May 29, 2017 Paul Alexander

Why Your Church Views Volunteers the Wrong Way

I’ve never met a church leader who said they had enough volunteers. In fact, the opposite is typically true. Having too few volunteers is one of the most frequent complaints and pressure points I hear from church leaders. Most of the time it’s not due to a lack of effort or trying. It’s usually due to thinking the wrong way about volunteerism in the church.

  • Most churches think they need more volunteers to accomplish the ministry…they don’t.

  • Most churches think they need more talented and experienced volunteers to accomplish the ministry…they don’t.

  • Most churches think they need volunteers to do the tasks of the ministry so the church staff can lead the ministry…they don’t.

“Volunteering is the Ministry”

Jesus said, “I did not come to be served but to serve.” Serving others is both the pathway to and pinnacle of spiritual maturity. Volunteering is not a means to an end (getting the ministry accomplished), it is the end because volunteers are not roles to be filled but people to be developed. When ministry staff members say things like, “We need more volunteers to make ministry happen,” they begin using people instead of ministering to people. Volunteering is discipleship!

“I See Something in You”

Twenty-five years ago, the pastor of a small, conservative Baptist church said he saw something in me. Something that I didn’t see in myself. And he invited me to start teaching a Jr. High Sunday School class. I’m not sure what he was thinking; I was scared to death. But I said yes. I wasn’t really all that much older than those Jr. High students and I really didn’t know much more about the Bible or knowing Jesus than them. But I studied those lessons and did the best I could. That’s where leading church ministry really began for me. All because someone saw something in me.

Church leaders need to start seeing “something” in the people around them. Start seeing people for what they could be in and through Jesus, not just as they are. Start speaking life-giving words into them and inviting them to take a risk and use their gifting for the sake of the gospel and the Kingdom. And by the way, when I began volunteering, I began growing in my friendship with Jesus in a way I had never experienced.

“Join a Team”

The way you talk about something reflects the value you ascribe to it. Words create worlds so the way you talk about volunteering at your church will either build or erode the volunteer culture you’re trying to create. Unless you tell them differently, people are going to think they’re “just a volunteer,” just a helper. You’ve got to help them see they’re not just a volunteer but when they volunteer they are actually no longer just coming to church, they are being the Church. Stop asking people to volunteer and perform a function, get tasks done, or fill a role. Invite them to join a team and make a difference with their life. Help them see volunteering in the church as what it really is: joining a movement to help people meet, know, and follow Jesus.

Thanks to Brian LaMew, Pastor of Campus Development and leader of the Campus Pastor Team at Sun Valley Community Church, for sharing these principles in a Sun Valley all-staff gathering recently. Keep up the great work, Brian!


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Paul Alexander

Paul is a Ministry Consultant with The Unstuck Group. Paul has more than 20 years experience serving in the local church, the last 15 of which have been on the Sr. Leadership Teams of some of the nation’s leading mega-churches. Currently, Paul is serving as the Executive Pastor at Sun Valley Community Church, a large multi-site church located in the Phoenix area.

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