Where Have All the Volunteers Gone?

In my work encouraging and equipping women’s ministries around the Southeast, I often hear a common concern from ministry leaders. This concern is voiced by those in large and small churches. It’s shared by those in new ministries and those in long-established ministries. While it’s not the only concern for ministry leaders, it is a widespread concern.

What is that concern? The ministry volunteer shortage.

Perhaps you have the same concern. At the start of a new Bible study year, you struggle to find teachers for the evening study. The team preparing for the annual retreat is too few in number to accomplish the task. The sign up sheet for mentoring others has more women signed up to be mentored than to do the mentoring. You feel it’s time to pass the leadership baton for coordinating the ministry team, but there’s no one standing there to receive it.

It’s no secret that twenty percent of the church membership does eighty percent of the work. The question is, what might be keeping women from volunteering in ministry?

Four Barriers for Ministry Volunteers

The women in your church lack time.

Time is a problem for all of us. While we all have the same number of hours allotted to us each day, there is always more to do than time to do it. Indeed, we live in a busy and fast-paced culture. Numerous things clamor for our attention and time. Work. Family life. Extra-curricular activities. Health problems. Life crises. All these things and more fill our days. Women who have children are often required to volunteer for their child’s school, sports team, or other activities. Add to that work commitments and many women are overwhelmed before they can even consider serving in church ministry.

The women in your church lack training.

Some women hesitate to volunteer because they don’t feel equipped. They might have the desire to serve but lack the training. They might want to teach a Bible study, but fear making a mistake. They might want to mentor a younger woman, but wouldn’t even know where to start. They might have a heart of service, but not instruction on how to use it in the church. These women have the giftings to serve in ministry but no one to come alongside them and prepare them to serve.

The women in your church are tired and burned out.

Some women have volunteered for so many things for so many years, they are simply tired. Burned out. Spent. They simply cannot volunteer for one more thing. Their souls feel listless and worn. They can’t remember when they’ve ever had a break from their ministry labors. They feel they have nothing left to give. They need to be refilled before they can be poured out again.

The women in your church do not see clear opportunity.

Some women are ready to volunteer, but there seem to be no openings. Perhaps they are gifted in teaching, but the same person has taught the Wednesday morning study for decades and is not ready to let go of that responsibility. Women might be gifted in creativity, but don’t see a space for their skills to be used. Some may see all the volunteer duties taken over by women of a particular season and stage of life and think there is no need for someone outside of that age and stage.

Addressing Barriers to Serving in Ministry

For all these reasons and more, women hesitate to serve in ministry. How can we remove some of these barriers that prevent women from serving?

Show them that their spiritual gifts are essential to the church.

One of the first places to begin is with a full understanding of how God has created and works through His church. The Bible describes the church as a body made up of individual parts (1 Cor. 12). God created each of us with unique gifts, and each of these gifts is essential to making the body work and function. We are not made to be independent but interdependent; we need each other. We need each woman in the church sharing and using her gift.

Now this does not mean every woman uses her gift in women’s ministry. Her gift may be with children, or on the worship team, or on the missions committee. Wherever she serves, it is important she is engaged in ministry. For “when each part is working properly, [it] makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph. 4:16).

Not everyone realizes their gifts and callings and we might need to help our sisters identify them. When we see a spiritual gift in someone’s life, we ought to point it out and help her explore ways she can use it in the church. With church ministry evolving to include virtual platforms, there are new opportunities to use gifts in technology and social media. When we see a gift emerging, we can help nurture and mentor that person to further develop her gift. We can provide opportunities for her to practice and implement her gift. And we can honor her for her gift, thanking her for using it for God’s glory.

Show them that serving the church pays eternal dividends.

In addition, we need to create a culture where church members see the church not as another place to perform a civic duty, but as a living body—a spiritual body that needs her members to grow and thrive. The time we invest in the church has a far different return than the time we might invest in a local club or other organization. Its dividends pay far more than appreciation from neighbors or an item to add to our resume. The time we invest in the body of Christ has eternal consequences. When we volunteer and use our gifts for building up the church, its ripple effects far outlast our time on this earth.

Show them that volunteers need seasons of rest.

At the same time, we need to be wary of burnout. Far too many people in the church are simply spent. It is important that we understand the detriment burnout is to the church and to our own lives. We cannot help and serve others from a place of scarcity. We need to take seasons of respite to refresh and renew. It’s helpful when women’s ministry teams make a commitment to replace members on a regular basis so that volunteers have an opportunity to rest. This means that while a person is serving as a teacher, committee member, coordinator, or in some other way, she is always readying and training the next person to come up behind her and take her place. Ministry cannot be personality driven. It’s not about the people who serve, but the One whom they serve.

So where have all the volunteers gone? They are there in our churches. They just might need to be developed and nurtured. Prayerfully consider today who might need encouragement to use their gifts for the good of your church.

About the Author

Christina Fox

Christina Fox is a speaker, writer, and author of several books includeing: Closer Than a Sister; Idols of a Mother’s Heart; and Sufficient Hope: Gospel Meditations and Prayers for Moms. She received her Masters in Counseling from Palm Beach Atlantic University and serves on the PCA's national women's ministry team as the editor of their blog, enCourage.