3 Tips for Leading a Volunteer-Led Church

by Joshua Hedger April 21, 2016

All churches rely heavily on volunteers.  Some of our churches rely solely on volunteers. The average church has a small paid staff. Many churches find themselves with only one paid position. Or, in the case of my church plant, there are no paid positions at this time. We are all volunteers. One of the greatest challenges of church leaders is leading volunteers. A greater challenge still, is being a leading volunteers who are leading volunteers (or in my case, being a volunteer who is leading volunteers that are leading volunteers – I feel like I’m in Inception!).

Through my experience, and many mistakes, and some victories, I’ve learned a few principles that are helpful. In my current church, we are still in the process of implementing each of these well, but we are actively moving forward.

1. Create job descriptions.

Yes, I know, they are volunteers, not employees, but we must look at them as if they are employees. Giving a job description to a volunteer, especially a volunteer leader who is leading volunteers, is important for 3 reasons:

- Job descriptions define wins. No one wants to fail. None of us want our volunteer leaders to fail. A failure to define a win is an invitation to inevitably fail. Your job descriptions should clearly share how the volunteer can win.

- Job descriptions give value. No one wants to give his or her time and energy to something of no value or purpose. Likewise, no one wants to give himself or herself to something that does not value them. A good job description gives value to the person and the position.

- Job descriptions give accountability. It is easy to become apathetic, to lose vision, and to drift in passion and production. Job descriptions help you to hold volunteers to high standards that they have agreed to. This keeps the vision and passion on course.

When you create a job description, give feedback regularly (every 6 months) to how they are doing at their job.

2. Meet regularly.

Staff meetings are difficult, even for churches with paid staff. They take time, energy, and often feel pointless. Staff meetings for volunteers can be even more difficult because they have other jobs and their time in a meeting is time they could be serving or doing something else. The temptation to avoid this time-commitment is often overwhelming. However, I would argue that a team of volunteers may need regular staff meetings even more than paid staff for 2 reasons:

- Volunteers are often not trained professionals at what they are doing. They need training, investment, and dialogue to help them think and act strategically and effectively.  Volunteers often need your affirmation and encouragement. Use these meetings to invest in them!

- Volunteers are not together regularly. No office hours and other jobs keep volunteers away from each other, which can often create silos of isolation. They begin to feel as if they are in this on their own and that their ministry has no support from others in the church. This leads to wars over people, resources, time, and vision. Regular meetings help volunteer leaders to stay unified in mission and connected in relationship.

I recommend a monthly staff meeting for all volunteer leaders. 

3. Invest in them.

I realize, the word volunteer means that there is no regular financial contribution. There are other ways to invest in them, though. Here are a few thoughts:

Christmas gift card
Send them to a training for their area of ministry
Take them to lunch or dinner and check in on them
Make yourself as available as you can to them
Do all you can to help their ministry have what it needs to reach their win

Your volunteer leaders are your greatest resource at your church. Value them and invest in them by giving them job descriptions with clear wins, meeting regularly with them to help the entire team win, and investing in them personally to show your appreciation for them.