Whether they’re handing out bulletins, teaching kids’ Sunday school, or running the audio/visual system during services, volunteers are the backbone of your church. They give their time and talents to perform essential tasks year-round, expanding your church’s capacity to serve the congregation and fulfill its mission.

The key to a strong church volunteer team is not only recruiting enough volunteers to fill all of your open roles, but also keeping them engaged once they’ve started volunteering. The deeper your volunteers’ engagement with your church is, the more likely they will stay involved long-term.

In this guide, we’ll walk through five strategies your church can use to boost volunteer engagement, including how to:

  1. Clearly define volunteer roles.
  2. Develop a thorough onboarding process.
  3. Allow for flexibility in volunteer commitments.
  4. Provide opportunities for growth.
  5. Regularly gather volunteer feedback.

While recruiting new volunteers is important, engaging and retaining current volunteers generally requires less time and resources from your church staff. Let’s get started by discussing a point of overlap between your recruitment and retention efforts: writing high-quality volunteer role descriptions.

1. Clearly define volunteer roles.

When volunteers know what is expected of them going into an opportunity at your church, they’re more likely to continue in their role after they’ve started. Writing clear role descriptions can encourage volunteers to get involved and stay involved.

Include all information volunteers need to know about each role in the description, such as:

  • The role’s title and key responsibilities
  • The expected date and time commitment
  • Who in your congregation can volunteer in this way (for example, is the position reserved for those age 18 and older, or can youth also participate?)
  • A link to your online signup form

To reach as many members of your congregation as possible, share your volunteer role descriptions using multiple communication channels. Post them on your church’s website, send out emails, and design a flyer or bulletin insert to ensure attendees see your descriptions when they come to church.

2. Develop a thorough onboarding process.

Once volunteers sign up for various positions, your onboarding process will set the tone for your church’s volunteer culture. Your orientation sessions should include demonstrations of how to do all of the major tasks volunteers will need to complete in their roles. Make sure to also emphasize the why behind the how—your church’s mission and core values—so volunteers can keep them in mind as they give their time.

Additionally, consider pairing new volunteers with more experienced ones who they can shadow for their first few sessions. This not only helps new volunteers get more comfortable with their tasks before performing them on their own but also encourages mentoring relationships to form, building community among your volunteers.

3. Allow for flexibility in volunteer commitments.

Each volunteer will be able to give different amounts of time and talent to your church. To make it easier for volunteers to stay involved no matter their needs or preferences, provide them with some flexibility in their volunteer commitments by:

  • Offering opportunities with a broad range of time expectations. For example, some of your youth ministry volunteers may only be able to chaperone a one-off weekend retreat, while others are willing to lead weekly student Bible studies.
  • Leveraging user-friendly scheduling tools. Use your church’s volunteer management software to create a detailed volunteer schedule where you can send automated shift reminders and quickly move volunteers around if they aren’t available at their scheduled time for any reason.
  • Allowing for movement between volunteer teams. Designate a few times during the year when volunteers can switch roles if they can’t fulfill their commitment to a particular position or want to try volunteering in a different area of your church.

Accommodating individual needs and preferences in these ways shows your volunteers that you value them as people, making them feel appreciated and deepening their relationship with your church.

4. Provide opportunities for growth.

There are a variety of reasons that church members choose to volunteer. Some see volunteering as a way to put their faith into action, others hope to deepen the sense of community they feel at church, and still others hope to learn new skills through their volunteer positions.

Here are some ways to provide opportunities for volunteers to grow in all of these areas:

  • Spiritual: Develop volunteer-oriented Bible study groups and build in time for volunteers to pray together at the beginning or end of each opportunity.
  • Community: Encourage continued mentoring between volunteers past the initial shadowing period, and organize social gatherings where all of your volunteers can interact outside of their roles.
  • Skills-based: Move your most experienced volunteers into leadership roles, and share a variety of skill development resources tailored to each volunteer team. For example, you could encourage your worship leaders to attend a webinar on the importance of music in contemporary church services or point your audio/visual team toward certification courses for the various production technologies they use.

Providing these growth opportunities makes volunteers’ experiences more meaningful, encouraging them to stay involved in their roles.

5. Regularly gather volunteer feedback.

Asking volunteers for feedback should be a key part of your stewardship strategy. According to Bloomerang, showing participants in your church’s activities that you appreciate their input increases their loyalty and deepens your relationship with them. 

In your volunteer management system, create feedback surveys and send them out to your volunteers on an annual, biannual, or quarterly basis. Ask questions such as:

  • On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your overall church volunteering experience?
  • What is your favorite thing about your volunteer position?
  • What is one thing you’d like to change about our volunteer opportunities?
  • Do you feel like your volunteer role’s commitment works well with your schedule?
  • What is your preferred communication method for volunteering updates?

Store the responses to these surveys in your church’s database so you can see how volunteers’ feedback changes year over year. Additionally, compile the best recommendations from each batch of surveys into an improvement plan, then communicate that plan to your volunteers to let them know that their voices are being heard.

Volunteer engagement should be an ongoing process for your church. Once you’ve implemented the above strategies, check in with your volunteer teams and leaders regularly to see how things are going and adjust your plans accordingly. Make sure to also track volunteer participation data over time so you have concrete metrics to refer to as you hone your engagement efforts.