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​In church, when a volunteer underperforms, we often write it off saying something like, “Well, it’s not like they are paid staff…they are just volunteers.”

But, before we take the easy way out, let’s think about what is really being said here. You could easily replace the phrase ‘they are just volunteers’ with ‘they are just serving God’…

Brings a new perspective, doesn’t it?

The main problem with this type of thinking is that when you expect less, you get less.

You are effectively inspiring volunteers to be lazy when serving God. In other words, you are teaching that you should only give your best effort when a paycheck is to follow.

So, how do we inspire and attract the best volunteers?

Be organized.

Nothing is more demotivating than leadership being unprepared. As leaders, it is our responsibility to make sure team members have the tools and resources they need to complete the task at hand. As a worship leader, this means providing sheet music, MP3s and other resources to help your musicians learn the set list.

A worship team that gets their materials at least a week ahead of time and shows up to rehearsal with all the sound equipment working is able to focus on their real job: leading worship. On the flip side, if the worship leader did not take time to prepare these things, the worship team is distracted, frustrated and ends up just going through the motions.

If you are an unorganized leader, don’t be discouraged. God has equipped you with the ability to do what you need to do. So, lean on Him as you put in the effort to become organized.

Fire volunteers who don’t care.

I have gotten a lot of flack for using the phrase ‘fire volunteers’. The push back usually sounds like this, “We are not talking about employees here…they are just volunteers.” I really don’t see the difference. Whether volunteering or paid staff at a church, we should put forth the same effort.

A volunteer who doesn’t care shows up late and unprepared. They always have an excuse for their poor performance. But, since they are just volunteers, we tend to let them continue serving…when they actually show up.

It’s time to cut off the dead weight. Allowing volunteers who don’t care to continue serving will eventually demotivate the entire team…and eventually the entire church. Am I saying you should be rude and brash about this? Of course not. Following is a good plan to use when making the transition.

  1. Start with open communication. It is simply not fair to fire a volunteer without first taking time to help them fix the problem.
  2. Give them the opportunity to grow or go. Allow them some time (90 days is a good rule of thumb) to fix the problem. Be sure to meet with them regularly during this time to evaluate their progress. If the problem still persists, you know what’s next (and they should too).

You might also enjoy: How to Handle Difficult Worship Team Members

Spend the majority of your time with high-performing volunteers.

As a leader, the natural and expected thing to do is devote your time to helping low-performers improve and letting the high-performers take care of themselves. But, it is much more effective to spend your time with the high-performers. Why is this?

First of all, when high-performers are encouraged and empowered by their leader, their performance increases even more. Plus, they do not require babysitting, which frees up your time to become a better leader.

Low-performers are generally not looking to get better, they just want someone else to do the job for them. So, you schedule meetings and interventions only to end up wasting your time – time that could be spent encouraging and further equipping your high-performers.

Pay your volunteers well.

There are other ways to ‘pay’ people other than money. As a matter of fact, studies have shown that non-financial currency can be more impactful than money. Following are a few ways to pay your volunteers.

  1. Pay with gratitude. Don’t ever miss an opportunity to point out the things that are good. Also, make it a point to focus more on the good things than the things that need to be fixed.
  2. Be organized. The best way leaders can show that they care is by running an organized team. It is fun to be a part of something that is well thought out.
  3. Respect time. When the meeting is scheduled from 6-7, start at 6 and end at 7 – no exceptions. Show your volunteers that you value their time as much as your own.
  4. Listen. Volunteers have good ideas. Don’t be so busy barking orders that you don’t take time to let others input their perspective and ideas.

Your turn: What do you do to encourage volunteers?

Respond in the comments below.

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About the Author

Kade Young

Kade Young brought Collaborate Worship into existence with a dream of helping worship leaders around the world fulfill their calling with excellence. He has been leading worship since 2005, is a graduate of Rhema Bible Training College, and currently the worship leader at NoLimits Church in Owasso, Oklahoma.