A Question: Too Many Volunteers

I’ve Got a Question

“Our Angel Food Ministry has received a fantastic outpouring of people offering to volunteer. This ministry provides boxes of food at reduced cost to help families in our community. At our November distribution, we had 83 volunteers and in December, we had over 50 volunteers. That is way too many! To handle the orders we receive, 30 volunteers is plenty. We’ve had many people volunteering since we began, plus people who came forward because of extra holiday efforts, and ‘regulars’ who just show up. I do not want to discourage anyone from coming. However, I do not want people to feel that they are not needed either. So how do you deal with too many volunteers?”

From Brenda in Yorkville, Illinois
January 2009


I am so impressed that you recognize that too many volunteers can be a problem, Brenda. Of course, the people themselves are not a problem, and the fact that they come to volunteer is certainly not a problem, but it is a problem if there is nothing for them to do. If we waste someone’s time, we’re certainly not being good stewards of our volunteers.

If your church did a stewardship campaign to raise $1 million, and it raised $2 million instead, the leaders would come together to discuss how to be good stewards of the overabundance that God provided through his people. That’s really what has happened here. So it would be good for the Angel Food Ministry leadership team to look at this issue together. Here are some things for your group to think about.

Is there any other service that could be added to the Angel Food ministry food distribution by the extra volunteers? Carrying the food to their cars? A puppet show or a story for the kids? A prayer of blessing over each box of food? Handwritten notes/prayers distributed with the food? Do some brainstorming and see what might be both helpful and practical. Is there some optional task that could be done if extras show up, but omitted without problem if they don’t?

Talk one on one with the people who come to help, especially those who are not the ‘regulars.’ Ask them what is it about this particular ministry that makes them want to help? Perhaps the abundance of gifts/heart for this particular ministry will lead your church to a new ministry with the same qualities these people are drawn to. Perhaps some of these extra volunteers will have the heart, talents and desire to help form that ministry.

Ask your volunteers if they are also involved in other ministries at your church. Have they tried other ministries? If there is no opening for them in this ministry, what would they like to do? You will likely learn some interesting things. If you ever do have to turn some volunteers away from one of your distribution days, turn away someone who’s already involved in other ministries at your church. Don’t turn away someone who’s new to volunteering!

You could have people sign up to serve in advance, with a maximum of 30 sign-ups. That solves the problem of too many volunteers, but it also prevents you from finding out who wanted to serve but couldn’t, and prevents you from talking to them and helping them find somewhere else to serve. Plus, some people prefer not to commit in advance but simply to come on the spur of the moment.

Your “problem” of too many volunteers is a good reminder that working together in ministry in the church is not just about completing a task. We’re serving people. In addition to serving the recipients of our actions, we’re also serving the people who serve! As leaders, we’re giving our brothers and sisters in Christ an opportunity to put their faith in action, to obey their Lord’s command to love and serve their neighbor, to make a difference in someone’s life, to build relationships, and to experience joy and satisfaction from their service. It’s well worth your effort to avoid taking those things away from any of your volunteers! And congrats to you for leading a ministry in which so many people just love to serve! –KK

The conversation continues

from Nancy in southern California: “The thought that came to my mind when I read your question was that perhaps God is preparing the Angel Food Ministry to meet a much greater need that is looming on the horizon. We experienced a similar situation with our community food distribution program – and then the economy took a downturn and the need more than doubled.”

“Nancy, the way our February orders are coming in, you may have hit the nail on the head!

“We had a great meeting following our distribution in January. It was great to hear others speak about what why they are volunteering, what is so truly great about the Angel Food experience, and mostly about how they enjoy talking with the customers. Out of that discussion came the idea of surveying our customers at the February distribution to see what they are looking for from us. Here is the survey. The discussion also reminded me that others who share this passion also need and want to be useful in this outreach effort. So I am working hard at letting go!”

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