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Easy way for volunteers to try out ministries: 30 Minute Serve

One of the challenges of recruiting new volunteers is the Volunteer Uncertainty Principle — if a volunteer prospect is not quite sure what the opportunity is, the potential volunteer often defaults to inaction because it is more comfortable to be safe. (I don’t know if that’s a real principle for volunteers; I just made it up and I think it’s true!)

One way that we have tried to overcome this hurdle is to have something called 30 Minute Serve. It was actually in place at our campus before I even joined, but we have an awesome team that has taken it to the next level to create a really great first-time volunteer experience.

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The main goal of 30 Minute Serve is to help volunteers have such a great experience that they would want to come back. As a result, there are a couple of key components we have learned over the few times we have done this:

  1. The opportunity must be absolutely clear. There should be no confusion about what the volunteer is doing. The person should know exactly what they are signing up for.
  2. The opportunity must be done within 30 minutes. This makes a low barrier for entry. 30 minutes is a short amount of time when it comes to volunteering.
  3. The opportunities happen only during our weekend services. People come to church and it’s super convenient to stay 30 minutes after service to try something out. Or, they arrive 30 minutes early or take 30 minutes out during service and perhaps go to another service to sit through the entire worship experience. No extra trips required. Pair it with a habit they already have (attending services).
  4. Every volunteer is paired with a “buddy.” This means that if someone signs up to check in kids for children’s ministry, that person is not sent off to a corner to hack away at a computer on their own. They are partnered with an existing volunteer who can greet them, show them what happens, and make sure that person can get questions answered and feel part of the process. We ask ministry leaders to get their top notch people to take this buddy role, especially people who are welcoming, patient, and can answer questions.

Some ministries have challenges to people jumping in. For example, our student and children’s ministries can’t have random strangers walking in — all our volunteers are fingerprinted and have background checks. In this cases, we have a 30 minute informational meeting or a tour through the hallways and looking in windows.

Our weekday ministries also don’t need to feel left out. Our food pantry is only open on Tuesdays, but during the 30 Minute Serve weekends, they give a tour of the food pantry. Our Operations Team gives a tour of the office. Our Design Team shows a slide show and talks about how the ministry works. These are all teams that meet during the week but can give a taste of what the ministry is like.

Here’s how we implement 30-Minute Serve. Our Ministry Mobilization Team oversees this event and organizes this entire effort. It takes a team!

Designate what weeks the program will be implemented. There are two to three weeks of sign up, and then two to three weeks of actual serving opportunities. The team creates a timetable. For example…

  • We are designating Sept 11 and 18 as sign-up weekends.
  • Sept 25, Oct 2, and Oct 9 are the serving weekends.

Collect opportunities from all the ministries. We ask for roles, times, and descriptions. These are then placed on some boards. Each board is 4′ x 8′ and printed on coroplast.

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Here’s a closeup. Roles are organized by times and date.

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The boards are mounted on some stands one of our volunteers built. These stands are in the lobby along with some sign-up tables.

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We have a sign-up form for people to fill out at the table in the lobby. Last year we made a bulletin insert that was kind of small (and super expensive because it had a perforation). This time we went cheaper and printed it off our copier. It’s a simple form where people put down contact info and circle the times they want to serve.

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When people hand in their form, the team at the table has them sign their initials on a circle sticker. The sticker is placed on the board. This way, we get a visual look at the progress on where there are still openings, and how many people have signed up. Last year we had bright orange stickers because that was all we had. This year we had time to get some nice gold labels. The labels are about 1.75 or 2 inches in diameter. We get them from Amazon or an office supply store.

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Afterwards, the team follows up with people and sends them a reminder of what they signed up to do, the date and time they are serving, and where to check in.

The day of the serving opportunity, the volunteer goes to the same lobby table (where the boards still are standing) and check in. There, they receive a name tag. We created these in-house, printed them out, laminated them, and attached a lanyard. The team uses an overhead marker to write the volunteer’s name on the badge. Afterwards it is cleaned off and reused.

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Afterwards, the volunteers check out and give feedback on how things went. With this real-time feedback, the team is able to make process improvements.

This effort has been helpful in bringing a number of new volunteers on our teams. Even better, it has raised a serving culture in our church where it is low risk for someone to try out serving. If they don’t like what they do, they have total freedom to switch to another ministry. Over time, we have heard people tell us that their first serving experience at the church was through 30 Minute Serve.

Thank you to John and Paula Suh for their leadership in developing 30 Minute Serve, as well as the wonderful Ministry Mobilization Team!

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