Will They Stay or Will They Go? How to Keep Volunteers

You've got a new volunteer on your team.  You're excited.  But you're also wondering if they will stick around and serve long-term.  Will they stay or will they go?  Though there's no guarantee anyone will go the distance with you, there are some key factors that can cause volunteers to stay.

Volunteers who stick around know why they are serving.  We've talked about this before.  If you only shine the spotlight on the what, volunteers either get bored or burned out.  By "what" I mean the tasks of the role like teaching, helping with crafts, greeting, rocking babies, etc.  While the logistics and responsibilities of a role are important, they are not conducive to long-term motivation.  Long-term motivation comes from the why - the big picture purpose.  A purpose such as helping kids know and follow Jesus.  Volunteers stay motivated long-term when they know they are part of something big.  Something worth giving their life to.

Volunteers who stick around have been given the tools they need to succeed.  They have been given clear expectations, gone through an orientation and received hands-on training.  They are put in rooms where ratios are followed and adequate help is provided.  Don't expect a new volunteer, who is shoved in a room of 30 preschoolers with one other helper, to come out alive, much less stick around long-term.

Volunteers who stick around have built relationships with the people they serve with.  Relationships is the super glue that keeps volunteers.  When volunteers feel like they are part of a family, they lock in long-term.  While you can't force relationships to happen, you can create an environment that gives people the opportunity to establish them.  This can be done with ice-breaker activities and team-building games at meetings, sharing prayer requests each week, having get togethers outside of serving, etc.

Volunteers who stick around are serving from the overflow.  If you want volunteers to serve long-term, then you've got to keep their cup full.  Here are some key ways you can pour into them.

  • Make sure they are attending the adult worship service. 
  • Have a short devotion ready each week to share in the pre-service huddle. 
  • Don't ask them to stay over and serve an extra service. 
  • Know what's going on in their lives.  If you don't, you can't help them in their time of need.
  • Occasionally give them some time extended time off from serving.
  • Share with them things you are learning, books you have read, podcasts you are listening to, etc.
Volunteers who stick around are serving in their sweet spot.  They are in a role that lines up with their spiritual gifts, passion and personality.  Help them find their sweet spot by having them take a spiritual gifts test and by asking questions like, "What is your dream job at church?"  Remember, don't place volunteers where you need them, place volunteers where they need to be.

Volunteers who stick around feel valued.  Instead of using volunteers to build the ministry, use the ministry to build volunteers.  Honor them.  Encourage them.  Thank them.  Pray for them.  Believe in them.  Invest in them.  Care for them.

Here's some questions to think through and discuss:
  • Are we keeping volunteers long-term?  Why or why not?
  • Do our volunteers have a clear understanding of why they are serving?
  • Do we set volunteers up for success by setting clear expectations, providing training and following ratios?  How can we improve in this?
  • Are we keeping our volunteer's cups full?  How?  What are we missing?  How can we get better at filling their cups?
  • Are our volunteers in their sweet spot?  Why or why not?  How can we get them in their sweet spot?
  • How are we showing our volunteers we value them?  How can we do a better job at this?
The floor is yours.  What are some other thoughts or ideas you have for keeping volunteers long-term?  Share them with us in the comment section below.