Deathblow #1: Transactional volunteer programming replaces transformational ministry. Transformational volunteer ministries bleed the cause of the ministry, emphasize the connection to the gospel and experience changed lives. They are more concerned with the calling and heart of a volunteer than their appearance. When automation replaces relationship, when efficiency replaces effectiveness, or when reporting takes the place of real ministry results, look out. Transactional ministries rely more on technique and intuition than on the power of God, the latest management book than the simpler principles in the word of God and visible finances than a God-driven vision. Like death from many diseases, volunteer ministries die from within. The outward indicators don’t appear until much later, when the organization is still “feeling fine”.

Deathblow #2: Failure to connect volunteer outcomes to the bottom line of the ministry. Back in the day, when beginning a national advocate network at Compassion, a co-worker tried to persuade me that developing volunteers to support all of the events put on by his department was a worthy endeavor. “But,” I objected, “How will we demonstrate the tangible results that volunteers bring to the organization?” He didn’t have a good answer. No executive will continue to champion a volunteer ministry in which outcomes are soft. Effective volunteer ministry must be directly tied to the bottom line. Thriving volunteer ministries demonstrate a direct connection between volunteers and changed lives, and/or an indirect, nonetheless verifiable connection through increased income or services. It is a common mistake for leaders to not want to put that kind of “pressure” on volunteers. Be assured that effective volunteers also thrive on producing real results.

Deathblow #3: Failure to transfer the value of a volunteer ministry to new executive leadership. Behind every thriving volunteer ministry is executive leadership that understands the incomparable leverage of a volunteer force. Many key executives would not think of being more than a few feet away from a large capital campaign, but the same execs would distance themselves from crucial ongoing volunteer initiatives. Volunteers not only create enormous organizational leverage but also they are our best donors. Organically volunteers bring countless resources with them along with infectious vitality. If executives hope to keep their thriving volunteer ministry healthy, they will keep it close to their office. If the exec that was the main force behind the volunteer ministry development leaves, look out. Make sure a new executive either understands the complete value of a volunteer army or is desperate to learn.

Deathblow #4: Failure to transfer the value of volunteers to each new staff person. Thriving volunteer ministries embrace a culture of strong volunteer ministry. Executives realize that every regional manager, small groups’ leader, worship pastor, administrative assistant and leader volunteer must also embrace the same vision for volunteers. Each new hire represents a risk in losing quality control. Make sure to continue to reinforce strong volunteer ministry principles with every new staff and volunteer by taking the time to coach them and invest in their training.

The word of God from Haggai 2:11-14, instructs us, “Ask now the priests for a ruling if a man carries holy meat,…and touches bread or stew or wine or oil…will it become holy? “No”. If someone who is unclean touches any of these will it become unclean?” (ESV) The priests responded yes, unclean.

The point: Uncleanness is much more easily transmitted than holiness. In the same way, it is much easier to kill a thriving volunteer ministry than to keep the momentum going!

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