Christmastime is one of the best times of the year. For churches, it’s one of the two largest celebrations, and it’s also one of the busiest times of the year. As such, it’s also a time we lean on volunteers the most.

As we reflect on leading our volunteer teams, I put together this list of 12 thoughts (plus two bonuses) that will hopefully help you as you lead volunteers this season.

  1. Doing ministry alone causes burnout.
    In Exodus 18:17-18 Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, said to him, “What you are doing is not good… you will certainly wear yourselves out… the thing is too heavy for you.You are not able to do it alone.  Moses was trying to do the work of 100 people instead of finding 100 people to do the work. Volunteers help to share the workload.
  2. Think volunteers before staff.
    It always feels like you need more staff, but initiatives get delayed by waiting for budgets and funding to hire them. Make your first go-to idea, “is there a high-capacity volunteer who would do this job without pay?”
  3. Recruit volunteer leaders not just volunteer doers.
    Go after volunteers who have the capacity to lead other volunteers. This multiplies your effectiveness – you can invest in one person who will invest in others. Don’t be afraid to ask people who are already busy – they’re the ones you want!
  4. Provide clear expectations up front to your volunteers.
    Don’t downplay or soft-sell the role you want someone to play. Leaders want big and challenging assignments, but they also want a clear picture of what it will entail before they can say yes or no.
  5. Expect a lot from your volunteers.
    You’ll be tempted to protect their time by having paid staff do the “important stuff” while the volunteers get the leftovers. Give them important assignments and hold them to it – just like you would with paid staff members.
  6. Give volunteers authority to lead, not errands to run.
    Let them solve real problems. Give them access to resources and decision makers. Provide them with work stations, business cards, and teams to lead. You’ll be surprised what an impact these little demonstrations of authority have.
  7. Ministry complexity dilutes your volunteer pool.
    The larger the menu of ministries in your church, the more distracted and diluted your volunteers become. Someone who could be leading your entire small group ministry might be maxed out in volunteer hours serving as the 3rd base coach for the church softball team.
  8. Provide regular opportunities for volunteers to discover and develop their spiritual gifts.
    Provide space to discuss their strengths. Provide assessments (like SHAPE) to reaffirm their call. Provide training to nurture what they do well. Provide off-ramps if their current assignment is not a good fit.
  9. Don’t guilt trip volunteers into serving.
    Christians have mastered the guilt trip. Usually when volunteers are motivated by guilt, you will end up with the wrong people in the wrong role. It’s far better when volunteers serve in the area of their gifting and passion. Be patient and take the longer road of development.
  10. Make the volunteer “ask” personal.
    Don’t recruit volunteer leaders from the stage on Sunday morning. Leaders respond to a personal invitation. Nothing beats sitting across the table from someone and saying – ‘you’d be perfect for this role.’
  11. Encourage volunteers by being the chief storyteller.
    Remind your team often how they’re changing the world. Some leaders have a tendency to focus on the tasks without celebrating the successes. Tell life-change stories often!
  12. Teach your volunteers shoulder tapping.
    A huge percentage of people come to church because someone invited them – this same principle applies to volunteering. Establish an inviting process within the team so that existing volunteers can recruit their friends to serve with them.


  1. Guard the gate of your volunteer pool.
    It’s hard to have a winning team with losing players. When just one contentious or negative person joins your team it becomes poisonous. Establish an on-boarding process to eliminate problem players before they join the team.
  2. Dare to debrief with your volunteers.
    Evaluate everything. Everyone wins when you debrief ministries, initiatives, and performances. Use a simple evaluation method that asks four questions: 1) What went right 2) What went wrong 3) What was missing 4) What was confusing.