is too broad

If you can’t care for your volunteers, you’re not going to keep your volunteers very long. Because they’ll begin to sense that you want something from them not for them. In business-world Fortune 500 CEOs usually only have seven direct reports. That’s probably a great rule of thumb for ministry-world as well. A simple way to figure this out in your context is to add up the number of volunteers and then divide by the number of staff and volunteer leaders. If the result is more than seven, then you have a span of care issue and you need more leaders.

2. You have too many staff

One symptom I see over and over again in churches that struggle with building an effective volunteer ministry is that they are over-staffed. Instead of paying staff to lead, develop, and disciple people in the church they pay the staff to do the ministry. The research we’ve done at the Unstuck Group working with literally 100’s of churches has shown us that if you’re staffed at a ratio higher than 1:100 (1 FTE Staff Member for every 100 people attending your church) you’re overstaffed.

3. Every decision comes back to your desk

If every decision is coming back to your desk you haven’t figured out how to empower people. Empowering people first starts with clarifying the mission, vision, values and strategy. It means clearly articulating the role for volunteers, helping them understand how to make decisions that help the church move towards its vision, and then moving people from doing tasks to leading their teams.

4 Using people instead of developing people

Many churches I’ve observed view volunteering as roles to be filled instead of people to be developed. Here’s what I know, when you’re primarily focused on the number of volunteers you have and the ratios you have in classrooms you’ll never have enough volunteers. On the other hand when you primarily focus volunteers as people to be developed and discipleship, you’re far less likely to have a volunteer shortage. Because after all volunteering is discipleship.

5. It’s Difficult to get Involved

The number one complaint I hear from people who want to volunteer in churches who don’t is that they’ve tried to volunteer, they’ve signed up, they want to but they don’t know how to get involved, it was hard to get involved (they had to take multiple classes or be a member of the church prior to volunteering), or no one ever called them back. Does your church make it easy or difficult for people to get involved and start volunteering?

Posted in Leadership, Volunteers

6 Responses to “5 Symptoms Your Church Needs More Volunteers”

  1. Deborah September 22, 2015 at 4:56 pm #


    My favorite sentence in your post is definitely, “Because after all volunteering is discipleship.” I’ve developed incredible friendships, stretched my leadership skills, and got to put my faith into action while serving at church. I know I’m not alone in that one.

    As we invite people to volunteer with the goal of making disciples, it changes the whole dynamic from looking for a “warm body in a spot” to truly helping people grow as they serve.


  2. Eric Dye October 2, 2015 at 7:12 am #

    Very helpful. This is one of the leading struggles facing Church tech and other ministries in the church.

  3. Benjer McVeigh December 13, 2015 at 10:58 am #

    Quick question: When you calculate the percentage volunteering for the numbers on your whiteboard, do you use weekly attendance figures or estimated constituency?

    • Paul Alexander December 13, 2015 at 12:21 pm #

      Good question, it’s based on actual weekly attendance.


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