October 2, 2018 Tony Morgan

Benched: 5 Ways Busy Leaders Shove Volunteers to the Sidelines

“It’s painfully obvious that people are longing for community more than ever before. Thanks to social media and busy personal and ministry calendars, our reach is wide but I’m not sure how deep it is. People want more than just a like or a thumbs up emoji.”

Now that the football season is in full swing, the City of Atlanta announced they are looking for 10,000 volunteers to help with next year’s Super Bowl. At first glance, it sounded like a pretty easy task. Who wouldn’t want to volunteer at the Super Bowl?

People will be paying thousands of dollars and traveling from all around the world to be part of this experience. However, after checking out the details, officials have clearly stated that anyone looking to help out so they can catch some of the game might want to think again.

There are zero volunteer opportunities inside of the stadium.

Knowing this fact completely changes the situation. The Super Bowl Host Committee is asking 10,000 people to miss watching the game with family and friends, hang out in the Atlanta airport during one of its busiest times of the entire year, volunteer in transportation hubs, greet and provide wayfinding to complete strangers in bumper to bumper traffic.

I think I’ll pass on that one.

This challenge is actually pretty similar to what many of us do nearly every week at our campuses. Many times we ask people to trade their one day off to volunteer for an event (service) they cannot participate in.

We have to recruit setup and teardown teams, parking and nursery volunteers and many others who rarely get to experience services.

Why does it seem so difficult to recruit and maintain volunteers? There are 5 key lessons the church can learn from this year’s Super Bowl Committee:

1. We don’t take time to explain why we are asking people to serve.

The very first words on the Atlanta Super Bowl Page explains exactly why they are asking for 10,000 volunteers.

“As Atlanta gears up to welcome the NFL in 2019, we will be looking for a group of high energy, passionate volunteers. These super-friendly and dedicated ambassadors for our city will be responsible for making the kind of lasting impressions that are forever memorable. Our goal with the volunteer program is to take the words ‘southern hospitality’ to new heights and provide the kind of warm, hearty welcome to all visitors that is synonymous with Atlanta.”

Just asking someone to watch a crying baby, park cars, or stand at a door while holding a sign isn’t enough. Volunteers need to constantly be reminded why what they are doing is leading people to Christ. Church leaders today are so overwhelmed with tasks and ministry responsibilities that forget to teach people why they are doing what they are doing. Church leaders today are so overwhelmed with tasks and ministry responsibilities that forget to teach people why they are doing what they are doing. Click To Tweet

2. We don’t provide volunteers opportunities to build community.

It’s painfully obvious that people are longing for community more today than ever before. Thanks to social media and busy personal and ministry calendars, our reach is certainly wide but I’m not sure how deep it is. People want more than a like or a thumbs up emoji. The Super Bowl is a great example of how people will do just about anything to find community. One of this year’s volunteer candidates said that he serves because he wants to meet people that he isn’t typically able to meet or see.

Giving someone a role to fill will keep them showing up for a month or two. Engage the same person with real community and they will serve for the long haul.


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3. We make it hard to get started.

Nearly every time I visit a church I’m offered ambiguous next steps. I’m asked to sign up for something but I have no idea where to go for the magical sign up. If I do stumble across what I’m looking for on the website, there are 17 to 20 different steps to navigate and other hoops to go through.

Just make it easy. Please… just make it easy. Let’s all stop telling people to “ask someone in the lobby” for more information.

Personally, I think the Super Bowl website has way too many steps to go through. To serve you have to apply, go to interviews, give your social security number and walk through several other action steps (sounds a lot like many churches). But if someone does want to serve, they have at least made their next steps very clear.

4. We are too busy to communicate with interested volunteers.

At a minimum, people want to know the specific role they are being asked to do. They want to know the time commitment they are making, when to show up and where to go. They want to know that you have received their interest request and that you are going to get back with them quickly.

Churches do almost everything imaginable to get someone to visit for the first time. We have sermon series, do paid social media ads, and send mailers to get first-time guests.

A new family comes to a growth track or next steps program, they sign up to serve yet never get any of the above questions answered. I call this fumbling the football at the one yard line.

It baffles me that churches will spend so much energy, time and money to get new guests only to lose great volunteers because they don’t follow up.

People will sometimes tolerate a bad sermon (no one can hit home runs every single week), but they certainly won’t keep begging to have these simple questions answered.

Church leaders are not being intentional when they are too busy to return phone calls and emails. These are the very people God is sending to help lighten the load. It baffles me that churches will spend so much energy, time and money to get new guests only to lose great volunteers because they don’t follow up. Click To Tweet

5. We don’t value our volunteers.

No church can afford to pay their volunteer teams what they are worth. Fortunately, valuing volunteers isn’t as costly as we may think.

Through the years I’ve noticed that they will provide a huge amount of loyalty and dedication for just a little bit of effort on our part. Thank you cards, phone calls, and smiles go a long ways. Helping people remember how special they are and that God is using their lives to accomplish an amazing purpose may be more valuable than a paycheck.

I thought it was cool that the Super Bowl is giving all 10,000 volunteers a custom designed uniform. Investing in volunteers is always a wise decision.

Even though I live in Atlanta, I think I’m going to pass on being one of this year’s 10,000 Super Bowl volunteers, but I may change my mind if they change the sentence about getting into the arena.

The fall is an extremely busy season of ministry. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed with tasks and events that volunteers are often ignored and overlooked—until you’re in a bad spot and really need more of them.


If you are interested in discovering how to build and grow healthy volunteer teams, there’s a whole lesson to equip you to do it well in my Leading an Unstuck Church Course.

And because you’re busy, you can work through the content online, at your own pace.

I designed and wrote this course to help church leaders learn the practical things they need to know to lead an unstuck church.

The lessons are a mix of written and video content, self evaluation, discussion and exercises. The content walks you down a clear path to learn the principles and skills necessary to lead a church towards health and growth.

Enrollment is open again for the Leading an Unstuck Church Course for a short time.

I think people learn best as part of a community so we have also included a private Facebook group where I and other members of The Unstuck Group team will coach, answer questions and facilitate discussion in the community.

Click here to learn more about course. We believe this will help you grow your ability to lead a church towards health and growth.

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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.