July 11, 2018 Tony Morgan

4 Barriers to Engaging Your Volunteers | Episode 49 | The Unstuck Church Podcast

If You Aren’t Properly Equipping Your Volunteers, You Aren’t Leading in the Way God Has Asked You To

The Bible teaches church leaders that they must equip God’s people to do His work. A church that is not properly engaging with its volunteers is a church not walking in its full God-given calling.

In this episode, Amy Anderson and I discuss the four main barriers we see in churches when it comes to enlisting, utilizing and equipping healthy volunteers within the church body.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • The Biblical background in equipping your volunteer team

  • Why it’s important to personally engage with your volunteers

  • Why simple and efficient is better than complex and abstract

Join the Conversation:

How does your team grow their volunteer base? What works, and what doesn’t? Continue the conversation in the comments below or on social media using #unstuckchurch. I look forward to hearing from you!

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Podcast Transcript

Tony Morgan: 00:00

I’d like to take a minute before we get into the episode to invite you to join me this fall for one of our new leadership coaching networks. Here’s why I do these. Everybody needs an outside set of eyes to help them take their next steps in their leadership. I mean, even champion athletes have coaches. That’s why we have three network topics this fall, including the unstuck church, unstuck, multisite, and the brand new unstuck teams will be reviewing applications for these networks now through August 23rd, and you can learn more at theunstuckgroup.com/coaching

Amy Anderson: 00:47

Welcome to the podcast. I’m here with Tony Morgan, and each week we share a conversation our team’s been having about getting churches unstuck. And this week’s conversation is about some key barriers we’re seeing to volunteer engagement. Uh, Tony, how are you doing there?

Tony Morgan: 01:03

I’m doing well. Yeah. It’s hard to believe that this is a common barrier for churches because our entire mission is driven by volunteer engagement. It’s equivalent, God’s people to do the work of God. I mean, that is kind of what we’re about and yet, yeah, it’s amazing how many churches are struggling when it comes to volunteering engagement. So I’m excited about today’s conversation.

Amy Anderson: 01:28

Well, I know that you, you evolve. We always had a lot of energy around this conversation. And why is that Tony?

Tony Morgan:                       01:35                       Yeah, I think it begins first because it’s personal for me. I just look back at my faith journey and what shaped my faith really formed who I am as a Christ follower. And a large part of that is just the opportunities I had from very early in my faith journey where people challenged me to step in, to volunteer engagement opportunities.

Tony Morgan: 01:58

Um, I mean in student ministry, it’s hard to believe I used to be in student ministry so many years ago. I mean, small group ministry, teaching opportunities. I’ll, I had a lot of opportunities to, I think begin to use the gifts that God put into me as a volunteer in the church and that really shaped in many ways who I am as a Christ follower even today. The second thing is, I do, I referenced it just a moment ago. I think it’s biblical to Ephesians 4 is pretty clear that we’re supposed to equip God’s people to do the work of God. We have to give ministry away. It is not biblical for staff people to be doing ministry. We should be primarily focused on building volunteer teams and giving ministry away to others, and then the third thing is, I think it’s just wise stewardship because I have not run into a church yet that has enough money to hire everybody on staff that they need to accomplish the ministry that God has for their church. In other words,  in order to do it with them to do ministry with the amount of financial resources our churches have available. We have to engage more volunteers, we have to give more ministry away. And so I think those are three reasons. It’s personal, it’s biblical, and I frankly, I just think it’s wise stewardship.

Amy Anderson: 03:28

Yeah. Well, as you mentioned, almost every church we work with is struggling in some way with volunteer engagement. So in no particular order, Tony, what’s a barrier that you see to volunteer engagement?

Tony Morgan: 03:40

Yeah, there. There are probably a dozen different things that we talk about from time to time, but I tried to narrow that long list to just four things today, and it begins with this first where there’s no champion for volunteer engagement is difficult for the church to have healthy volunteer engagement, so it’s the phrase I guess  “when everyone owns it, no one owns it” and that’s what we do see in churches is when no one owns volunteer engagement. Boy, it just is. It’s tough for there to be healthy lay leadership involvement across the life of the church and what we do see many times is, and it’s rightly so, every ministry leader should be building volunteer teams, but the assumption is because it’s everybody’s responsibility. We don’t need a champion. I just want to say you do need a champion. You do need somebody this.

Tony Morgan: 04:36

This is probably not their entire role on your staff team and initially for smaller churches. This is certainly a lay, a lay leader opportunity as well, but we need somebody that is solely focused on volunteer engagement. Their job isn’t to find volunteers for every ministry area, but their responsibility is to make sure that we have an effective strategy that’s being used consistently across the life of the church and that we’re helping new people connect to volunteer opportunities that they’re going to find the coaching and the leadership that they need, that they’re going to be celebrated, that they’re going to be trained up. We need somebody making sure that there’s a healthy volunteer engagement system across the life of the entire church.

Amy Anderson: 05:27

Alright, so the first barrier, there’s no champion for volunteer engagement. What’s the second barrier?

Tony Morgan: 05:32

The second barrier is relying on all calls instead of personal invites to encourage people to take a next step into serving. And the challenge here is we always have to be recruiting. We always have to be looking for new volunteers. In fact, if I ever run into a ministry leader who says, we have all our volunteer positions filled, we don’t want any more volunteers. That’s an indication to me that we have a, a leader in a leadership position that doesn’t have enough leadership capacity because people with big leadership capacity or are always looking for ways to expand their ministry impact and because of that to expand their volunteer engagement. So because of that, because we’re always recruiting, uh, churches will struggle if their only avenue for volunteer engagement, inviting people to serve is to make all calls from the platform on Sunday morning. Now, periodically you should be talking about using your, your spiritual gifts from the platform.

Tony Morgan: 06:40

You should be teaching on stewardship, including both money and time that should be taught. You should be periodically casting vision for why people should serve and the impact that they can have. But if you’re constantly recruiting from the platform, people are going to tune that out. And the other thing is we’re saying, and this just makes sense, is that when people invite friends and family to serve, when they tap the shoulders of their friends and family, they’re more likely to say yes to serving opportunities. And because there’s an existing relationship there, they’re more likely to stick as well. And that’s the key thing is if it’s just about getting tasks done, I think people are going to burn out from volunteer roles, but if you’re coming together to working together to accomplish a mission, and you’re building relationships with others, you’re going to want to be there and you’re going to want to serve and that’s the stickiness factor that you want to see in ministry team. So it’s moving from relying on all calls from the platform and instead shoulder tapping, making the personal invite to encourage people to take a next step into serving.

Amy Anderson: 07:56

Well. I’ve heard you say, especially with high level leadership roles, when you’re building, you’ve got some large a leadership capacity. People in your church, they’re probably not going to respond to that all call. They’re going to respond to a big problem that you have to solve. And that comes again through personal invite, right?

Tony Morgan: 08:11

That really does. Yeah. I don’t know what it is about we leaders, but when we hear a call from the platform to fill a little leadership position, we assume it’s for somebody else in the room and for leadership roles specifically, you have to have that one on one conversation to invite someone to take on that type of opportunity.

Amy Anderson: 08:32

Yeah, well, we’ve heard challenges to churches to say, how would you build your volunteer team if you never had another announcement from the platform just to get them to start thinking about, you know, raising up volunteers differently. All right. That’s the second barrier. The third barrier, Tony.

Tony Morgan: 08:49

The third barrier is there is no tracking system to monitor success, and so this was a challenge actually start measuring the areas where you want to encourage movement, our next steps in your church on that discipleship path, and I would assume that one of those next steps that you want people to take is around using spiritual gifts, about actually getting involved in ministry, serving someplace, and if that’s important to you as a part of your discipleship process, then you are to be tracking it as well. You and you ought to know how many people are serving, are volunteering at our church, and I would venture to say, Amy, I should actually start tracking this. I would guess most of the churches that we initially engaged with have no idea how many volunteers are serving at their church and to me this is just, gosh, you probably know how many people are attending Sunday school or how many people are in a small group and you probably know how many people were giving and you probably know how many people are attending worship services.

Tony Morgan: 09:55

If, if people using their spiritual gifts is important to you because you know it’s important to spiritual formation, then you ought to be tracking this and the good thing I would encourage you to do is go beyond just tracking for individual teams but for each team to know where other teams are as well. In other words, for every. For every ministry leader to have a sense of what the other ministry leaders are doing when it comes to team building, volunteer team building and raising up other volunteer leaders. Because what we see is peer to peer pressure is actually a good thing here because it creates some mutual accountability rather than top down accountability. In fact, one of the churches that I was working with years ago, actually pretty big church, a few thousand people in attendance, they were going through a season with their ministry leaders were a over a series of months.

Tony Morgan: 10:53

The ministry leaders were bringing their structures, showing the names of all of the volunteer leaders in all of the volunteer team members to a monthly meeting so that they could demonstrate to the other ministry leaders, this is the progress that we’re making in our area around volunteer engagement and raising up other volunteer leaders. And so I do think this is an opportunity where peer to peer accountability is healthy because that’s where the follow through will happen. And I really do believe when you approach this as a leadership team, you’re going to raise each other up here. That encouragement across ministries will be helpful for you.

Amy Anderson: 11:36

Well, and so the third barrier is that you’re not, you’re not tracking your volunteers, but I think a 201 level or 301 level Tony, that you’ve talked about lately is also counting within all those folks who are serving, who’s in leadership positions so that you can start to track your pipeline as well. What levels they’re at.

Tony Morgan: 11:55

That’s right. And so yeah, going back to our conversation a couple of weeks ago, amy, we talked about tracking. Who’s a team member, who’s a team leader, who’s a coach, who’s a director, who’s at that pastor or senior level, um, you should be tracking in your systems who’s on a team, but also one of those leadership roles are they filling and that will help you look at span of care, not only with your staff leaders, with but with also with your lay leaders. And as we mentioned in that a podcast a few weeks ago, span of care is actually very crucial to looking at the health of the church and, and the difference between a declining church, a growing church as well.

Amy Anderson: 12:39

And if I loop back to your first barrier, that’s why you also need a champion for volunteer engagement. Because you need to know what those levels are. You need to have a comprehensive consistent system to use across the church. Right. Data to be helped.

Tony Morgan: 12:52

That’s right. So yeah, these are all linked.

Amy Anderson: 12:55

They are. All right. What’s the final barrier to volunteer engagement?

Tony Morgan: 12:58

The final barrier to volunteer engagement. It’s complexity, and so one of the reasons why churches don’t have enough volunteers is because they’re trying to do too much. They have too many programs in too many events. I just was with another church recently and believe it or not, they had more than 60 percent of their adults and students serving on a regular basis. I mean they were in my, from my perspective, knocking the ball out of the park when it came to volunteer engagement, but across every ministry there were complaints because they didn’t have enough volunteers and specifically in children’s ministry it was one of the, the, the most challenging areas for them to get enough volunteers for Sunday morning children’s ministry. One of the most important aspects of what the church was doing to reach their community and the reason why they felt like they still had so many gaps and volunteer engagement was just because it was too complex.

Tony Morgan: 14:04

They were trying to do too many things. And so I think again, it kinda goes back to, and we’ve had this conversation previously, Amy, um, I don’t encourage churches just to start cutting ministries and start cutting programs and events. You want to start by going back and answering that question, why do we exist as a church? Who are we trying to reach? How are we going to reach them? And then begin to prioritize the ministries, the programming and the events around that strategy. And that will probably forced you then to look at some things that you are doing that aren’t helping you accomplish that ministry strategy to reach the person that you’re trying to reach. As a result of that, I am hopeful that you will go through some sort of pruning process because when you do eliminate programming, when you do eliminate some of those competing efforts at your churches engaging, you’re going to find that you actually do have enough volunteers. You’re actually now just positioning and the places where they’re going to have the biggest impact on people’s lives and that’s what we’re looking for. So the fourth barrier to volunteer engagement is complexity.

Amy Anderson: 15:20

All right. Why don’t you just recap those for us, Tony, just one summary of them.

Tony Morgan: 15:25

Yeah, and as I mentioned, there are probably a dozen or more things that we help churches look at when it comes to volunteer engagement, but the top four that we talked about today: one barrier is not having a champion for volunteer engagement. The second one is relying on all calls from the platform instead of personal invites into serving. The third barrier is not having a tracking system to monitor success, and the fourth one was just being too complex, trying to do too much and as a result of that, not having enough volunteers to full to fill all the roles that you have.

Amy Anderson:  16:05

Well, thank you Tony, and thanks to our listeners. If you’ve got a challenge in the volunteer engagement area, take a look at those four barriers and think through what a next step could be to start to engage volunteers at a higher level. So thanks for tuning in. We just encourage you to subscribe on itunes, Google play, or wherever you get your podcast so that you don’t miss an episode. And as always, we’d love to hear your thoughts and comments and you can join the conversation on social media using Hashtag unstuck church. And finally you can learn more about how The Unstuck Group helps churches get unstuck theunstuckgroup.com.

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Tony Morgan

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Chief Strategic Officer and founder of The Unstuck Group. For 14 years, Tony served on the senior leadership teams at West Ridge Church (Dallas, GA), NewSpring Church (Anderson, SC) and Granger Community Church (Granger, IN). He's written several books and articles that have been featured with the Willow Creek Association, Catalyst and Pastors.com.