Laborers, Ladder-Climbers, and Lifers
For those of us who lead volunteer teams within the church, I think it’s important to get inside the head of our vols: what motivates them? What demotivates them? What makes them feel appreciated? What helps them to stick? What ensures that they’ll never be back?
Part of this headspace includes knowing how your volunteers view their role. Over the years, I’ve found that there are three basic categories most volunteers fall into.
Before we go there, I get it: putting people in neat categories is rarely neat. You might disagree with my categories. You might have more or fewer categories. You might choose to villainize one and canonize another. And to be sure, there are pros and cons to each. I’m not necessarily assigning a value to any of these, just calling it like I see it and encouraging you to see your vols for who and where they are.
Let’s look at ’em:
These tend to be the folks who show up to do the work. We can’t do ministry without them. They might be on the fringes or in the trenches. They might be faithful or flighty. But you get the feeling they’re kind of checking a box, doing their job, and moving on with their week. They don’t always think about kids ministry or guest services or the sound booth outside of Sunday morning.
These tend to be the folks who see more potential in their work. They are motivated not just by the work of the ministry, but by leading in the ministry. They have ideas for how to make it better. They have people they want to recruit or lead. They might even have their eye on a future staff role or a role on another team that seems more ambitious to them.
These tend to be the folks who have kind of always been there and whom you suspect always will be. They may or may not be your most talented volunteers, but they’re certainly the most dependable. They may or may not always get your vision, but most of the time – because they have an affinity for and history with the team – they’ll help you carry it out, even if they do it a little begrudgingly.
Those are my three. You may have more or less than them. You may take exception, cry foul, or say I’m full of beans. And if you do, now’s the time to say it, because we’re going to come back to these categories in the future to talk about how they’re motivated and demotivated, empowered or unnerved, and maybe most importantly, how they’re kept around, chased off, or equipped for further ministry.