Build a Volunteer Team to Climb Mountains

Would you rather discover a cure for cancer or sweep floors at a pharmacy? Would you rather find hidden treasure in the deserts of Egypt or discover hidden trash in your backyard? Would you rather climb a mountain that's never been climbed or mow the same lawn for the ten thousandth time?

There is something in all of us that wants to do something new and exciting. We want to make a difference. We want to climb mountains or be the home run king. We want to get the gold at the Olympics or write the book that influences people's thinking for decades. It's in all of us. We want to make a difference.

That's why we should always be thinking of new ways to capture the visions and dreams of our people. How can we accomplish our mission in a way that excites people, gives them a sense that they are truly making a difference, and allows them to pioneer a meaningful cause?

To illustrate, let me ask you to consider which of the following "sales pitches" you would respond to from your church.

Option A (spoken in an intense, bounce-off-the-wall, contagious tone): "This is a new day! We can't do things the way we've always done them. In order to reach more people, we're launching a new [fill in the blank]. We've never tried this before, but we think it will be successful if we get the right people involved. You may be someone who wants to get in on the ground floor, to help us build this brand-new ministry!"

Option B (said slowly and softly in a low, monotonous voice): "We'll be doing the same thing this year that we did last year and the year before. In fact, it's the same thing we've been doing for more than two decades. Do you remember..." Speaker drifts off to a seven-minute reflection of life back in the '70s...until he suddenly notices his notes. "So we need some faithful, stable, consistent people to fill the same ol' positions. Sign up in the lobby at the same table under the same sign that we've used for years."

This illustration is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but we've all heard pitches for volunteers that sound nearly as boring as Option B. Here is some advice for building teams to climb mountains:

Let the old die. No, this isn't a plug for euthanasia. I'm talking about letting dying services or programs die. I've heard John Maxwell say about dead church programs: "If the horse is dead, for goodness' sake, dismount!" It's not the method that's sacred; it's the purpose. If the purpose for that service is still critical, then figure out a different way to accomplish it. To get new people involved, you need to repackage it and launch it anew!

Use capital campaigns to raise leaders. If you run a capital campaign in the right way, you will gain lots of new volunteers. Why? Because new people (as a whole) don't want to jump into existing programs. Those programs have been happening without them for years. They'd rather jump into something new and exciting. When you run a good stewardship campaign, you're casting a vision for how the church will be even more effective in the coming years, and you're asking for a huge portion of the church to volunteer in a number of short-term roles. This is a new and exciting prospect. 

Plan big events. Strategically plan momentum-building events into your churchwide calendar every six months or so. These might include the opening of a new facility, an all-church baptism celebration, groundbreaking events, anniversary parties, or spiritual step campaigns (such as 40 Days of Purpose from You can use these events to generate momentum and get new people excited about volunteering. 

People want to make a difference. They want their lives to matter. Don't condemn your volunteers to lives engaged in sameness. Call the best out of them. Ask them to step up and invest their lives in a cause that will outlive them. Invite them to the adventure of a lifetime! And say it as if you mean it!

This post is an excerpt from Chapter 84 of my book "Simply Strategic Volunteers."

Tim Stevens1 Comment