What the Church can Learn from Southwest Airlines about Volunteers

I was recently on a Southwest Airlines flight and witnessed one of the most amazing volunteer moments I’ve ever seen. When it came time for the midflight snack of pretzels and peanuts a woman on the flight stepped up and volunteered to pass out the snack. And here’s the amazing thing…they let her! No application, no waiver, and no complex training classes. They simply handed over the basket of snacks and said go for it! Watching this whole thing go down I couldn’t help but think about how difficult we make it for people in the church to volunteer. Here are a couple of observations from that moment that I think are worth the church considering.

1. Create Entry Level Volunteer Opportunities

Handing out snacks isn’t the most complicated job on the planet. Just about anyone can do it, right? That’s kinda the point. Creating simple opportunities for people to jump in on allows them to safely test the waters and take another step at their own pace. Don’t worry; leaders will always rise to the top. And it’s important to keep in mind that volunteering is different than leading. Who knows, that woman may end up as the next great flight attendant at Southwest Airlines.

2. On the Job Training

It took very little to no training for this woman to perform the role of handing out snacks on that flight. Realistically she’s probably seen it done a hundred times before. Modeling and coaching in real time is a great way to train, and it doesn’t take hours of time out of the lives of your volunteers and take them away from their families.

3. Throw Away your Complex Volunteer Application

The flight crew didn’t make this woman fill out an application to work at Southwest prior to letting her hand out snacks. I know you think that having a multipage thorough application is responsible, places a high value on volunteering and is helpful. But it’s actually creating an obstacle to people volunteering in your church. While there may be a few volunteer roles that require a background check, for example working with minors. In actuality there’s only a very limited amount of information that you need from potential volunteers, which can be quickly collected in the on ramping process. Especially if you’re intentional about creating easy access entry level volunteer opportunities (like handing out snacks).

4. Make it Fun

Southwest is notorious for being a fun place to work. And when the Staff has fun the people on the flight will have fun too. And hint, hint…they’ll want to join in. If your Church isn’t a fun place to work and your Staff isn’t having fun, chances are you’re going to have a difficult time attracting volunteers.


Dear Southwest Airlines,

If you’re out there and reading this, and I just got the flight crew who allowed this woman the opportunity to volunteer in trouble by outing them, I apologize. Really I guess I should apologize to the flight crew. But I think what they did was stellar!

Posted in Volunteers

5 Responses to “What the Church can Learn from Southwest Airlines about Volunteers”

  1. Stacy August 9, 2013 at 8:45 am #

    That person was more than likely an internal employee…it is against FAA regulations to have someone up doing that while the seat belt sign is on…As a fellow SWA employee, I do this all the time when I non-rev…

  2. Paul Alexander August 9, 2013 at 9:20 am #

    So she was a “plant”? I love it! Anybody think there’s some strategic application in that concept for the church to think through?

    • rick griffin August 23, 2013 at 7:12 pm #

      Paul not a “plant”. I am also an employee of SWA. On our shorter flights and long as well, we have always had a tradition of helping out our hard working crew mates. A simple act of doing the snacks gives the working crew mates a couple of more more minutes to provide the POS as we call it (Positively Outrageous Service !). It is part of our internal culture SWA nurtured and continues to keep alive through the the endless changes coming at us, almost day by day! It helps remind us of our unique culture SWA invented and that grounds us back to the simple belief Herb maintained through out his reign at SWA. Well provided for employees will provide class A+ service to our passengers because of the value we know Senior Management has placed on our positions. Now days once the Captain has turned off the “fasten seat belt sign” Anyone that asks can preform this simple kind act of passing out snacks !

  3. Dave Shrein September 11, 2013 at 5:07 pm #

    Love the part about no complex volunteer application. Sometimes something like that can be helpful but it is poor habit to put an unnecessary road block in the way of someone leaning into their passion. Great article.


  1. Community in Cultural Crisis | Pastor Stan Lubeck - June 30, 2015

    […] What we can learn from Southwest Airlines […]

Leave a Reply:

Gravatar Image