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Does a Lean Staff Really Increase Volunteers?

Much is being written about the evidence that leaner church staffs result in increased numbers of volunteers. For some it appears the verdict is in and they are prepared to declare unequivocally that too many staff negatively impacts volunteerism.

My problem with this assumption, besides my own experience to the contrary, is summed up in the “post hoc, ergo propter hoc” fallacy. This Latin phrase is translated “after this, therefore necessarily because of this.” In other words, when one event happens after another event we often assume there is a cause/effect relationship between the two events, but this may be an incorrect assumption.

Other Contributing Factors

For example, in the purported cause and effect relationship between leaner staff structures and increased volunteerism there may be a considerable number of other factors besides staffing levels contributing to those results. These may include but not be limited to the following:

  • There is evidence that other cultural variables impact volunteerism, such as church size, location, socio-economics, denomination, ethnicity, and age and stage of the congregation.
  • The degree of priority, competency, and commitment of the staff in recruiting, equipping, and deploying volunteers.
  • The effectiveness of the church’s volunteer recruitment and training processes and systems.
  • The degree to which volunteer opportunities are promoted and communicated.
  • The degree of meaningfulness of the volunteer experience to the volunteer.
  • Did the church initially increase the number of staff, who in turn recruited and trained more volunteers, thus driving up volunteerism?
  • Did the church effectively use a tool to connect people to volunteer opportunities that fit their gifts and passions, such as PLACE, AssessMe.org and SHAPE?

Other Consequences

The premise for this position is the logical assumption that if there are less staff to do the work and ministry of the church there will be additional need for and an increased incentive for volunteers to assume those responsibilities. An equally logical but opposite assumption is that if you hire more staff charged with and held accountable for recruiting, training, and deploying volunteers there will be an increase in volunteers.

Both assumptions are based on a simple cause and effect relationship and fail to examine other important volunteer related outcomes that might be impacted by more or less staff. Examples include:

  • Are the volunteers more or less effective and productive with more or less staff to train and supervise them?
  • How does lower and higher numbers of staff impact the ratio of inside versus outside the church volunteer opportunities?
  • How does lower and higher numbers of staff impact volunteer burnout and tenure?
  • How does more or less staff impact the number and scope of ministries that can be successfully implemented?

Then there is the law of unintended consequences that should be considered.

  • How does lower staffing levels impact key metrics such as baptisms, attendance, additions, giving, expanded vision, and transformed lives?
  • Do fewer staff create the requirement for increased volunteerism within the church resulting in less time for members to be on mission outside the church?
  • Do fewer staff place too much burden for the operations and ministries of the church on volunteers causing members to drop out of core ministries such as worship and bible study?

The Validity Test

The point of the “post hoc, ergo propter hoc” fallacy is that assumptions must be challenged and tested for validity.

For example, I once served in a church that had a history of using pledge cards for determining the annual budget. Further, they had always pledged the budget in one day and always reached their budget. The logical assumption was that because of the pledge cards and one day pledge emphasis the church always successfully pledged and collected its budget. It was an incredibly onerous and time consuming exercise but no one wanted to risk challenging the assumption. But, one year we summoned the collective resolve to test the assumption and not have pledge cards or a pledge day. Much to the surprise of many, that year the church collected more tithes and offering than ever before and the pledge cards and pledge day were never mentioned again.

Before buying into a silver bullet single cause and single effect assumption, the assumption should be put to a validity test, as risky as it may feel. No doubt staffing levels impact volunteerism, but the degree can only be determined by validity testing the potentially contributing factors.




Posted on February 6, 2018

Jim Baker

Jim is a Church Organizational Leadership and Management Coach, Consultant and Trainer. Throughout his career Jim has demonstrated a passion for showing Pastors and Ministers how to use organizational tools for church and personal growth and health.

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“For I may be absent in body, but I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see how well ordered you are and the strength of your faith in Christ.” Colossians 2:5