Volunteers: The Secret Sauce of a Thriving Ministry

Any French chef will tell you that turning ordinary food into an epicurean experience is often about the sauce.

My favorite lunch spot in my hometown of San Clemente, CA, is called The Bread Gallery. They serve a turkey sandwich that is sure to rock “the buds” without fail. Freshly baked SPELT bread (a grain imported from Europe), thinly carved turkey, California avocado, finely sliced organic veggies of every variety—along with shredded apple—make for a culinary masterpiece.

But when I probed deeper with the “sandwich artist” about what makes this sandwich the best on the planet (beyond the obvious), she told me, “ it’s all about the secret sauce.” And secret it is! Only the owner actually knows this intergenerational family recipe.

When it comes to extraordinary ministries, the same is true. What’s the “secret sauce” for a great church? Volunteers. Without volunteers, we’re left to our own limitations and predictable defaults. Ho hum!

So as a leader, how are you doing when it comes to cultivating a zesty tribe of ministry volunteers? Let’s take inventory! Yes really. Rate yourself (or better yet, ask your volunteers to rate you) from 1 to 10 regarding how you’re doing as a leader with the following 10 ingredients needed for leading volunteers well:

  1. Keep the vision clear. Once you have communicated the big idea… don’t stop! Tell it…live it…protect it…again and again until they (the volunteers) have digested the vision internally and naturally embody it!
  2. Define expectations. Once you have recruited a person to play a specific role on the team, define how you see them best making a contribution and provide a clear path to success. Most people lose interest in something because they feel like they are missing the mark. No one is going to sign up for failure. Make sure people know what they are aiming for and how to best hit the target every time.
  3. Plan ahead. Anticipate what is NEXT! This is one of the best ways to appreciate volunteers. Allow them the margin to be prepared. Provide a culture where process serves people, resulting in a rock solid product.
  4. Affirm regularly. No one is exempt from the need to feel validated. When you compliment a volunteer, be specific. The generic “great job” compliment loses its punch in no time.
  5. Challenge often. Encourage people with a “yes you can” attitude. Take risks now and then by giving people opportunity to grow, or they’ll become trapped in complacency. Volunteers will aspire to greatness if you challenge them.
  6. Communicate precisely. Planning Center is great but can become a subversive “out” to a busy leader’s personal touch. A volunteer’s commitment level erodes in the wake of depersonalized mass communication.
  7. Cultivate community. Chase after “one-on-one” times with your key volunteers aside from “task mode” now and then. When you do, make it count! Your transparency is the gateway to everyone else’s vulnerability. Instigate conversation that has a lasting impression on them. The right question will set the course for greater understanding and intimacy.
  8. Celebrate success. Throw parties, write notes, and post on social media to give high praise to God and one another for the successes shared along the way. Shower your team with praise individually and collectively.
  9. Learn from failure. When ideas fail, take time to unpack the reasons behind the failure with your volunteers. These are the most teachable moments in ministry.
  10. Recalibrate as needed. Be the first to recognize when it’s time to pull back, re-evaluate, rest and redefine. Abiding “in Christ” and listening to the Holy Spirit’s promptings will provide a clear pathway to wise (and fearless) decisions as a leader. Your volunteers will respect you for charting a courageous course that is as much about the journey as it is about the destination.

Now that you’re in the right mindset…Stop. Pray. Discern. And then take action! Do it! Allow ample margin in your time to lead those volunteers that are the secret sauce of your ministry with greater intention. By blending these 10 ingredients in your own way, you and your volunteers will realize the remarkable.

Which ingredient do you most need to implement in your ministry?

By: Monty Kelso

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