Volunteers seem to be in short supply in today’s church. Most discussions about volunteers focus
on recruitment— we need more ushers (Sunday School teachers, board members, and so on).
How can we get more volunteers?
Pastors and other church staff wish for more volunteers. Volunteers wish others would volunteer
and share the load. Everyone wishes they could clone those golden volunteers, people who serve
faithfully, tirelessly, and uncomplainingly.
The Bible clearly teaches that God gives His people gifts to use in His service. The familiar
passages in Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12, in which Paul compares the people in the church to
the parts of a human body, teach that each part carries out a necessary function. Acts 6 shows us
how helpers were selected to distribute food fairly to widows supported by the church. In the
Matthew 25 parable of the talents, Jesus indicated an expectation that all would use and develop
the Master’s gifts.
It’s not just a New Testament idea. Moses, in Exodus 18, is advised to share his responsibilities
with other qualified people, and in Exodus 31, God names the people to whom he has given the
abilities to make articles for the Tabernacle.
If God has gifted each of His people, and wants them to use their gifts in service, what’s the
problem? Perhaps a key is the attitude of the church toward its volunteers.
Recruiting is looking for someone to fill a need. The focus is the need, the task to be done.
Willingness is the primary qualification. Of course we want the volunteer to be able to do the task
well, but if the need is great, availability is more important than ability. We don’t even mind
using a little pressure, or a little guilt, to encourage someone to accept. After all, it’s for the Lord.
They should be willing to do whatever the Lord wants.
And it works. Someone eventually says yes. But what are the results of our recruitment?
We often end up with round pegs in square holes. Those who are pressured into a position are
more likely to be unreliable and to bow out as soon as possible. Some go into hiding, even
changing churches, to avoid getting caught in the future. And many of those golden volunteers
Ephesians 4:11-12 suggests a different attitude on the part of the church toward its volunteers. “It
was he (Jesus) who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and
some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of
Christ may be built up.” Preparing, or equipping, God’s people for service, is a far cry from
In a church serious about equipping its people for service, people are reminded that they are the
church, that we all have been created by God “to do good works which God prepared in advance
for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10) An equipping church continually challenges and assists its people
to not only discover their gifts, but to wrestle with how God wants them to use those gifts in
service, at home, at work, in the church and in the community.
In equipping, the person is more important than the task. Serving is more than getting work done.
Serving connects believers to each other and to those who don’t yet know Jesus as Savior.
Relationships trump tasks.
Equipping doesn’t quit when a person has selected a ministry in which to serve, as recruiting
does. Equipping continues by providing initial training for the ministry chosen, and then ongoing
support. It notices if something is not working well and takes steps to make things right, without
waiting for the volunteer to “complain.” It also is willing to speak the truth in love, addressing
problems early rather than late.
Equipping includes helping people find new talents and abilities, challenging people when you
believe they are capable of more than they know, and walking alongside them through that
growing process. It means being proactive when someone leaves a ministry, caring enough to find
Yes, the church will still need to fill openings in the nursery, the lawn crew and so on. But
seeking individuals for ministry openings is done more carefully, less frantically, and without
guilt or pressure. The church knows that if God wants a task done, he will have sent someone
with the ability, the desire and the time to do it, and it knows that “no” may well be the correct
response to an invitation to serve.
Take note. Equipping is harder than recruiting. It takes more time, and it does not come naturally
to us. It involves building a comprehensive system to prepare people for service, to connect them
to a ministry, and to equip and support them in service. Even more important, it involves the
continual developing of a church “culture” that supports an equipping ministry.
Pastors, remember that all these things “the church” does for its people are not necessarily done
by you. The church, as the body of believers, has the gifts to care for, prepare, connect, equip and
support each other. But leadership is crucial to success. Pastors, staff and other leaders must not
only “talk the talk” but also “walk the walk.”
But as you see the joy and satisfaction equipped people experience in service, and as their service
grows their faith—what an exciting walk that is!
This article is from the March 2004 New Harvest newsletter from the Center for U.S. Missions. Permission is given to copy this article for distribution within your own congregation. Please credit the author and the Center for U.S. Missions in Irvine, California, www.centerforusmissions.org. For more information, contact the Center at 949-854-8002 x1780.