Five Reasons People aren’t Volunteering at Your Church

Do you need more preschool workers to serve children? Do you need more greeters to greet? Do you need more ushers to…ush?

If so, you’re in familiar territory.

I’ve never met a church that said, “You know…when it comes to volunteers, we’re good. We’ve got plenty. In fact, there’s a waiting list for the nursery.”
Churches everywhere need to mobilize more volunteers to get ministry done. But before you start signing people up and filling slots, it might be helpful to take a look at why people are NOT volunteering.

Here are FIVE REASONS people might not be volunteering at your church

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You’re not asking correctly. It takes more than blurbs in the bulletin and pleas from the pulpit to move people into volunteer positions in your church. If you want people to serve, you’ve got to learn how to ask correctly.

It’s hard to sign up. Signing up has to be simple and immediate. Hidden tables in the lobby don’t work. Remembering to email so-and-so isn’t a good strategy.

It’s not clear. If you want people to do a job, they need to clearly understand the expectations and requirements. Pull back the veil and show people what’s it like before you ask them to get involved.

You’re not saying thanks. People don’t want to toil away in a thankless role. Just because someone’s reward is in heaven doesn’t mean they don’t need to hear “thank you” on earth.

It’s too hard. The super-committed will do whatever it takes, but if you want to mobilize a bunch of people, you need to make it easier. Take care of their kids, provide food, and make sure they have everything they need to succeed. A little planning on the front end goes a long way.

To learn how to build a larger volunteer base, sign up for the FREE ‘Get More Volunteers’ Event.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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22 thoughts on “Five Reasons People aren’t Volunteering at Your Church

  1. Instead of trying to fill Volunteer Positions with "any warm body will do"….How can we help Volunteers serve where God has "Gifted" them? Sometimes we hand out a menu of ministries check list…But, how fully are these utilized with a person's "Gifting" and "Motivation"?

  2. There are so many reasons why people do not volunteer. Some feel unworthy to serve God because of past mistakes. Other do not serve because they are not passionate for God and still others would rather be served than serve other people.

    The excuses people use to not volunteer are endless. As I was told many years ago, “an excuse is the skin of a lie stuffed with a reason.”

  3. There are many, many other reasons for this situation.

    Some people are burned out by serving. God will provide where He guides, but too many churches push so hard on serving that some with sensitive consciences overcommit, throwing themselves into the fray whenever there's a need. After a while these people learn better, and wind up becoming afraid to say "yes" to anything.

    On the flip side of that, some are "motivated" into serving out of fear of "disobedience." A stressed-out volunteer is rarely good in the service of the church. They can even start blaming others for the lack of ministry volunteers in the church.

    On that subject, too many church leaders believe that one can only serve God in a church environment. Some of us are called to serve Him in other ways, outside of the church building or during worship times.

    Some people *shouldn't* serve in a particular ministry area for a variety of reasons. Obviously you don't want a registered sexual offender anywhere near children's ministry, but you may not want someone who is still dealing with deep-seated issues from their own abuse as a child, either. The person dealing with clinical/chemical depression is probably not a good greeter. Relating back to an earlier point, the person who cannot say "no" to any volunteer request may not be the right one to ask, either, OR they may be the perfect one for the job (unless they're already overworked).

    There are probably a variety of other reasons, but these are the ones that I've had to deal with.
    Twitter: joe_sewell

  4. Ron, though I love your thoughts, it feels like your forgetting a primary issue why people aren't volunteering for you.

    Yes you have done more than put out feelers in the bulletin…youve met people for coffee. Yes you made it easy and accessible at a visible booth….yes you have said thank you…yes you have set clear guidelines and expectations…you may even have a clear vision!

    Why aren't people joining? You just might not be able to pull people into ministry? Is that to harsh to say? They aren't sure if they want to follow you. To get excited about working with you! To build a community with you! At the end of the day were not just filling holes were building a community and if you're wondering why no one is joining…it may not only be your tactics.

    The next question for me is….yeah people want to be on your team, but why don't "BETTER" people want to be on your team….again, its not the tactics….its you. Do they want to be in community with you and do they want to follow you. Do they want to ride or die with you?

    Is that too harsh to say Ron?

    • Thanks David. Not too harsh for me. Keep in mind this was a guest post…I didn't write it…suggesting an online seminar on volunteerism. Hopefully they will address more of these issues.

      • Ron- hahah so you won't claim it! :) all good and thankful that it didnt come off as harsh as it was not my intent- just really wrestling with your guest posters ideas… so does that mean you agree with me or agree that by creating greater tactical expressions you will see your volunteer numbers go up?

        And I think what I heard you say is that you're suggesting an online seminar or you will be running an online seminar? About how to get volunteers? Again- not to say there is no value in it, but seems to go to symptoms — rather than teach a seminar on volunteering you may teach a seminar on how relationships work- not saying that I have this dialed in or by any means are volunteers coming in in droves but shift thinking from getting volunteers to —hey heres my vision… you want to do this with me? Lets share community and relationship and accomplish something in the process while working together.

        Seems like you've had success in this – is that the "tactic" you have ever used?

        • I completely agree. It's relational…not systematic. Yes, they are doing an online seminar. I do find people are looking to systematize things…and systems work, but the idea even there needs to be to lead towards life changing relationships. That's where discipleship, community and volunteerism ultimately begins to work. And, that's been my “tactic”.

  5. A lack of willingness to serve may be a sign of something a bit more serious: that people don't feel their church is serving them. The walk with Christ is all about service — you serve me, I serve you, Jesus serves all of us. So a church leader should ask him/herself, Why do people not feel engaged, so that they want to serve?

    At our Mission on Vancouver's Skid Row, I'd say 60% of the volunteers are "from the streets": they started out by being served at the Mission, and now are serving, themselves. They feel engaged, wanted, that they have a purpose. That's a situation that could apply to any church, regardless of the neighborhood.

  6. What are some suggestions for "asking correctly"? It seems like we're doing everything else well enough, yet it's the same percentage who are volunteering.

    I should also mention that I minister in a rural, declining area.

  7. All the 5 reasons seem logical. Thanks for sharing helpful thoughts. This post does help in uderstanding why the populace is not volunteering here in the church nearby my premises.

  8. Interesting article. I’ve been in church for over 25 years and have witnessed a drastic decline in volunteers. There’s a plethora of reasons however, I noticed the sharpest decline when some people began to be “paid” for their “services” or rather doing what used to be volunteering. The drummers are paid, so now the singers want to be paid; the office staff is paid so now people want to be paid to usher. When I took over as usher board president, I had a full “staff” of children and teens ready, willing and able to volunteer whenever they could and a two adults in a medium sized congregation. I lovingly thanked all my volunteers and some of those teens are now in college and we still have great relationships.

    How wonderful it would be to never lose sight of being so thankful just to be able to walk into God’s house and worship Him and willing to help out wherever We can. I struggle with wondering why so many have become so individualistic and want to take more than they receive. I suppose the 80/20 rule is still in effect and possibly will be as long as the earth still stands.

  9. I believe we do forget to say thank you to those that volunteer. After working with a team leader recently they commented that people were leaving their team because they felt the 'up-line leaders' did think their job was important or that they were appreciated. You are right we need to remember to say thanks.

    Recruiting is a hard job but keeping volunteers is just as hard. This becomes easier when we remember to say thanks.

    Thanks for the post and the reminder.