Published: 2 years ago

The Two Words That Will Kill Your Volunteer Ministry

Churches and non-profits are built on the backs of volunteers. When babies are rocked, small groups are led, or coffee is poured, those things are more often than not a result of a process that gets people off of the sidelines and into the game.

Getting volunteer buy-in can be challenging. There’s no argument there. But over the years, I’ve discovered that there are two words that will kill off a healthy volunteer culture before it has a chance to get off the ground:

We’re fine.

Those two words are rarely spoken by people who mean harm. Most of the time, those who speak them are volunteers themselves. And the words usually emerge after someone legitimately inquires about how they can help. This is what it usually looks like:

  • “Hey, I noticed you guys are short-handed this morning. Need me to jump in?” We’re fine.
  • “You look stressed. Can I help out?” No. It’s fine.
  • “Are you feeling good about your prep for the event?” Yep. I’m fine. 

I think there are at least five reasons we succumb to the “We’re fine” myth:

1. We don’t want to inconvenience anyone. This is where I live 99% of the time. I always assume you’re asking in order to be nice, rather than because you’re genuinely compelled to serve. What I have to realize is that I must take people’s inquiries at face value. If they say they want to help, I should find a place for them to do so.

2. We’re too proud. Call it being a control freak. Chalk it up to your micro-managing ways. Just go ahead and say that no one can do the job as good as you can. But when you tell someone “We’re fine” because you don’t trust their contribution, you’re resurrecting the oldest idol in the book.

3. We operate out of a “scorched earth” mentality. So many of us are so accustomed to running our teams on the bare minimum resources, we can’t imagine what it would look like to use more people. Here’s a tip: always keep 10-12 ideas for extra vols in your back pocket. It’s fascinating how often surplus catches up to strategy.

4. We don’t have a plan for right now. How many times have you shown up to your volunteer role not even sure what you’re supposed to be doing, much less how you’re supposed to lead others? Structure your schedule so that when volunteers (current or potential) show up, you’re able to be fully present with them.

5. We don’t have a compelling vision for what could be. See #3 again. So many of us fail to dream ahead and think big about where we want our teams to go. Acknowledge the context but apply the principle of Proverbs 29:18: if vision lags, stuff starts dying.


Where are you guilty of “fine”?


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