top of page

Working with Volunteers in Rural Churches Pt. 2


The phone call was discouraging. Betty, who had been teaching the junior Sunday School class for the past 3 years, would no longer be teaching. Since the church was small and all those who were willing to be involved were already over committed, finding a replacement would be difficult. It was not so much that there were not people available to do the task, but that those who were available were not motivated to be involved. There were three people who had taught Sunday School before, but now, whenever they are asked, they always decline, citing a number of reasons. Susan, on the other hand, would like to become involved, but she had never taught before. Furthermore, she and her husband had been Christians and coming to church for only three years. She considered herself completely inadequate to teach. Even the Bible stories that were familiar to others were new to her. Before she would agree to teach, she wanted training on how to teach. Leading and developing volunteers involves two key ingredients. The first is motivating people to serve. Motivation involves two elements: what the person brings to the situation; his/her needs, attitudes and desires, and what the situation brings to the person, i.e. responsibility, training, leadership climate, etc.. It is the second element that is the primary concern of the leader. Motivating people is the means by which the leader incites and encourages people to become involved in the ministry of the church and calls people to a life of service before God. The writer of Hebrews writes that part of the responsibility of the body of Christ is to carefully "consider how to spur one another on towards love and good deeds" (Hebrews 10:24).


Because people have different personalities and personal needs, they will be motivated to serve differently. Encouraging people in ministry involves understanding the six different motivational factors that inspire people to serve. While all six may influence the individuals desire to serve, there is usually one or two that are the predominant factor in the persons willingness to be involved.

1. Responsibility and Influence. For some, they are motivated to be involved because of the desire to influence and lead others. The greater the responsibility and influence the greater their personal motivation. These individuals need to see how their tasks will influence others and why their tasks are important. People motivated by influence work best in leadership positions and ministries that have a great deal of responsibility and impact.

2. Challenge and Personal Growth. Another factor affecting motivation is the growth which occurs when a person is confronted with a challenge that exceeds his/her present abilities. For some, they are most motivated when they are facing the greatest challenge that will stretch them and cause them to grow. This growth may come in the areas of skills related to the task or it may come in the spiritual growth that comes through the ministry itself. Those who are motivated by a challenge enjoy problem solving, do well in starting new ministries, and are ready to minister in areas that they have not previously ministered in.

3. Recognition. While everyone enjoys appreciation, for some, it is especially important to be recognized and appreciated for what they have contributed to the ministry. Personal notes of appreciation by the leader and public acknowledgement of their contributions encourages them to continue to be involved. Appreciation should be expressed not only for the results they achieved, but also for their efforts and involvement.

4. Achievement. Achievers are goal oriented individuals who want concrete feedback for their efforts. As a result, they are goal setters and desire quality and excellence in their performance. They are not motivated so much by the responsibility but by what the responsibility will achieve. In motivating achievers it is important that the leader be able to communicate to them a clear purpose for the ministry and then aid them in performing their tasks with a high degree of excellence. They are the 'perfectionists' who become discouraged if they consider their work second-best, even if it was effective. Achievers work well in establishing the goals and direction of the church, and in aiding the church achieve those goals.

5. Fellowship. People-oriented individuals find satisfaction and motivation in areas where they can enjoy the mutual fellowship with others. For them, meetings are not a time to get things done, but a time to be with others. They help the group be sensitive to the needs and feelings of others. They work best in teams because they can be with someone and they accomplish little when required to work alone.

6. Ownership. Motivation springs from a sense of ownership in the ministry. When people consider the ministry "their ministry" they will have a greater desire to see that ministry succeed. This ownership is derived from participation in the decisions that are made concerning the ministry. Consequently, the leader needs to help people see that the ministry is their ministry, not the leaders. The leader is not a dictator who determines what people are to do, but a coach who helps people achieve what they desire to accomplish.

Examining Our Motives

1. Is it ethical, does it follow accepted church policy and practice?

2. Does it advance the ministry of the church and Christ or my own personal agenda?

3. Does it reflect Biblical values and the character of God?

4. Does it encourage and strengthen others towards spiritual maturity?


Motivating people in ministry begins with the recognition of those elements which undermine the desire to serve.

1. Fear

Fear can paralyze people in ministry. When people fear failure, they will not take the necessary risks for effective ministry. If they fear that they will be incompetent or inadequate for the responsibility assigned, they will be less likely to commit themselves to the task. If they fear rejection and criticism by others, they will avoid any ministry which might cause any threat or insecurity. If people are afraid, they will avoid serving. The leaders, and the church, need to honestly examine the causes of fear in people and cultivate a climate of ministry where people are secure. A climate of security involves the freedom to fail, the encouragement to grow and the avoidance of criticism for mistakes.

2. Lack of Appreciation.

Some people thrive on appreciation. If they feel unappreciated, they will quickly become discouraged and lose their desire to serve. When their efforts and accomplishments are not appreciated, they feel that their contribution is insignificant.

3. Sense of Futility.

Motivation is directly related to purpose and achievement. If people feel that they are devoting their time and talents to a task which is meaningless and futile, they will not be inspired to sacrifice themselves to perform the task effectively. The church not only needs to be wise stewards of people's financial gifts, they also need to be wise stewards of their time.

4. Responsibility without Authority.

Fred wanted to develop a Youth ministry in the church. However, the Christian Education Committee would not let him implement his ideas; instead they wanted him to follow the program that they had developed. Consequently, he become frustrated, believing that all he was doing was filling a slot. If people are given a responsibility for a ministry but not the authority and freedom to personally help in developing it, they will become discouraged.

5. Unclear Responsibilities.

Those who desire to serve can become frustrated when they are unclear about the responsibilities that they have. Unclear responsibilities and a lack of clear objectives immobilize people, not because they do not want to serve, but because they are unclear concerning what they are to do.


The second key ingredient to working with volunteers is the training that is offered. Paul writes that the task of the leadership is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:12). This implies training them for service. Yet, the rural church often lacks the resources to train people. Seminars are often too far away, too costly to attend and do not correspond to the rural schedule. Therefore, the church needs to carefully consider how it can equip and train people for ministry. Training is the process of helping people become more knowledgeable and effective in the ministries that they serve. Training begins with careful and honest evaluation of the ministries in order to identify training needs.


1. Increasing skills. Perhaps the most common type of training is that which is geared to help those in a particular area develop their skills to be more effective. An example of this kind of training would be a training session given to the Sunday School Teachers on how to share the gospel with a young child. Every ministry within the church should have occasional training sessions designed to help people become more skilled in performing their ministry.

2. Cross Training. Cross training is the training designed to help people perform a variety of tasks. The purpose of cross training is to help people develop and exercise their spiritual gifts in a variety of ways. Since the rural church relies heavily upon people who are willing to do a number of different tasks, this, perhaps, is the most critical for the rural church. Training a Sunday School teacher how to lead a Bible study will not only make them more effective as a teacher, but also open up new ministries for them and the church.

3. Basic Skills. Basic skills are capacities that are foundational regardless of the ministry the person is involved in. Skills such as communication, conflict resolution, problem solving and strategic planning should be taught to everyone in order for them to have a foundation to build their ministry upon. These skills can be taught by church-wide seminars and training sessions. In doing so, people will not only be more effective in their particular area of ministry, but the whole church will be better equipped to work together as a community.


1. People do not immediately possess all the necessary skills to be effective. Spiritual gifts, while divinely bestowed, need to be cultivated and developed. The leader needs to help people who are gifted in a particular area further develop the necessary skills to perform the task well.

2. People need structured training. Very few people have the time, energy and self- motivation to train themselves in particular areas of ministry. There needs to be a structured program that encourages learning and ministry development.

3. Train people according to their needs and interests. People learn most when they see the relevance of the training. The most effective time to instruct people on issues of ministry is when they are facing issues that are addressed by the training. The time to instruct on classroom discipline is when it is an area of concern expressed by the Sunday School teachers.


1. Utilizing Available Resources. There are a number of resources available for churches today wishing to provide training. Many regional seminars and conferences are offered on a number of different issues ranging from Christian Education to leadership. By sending one individual who then reports what he/she has learned is a way that the whole church can benefit. Another means of training is to contact the various missions and para-church organizations who can come to the church for training. For example, Child Evangelism Fellowship can offer some excellent training for children's ministries. Another resource available are other pastors and lay leaders who can offer training in special areas of ministry.

2. Apprenticeship Programs. Those who have lack experience in a particular area can be teamed together with more experienced individuals. By working together the veteran can gain fresh ideas while the novice can benefit from the experience of the other. While the rural church may not have an extensive apprenticeship program, it can have one or two individuals being trained in this capacity.

3. Group Discussions. Having the Sunday School teachers meet together to discuss issues, concerns, problems and ideas is a way that the individual can benefit from the collective knowledge of the whole. Group discussions are invaluable for dealing with current problems that might arise.

4. In House Training. The leader can also foster learning by assigning training topics to certain individuals. After the individual has researched the issue, he/she can then conduct a "mini-seminar" covering the material learned. Likewise the pastor or leader can research a topic in order to instruct the rest of the group or congregation on the issue.

5. Encourage Reading. As a means of fostering personal growth, the leader should encourage reading. Assign a book relating to a relevant issue. After the group has had the opportunity to read the book, meet together to discuss the content and material of the book

21 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page