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I Thought I Knew How to Manage Volunteers – Until I Had to Run a Church

I Thought I Knew How to Manage Volunteers – Until I Had to Run a Church

Vicar Fraser Dyer of St. Anne and All Saints, an Anglican Church in South London, believes that the “whole business of volunteer management in churches is somewhat tricky.” And he should know. Before Vicar Dyer became ordained, he was an active and passionate secular volunteer manager.

For starters, he writes, “there are no volunteers in church.” Though some churches do run proper volunteer programs for such projects as food banks and charity shops, Vicar Dyer notes that the rest of church life requires the active participation of those who hand out hymn books, drive elderly to church, arrange flowers, usher, take up and count the collection, and serve at the altar, to name but a few critically needed functions. And while these people are technically volunteering their help, they mostly do not self-identify as ‘volunteers.’

In this e-Volunteerism feature, Vicar Dyer argues that many of the strategic approaches to volunteer management don’t automatically apply in churches. He offers advice and guidance to clergy and volunteer managers in religious settings, and explains why “it is vital to understand which roles will benefit from more conventional approaches to volunteer management (such as office holders or those volunteering for a discrete church programme), and those for which a more relationship-based and collaborative approach will work better.” Above all, he believes, “individualisation rather than standardisation is the key.”

To read the full article

Mon, 10/16/2017
Fraser's rather wonderful - and useful - article reminds me of a time when I thought that the only way to really understand church volunteering - as well as most other membership-based volunteer groups - was to study anthropological studies of power struggles among primate groups.

Mon, 10/16/2017
I have been a volunteer in a church for almost 60 years. Though I agree with much of Fraser's experiences, I think that the churches would benefit from some good volunteer management tools. Accurate job descriptions: Frequently what jobs morph into is not the same job as described in the job description. Clarity: Boundaries are clarified in training and in the job descriptions. There would be fewer bad feelings if everyone knew what their role was and what it was not. It is all about expectations. I believe that when you join a church, the church should be up front and state "We all serve. How would you like to use your skills?" Nothing burns out a church volunteer than seeing that 20% are serving the 80%. Churches generally are getting smaller. If they are going to survive, they need to involve everyone. Yes, you do need to get to know your volunteers in order to find the right spot for them to serve. It is called volunteer engagement. When church members participate, they stay. They feel like they belong. It is about church sustainability. So do not give up on your volunteer management expertise completely because there is a place for it in my mind.

Wed, 10/18/2017
Well that’s the subject of my PhD sorted - thanks Steve!

Wed, 01/03/2018
Thanks Frazer. This is a really helpful and very timely article for me as I am shortly to leave my post (of 10 years) as a Volunteering Manager to become a full time curate. You may well have saved me a lot of wasted time writing task descriptions.

Tue, 01/09/2018
Thanks for the comment - and all the best for your ministry. F

Wed, 01/03/2018
Brilliant! Excellent observations and insights that continue to inform our efforts to engage and involve members of local faith communities in our service area. Understanding the context from which ministers and other faith leaders do their good work is essential to building relationships that are mutually helpful. Thank you for this, Fraser!

Wed, 01/03/2018
Thank you for an insightful and interesting article written with a personal touch. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

Wed, 01/10/2018
Hi Fraser, much of what you have written is relevant to sport clubs. Am I able please to use some of the content and tailor it for that audience? Thank you. Ken Allen

Thu, 01/18/2018
Hi Stuart, I’m more than happy for you to adapt the points I make to your own context. It would be worth dropping the editors at e-volunteerism an email just to check what copyright policy they have. All the best, F