Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Larry Fowler's recent book, Rock Solid Volunteers: Keep Your Ministry Team Engaged, (Regal Books, 2011).

Does it seem like there’s more ministry work to do than people do it? Do you have trouble recruiting good volunteers to contribute to your ministry’s work, or sadly watch good volunteers quit when you still need their help?

It’s possible to get good volunteers to serve faithfully in your ministry if you engage them in ways that will motivate them to give their best effort. Here’s how you can engage your ministry’s volunteers:

Start with prayer. Make prayer your first response whenever you encounter any kind of crisis or special need for God’s guidance, such as opposition or open doors. Ask God to give you and your ministry’s volunteers the strength, comfort, and wisdom to deal with whatever happens with the ministry. Let your volunteers know that you’re praying for them regularly.

Give families opportunities to serve together. When volunteers serve alongside their spouses, children, siblings, or other family members, they may enjoy serving more and be more likely to stick with regular service. Create opportunities for families to serve together at events such as evening vacation Bible school, on local community service projects, or on family mission trips. Recruit family members of existing workers to contribute to the ministry’s work.

Keep your volunteers focused on the right issues. Counteract distractions that can weaken the quality of your volunteers’ work by helping them focus on what kindles their passion and motivates them to give their best effort to their work. Also, whenever you want to lead them in a certain direction on a particular issue, focus on one issue at a time, such as the importance of being on time or the need to see the big picture of how their volunteer work impacts others. Shepherd them through the changes you’d like to see them make by heading in that same direction yourself and lovingly calling them to follow you rather than trying to drive them harshly. Help your volunteers remember key concepts you’re trying to communicate to them by reviewing, reminding, and repeating.

Help your volunteers find personal meaning in their work. If your volunteers find personal meaning in their ministry work, they’ll be less likely to quit than if they didn’t find their work personally meaningful. Get to know your volunteers’ personalities and passions, and try to place them in ministry positions where they’re best able to connect with people to make a positive impact and feel fulfilled. As often as possible, include your volunteers in the thrill of leading people to relationships with Christ. Talk with your volunteers about how they can grow spiritually from their service experiences, and give them opportunities to do so. Express your heartfelt appreciation to your volunteers often, through whatever ways would be most meaningful to them, from giving them gifts and to writing them thank you notes.

Equip your volunteers for their work. Give your volunteers the support they need to do an excellent job. Establish a clear chain of command and follow-up policy, unified strategies for all ministry workers, clear rules for volunteers and all the people they serve, and an organized structure that helps volunteers understand what to do and when to do it. Train your volunteers to develop all the different types of skills they need to work effectively in your ministry, such as teaching skills and technical skills. Come up with incentives to motivate your volunteers to work hard, such as encouraging words, gifts, or awards.

Equip your volunteers for spiritual warfare. Ask God to deliver your volunteers from evil forces that may be trying to undermine their ministry work. Encourage your volunteers to read the Bible often and absorb its truths into their souls. Set a good example of holy living for them by making daily decisions that reflect the love and integrity that God wants you to have. Help volunteers resolve conflicts and develop peaceful relationships with each other. Urge your volunteers to have faith in God to empower them to minister to people successfully, rather than relying on their own efforts apart from Him. Help volunteers deal with the frustrations of their ministry work by looking at challenges from an eternal perspective.

Connect your volunteers to God’s vision and other people. Your volunteers are likely to remain faithful to their ministry work if they feel closely connected to God’s vision for the ministry, to the people they serve, and to their fellow volunteers. So give your volunteers plenty of opportunities to interact with each other so they can develop camaraderie that will help them work well as a team toward the common goal of fulfilling God’s purposes for the ministry. Encourage volunteers to pray for each other and help each other succeed at their tasks. Schedule some joint outings and regular training and prayer sessions for your volunteers.

Practice what you preach. Ask God to help you successfully serve as a good role model for your volunteers of personal holiness and devoted service. Do your best to obey God in all areas of your life. When you fail, be open and honest about your failures. Let your volunteers see that you’re a real person, just like them, struggling with vulnerabilities, grief, and uncertainties. Be most concerned not about what your volunteers think of you, but about what they think about Christ as they watch how well you represent Him. Be humble, reminding yourself daily that you’re one of Christ’s ambassadors who should serve Him as well as you can. Make a habit of confessing and repenting of your sins so you can keep growing closer to Christ.

Adapted from Rock Solid Volunteers: Keep Your Ministry Team Engaged, copyright 2011 by Larry Fowler. Published by Regal Books, a division of Gospel Light, Ventura, Ca., www.regalbooks.com
Larry Fowler is the Executive Director of Global Training for Awana, an international organization committed to helping churches and parents raise children and youth to know, love and serve Jesus Christ. For more than 30 years, Larry has pursued this mission in a range of capacities, including local-church Awana volunteer, missionary, speaker, author, teacher and executive director of international ministries, program development and training.

Whitney Hopler is a full-time freelance writer and editor.  You can visit her website at: http://whitneyhopler.naiwe.com/.

Publication date: April 7, 2011