How To Transition From Staff-Led To Volunteer-Led Culture

How To Transition From Staff-Led To Volunteer-Led Culture.jpg

If you are reading this, take heart, you are not alone. Many pastors have tried to make this seemingly impossible shift from staff-led ministry to volunteer-led ministry. Some have crashed and burned, others have gracefully succeeded. How did they do it?           

1. Pray that this is the right move for your church

Before making any shift in your church’s culture or vision, you need to pray that you’re doing the right thing for your congregation or ministry. Seek the Lord’s wisdom for what you should do. Also, seek peers who can speak to your specific situation. Not all churches need to operate in a volunteer-led ministry model. If it’s clear that this is right for you, keep moving forward.

2. Make sure the leadership is on board with the change

Any change is going to be hard. Whatever your leadership structure, all of your stakeholders should be on the same page. Cast a vision of what this can look like, and why the change needs to happen.

3. Preach the gospel

When I asked Jeff Bigelow, Senior Pastor of Rolling Hills Community Church and former Search Consultant, how he made big changes to his church he told me that he never told people what to do. He pointed them to what Jesus did and then watched as the change happened. If you want to see real change, bring people to the feet of Jesus. Remind them that he empowered fishermen to go become fishers of men. These people weren’t pastors; they were people who simply said, “Yes, I’ll follow.”

4. Empower those who step forward

Volunteers need guidance.Tweet: Volunteers need guidance. via @VanderbloemenSG

Have a plan in place for training and a time of community for these new volunteer ministry leaders. These people are your dream team. Let them know that you are thankful for them, and provide them the tools and freedom they need to make it happen.

5. Recruit the connectors

There are people in your church that seem to know everyone. And not only do they know everyone, they know about everyone too – what they are up to and what their family members are doing. This is helpful to cultivating your volunteer team because if gives you a resourceful edge in finding the right people for the job.

These are the people Malcolm Gladwell calls ‘Connectors.’  This type of person can help you as a volunteer coordinator, and you might even consider this being a paid position.

6. Provide a transition period

Just as some will be early adopters to the change, there will be late adopters who will not be ready for it yet. Have an intentional transition period set for the handoff of leadership. Don’t fully remove the overseeing pastors from the equation until it has been delicately clearly communicated that you are entrusting these trained volunteers with leadership.

7. Allow it to look different

If you really want a ministry led by volunteers, you should know that it will look different than if it is run by staff (and that is not a bad thing). Surely there might need to be some course correction and continual coaching, but micromanaging volunteers will not work well. Embrace the change as it happens, because this is what you were hoping for.

8. Encourage, encourage, encourage

As you likely already know, doing ministry is hard. For many of your volunteers & volunteer leaders, this might be their first time to serve in ministry in a church. It is a tremendous privilege to get to serve as a part of a church. They are going to need lots of encouragement. This should come from your senior leaders and pastors especially.

9. Build a community of volunteer leaders

Not only should you recognize your volunteers for their efforts, but you should create a regular space for them to gather and sharpen each other. This may be monthly training dinners, or quarterly events. Recognize these people as the special & select group that they are. They are the ones who’ve heard the voice of Jesus and simply said, “Yes, I’ll follow.”

What are some ways that your church has embraced this transition?