Ten Ways to Double Your Church Volunteer Recruitment and Retention

Without volunteer labor and ministry, our churches would not exist. The recruitment and retention of volunteers should be one of the highest priorities of church leaders.

While we typically honor our paid labor force on Labor Day, I want to take the opportunity to focus on volunteer labor in our congregations. Specifically, I want to share with you ten ways the most effective churches are recruiting and retaining volunteers. In many cases, they have more than doubled the success of those churches where these approaches are not taken.

  1. Tie their work to the vision of the church. First, the church must have a clear and compelling vision. Then leaders should redundantly express how different volunteer ministries tie to that vision. Such a clarification gives purpose to the work of the volunteers. And without purpose, volunteer ministries struggle.
  2. Consider recruiting with specific end dates. If possible, recruit volunteers with a definitive term. They are much more likely to say “yes” if they know they will have a time when the work is done. At that time, they can renew their commitment or move to another area of passion.
  3. Recruit toward a member’s passion. Find out areas where members are already passionate and gifted. If not, you will have to recruit with compulsion or guilt. Volunteers recruited in that manner are not only likely to quit their work at the church; they are also likely to leave the church altogether.
  4. Honor your volunteers at least once a month. A number of churches have annual ministry appreciation banquets. That’s not sufficient. Leaders should find ways, even if it’s as simple as a phone call or email or letter, to honor volunteers at least monthly.
  5. Volunteer recruitment and retention should be the priority of the pastor. While pastors should by no means do all the work, they should make certain it is a priority focus of their ministries.
  6. Get your best leaders to oversee volunteer recruitment and retention. It’s just too important to hope oversight happens without strategy. Your best leaders should have the responsibility of oversight of these ministries.
  7. Communicate openly and frequently with volunteers. Indeed, a clear strategy should be in place for such communication. That is one reason why number 6 is so important.
  8. Recruit through relationships. Strategically ask people who already have healthy established relationships to work together in a ministry. Those relationships will be vital in keeping people motivated. After all, we all prefer to work with people we like.
  9. Provide periodic checkups. A critical part of the communication process should be a checkup to see how each volunteer is doing. It should be open, transparent, affirming, and non-threatening.
  10. Allow volunteers to quit honorably. Burnout is always a possibility. Members may discover that their ministry is actually a bad fit for them. They should have the prerogative of quitting, taking a break, or finding a new area of passion.

On this Labor Day, I honor all those church volunteers who give, go, and serve sacrificially. You are truly the heroes of our congregations.

Let me hear from you about your church’s approach to volunteer recruitment and retention. We all can learn from both your successes and failures.

How do you honor your volunteers? What methods of recruitment work best in your ministries?


  1. Mark Dance says

    Good tribute post, with very practical advice.

    In my experience, recruiting volunteers through small groups is very effective. Small groups have at least two of the components that you mentioned: the oversight of your best leaders and the relationships that will help you recruit and retain your volunteers.

  2. Steve Bradley says

    Great article!
    Every month in our worship service we publicly recognize a group of volunteers from a particular ministry area. We give them a hand written thank you card, show a short video clip of them in action, and give them a small token of appreciation. Since we started this in January, we have seen a great increase in people coming to our leaders to volunteer.

  3. Jimmy says

    Matthew 9:37-38 “Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly [is] plenteous, but the labourers [are] few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.”

    Luke 10:2 “Therefore said he unto them, The harvest truly [is] great, but the labourers [are] few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest.”

    Why not pray and ask the Lord to raise up workers? That seems to be what Jesus is suggesting as a good strategy. All of your strategies seem to be rooted in the flesh and our own strength.

  4. Rachel says

    Love the idea to have a specific end-date, and second the thought that volunteers should be recruited for what they’re gifted at (after all, that’s why we were all given different gifts to begin with!).

    I attended a church for a few years and one of the leaders approached me, saying, “I hear you have administrative gifts”, wanting me to coordinate the welcome committee. I was a little confused, but felt weird asking, “Where exactly did you hear that?”…. because I don’t believe I have that gift. Our church was going through a big change (lots of folks leaving), and I felt like I had to say yes and serve, do my duty and all that, even though the ministry really was not a good fit for me. It caused a ton of stress, and I did end up leaving the church eventually (though the reason wasn’t actually tied to this). The person who recruited me left the church very quickly after “passing the baton”, and I came away feeling like I was only ever recruited so that he wouldn’t feel guilty leaving the church in a lurch when he left. The whole experience left a bad taste in my mouth, though. I felt used and manipulated. Now I’m trying to figure out what my *real* gifts are, and how to best use those for the betterment of the church, but I do feel like my guard is up more than it used to be, and maybe more than it should be.

    All that to say… past experiences will definitely affect a person’s willingness to volunteer, and it may take a long time for some people to realize that the “program” is changing, and for them to be willing to get involved again. Saying it’s changing isn’t enough – you’ll have to prove it. Please give us grace! :)

    The only other comment I’ll make is about honoring volunteers monthly – I think it’s wonderful to acknowledge the hard work volunteers do, and the commitment it involves, but not everyone wants to be acknowledged in the same way. Some people love hearing their names from the pulpit, or want their photos splashed all over in a slideshow… but just as many would rather not be in the spotlight, and it would be better to honor them privately with a thoughtful card or kind word, as you mentioned.

  5. Louise says

    One of my grandmothers once said that church (volunteer) work is the most thankless work there is. Fundamental respect and appreciation for individuals in a church (including those who volunteer) makes the difference. A person can tell when the “vision” is more important to leadership than those who are being used/employed to carry it out. Similar to what Rachel said, a heartfelt “thank you” and notice of one’s efforts can be even more meaningful than a big acknowledgement on a Sunday morning. But no amount of public or private thanking can make up for a church or leader that values their “vision” more than their individual people.

  6. Melody says

    Tapping into the youth of the church is another focus. Even middle schoolers can help with many things. And when they do, show appreciation as servers, not as kids helping out. Too often adults speak to the young servers differently than they would another adult. They notice.

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