A couple of decades ago, right around Thanksgiving, I joined my church on its annual trip to Mexico to help build houses for under-resourced in the Tijuana area. The organization we partnered with had a ton of experience, and they were known and respected within the community. When we arrived, they had a place for us to gather, eat, sleep, and all the materials we needed to build several houses that weekend. They split us into teams the following day and drove us to several locations to construct single-room homes. To provide a little context, the homes we built did not have insulation, running water, electricity, glass windows, or even a floor. It was quite different than the suburban two-story home I left when I began this journey.
I volunteered to go because I wanted to be a part of God’s work, express his love tangibly, and change a family’s life by building a home. When we finished the house, we met the family that would soon occupy their new – all 8 of them. They were so grateful for our efforts that they cooked the only food they had to make us a meal. I’ve never been so humbled in my life. In my arrogance, I came to serve them – out of my abundance. They, in turn, served me with everything they had. I left Mexico a changed person because of their outrageous generosity.
Post-Pandemic Decline in Volunteers
As our church emerged from the restrictions of the pandemic, it was clear that we needed to rebuild our volunteer base. The truth is that it’s been much harder to fill the same volunteer positions than it was before COVID. Why? There may be some clues in a recent Bara Group study that shows church attendance dropped dramatically from 2020 to 2021. But in 2022, as the pandemic ended, attendance increased markedly except for one key demographic – Baby Boomers. While the report shows encouraging news of a significant rise in millennial attendance in 2021, they are not attending consistently, making it less likely they will commit to volunteering regularly. Healthy, growing churches need volunteers to accomplish their mission effectively.
Flip the Volunteer Script
This post started with a story about volunteering to build houses in Mexico. I signed up when I heard our church needed people to go; they described when we were leaving, the work involved, the paperwork required, and the cost. The recruiting efforts focused on what the church needed because it worked back then. And many churches continue to use that same strategy to recruit volunteers today. They share the need, responsibilities, commitment, and sometimes even a role description. While that may have worked for Boomers, Millennials and Gen-Z think, feel, and understand things differently. Instead of sharing what the church needs, maybe it’s time the church flips the script and shares how volunteering changes lives – especially the volunteer’s life. Using the Mexico trip example, it’s much more inspiring and fulfilling to say, “Are you ready for a life-transforming experience where you can let God work through you to change the lives of under-resourced families by using your skills and talents to build a house?” That sounds so much better than, “We need six more people who can give up their Thanksgiving weekend to build houses.”
Churchs are seeing the impact of the Boomer generation’s decline in church attendance. It’s more than just empty seats and a decrease in giving, it’s impacting the church’s ability to recruit and utilize volunteers to accomplish its mission. If your church struggles to “fill volunteer spots,” perhaps it’s time to change the method. Instead of listing the voids in the church and describing the needs, cast the vision to show the impact serving has on their lives as well as those they helpshort url: