One of the assumptions in my book Untapped Church is that almost every church has high-capacity leaders who are willing to volunteer their time to help lead the church, but they are untapped (available but not used).

One of the common questions that I get from pastors is “how do you find those people?” So let me talk about how to spot one of these creatures in the wild! Most important are the spiritual indicators that you’d expect. In Acts 6 the apostles replaced themselves and staffed the food pantry ministry with “seven men of good repute, full of the spirit and of wisdom.” (Acts 6:3) That’s a pretty good starting place! Reputable, godly, and wise.

There also needs to be a sense of God’s call on the life of the volunteer. When I met with a dozen or so of our long-time high-capacity volunteer leaders and asked them what has kept them in the game without pay over the long haul, the main response came down to calling. They had a sense that they were doing this for God and not for me. For God and not for the church or for anyone else. Someone from your congregation isn’t just going to step into a demanding role without pay if the Spirit of God isn’t at their back. In addition to spiritual qualifications, there are some practical things that we have found our best volunteer leaders have in common. Here are a few of them:

  1. Available Time. This is not rocket science. Someone is not going to invest substantial time in ministry if they don’t have time to give. Certain people tend to have available time or at least more control of their time than others. Business owners, retired people, teachers and coaches (who tend to have an ‘off-season’), stay-at-home parents, people who work remotely, and others who have jobs where they control their own schedule.
  2. Already Busy. I promise I’m not contradicting myself. Yes, they need available time, but you’re also not looking for someone who has TONS of free time. High-capacity volunteers are high-capacity for a reason. They get stuff done! Your invitation to a challenging assignment is not an attempt to run them ragged or to take away from their family time. Your offer will hopefully cause them to re-consider their current obligations, reprioritize, and drop some things so that they can serve in your volunteer role. But your best volunteer leaders are probably already busy with projects personally and professionally.
  3. All about the Mission. Your best potential leaders should really resonate with where your church is headed. There should be something about the initiatives that your church is pursuing that ignite their imagination. If this sounds foreign to you, the first step may be to spend some time clarifying the vision and direction of your church. But if they are the right volunteer leader when you start talking about who you are reaching, where you are going and what you are planning for the future, you should sense that something has clicked with them.

What to Look OUT for in a High-Capacity Volunteer

Just like there are things to look for, there are also things to look OUT for when you are bringing leaders onto your team.

  1. Endless Free Time. If the person is known for being really laid back, feet kicked up, and binge-watching Netflix series endlessly, they are probably not the person you are looking for. Available time doesn’t mean endless free time.
  2. If the person says yes to everything. If they always have their fingers in 20 things but never do any of them well. If they start a bunch of projects and don’t finish them, they are not the right person for you. Already busy doesn’t mean overcommitted.
  3. Personal Agendas. You want new ideas and even strong opinions, but beware of personal agendas. If the person is too eager that you “finally asked” because they’ve been wanting to “make some changes around here,” and “this is how my last church used to do it,” you will both end up frustrated by giving them too much authority. All about the mission is different than all about MY mission.