I am graduating from college next week and will be going to work for a church in Central California. What are some ways I can get the people of the church motivated to get involved in the church work?

My work for the church will consist mainly of outreach and working to get first time visitors to the church, and trying to get those visitors to come back for multiple visits. Research has shown that the best way to accomplish this is through the regular, non-staff, members of the church making connections with the visitors on their first visit. I need to motivate these "regular church members" to make the connections with the visitors. As a High D, people skills are not my strong suit, however I look forward to growing my abilities in this area. 

Thanks also to Mark and Mike for the great podcasts. I work at a warehouse putting myself through Bible college and have listened to hundreds of hours of Manager and Career Tools as I work. Each podcast is a help and the lessons, once applied have given me a tremendous head start in my field.


Taylor Hershberger

afmoffa's picture

The great advantage of non-profits is that you can avail yourself of dedicated volunteers and grow your manpower far beyond what would be possible in a paid, for-profit organization. The great disadvantages are that many casual volunteers lose interest and flake out, while some of the dedicated volunteers advance more quickly through the (unpaid) ranks than they would in a business setting, and they can start to think of themselves as real leaders of the organization they putatively serve.

I've seen enthusiastic PTA boosters who start to think they outrank the school principal, for example.

The first think I suggest you do is fit in as closely as your personality will allow with the established culture of the church volunteers. More so than most for-profit managers, who can rely somewhat on paychecks to keep people loyal, you'll have to rely on relationships. Meet with your volunteers. Learn their names. Learn their kids' names. Assess what you can of their DISC profile. And learn why they volunteer. I suspect some volunteer to serve God, some to serve the church community, some enjoy the goodwill and the ego boost that comes with being an insider. Some might be atoning, and heck, some might be in it for good parking spaces and free doughnuts after the services. You need to know what motivates your volunteers, because it sure isn't a paycheck and paid time off. When you assign roles to your greeters/ outreach coordinators, you should try to shape those roles to conform to the motives of your volunteers. Someone who wants to be seen as "a pillar of the community" isn't going to be wild about stacking chairs and setting up coffee in the church basement. But someone who is mostly in it for the doughnuts might feel uncomfortable shaking hands with every newcomer and leading the welcome wagon.


vbhill's picture

AFMOFFA is right on target to point out the importance of relationships.  Take the time to get to know people.  review the delgation podcast.  I'm a pastor of a new church and have been amazed at the power of this formula: "Would you do ____________?  I am asking you because __________________. It is literally impossible to overstate the importance of relationships.  Part of your work as a pastor will naturally cultivate those relationships at a depth a boss in a paying job cannot not approach.  You will help people through very hard times, so if you go to them, they will hear you out.

Also, key into the vision of the church or the component of the vision that is important to a particular person.  If someone has a passion for hospitality, they may be best suited to organize the coffee bar.  If you find someone excels at cold call sales, they will likely be a great greeter.  [On a side note, in our membership class, we teach everyone how to great.  "Hello, my name is ___________________.  I don't think we have met."  Smile and stick out your hand to shake theirs.]  Theologically, you can think about this in terms of a variety of gifts.  Or think of Jim Collin's 'Getting people into the correct seat on the bus.'

You have a unique window upon arrival.  It sounds like you are part of a pastoral staff, so you want to make sure your ideas are congruent with your pastor or supervisor.  If this is a new position for the church, I can imagine that some folks will want you to roll out something new.  I am trying to say that you will arrive with a particular amount of leadership and position capital to spend.  You should be sure to spend it, and do so wisely. 

afmoffa's picture

It drives me crazy when people conflate the terms "non-profit organization" and "volunteer organization," and yet I went and did exactly that. Oops.

I should have specified that all of my advice was for non-profits that use volunteers for all (or most) of their labor. Obviously, there are plenty of non-profits that have professional staff (not just a professional manager) and my advice would be less applicable there.

fr_jim's picture

Finishing my Ph.D in non-profit leadership.  Been clergy for over 25 years.

Remember: motivation always comes from within the person, not from outside.

Avoid the induced-guilt trap churches often set for people.

Lead by example.

Have a compelling vision.

Be prepared to be disappointed.  People are people.


vbhill's picture

FR_Jim raises a hugely important point.  If we are truly asking people to consider a role, task or job--they get to say "No."  In fact, without that freedom, any yes answer is not likely to have much meaning.  That is the challenge of leading in a volunteer organization.  OK, sometimes we need people to fill a spot or complete a task.  But our goal is to have people serving and volunteering in an area or job where they are passionate about serving. 

The other side of that same coin is the incredible experience and skill that volunteers eagerly give.  For instance, my treasurer once served as as the regional finance guy for a fortune 500 company in the manufacturing field.  When we got into a jam with a furniture vendor, he brought all his experience to the issue.  The problem was solved, and I was free to pursue other issues.  Or often when I ask him a question, he answers my question, anticipates the next question and gives me that answer, too.  He is internally motivated to offer his skill.


GlennR's picture

All good advice above. After 25 plus years in the voluntarism end of the non-profit sector, I believe you should answer two questions, one of which VBHill mentions above. The first question is, "How will the help the church accomplish its mission?" (He referred to it as "because________.") The second is, "What's in it for the volunteer you're recruiting.  When they volunteer how will that benefit them individually?

Years ago, I joined the Jaycees to meet women. It worked, I've been happily married to her for 20 years. Networking, both personally or professionally is one way it can benefit volunteers-the chance to meet new people.

Perhaps the volunteer opportunities offer an opportunity to build leadership skills, improve team-building, or communication skills. Building a play ground or refurbishing a home or building offers a chance to improve carpentry or painting skills.

Also, be aware of generational differences. I cannot speak for churches since I don't volunteer there, but in many volunteer organizations, Gen-Y needs are different than Boomers.

We also see a lot of episodic volunteers. They'll volunteer for three months on a project or event, but are less interested in service for years on a board. If this is relevant in your arena, expect it and don't be disappointed if you don't wind up with long-term volunteers.

Best of luck to you.




taylorhershberger's picture

I appreciate all of the help and the great ideas and advice!

Because I am working at a church, there is a tremendous age and cultural diversity. Are there any ideas on building bridges to cross these difference gaps? For example, I remember as a teenager not being especially excited to work on projects with elderly men. Once I got to know them however, these men had a tremendous positive impact on my life through their wisdom and experience.

I am also expecting to run into communication difficulties whether cultural or otherwise. Many of the programs I am responsible for require me to do public speaking to a wide range of people. It is difficult to tailor my speaking/message to such a wide range of ages and cultures. How do I communicate from the platform of public speaking to so many different types of people at the same time?


Thanks for your help


GlennR's picture

Whether you're speaking in public or planning an email campaign, you must demonstrate to your audience that what you have to communicate is relevant and provides them with value. That means you must make the effort to "know" your audience and to know what message resonates with each segment. The best way to do this is to get out and talk one on one with individual members. If you interview a number of Gen Y-ers, in different ethnic groups you can ask them and their combined responses should point you in the right direction. Therefore, I recommend getting out and building relationships with people from all segments of your membership.

Second, try to identify the influencers. Those people who command the respect of others. When you win an influencer over to your side, it's a "force-multiplier."

Good luck.



taylorhershberger's picture

Great advice. Thanks for the help!


Taylor Hershberger 

mfculbert's picture


Welcome to the rewarding/challenging world of ministry. I have been a music minister for nearly three decades. Sometimes full time. Currently in a very part time role to fill out my life. With my choirs and bell groups there are a few things to remember. Younger generations tend to avoid regular committee meetings and lengthy commitments. Older generations tend to have a great desire to meet. Limited obligation committees that meet for a specific, well advertised, short term goal will help.

Next, every meeting with the groups needs to meet many needs. You need to be effective and efficient. There are podcasts for that. You need to meet social needs to at least some extent. You need to help them grow in knowledge. You need to help them grow in faith.  All this needs to be done with what I know as a "flow" experience. Wikipedia has a decent introduction to the concept. Look for flow (psychology.) 

Good luck.