the shape of leadership

Using Volunteers as Church Staff Members

Think outside the box, and build a dynamic ministry team

Kristi Northup on March 25, 2019

The local church is the greatest volunteer organization on the planet. I’m amazed over and over when I see a church accomplish what should cost tens of thousands of dollars at a fraction of the expense through the work of dedicated volunteers.

Whether they are jumping to action after a natural disaster or creating programming for children, volunteers are among the greatest gifts God provides the Church for accomplishing His purposes.

In recent years, there has been a trend away from full-time vocational ministry, and many see this as an alarming problem. While there may be some cause for concern, I’ve also noticed that churches are exploring new ways to accomplish their mission, and one of those ways is through volunteer staff.

We knew early in our church planting process that we wanted to take a nontraditional approach to staffing. While this was partly for financial reasons, other advantages emerged as we pursued this model.

Rather than limiting our team to full-time pastors, we have also utilized part-time workers and volunteers to staff pastoral and administrative positions. I’d like to share some of the benefits of this approach, and a few lessons we’ve learned along the way.

High-Capacity Leaders

Pastor Dutch VanderVlucht has been the lead pastor at New Life Assembly of God in Findlay, Ohio, for 26 years. I recently heard him share his perspective on volunteers. Early in his pastoral ministry, he hired some traditional full-time staff: a youth pastor, music minister and children’s pastor.

“After a few years, I came to a new discovery,” VanderVlucht said. “I realized I had hired staff to lead volunteers [who] were better leaders than they were.”

Rather than replace staff members as they left, he started using high-capacity volunteers who had a passion for their area of ministry in leadership positions.

“People are not interested in your vision,” VanderVlucht said. “They are interested in where they fit into your vision. If you can help people find that place and release them, they can get excited about that.”

Sometimes a church can’t afford to hire highly qualified staff members. But there may be someone in the congregation who owns a business or works in a corporate position who could bring a wealth of experience and life skills to the role, beyond what the church would able to budget for the position.

Allowing people to do the things are passionate about can meet needs within both the life of the church and the lives of volunteers.

Community Connection

Several years back, we asked a dynamic couple to move to New Orleans and come on as volunteer staff with Saints Community Church (AG). Trevor and Sara Ekanger left their positions at James River Church (AG) and Assemblies of God World Missions in Springfield, Missouri.

The Ekangers raised some monthly support, but they also worked jobs in the community. Through this creative arrangement, they started highly successful businesses in photography and floral design.

One day, someone asked Trevor, “Wouldn’t you rather be able to do this full time?”

His answer surprised me: “No way. Do you know how happy I am, doing what I do for the church, while I’m also able to be in touch with real people in the community and have freedom over my own schedule? I’m very happy not to be sitting in a dark room for 40 hours a week!”

Specialized Roles

So many roles in ministry have become highly specialized, but they don’t always generate enough work to warrant hiring a full-time person. Staffing them as part-time or volunteer positions may allow people to stay within the specific specialty that is their forte.

Jeffery Portmann from Newhope Church (AG) in Puyallup, Washington, told me about a Starbucks executive who is heading up his prayer team.

He asked, “Don’t you think if he is responsible for part of global distribution, he can handle 40 volunteers?”

Allowing people to do the things are passionate about can meet needs within both the life of the church and the lives of volunteers.

Important Considerations

Keep these three things in view when staffing ministry positions with volunteers:

Needs. When placing volunteers in high-level leadership roles, ask them, “What do you need?” VanderVlucht sometimes hires part-time administrators to assist volunteer staff members. This frees them up from the minutiae so they can focus on using their skills. He finds creative ways to equip them for success and releases them to spend money and seek training.

Flexibility. You may need to schedule staff meetings in the evening to accommodate volunteers who work during the day. Rather than maintaining weekly hours, your volunteer staff may just work specific events throughout the year. Women may need the church to pay for childcare so they can manage their volunteer work. Look for ways to say “yes” to solutions that are outside the box.

Expectations. Laying out the roles in clear job descriptions and talking through those expectations are keys to a great experience. Even flexibility needs some kind of outline so everyone is on the same page. This helps create a sense of ownership. Many volunteer leaders will surpass your expectations.

Jesus called 12 men with diverse skill sets to be His closest followers. The disciples brought their marketplace knowledge and life experiences as they carried out the Great Commission. Let’s keep our eyes wide open as we look for the creative ways God may want to use people to accomplish His work.


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