How Jonathan Got 38% of His Congregation to Volunteer in One Day!


Getting more volunteers in your church requires a long-term strategy. But how do you resolve your short-term tensions? Here's an idea! My friend and client, Jonathan Watson, is the lead pastor at Beachside Community Church. They recently bumped into this issue. Their kid's ministry was growing quicker than they could keep up. So we decided to do something a bit crazy. Read the post for all the details, but here's a snapshot of the results: Of the 300 adults attending on Sunday, January 22, 120 took a step to serve, and 40 made a commitment to begin! Yes. You read that correctly. How? That's what we discuss in this post.

This Isn’t Click Bait!

I have long-term partnerships with about 6 churches at any given time. I might be able to squeeze in one more, but I want to always ensure these churches and pastors get my full attention, so I keep this group small.

One of my partners is Beachside Community Church. Jonathan Watson is their relatively new lead pastor, and honestly, he is crushing it.

Jonathan is a strategic and intentional thinker by nature. When we work on discipleship pathways, growing funding, and other systems-related endeavors, he gets it. And he has the ability to implement it. It’s fun to watch.

But there is a problem — not with Beachside, but with systems.

Intentional Systems Can’t Solve Every Problem

Systems are necessary for long-term, sustained success. As I always say,

“Success without a strategy is accidental and unrepeatable.”

Jonathan is building a repeatable model to reach the unchurched and de-churched people in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, and engage everyone along a discipleship journey. This includes fully funding their mission, rebuilding volunteer teams, and including their future vision and dreams.

Here’s Jonathan’s problem: They are doing this so well already that their growth is outpacing their volunteer involvement. And it’s a problem. Long-term problems are often resolved with intentional systems. But what about immediate issues?

Good problems are still problems! 

He and I have worked on some systematic plans to engage non-volunteers on a serving pathway that will eventually build a robust funnel of volunteers. But that system, while solid, takes time to grow. Beachside needs people now. They aren’t just recovering from the pandemic; they are growing! And quick!!

Beachside’s preschool and elementary ministries are growing fast. Their growth is outpacing their ability to engage volunteers. Again, what a great problem to have! But it’s a problem!! If they can’t engage volunteers quickly, parents are going to:

  1. Feel the kid’s ministry is too chaotic,
  2. Wonder if their children are safe and secure,
  3. Question whether they should come back or remain at this church, and
  4. Refrain from inviting friends, knowing it only makes the problem worse.


Solving Immediate Volunteer Problems

With church clients like Beachside, I spend a few days in person each quarter in addition to our Zoom coaching conversations. Their volunteer dilemma was toward to top of our “working on it” list during my last visit. We discussed our volunteer funnel plan, but we both realized they needed immediate relief and a long-term solution.

We had an idea that you should try.

The vast majority of adults attending Beachside only see the entrance to their kid’s ministry environment. Even parents only see what can be seen during drop-off and pick-up. This means all the amazing things happening with and for these kids during the church service remain hidden from the adults. Not on purpose, but that’s just how it works.

This is good in some respects, as it allows Beachside to create age and stage programming relevant for children in a safe and secure (behind locked doors) space. This also keeps people from seeing how unbelievable their kid’s ministry is!

Jonathan needs volunteers in their kid’s ministry. We know that people only volunteer for a role if they can picture themselves in the position. To combat this, churches often show pictures of the ministry environment on their website and even during the adult service. Some overachieving churches may even run a live feed from the kid’s space to the auditorium to entice people to consider jumping in.

Theoretically, this should help. Yet it rarely does.

Trying Something Unorthodox. REALLY Unorthodox

When I was the lead pastor at Woodstock City Church, we needed to resolve the same problem. I had an idea. I ran it by Andy Stanley, who suggested, “only Gavin would try something like this!” I took that as a compliment (I believe that’s what Andy meant).

Here’s the idea:

Rather than show pictures of our children’s ministry environment in action, let’s take people behind the scenes so they can see for themselves.

Now, that might not seem radical at all, but hold on. We didn’t promote this so people could sign-up to see it at some future date. That approach doesn’t work well. Instead, we treated this like the candy at the grocery store you’re forced to stand beside while checking out. We wanted to create an impulse purchase.

I told Jonathan the idea, and he thought it was a bit crazy, but I did it, and it worked GREAT. So he tried it last Sunday.

Imagine Being Jonathan In This Moment

On Sunday, January 22, Jonathan stood up after the worship set and addressed the congregation. He talked for a minute about how amazing their kid’s space is and how much kids love coming to UpStreet (that’s what they call the environment). But then he did something a bit crazy — he invited everyone to leave the auditorium with him and go to UpStreet and see it for themselves. In the middle of the service! 

Here’s the script we created together:

“I was going to show you some pictures and maybe a video or two of UpStreet. I mean, what these kids get to experience on Sunday is just spectacular! Kids cry at our church because they have to leave, not come to church!! But I don’t think pictures or video can really do it justice, so I have a better idea: I’m going to take you there RIGHT NOW to see it for yourself. I’m serious. In just a second, I’m going to pray, and the service will continue. But, if you’ve never seen what happens in UpStreet, I want you to literally stand up after I pray, slide out into the aisle, and follow me out of the auditorium so I can show you UpStreet in action. Yes, you’ll miss the sermon, but that’s okay. It will be online when you get home, or you can listen to the podcast later this week. So, I’m going to pray for us, and then I’m going to walk right off this stage and down this aisle, and I want all of you who have never seen UpStreet to follow me out of this adult service. Let’s pray…” 

Does that sound nuts or what?!?!

Well, this is exactly what he did, and what do you suppose happened? 

He told me they had just over 300 adults in the auditorium on Sunday. When he finished his prayer, 120 ADULTS GOT UP AND FOLLOWED HIM OUT OF THE AUDITORIUM TO SEE THEIR KID’S MINISTRY IN ACTION!

You read that correctly. I asked him twice myself to make sure I heard the correct number! That’s 38% of his adult attendance! In one day, Jonathan took a third of his congregation on a potential volunteer field trip to see their elementary environment in action.

Of course, Jonathan and I were strategic, planning what these adults would see and experience during their field trip. We discussed in advance how to execute the programming on this day to ensure the adults could see the large group time AND, more importantly, see lots of adults just like them volunteering. That was the ultimate goal. These adults believed they were following Jonathan to see UpStreet. In reality, we wanted them to see themselves as volunteers in UpStreet.

And it worked. Of the 120 walkouts, 40 signed up that day to begin serving. So about 13% of his adult attendance moved from disengaged to volunteering in one moment.

You Should Try This! 

I know it sounds a bit crazy, but it works for several reasons:

  1. Impulse purchases work! People are more afraid to commit today than ever before. Even signing up to consider volunteering is a commitment. Engaging people in this fashion removes the commitment by leveraging an emotional impulse purchase.
  2. It’s fun. Crazy and unexpected is fun. All 120 adults left Sunday MORE excited about Beachside. And while only 40 people signed up to serve, 120 adults saw something that moved them, even if only incrementally, to engage in time. And BTW, ONLY 40 people signing up to serve in one day is bonkers! 
  3. Seeing is believing. People need to see themselves in a role to believe they can serve in the role. That’s what a field trip like this can do for them.
  4. Calls to action need to follow the action. The closer we can close a deal after a test drive, the better. Immediately after these potential volunteers see your ministry in action, spend 15 minutes with them unpacking what they saw, the vision behind the ministry, and the fruit of participation.


Let Me Know How It Goes…

If you do this, I’d LOVE to know about your results.

And if you want to consider building a long-term volunteer solution:

  1. I have a free video course module that might be helpful. 
  2. I created a course called Remodel Your Church Model where we spend one entire conversation on building a funding funnel and volunteer funnel.
  3. Like the course, I offer a Remodel Your Church Model Masterclass where like-minded leaders gather with me to work through strategic conversations and implementations.

I also wrote a while back on HOW to make an ask: Inspiring People to Volunteer – 6 Ingredients for a Successful Ask