What Motivates Volunteers


The lifeblood of youth ministry is in the volunteers. No ministry can long survive or hope to be successful without help from adults who give their time and energy on a regular basis. Yet few youth ministers truly understand the motivations behind why people volunteer. Without understanding what motivates people, we can’t recruit successfully and we can’t lead successfully. 

We’d hope that everyone would minister because they love Jesus and want to serve His Kingdom by loving on teens. But people are complicated and confusing. While they may say all the right things, the truth is often a little tougher to crack. 

When you only work with a handful of volunteers, it can be difficult to get a handle on the different motivators. In my “non-ministry” job, I work with over 100 volunteers a day so I get a bigger sample size to evaluate. I’ve found 7 motivators that push people to volunteer. Here’s what I’ve found…

1. Guilt 

This one is most obvious. They are volunteering because they’d feel bad not to do so. This  is an internal motivator that springs from their own beliefs about God, the church, and their role in it. Example – The lady that teaches Sunday School for the past 25 years, even though for the last 10 she has no energy or desire to do it any more. 

2. Force 

While guilt is an internal motivator, force is an external motivator applied by someone else. This doesn’t mean they are forced by gun-point, but it does mean that others are pushing or manipulation them to serve. Example – The minister gets up on Sunday Morning and says, “If you love Jesus you’ll work our VBS this summer.”  

3. Fun 

Not all motivators are bad. Volunteering can be a fun experience. Youth ministry can be a very fun time, and people want to recapture the youth ministry experience of their teen years. Example – The college guy who offers to volunteer for every fun event and loves to have a great time with the teens.

4. Expectations 

Sometimes its just expected that a person volunteers. This one is not as strong as guilt, and while there may be some external pressure its not overwhelming. Instead, this is just something they’re supposed to do. They probably have little passion or desire to serve in this particular area, but they do it out of duty. Example – A person serves in the nursery because they figure thats what a good Christian will do.

5. Do Good 

People often serve out of altruistic motives, and a desire to do good things is a great one. Its just a general desire to do something nice, and what it is doesn’t usually matter. They might not have much of a desire to do what you want them to do, but they’re always wanting to help. Example – The person who says, “I’ll do anything, just let me know what you need!”

6. Relationship 

They serve because they like the other person/people they volunteer with. They just love spending time with their friends, and the what they do isn’t so important as the who they are with. Example – The husband/wife team who volunteers to teach youth group.

7. Vision

Some people buy into your vision, and are motivated by it and how they fit into that vision. They get excited by it. They get pushed by it. Vision becomes its own continuing motivator. 

Obviously, we want all of our volunteers to be inspired by #7. We want our volunteers to catch the vision and run with it. Volunteers who are motivated by vision last longer and work harder than those motivated by #’s 1-6. 

That doesn’t always happen, though. Its important to realize that these motivators are also the reason people STOP volunteering. The person who is motivated by guilt can also stop feeling guilty or guilt from something else becomes stronger. The person motivated by fun will often stop when it stops being fun. Those motivated by relationship will be less eager to serve when the relationship bonds are severed. 

What starts people motivating can vary, but you can get them to be motivated by vision. Continually keep your vision and passion front and center. On an individual level, indentify why your volunteers are serving, and then link that reason to your vision. For example, a person serves because its fun. You might say, “Man, there is nothing more fun than seeing a teen give their life to Christ!” Or, if a person is motivated by force, say, “I appreciat you giving your time. Here is how what you do fits into our vision.” If you continually bring it back to the vision, they will either embrace it or bow out. 

These are some of the things I’ve seen that motivate volunteers. Have I missed any? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below…

About Bill Nance

Bill Nance is a 15 year veteran of youth ministry, having served in churches across the midwest. He currently works at a non-profit organization that works with churches and other agencies that serve hungry people. He also spends time writing, training, and speaking to help youth ministries across the country. If you are looking for a talented speaker for your next youth ministry event, consider booking him today!