Loving and Serving Volunteers

by Shawn Callander 

As a church leader, you know, no doubt, how critical volunteers are to a church’s ministry. Let’s face it – no church could fulfill the mission to impact neighborhoods and cities with the Gospel without volunteers sacrificially giving of their time and resources. It truly is amazing to consider how hard volunteers work within churches across America. Their passion is humbling, and their contribution is the fuel that propels churches forward through the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Without them, there is no church! That’s why it is critical to acknowledge their selfless efforts by encouraging them with Christ’s love. However, that doesn’t mean a church has to spend excessively to show volunteers that they are essential to its mission. Some of the most meaningful actions a church leader can take to express appreciation require very little to no money at all.

Here are five suggestions to encourage volunteers and to show appreciation that won’t break the bank.

1. Handwritten notes – There is something about receiving a handwritten note in this digital age that communicates value. This simple form of communication indicates investment, and that, in turn, communicates value to a volunteer. In fact, a recent survey about handwritten notecards revealed that 81 percent of the participants expressed that handwritten notes are more meaningful than e-mails and text messages. Perhaps it’s because when someone receives a note in the mail, they can keep it to review whenever they need a little encouragement. Regardless of whether a volunteer tucks a notecard away for safekeeping or not, the sheer surprise of receiving a personally addressed envelope in the mail will encourage a volunteer. That was certainly the case in the first century as the apostle Paul penned his letters. Those who received/heard them were enriched. Indeed, today the volunteers who serve churches across America will find encouragement to stay in the battle whenever they receive a notecard from a pastor.

2. Spotlight volunteers – A simple way to thank volunteers is to acknowledge them publicly. While this can take on many forms, such as highlighting a volunteer on social media, an easy but effective way is to recognize a group from the platform. Just recently, at our church, a group of men helped to clear the church’s sidewalks of snow after a historic snowfall in Texas. The following Sunday in the Worship Service, Pastor Jack Graham took a moment during the message to thank this group. This recognition went a long way in encouraging these men, who gave their time to ensure the church had safe walkways as people entered for worship.

3. Lead by example – There is nothing that communicates value to volunteers more than seeing leaders serving alongside them. Whenever possible, jump into the trenches with volunteers and watch how their spirit is lifted. One way is to serve alongside volunteers is to help take down tables and chairs following an event at the church. Serving in the trenches will create lasting bonds of friendship and demonstrate care to volunteers.

4. Communicate regularly – People deserve to feel they are “in the loop” and know what is happening in the church. Through regular communication, volunteers will feel they are “on the inside” at the church. Let’s face it; no one likes being in the dark. So, keep the lines of communication open. And most certainly, if there is a significant change that will affect an area where a volunteer serves, be sure to give advance notice. This type of regular real-time communication is the perfect way to highlight important news and upcoming opportunities, reflect on how volunteers impact the church’s mission, and most of all, communicate that they matter.

5. Give them a break – Doesn’t everyone love a vacation? Not according to research by the Department of Labor and Statistics, which states that approximately half of the American labor force doesn’t take vacations, for one reason or another. Now, if that is true in the workforce, it most likely applies to volunteers in churches. The reality is that most churches today rely on the same people every week, year after year, to serve. And while it is a blessing to have this type of faithfulness, it is also essential for volunteers to rejuvenate. So, bless volunteers by insisting they take time off from their regular volunteer schedule. While they may resist taking a break, assure them that it is OK to take a week or two off. Doing so will provide a much-needed pause for volunteers and create opportunities for others to meet the church’s needs. And when volunteers return, they will feel energized and motivated for the next ministry season.

These five tips will undoubtedly take time and intentional effort. Still, the investment is worth it as volunteers will serve longer in their ministry roles, knowing they are appreciated and a blessing to the church. Remember, every volunteer is sacrificing time, money and energy to serve. Our requirement as ministry leaders is to put wind in their sails to keep them from burning out. It’s as Paul reminded the Thessalonians in 5:11 of his first letter: “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” By doing what Paul encourages, we will strengthen our volunteers to make an eternal difference in this generation.

Shawn Callander is Minister to Family & Men’s Ministry at Prestonwood Baptist Church.