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Home » Featured, Headline, Staff/Volunteer Leadership

How Can Church Staff Help Volunteers Succeed?

Submitted by James Higginbotham on January 28, 2010 – 4:57 amNo Comment

Tony Morgan recently interviewed an anonymous volunteer about how he sees the role of church staff in managing volunteers. Here are some excerpts:

TONY: What are some things staff leaders can do to set volunteers up for success?


  • Value their time. Don’t create opportunities to serve that are mismanaged with people standing around with nothing to do, or simply giving people busy work.  Have a clear plan with real initiatives and tasks to get done.
  • Communicate the vision. Over time, volunteers can become numb to what they do and miss the impact of what they’re doing. Remind them, “Because of what you’re doing, more people are going to be able to _______.”
  • Give them guardrails they can operate within. Are there budget limitations?  Places we can’t go?  Things we shouldn’t say?  When people are volunteering their time, allowing them to screw something up because they weren’t given some guardrails can deflate them and render them powerless.
  • Really be a study of your volunteers. Work hard to make sure they are serving in an area of passion and giftedness.  Many of us are blind to some of the things we naturally do well. If you can help us find those things and redirect us to other areas where we can serve, it will create huge divendends. The opposite is true too. Pushing people into positions because you’re more worried about getting the task done instead of whether or not it’s a good fit can suck the life out of your volunteers.

Notice how this really fits with the people-focused approach we talk about at VolunteerCentered.com? Tony goes on with the interview:

TONY: And, more specifically, what can staff leaders do to better empower volunteer leaders?


  • Leaders can lead when they know they have your support and room to experiment. They need room to fail versus being micro-managed and having to be overly cautious. Our nature is to want to have control over everything, especially in ministry. What are ways you can give freedom to great leaders who may do things differently but could surprise you with greater results than you imagined?
  • Pick a few big, hairy, audacious goals and appoint a volunteer leader to climb the mountain. Allow a volunteer to have that opportunity rather than hiring a staff person.  Creating a culture to first choose volunteers instead of adding staff empowers people to have a direct hand in the ministry being accomplished. The greater your ability to effectively give away ministry to volunteers, the greater the engagement of the people in your church.
  • Tell them the non-negotiables, the guardrails, up front. Cast the vision of where you want to go, and then get out of the way.
  • Be available as needed to give input, assess and brainstorm with your volunteer leader. There are times when I simply need to review a bulleted list of questions and thoughts with a staff member so I can confidently keep leading and pushing the vision.

This really speaks to me, as I think many staff members are more focused on loading up their plate than listening to their volunteers and coming alongside them to build up their volunteer leaders.

Do you agree or disagree with what this volunteer says?

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