Back to our topic of retaining volunteers. If you're just tuning in, you may want to go back and read the first part of this post. Go ahead, we'll wait... All caught up? Good deal. Here's the rest of the list.
Invest in Them
Relationships are what keep people connected to a church. In fact, the church is all about relationships. Be a pastor to them, take prayer requests and pray for them. Find out what they do, their kids names and ask them about it. We tend to think if we throw a big party once a year, it's enough. But it's really the little things that matter. Sending out handwritten notes mean a lot. Get the team together every few months and spend time together. If the team gets big, get subgroups together. Make it personal.
Nobody said using volunteers would be cheaper and easier than paid people. In fact, it's probably not cheaper, and it's definitely not easier, but it's so important.
Fix It For Them
When someone points out something that is broken, fix it. If it's something small, get it fixed that week. If you ignore it for weeks on end, it sends the message that they are not important enough to be taken care of. If it's a large budget item, shoot them an e-mail and let them know you're working on it. If you don't have the budget, tell the, but make sure they know you are aware of the problem, and you're working to fix it. Communicate this regularly. Always thank them for pointing it out.
Not just spiritually, though that's important, but physically feed them. Make sure they have water, bring snacks. Keep them energized. I feel we do a pretty good job at this right now; each weekend we have a full meal between services, and I do my best to make sure the team gets to eat, even if there are changes. I'll stay back and do what needs to be done so they can go. I like to make sure I grab several bottles of water so everyone has enough to drink. Sometimes, I'll even bring snacks. As a career techie, I can always put up with long hours and low pay as long as there's food. But once the venue or the boss gets cheap with the food, watch out--a tech rebellion is coming!
"The longest lasting volunteers are not the ones who do tasks, but have areas of responsibility." That's so good. Give them the room to find better ways to do things. If you have some really good people, put them in charge of something. We have two guys on our team that we dub "Volunteer Staff" because they give so much time and energy. They are the guys who are there early, or during the week, or are e-mailing me suggestions on how we can do what we do better. I love them for that! My hope is that they'll stick around for a long time.
I know when I was at my last two churches as a volunteer, I would put in extraordinary amounts of time because I knew the leadership empowered me to do the job. The gave me a long leash and let me improve things. I try to replicate that experience for my volunteers as well.
I want to thank Dennis for sharing his time and expertise with us at the conference. I learned a lot, and while I feel like I'm doing a some of these things well, there's always room for improvement. Most of all, it was a good reminder that while we may serve in the are of technical arts, our number one job is people. People make the church what it is, and we have the blessing and responsibility to enable them to use their gifts to serve our great God.