One year, my church was having difficulty recruiting Sunday school teachers. As a potential solution, we asked people for a commitment of only three months rather than a year. But one potential volunteer responded, “I don’t know. Three months is an awfully long commitment.”

We’ve all seen it. It’s harder and harder to find volunteers willing to make ongoing, long-term commitments. It’s the way things are. We can complain, we can share our frustration, but neither helps us recruit. So here are some positive ways to respond. Like you, I’m still learning how to adapt to this new reality, so please add your positive ideas in the comments section below.

  1. Find out what people love. We each have unique interests (photography or Civil War history) and passions (feeding the homeless or supporting people with cancer) and skills (woodworking or database management) that motivate and excite us. Every time you talk to potential volunteers—that means every time to talk to human beings—listen for their hot buttons. They might not want to teach Sunday school, but maybe they’d love to design an improved attendance system or research background on Babylonian civilization at the time of the Exile or build a model of Solomon’s Temple. As they get to know your ministry through one short-term connection, you and they may find other, ongoing ways they can contribute.
  2. Celebrate quantity! If you can’t find people to fill the two positions on the trustees board, perhaps there’s one person who will look at the issues in the HVAC system, another who knows tuck-pointing, a third person who’d love to redesign the landscaping, and someone else who knows a great plumber. No, you don’t have two long-term volunteers, but instead, you have built a connection between four people and the church’s buildings and grounds.
  3. Offer a “taste” of ministry. Can’t recruit ushers? Invite people to be “ushers for a day.” Better yet, invite families to be usher teams for a day. It’s easy to volunteer to do something just once, and if they enjoy it, they’ll want to do it again. Another way to give people a taste is offering a “sound booth sit-in” experience or a “shadow a Sunday school teacher” experience. Just like those free samples we’re offered in the grocery store, a taste can whet the appetite!

You’re now thinking, “But it’s more time to work with many irregularly scheduled ushers than a few regularly scheduled ones. It’s more work to manage four one-time project volunteers than to have the trustee board take care of things.”

You’re right. It is. But some people in your church or on your ministry team have skill and experience in leading teams, in scheduling, or in project management. It doesn’t have to be the head usher who interacts with the “ushers for a day” volunteers or a trustee who meets with each building specialist. It just has to be someone who can give the volunteers what they need to get the job done and have a good experience.

Some things change; some things stay the same. God always gives his people gifts to be used for his work, but the way we get that work done in our churches can and does change. I encourage you to open your eyes and your minds to create new ways for God’s people to use their gifts for his glory.


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