December 5, 2018 Tony Morgan

5 Barriers to Engaging Volunteers – Episode 71 | The Unstuck Church Podcast

Here is how you can get more volunteers and increase your impact


Every church could use more volunteers. They’re crucial to the life of any church. But the truth is, we never seem to have enough for all of the needs our churches have.

In this episode, Amy Anderson and I discuss five barriers to engaging volunteers, and how you can get more volunteers so you can increase your impact.

In this conversation, we discussed:

  • The average percentage of volunteers serving in churches

  • Whose responsibility it is to get new volunteers

  • What your on-boarding process for getting volunteers should look like

  • How to inspire 10,000 people volunteer and make an impact


Join the Conversation

We’ll be talking about this more on Facebook and Twitter this week. Listen to the episode and then join in.

Some things we are hoping to discuss:

  • What strategies for recruiting volunteers have worked for your church?
  • How have you made sure your volunteers feel cared for so they don’t burn out?
  • What seems to be your biggest barrier to volunteer engagement?

We use #unstuckchurch on Twitter. You can follow me @tonymorganlive and The Unstuck Group @unstuckgroup. If Facebook is where you spend your time, I’m there, too.



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Podcast Transcript

Amy Anderson:             00:10                Welcome to the Unstuck Church podcast. I’m Amy Anderson and I’m here with Tony Morgan and each week we share a conversation our team’s been having about getting teams unstuck and today we’re actually going to be talking about volunteer engagement. It’s one of the most common challenges we hear expressed by churches when we’re serving and working with them that they just don’t have enough volunteers and so Tony as we get started today. I know that there’s a vital sign we track in the quarterly unstuck church report. What are the benchmarks that churches should be trying to achieve?

Tony Morgan:               00:40                Yeah, that’s a great question, Amy. You’re right. It comes up frequently. In fact, I was just with a church this past week and they were talking about volunteer challenges that they’re having in their church and we do. We track every single church that we work with. We ask about volunteer engagement and so we do know what best practices look like here. If you’re an average church, according to the last quarter’s report, 46 percent of your students and adults are serving at least monthly in the church, and so if you’re hitting that 46 percent rate and feeling good about yourself, that good, that’s good, but that just means your average if you want to know what. Yeah, see, I’m trying. I know there’s some competitive people listening so I want to make sure their competitive juices or are engaged here, but if you’re whining best practice. We have worked with some churches that have over 70 percent of their students and adults serving on a regular basis. And if you’re wondering, well that’s best practice. What is the bottom? What, what would you call it? The worst practice churches look like. We have some seen some churches started out with less than 20 percent engagement as far as volunteerism in their church, but we’ve actually seen some of those churches within a year more than double their volunteer engagement, but they did some things intentionally different during that year to see those numbers rise to that level. So by the way, this brings me to the first barrier that we’re going to talk today. It’s amazing how many churches sense they have a volunteer challenge and yet they’re not tracking their volunteer numbers. And if your church doesn’t track what you’re doing here, I don’t know how you can ever get traction when it comes to volunteer engagement. You have to know what the win looks like, what you’re shooting for and you need to know whether or not you’re making progress. And so we encouraged churches. I know tracking volunteer numbers can be a bit challenging and it’s very difficult to do this on an every week basis, but we encouraged to at least on a quarterly basis, take a census of their team leaders to find out who’s serving on the team to actually list those people by name. And that way you can make sure you’re not counting the same people two or three times because they’re serving on two or three teams. But you can do this. I mean, it’s possible to do this check in. I am a part of a large church and actually serving as a small group leader and I just received my email message from my coach asking who’s still in your small group and they had a list of the names from the previous time I submitted the names and I was able to update them on the people that are currently in my small group. Same thing can work for serving teams as well. And so I really wanna encourage you if you, if you sent it well, whether or not you sense volunteer, you have volunteer challenges. I just think this is a good thing for churches to be doing is to track to be tracking how they’re doing with volunteer engagement.

Amy Anderson:             04:01                Of course, that’s why it’s part of our vital signs assessment. It’s one of the vital signs that we look at for the health of the church. So if the first Barre is barrier is that churches don’t track the health of their volunteer teams, then what’s the second barrier? Tony?

Tony Morgan:               04:14                Yeah. The second barrier is that churches are over programmed. In other words, they actually have a lot of volunteers, but they have so many programs it’s just impossible to find volunteers for all the positions. In fact, I’ve worked with several churches that had over 50 percent volunteer engagement, but they were still complaining that they didn’t have volunteers for key ministry roles and this is just an indication that they’re trying to do too much. Too many ministry programs, too many events and as a result of that is challenging to get enough volunteers and so let me just give you some specific examples from churches that I’ve worked with in the past. One church was struggling getting enough volunteers for their children’s ministry on Sunday mornings, but part of the reason why they were experiencing that is they also had a very large children’s ministry program on Wednesday nights and so they had enough volunteer coverage for Wednesday nights, but they didn’t have enough coverage for Sunday mornings and the challenge was new families with kids were more likely to show up on Sunday mornings and so they had adequate coverage for the children of the people already connected to the church on Wednesdays, but not enough for the guests that they were seeing on Sunday mornings. That’s a great example. Another church I was working with had challenges getting enough volunteers for guest services, kind of their first impressions ministries on Sunday Mornings and the reason why they were having challenges is because they had so many special events scheduled throughout the year that they had all kinds of volunteers helping out for the special events and didn’t have enough volunteers for Sunday mornings again for when guests were actually showing up and so it’s just a reminder that the more programs that we have as churches, the more volunteers we’re going to need and the more programs we have, the more opportunities we provide for people to attend ministries, to attend events, to attend programs in our church, which means if they’re attending more things, they have less time to volunteer and so there’s just a vicious cycle that occurs and where as we try to do more, it requires more volunteers and it becomes a barrier then to getting adequate volunteer engagement.

Amy Anderson:             06:46                It makes total sense, Tony, if a church has actually streamline their programming, you know, so they’ve simplified, they’ve got their priorities in line with what they’re doing ministry wise, but they still face a volunteer engagement challenge. What’s another barrier that might be causing that?

Tony Morgan:               07:04                So a third barrier is a lack of leadership and I can give you a few different symptoms where this lack of leadership becomes evident. The first symptom is this, there’s just no ownership. There’s no champion for volunteer engagement in the church. And this we see this time and time again. Again, if everyone owns volunteer engagement, which they should, I’ll explain that in a second. But if know if everyone owns it, no one really owns it. And so this is what we see happening in churches

Amy Anderson:             07:41                I just want to ask a question. Yes. So when we bring up this idea that there needs to be a champion in the serving area, often the first reaction is a little bit like glassy eyed. They can’t quite figure out what it means because at first they think. So that’s the person who recruits everybody for all the ministries. How would you describe what that person does?

Tony Morgan:               08:03                Yeah, so this person really is the point person just to make sure that the church as a whole is winning when it comes to volunteer engagement. And so they do this in several different ways. Number one, I think you want this person really should be the person that’s on top of the systems for tracking engagement in monitoring health number one, and then this person really needs to be responsible for some of the onboarding strategy that we’re going to be talking about in a second. Making sure that that strategy is not only streamlined, but that it’s being replicated in an unhealthy way across all the ministry teams. Just making sure wherever someone is serving that those first steps and do engaging on the serving team, that those are streamlined and making sure that every team is providing adequate care, equipping, training, that they’re actually engaging all of these volunteers in a healthy way. And in other words, this person is the champion for making sure there’s a great volunteer engagement strategy in every ministry area. That church, what this person is not responsible for his recruiting everybody’s volunteers. This is where everybody should own it. In other words, every ministry leader needs to take personal responsibility for making sure that they have enough volunteers, more than enough volunteers to engage their aspect of the ministry strategy. And so if anything, this person and it’s just making sure every team leader is doing what they should be doing when it comes to building volunteer teams. Does that make sense, Amy?

Amy Anderson:             09:49                Yeah, that was good. Thanks for doing that.

Tony Morgan:               09:51                Alright. So that’s one symptom of a lack of leadership as there’s no champion. A second symptom is when the staff feels overworked and other words the staff is doing too much ministry themselves rather than empowering volunteers and not just volunteers who are engaging ministry, that volunteers that are leaning ministry. In fact that gets to the third symptom of a lack of leadership when there isn’t adequate and inadequate span of care. In other words, you have individual leaders trying to lead to many people and trying to care for too many people. And by the way, this is an a symptom that we see not only with staff leaders, but when we dive deeper into the ministry structure organization, the team structure, sometimes we see this play out as well with volunteer leaders where their span of care isn’t healthy. And so if you are noticing any of those symptoms, a lack of a champion, the staff feeling overworked or where one person, and this may you see that may see this play out in several instances on your team, but one person trying to lead to many people and care for too many people. These are all symptoms of a lack of leadership and where, uh, that really may need to be the barrier that you address if you want to improve volunteer engagement. And Amy, while we’re talking about some of these leadership symptoms or lack of leadership, I know that when you do staffing and structure reviews with senior pastors a, you’re having honest conversations with senior pastors and executive pastors about their staff teams. And I’m just curious to hear what, what are you hearing from senior pastors, executive pastors? What are they saying about their staff and their ability to build teams and raise up other leaders?

Amy Anderson:             11:47                Sure, Well, you’ve already mentioned it a little bit. But they, that they have, you know, when we, when we assess the team and we look at their structure and what they’re trying to accomplish, they’ve acknowledged that they’ve got some people in leadership positions in leadership positions that are really doing ministry instead of leading. That’s one of the Ahas they realize even what they’re rewarding them for, what they’re praising them for is really doing ministry instead of leading it. And I think that’s a really good realization because it’s positive in the sense that some leaders, well, most of the leaders have the potential to be an equipping leader, but they need that as an expectation and they need a little bit of shift in their mindset as to what it is leaders do. I’ll also add that inevitably there’s some staff and leadership positions that are doing and that’s what they actually like to do. And so it’s what they’re good at. They’re good at doing. And that in and of itself isn’t a negative, you want, you just want to get people in the right seat, right. But without the ability to equip others and give ministry responsibility away, they really shouldn’t be in a high level leadership role in those are some challenging conversations. That’s good. That’s good. Yeah. Alright, so let’s go on to the next barrier to volunteer engagement. What’s next?

Tony Morgan:               13:04                So the next barrier is that it’s just too complicated to join a volunteer team. And so it’s been encouraging for me were brand new to actually a really large church, thousands of volunteers and just to my personal experience engaging as a volunteer on it. And by the way, I love just going to church on Sunday where I don’t have to try to fix the church because I’m not consulting there. I get to actually serve as a volunteer. I get to lead a small group. I just get to be a part of the church body without having my unstuck church hat on. So that’s a good thing. But this has been such an encouragement for me to step into a new volunteer role and my personal experience was I had one conversation with somebody said, I’m interested in serving. I got an immediate response from somebody that’s always ready to help me take my next step. They scheduled an interview with me immediately, which was required for the role that I’m serving in, in that same onboarding meeting where they were kind of interviewing me to make sure I was a right fit. And they immediately gave me some training, got me on the serving schedule. I had, as soon as I was on the servings schedule, the leader of my team promptly contacted me just to welcome me to the team. I mean, it was certainly, it was flawless and the team, I’m on, I mean, it did, it was a, it’s a bit of a specialized role. So they wanted to make sure I was the right fit. But even in that they moved rapidly to make sure that the connection took place. And it’s just a great reminder for churches that are really committed to healthy volunteer engagement. They are intentional about doing this well. And so my challenge to you is you need to create the easy button for people that are going to serve in your church. And there needs to be an easy button for people who are attending your weekend services. It may be as simple as visit the help desk and hopefully your help desk is very obvious it location and has highly capable people to help people take these next steps in to volunteer teams. And you need to have an easy button on your website, a simple form, hopefully just asking for name and email or name and phone number, but then providing immediate response for people to take these first steps. This is definitely an example of where less is more so don’t overwhelm people with all your serving positions. Instead, you want to just be focusing initially on offering just the half dozen or so first serve our opportunities in your church. And then once you find out somebody who’s a great fit for whatever ministry area they’re serving in, then you can talk about all the other ministry opportunities within that ministry, but don’t overwhelm people with every serving position in your church. And you know Amy, we talk about Church of the Highlands a lot because I think they have a fabulous system when it comes to moving people from weekend services, attending and participating in weekend services to actually serving on their volunteer team. They call it the Dream Team. They just know how to mobilize people and their growth track system. I mean it’s, it’s, it’s a great system. They can replicate it every location and it’s doing a phenomenal job of moving people from their weekend services to their serving teams. And so if you’re not familiar with Church of the highlands or their growth track model, you can jump on their website. It’s and not only see how they’re communicating with people attending their church about the growth track and how to become part of the dream team at any of their locations, but they also have some resources specifically on their website for pastors and other church leaders.

Amy Anderson:             17:21                Oh, that’s great. All right. If I was counting right, that was barrier number four. I think you promised us five sets, right? The last one.

Tony Morgan:               17:28                So the fifth barrier is this. If you are tracking for success, streamlining your ministry programming, removing the leadership lids and creating an easy path for people who serve, but you still have a volunteer engagement challenge, then I think you should blame the pastor. No, the pastor.

Amy Anderson:             17:50                All right, well thanks Tony and thanks to our listeners for joining us today. No, why do you say blame the pastor?

Tony Morgan:               17:57                I was being a little sarcastic there, but really it could be that you’re just a, there’s a vision gap or a mission gap and that’s the reason why people aren’t taking the step into volunteer engagement. You know, we’ve talked about this before. There are really four primary roles and responsibilities for the senior pastor, one of them being casting vision, and the fact is people in your church need to know where you sense God’s leading the church in the future, and I believe if you cast a compelling vision, it will rally people’s prayer life, it will rally their financial resources and it should rally people’s time and they’re going to be looking for opportunities to invest their time, their talents, their gifts into the ministry that you are engaging as a church. So you need to help people see how the investment of their time will help your church impact your community and change lives, and you need to tell more stories of the people who are changed because they’re serving and you need to tell more stories of the people’s lives that are being impacted by those who are serving. Now, let me give you an example of how I’ve seen this play out just recently. I don’t know if you, if all the listeners, listeners know this, amy, but I live in Atlanta. I’m not an Atlanta Falcons fan. I’m a Cleveland browns fan. In fact, they can’t see it, but right now as we record this podcast, I’m Lee. I’m actually wearing a do see that it’s a Cleveland Brown’s not jersey, but shirt. Um, cleveland stuff. I do wear a lot of Cleveland stuff, but here in Atlanta we’re getting a little excited because we’re hosting the Super Bowl here and a 2019 you just did here in Minnesota? Yes. Yeah, you did? Yeah. So in Atlanta, they’re gearing up for the superbowl and they need 10,000 volunteers to support that event. And this is a statement from the website for the superbowl. It says this, and let’s listen to this vision casting. This is phenomenal. “As Atlanta gears up for 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 take is to take the words southern hospitality to new heights and provide the kind of warm, hearty welcome to all visitors that is with Atlanta.” Doesn’t that just make you, that makes you want to move to Atlanta, not just come to the superbowl and Atlanta volunteer sign me up. Yeah, that’s right. But it’s an example of vision casting for a football game and I just think man, if that’s, if that’s the type of compelling vision there they’re trying to cast to engage volunteers for a football game, I just have to think that the mission that we’re about as a, as a church, we just need to do a better job of casting a vision for the type of impact in life change that we as churches are engaging and that’s the type of vision and mission that we need to be casting to our churches so that they want to serve as well. And so that fifth barrier is just making sure that we close the gap when it comes to vision and connecting the volunteer engagement to the life change that’s happening in our churches.

Amy Anderson:             21:44                Yeah. Well we did talk about this this week and we talked about it the week before and the week before that. This is a huge issue. I know for the churches that we serve, and so hopefully there’s something in one of those barriers that will help our churches who are listening today. Um, anything else before we close, Tony?

Tony Morgan:               22:00                Yeah, so it’s really easy when you talk about volunteer engagement to blame people for not committing and not serving, and I just want to say out loud, I think that’s a cop out. Again, I’m kind of pleading for the competitive edge, I guess in the, in the listeners on today’s podcast, but don’t use that as a cop out. Many churches are mobilizing the volunteers they need to accomplish the mission God has given their church. And you can do this too, just because this hasn’t been an area that you’ve been winning in the past doesn’t mean you can’t change the culture of your church and you can’t change the intentionality that you’re using to engage volunteers to serve and to accomplish the mission God’s called your church to.

Amy Anderson:             22:49                Really good. Well thank you tony and thanks to our listeners. If you’d like to learn how to take your next steps towards getting your church and stuff. As always, we’ll link some resources in the show notes for this episode at 71, and if this episode has been helpful to you, don’t forget to leave us a review on itunes that helps other leaders actually find this content as well, and as always, you can learn more about how the unstuck group helps churches get unstuck at



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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