By Brian Charette ( and @leaderhelps)

If you were watching Super Bowl XXXIV – February 6, 2000 – you remember the spectacle.

No, not the Tennessee Titans coming to within one yard of tying the game as the clock ran out and ultimately losing. The spectacle I’m talking about is the 60-second commercial that’s since been consistently recognized as one of the best spots in Super Bowl history.

“Herding Cats”

It was an ad for Electronic Data Systems – EDS. And, while it’s true that the company has since been gobbled up by Hewlett-Packard and forgotten by most, many of us remember scenes of those macho cowboys wrangling thousands of felines.

We connect to the concept – and smile in spite of ourselves – because that’s often what leadership is like in ministry. Leading volunteers, and church volunteers especially, is often looked upon like that. Ministry people can be high-maintenance folks who scatter at the drop of a cowboy hat. Sometimes they’re truly engaged, other times, well, not so much.

Leading volunteers isn’t the same as leading paid workers. Motivating volunteers is just a different animal altogether.

Or is it?

We often have assumed that if we don’t have salary as a lever, it is more difficult to align and motivate those we lead. If we can’t hold jobs in the balance, we can’t motivate.

This all seems to make sense. But the most important studies of worker motivation conclude that, in fact, money isn’t what ultimately motivates people in the first place.

We’re learning that effective leadership of volunteers looks a lot like effective leadership of paid workers. And that the salary difference is really no difference at all, at least in terms of what motivates people to engage.

Perhaps one of the most important studies of worker fulfillment ever conducted is sometimes referred to as the “Gallup Q12” because of the 12 questions that resulted from the massive Gallup study. The questions measure something called worker “engagement” and that is the key to satisfaction, productivity and, yes, motivation. They include such questions as: At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?
Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
Does the mission or purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?

Paid workers are not primarily motivated or satisfied by the money they earn. This isn’t to say that money isn’t important. But ultimately, workers are not inspired and not led most effectively by carrot and stick, particularly when the work requires thought and care, as does church ministry. This finding has been reaffirmed over and over.

So the idea that being carrot-less and stick-less as a leader of volunteers is a disadvantage just doesn’t jive with what we’re learning about motivation.

Great leadership is great leadership, whether it’s in the church, a factory, or a football team.

Albert Winseman, who is Gallup’s principal consultant for faith-based organizations, has written Growing an Engaged Church: How to Stop “Doing” Church and Start Being the Church Again, which translates the Q12 data in ways you can use to determine how most effectively to lead those who are volunteer workers in your ministry.

This idea of the “Engaged Church” can be summarized in 9 statements that characterize engagement, and therefore fulfillment in ministry membership and service.

Those 9 items are:

  • My faith is involved in every aspect of my life.
  • Because of my faith, I have meaning and purpose in my life.
  • My faith gives me inner peace.
  • I am a person who is spiritually committed.
  • I spend time in worship or prayer every day.
  • Because of my faith, I have forgiven people who have hurt me deeply.
  • My faith has called me to develop my given strengths.
  • I will take unpopular stands to defend my faith.
  • I speak words of kindness to those in need of encouragement.

It is a sense of purpose and connection to God and others that is at the heart of what motivates church volunteers to stay engaged.

The question of leading volunteers really concerns their sense of psychological, emotional and spiritual connection and commitment to your church/ministry. The greater that connection, the greater the “show-up-and-serve” factor.

So, what kind of leadership does growing an engaged church or ministry require?

To start with, nothing replaces the pastoral training available in Scripture. First Peter 5, 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, etc., are the places for foundation.

Beyond that, the value of the Gallup data is that it presents an accurate snapshot of how people are most effectively led and therefore provides an understanding of volunteer leadership best practices. And that starts with the two (just two) most important things you as a leader of volunteers can provide for those you lead: 1) relationships and 2) opportunities to make a meaningful difference.

It’s important not to confuse these with “programs,” some of which provide neither relationship building nor difference-making opportunities.

One church I worked with made a list of everything they invested time or money in – from buying a van to stocking a kitchen from purchasing a Bible study curriculum to staff salaries – and then measured each by how well a particular program, initiative, practice or event resulted in deepened relationships and opportunities for very meaningful service among the members of the church community. The things that had proven relationship or difference-making value were continued or expanded, the ones that didn’t were cut or changed. Ruthlessly.

Don’t get me wrong. There remains a “herding cats” quality to trying to get a group of church volunteers to smile, show-up and pull in the same direction. I don’t think it will ever be easy. But with truly engaged volunteers, there’s a lot less scratching.



Author: Lauren Hunter

Lauren Hunter is the publisher and editor-in-chief of ChurchTechToday and Christian Media Magazine where she encourages churches to better use technology and media to improve every aspect of ministry. An entrepreneur by birth, she is constantly looking for new ways to author and create for God's Glory. Hailing from Northern California, Lauren writes from the heart at and is also a musician, poet, wife, and mom to four great kids.