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Christine Kreisher challenges us to stop recruiting and start retaining volunteers



Christine_Kreisher_podcastToday’s guest and I have literally tried for months to get together and so I’m honored to have her with us today. Christine Kreisher is a connections pastor at GT Church in Pennsylvania.

As the connections pastor, Christine oversees the first time guest’s experience and discipleship with GT Church. Christine also works with volunteer services and is co-author of the book, The Volunteer Project: Stop Recruiting. Start Retaining. In today’s episode, Christine talks with us about building a strong volunteer culture that keeps people working for Christ.

Zero recruitment. // GT Church wanted to get to a place where their volunteers were doing the recruitment for them due to the culture of the group itself. Christine has been approached many times by leaders in other organizations asking for help recruiting volunteers. She began to think that what they might really need was help creating an irresistible culture that would naturally draw in volunteers, rather than having to go out in search of them. This is what Christine’s book teaches.

Shift your mindset. // As Christine says, sometimes we view volunteers as numbers rather than people. It isn’t always on purpose, but we do need to change our mindset. Remember that volunteers are people rather than just something filling a vacant spot in our ministry. People have jobs and other things happening in their lives. Make their service at church fun and rewarding and work with them. This allows the volunteers to be themselves and to thrive, finding where and how they fit into their role.

Assess your culture. // Even if your church finds all of the volunteers you need and you have every role filled, if the culture isn’t right they won’t stick around. So you need to take stock of your volunteer culture, which includes finding out the truth from your volunteers. Christine’s book includes a practical survey to help volunteer leaders do just that. When your volunteers feel heard and feel that they are having an impact, they will stick around.

The four strategies to step through the shift. // GT uses four strategies to shift their volunteer culture: 1) Celebrate their significance. 2) Provide first class support. 3) Fuel meaningful connections. 4) Empower their passions. Christine grew up unchurched and so she remained in the background for some time when she first began to attend church regularly. What changed her life was when someone else reached out to her and invited her into a volunteer role that allowed her to connect meaningfully with others, awakened her passions, and celebrated who she was while also supporting her along the way. It’s important to do that with your own volunteers and allow them to grow and shine. That’s what brings people closer to Christ, and ignites a passion to serve others.

You can read more of Christine’s advice on building your volunteer culture by picking up her book with Darren Kizer, The Volunteer Project: Stop Recruiting. Start Retaining. You can also learn more at the website and reach Christine on Twitter @ChristineKreish. Learn more about GT Church at their Facebook page.

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Episode Highlights

00:39 // Rich introduces Christine Kreisher and welcomes her to the show.

01:13 // Christine tells us her role within GT Church.

01:52 // Christine tells us the reasons behind co-authoring the book Stop Recruiting. Start Retaining.

03:31 // Christine talks about the Zero Recruitment Model.

04:37 // Christine and Rich discuss the importance of finding the right fit when recruiting volunteers.

06:40 // Christine talks about the importance of the culture within the church when recruiting and retaining volunteers.

07:48 // Christine and Rich discuss the Zero Model of Recruitment Survey.

09:51 // Christine talks about the four strategies in her book and gives an example of how they have impacted her own life.

11:51 // Christine talks about Providing First Class Support.

13:02 // Christine talks about Meaningful Connections, highlight the importance of volunteers engaging with each other.

14:18 // Rich tells how they drive Meaningful Connections at his church.

15:53 // Christine talks about the fourth strategy, Empower Their Passions.

16:38 // Rich encourages church staff to buy Christine’s book.

Lightning Round

Helpful Tech Tools // Evernote. Zero Risk

Ministries Following // Rich Birch at Liquid Church. North Point Ministries

Influential Book // The Best Yes

Inspiring Leader // Andy Stanley

What does she do for fun // Hanging out with family. Travel

Contact //  christinekreish  gtchurch

Episode Transcript

Rich – Well hey everybody, welcome to the unSeminary podcast, my name’s Rich, the host here. I’m so glad that you’ve decided to spend some time with us today. We know, as you head into this weekend, wow you’ve got a lot going on and I’m just so thankful that you would take some time out, to spend some time with us today.

I’m honored to have Christine Kreisher with us today on the call. We’ve literally been trying to do this for months.

Christine – We have.

Rich – Christine is a great leader and she’s one of those people I couldn’t let her go, I really wanted to make sure that we got Christine on the show. She’s from a church called GT Church, which if you’re not following you’re going to want to, particularly after today’s conversation, you’re going to want to get to know them a little bit better. Christine welcome to the show.

Christine – Thanks so much, I’m so honored to be here.

Rich – So you guys are in Pennsylvania, good things do come out of Pennsylvania. So you currently have two locations and quite a sprawling ministry. What is your role there at GT Church?

Christine – I’m a Connections Pastor.

Rich – Great.

Christine – So anything having to do with a first time guest experience through discipleship is what I oversee and help to manage the teams and I’m honored to do that, it’s a blast.

Rich – Very cool. Well Christine wrote a book and was part of writing a book called… which I have on my Kindle, which is called Stop Recruiting. Start Retaining which is a fantastic book. I’ve passed this around to some friends in ministry and it’s one of those books where, when you read the title, that is the message of the book; Stop Recruiting. Start Retaining, it’s a fantastic book, a really great read and so I’m really looking forward to jumping into that. Why don’t we start with, why did you write this book? Where did that come from?

Christine – That’s a great question. I had always felt like God was calling me to write a book but never really felt… I could just never find the right thing. So one day, my friend Darren… actually I was sitting in diner with a friend and she said to me, “You’ve got to write a book,” but I never wanted to write a book that would be self-serving.

Let me tell you my story, I wanted it to be something that would be helpful and as I was sharing that with her, she said to me… Well I looked down at my phone actually and Darren Kizer, co-author of the book, had texted me, literally his text popped up on my phone and said, “Let’s write a book.” I couldn’t believe it, but that was because he had just finished up his PhD and he did his thesis on volunteer retention. He did so much research and in his thesis he had a control group and an experimental group and I was a part of his experimental group, I went to his church, they had a multisite campus. I went to the one campus and did some training with the volunteers and just inspirational things and I was a part of that and he just said, “I love your stories, let’s combine my research with your stories and years of experience.” I’ve been in ministry now for 17 years.

Rich – You started when you were four years old.

Christine – I did yes. Thank you so much for that.

Rich – That’s great. Now one of the things that sticks out is this zero recruitment model. I know that there are church leaders that are listening in today that would say, “Okay sure, if I stop recruiting my ministry is going to go careening off a cliff pretty quickly.” So I want to dig into that. When you say zero recruitment, you don’t really actually mean zero recruitment right? What do you mean by that?

Christine – Yeah we do mean zero recruitment but what we mean is, we want to get to a place where our volunteers are doing the recruiting for us, because our volunteer culture is so sticky and so irresistible that people they stay, and they recruit their friends and great leaders are also developed out of that whole process, because you’re caring for people so, so well.

So yeah it is possible and every time I’ve spoken at different conferences and retreats, people or volunteer leaders constantly say, “I just, I need you to help me recruit. I need you to help me recruit,” and after years of hearing that, I began to think about, “Is what they need recruiting help or do they need help with their culture?” I really believe the answer is found in culture.

There’s four strategies that we talk about in the book that really do help to create an irresistible volunteer culture.

Rich – Nice, well if you’ve been around unSeminary for a while you know that I like numbered lists. So let’s start with number one. What could we do to start moving towards zero recruitment as a recruitment model?

Christine – The first thing that we can do is… well can I just backup and just say the first thing that we need to do is have a mindset shift and that’s hard to say and I won’t try to say that if I’d confessed. A dangerous thing to say sometimes but sometimes we view volunteers as numbers, we don’t mean to but we’re so busy. We’re so focused in on a mission that we forget that they’re people, they’re people with stories. They’re gifts and I believe that one day we’ll stand before our Holy God and be held accountable for the way that we [Inaudible 00:05:07] those gifts.

So that’s the first thing we have to do, we have to remember that they’re people, we have to remember that it’s so important for us to not just fill volunteer vacancies, but to find volunteers’ fits so that they can thrive and not just in the volunteer role but in life, because when we add that value to people’s lives, it changes everything. So that’s the first thing, it’s that shift in perspective and having the mentality of not just finding a fit, not just filling a role but finding a fit, finding their sweet spot, because when you find their fit they won’t quit.

Rich – There’s a lot packed in there. I think for churches, this is an important thing for churches to unlock. I think sometimes we look at volunteers as a means to an end.

Christine – Yeah.

Rich – So we look at them as like, hey they’re going to get a job done for us. Now what I’ve noticed is growing, thriving churches look at volunteers as the end, that actually this is an incredible way to develop people.

Christine – Yeah.

Rich – We start with how do we help and grow people through their volunteer experience, through them engaging with us and through that, then this incredible thing starts to happen, where people actually want to be a part of this. Rather than seeing this as like, “Gosh we need to find people,” we say how do we..? That’s huge, that’s a massive shift. I think particularly for churches that are growing, that’s one of those mind shifts that you have to make, you have to say, “How do we use this as a growing piece?”

So what are some practical ways, some practical steps that we could do, even within our church, to begin kind of transitioning that mindset?

Christine – The first thing we can do is assess our culture, because if I gave you every volunteer you needed and I found the perfect fit for all of them, if the culture isn’t right they’re not going to stick right? So we’ve got to asses that and in this volunteer project; Stop Recruiting. Start Retaining, we provide you with a tool that you can use, for the leader, to assess their culture.

Then what’s really cool is, you send that same survey, actually it’s a little bit of a different variation of it, to your volunteers and they get to tell you, anonymously, what you’re culture is really like. Then there’s a sync report that actually shows you where you’re doing really very well and some areas that you need to focus in. Those are the four strategies where you can begin to breakdown and say, “Okay here’s where we’re doing awesome.” So celebrate that but then, “Here’s where we can really use some improvement.” Then we give you practical strategies on how to make some changes.

Rich – Any kind of interesting stories that have come out, as either you’ve done that kind of syncing up or that you’ve heard other churches as they’ve done that?

Christine – As far as syncing up their..? Oh yeah.

Rich – As they’ve actually said, “Hey this is what we think,” and then, “This is what our people think.” What’s the difference between those two?

Christine – On a personal level there’s been times where I’ve sent surveys to my volunteers, I thought I was knocking it out of the park. “I’m amazing, I’m inspiring, they’re having fun, it’s great.”

Early on in ministry, with my first team of volunteers, I really did, I thought, “Man I’ve got this vision, they’re having fun, this is awesome.” Then I sent a survey and I got some feedback that, “Yeah you’re fun and you’re inspiring but you know, you’re not really telling me what you want me to do.”

Rich – Yes.

Christine – “It’s not clear to me. Like what do you want from me? How do I know I’m winning?” That was eye opening for me. That was an opportunity for me to say, “I’m not going to use my personality as an excuse to not value people.” So things really began to change and shift. We hear the same thing from church leaders that take the survey, the Zero Model of Recruitment Survey and they say that it is surprising to them, because it’s fresh perspective and we all need that. We need to give our volunteers a voice, they need to be heard, because when they feel heard it’s another thing that adds value and they stick.

Rich – I know a big part of leadership, the first step of leadership has been said actually it’s just to define reality. Like we have to start with, where are things actually today? I think sometimes and particularly leaders and you tell that story in the book and I was like, “Oh I can resonate with that,” it’s like, “We’re having fun and casting vision but what am I supposed to do?” I’m like, “I think I’ve done that.” I think particularly for leaders, who are more visionary and who are more kind of future orientated, we can kid ourselves into saying, “No it’s a great experience,” because we’re living in this kind of dreamland and that may not actually be connected to reality. So obviously even taking a survey that you provide in your book is a great starting point for people.

Now that has to move into some sort of a process I’m assuming, it has to move into like how do we actually step through, kind of ensuring that there is a great service experience for people. What are you doing at GT to kind of help that?

Christine – Well we have the four strategies. So I’ll go over them quickly and we can kind of break them down.

Rich – Sure.

Christine – Celebrate Their Significance is the first one. The next one is Providing First Class Support for people. Fuel Meaningful Connections and then the last one is Empower Their Passions.

Rich – Okay.

Christine – So I know for me, as a new volunteer in this church, I came from an unchurched background, I mean a crazy, crazy childhood and got saved in my early 20’s and started coming to GT Church and I was lost. I hid in the back for about a year and a half, just because I was hurt and I just needed to heal. Then somebody gave me the opportunity and pat me on the shoulder and they said, “Hey we would love for you to be a part of kids’ ministry. We know you like kids and we know you like to cook.” So someone was watching, someone was being intentional in that.

Then what happened was, through a series of months and then years of course, somebody came alongside of me and they provided those four things for me. They came alongside and they said, “I see something in you and I want to connect your gifts in the way that God has uniquely wired you, even in your mask…” because it’s the number catalyst for spiritual growth, I really do believe that, when we step out in ministry.

So she believed in me, she gave me that opportunity to connect my gifts to the vision of this church and how God wanted to use me, to fulfil the vision of the church. Everything I did, from cooking with kids in a kitchen, to eventually preaching. So it’s important that we provide that significant opportunity for people to be a part of something so much bigger than themselves, they want that, they crave that. People have jobs, so they’re looking for meaning.

So that was huge and then she also provided that support by making sure that I had all of the tools I needed to be successful.

Rich – What does that look like, when you talk about first class support? It’s one thing to provide support, but what would you say differentiates between first class support and just average support?

Christine – Sometimes we just throw people into a role, we take them through a healthy training process, we don’t take the time to really figure out how they’re wired, we don’t give them parameters, we don’t sometimes give them even budgets like, “This is how much you can spend to do what you need to do.” We don’t appreciate them the way that… sometimes we think we appreciate people because we walk through halls and we go, “Hey great job, so glad you’re here, you’re awesome,” but it’s that unique appreciation, it’s figuring out… We do something with our volunteers called What Floats Your Boat. I think it was a [Inaudible 00:12:27] thing.

Rich – Okay.

Christine – Years and years ago I had learned, where we had a list of questions, we go to our volunteers early on to figure out what they like, “What’s your favorite drink at Starbucks? Tell us about your family. Tell us your favorite donut,” things like that. We’re able to then, when we want to appreciate them we can do it in a unique way that resonates with who they uniquely are.

Rich – Right.

Christine – That’s so, so important.

Rich – Absolutely that’s fantastic. When you talk about meaningful connections, trying to get people plugged in, what does that look like? How are you doing that in your ministry?

Christine – There’s a couple of different things that we do there, because again, we can just throw people into roles and I was guilty of this years ago, just like, “Okay here’s what you need to do, go and do it.”

Rich – Yeah, “Do it.”

Christine – Then one day I remember saying to, I was asking a question to my volunteers and it became very apparent, they didn’t even know each other. They were serving with each other every weekend and they didn’t even know each other.

Rich – Oh gosh.

Christine – So we started to huddle up our teams, we started to get them together 30 minutes before each service. I know for leaders, “30 minutes? We can’t even get our volunteers to come on time.”

Rich – “What are we doing?” Yes.

Christine – I would say about 90% of our volunteers come 30 minutes early to huddle up with one another, because it’s meaningful. We share prayer request quickly, but we share prayer request, we cast vision, we give like the last minute changes for the day or things they need to know, we pray together. Then we encourage, like we’re going to do a bonfire at the end of this month for our teams. 100 people and their families are going to come out and we’re going to just have fun.

Rich – Yes.

Christine – It’s important to remember that people already have jobs.

Rich – Yes.

Christine – So you’ve got to make it fun.

Rich – Right, right.

Christine – You’ve got to make it fun and you’ve got to give volunteers that sense of, “I belong here. I’m not just a number, I’m not on an island, but I actually belong here.” There’s ways that we can definitely do that.

Rich – I know for us at our church, one of the things that I’ve said to our leaders all the time is, “Listen we need our people,” I obviously say this to staff, “We need our people to do a task but what they want out of it is relationship.”

Christine – Yeah.

Rich – We have to make sure that we’re baking into the process and opportunity for them to get to know each other. For us a big part of the way we do that is, if you serve on Sundays at any of our campuses, we’re going to provide you a meal. So we actually serve breakfast and lunch, well breakfast at all of our campuses, well actually all of our campuses are served lunch too, some people stay for both, and it’s not an insignificant expense, it’s a lot of… in fact we’re in budgeting season right now as we’re looking to next year and every year it comes up again, it’s like, “Gosh do we really want to spend all of this money on feeding people?” But for me, it really drives to this meaningful connections piece, that every week we’re providing an opportunity for our people to sit down and connect with each other and talk with each other and build relationship and friendship over a ham and egg and cheese sandwich. It’s significant and I think for leaders we can ignore those things because we think… but that doesn’t help us ensure that they show up on time or that doesn’t help us ensure that they know what they’re supposed to do in kids’. What it does over the long haul is they develop relationship for sure, with those people.

Christine – Yeah.

Rich – The fourth category you talked about was Empower Their Passions. Don’t we just need them to do stuff for us, why are we empowering their passions? Obviously I’m being facetious.

Christine – Yeah.

Rich – Tell me about part four?

Christine – Yeah, so many times, if we don’t give our volunteers parameters, if we’re not clear on what our vision and our strategy is and what the win statement is for that ministry, they’ll create their own and that’s a dangerous place to be. So we want to empower people with the tools that they need.

Rich – Yes.

Christine – We want to give them the parameters and we want to set them free to lead, we don’t want to micromanage right? They’re all unique, they have some great personalities and gifts that are all unique to them. So we want to be sure that they’re able to… we want to set them free to lead and administer it in their unique way but within the parameters that we set for them, so that they don’t create their own. It just creates a much healthier culture and environment.

Rich – Fantastic. There’s a lot we could cover there.

Christine – Yeah.

Rich – In fact there’s a book full of content. Obviously we’re going to encourage people… Listen, if you’ve listened to the podcast for a while you realize I don’t have a lot of authors on my podcast, in fact I turn down more authors than I have on, because a lot of times it’s just shilling for books. I only have authors on that I really want people to pick up their book and this is one of those books. So I really hope that you’ll buy this book, I’m not getting anything off this. Well I guess if you buy it from the link on my site I’ll get a little something from Amazon, but I really do want you to pick it up. I think this is a great book, particularly for church staff. I think if you’re on staff at a church, I think this would be a great book for you to buy, have with your team and wrestle through what we’re talking about here, because we’re talking about a significant shift. I know for me it’s a challenge. When I read this book I was like, “Gosh, man there’s so much we need to work on,” and I feel like we have a pretty positive volunteer culture at our church and I think we have a long way to go.

So Christine, before we jump onto the rest of the episode, is there anything else you’d like to share?

Christine – Yeah, I think one of the things that all ministry leaders need is for their jobs to be easier right? I think that, like you said, you read the book and you were like, “Oh gosh, there’s work to be done,” but here’s the thing. Once you do that work and you are intentional about making some changes and helping to create an irresistible culture, your job gets so much easier, because your volunteers are sticking, because they’re doing your recruiting for you and the leaders that emerge from a culture like this, I can’t even begin to tell you about that and that’s something we could talk about forever and that’s one of the most rewarding things that come out of that. When people find their calling, when they find that they come alive and you get to have a front row seat in that, there’s nothing like that.




  1. Organizations that are built on volunteers has to be one of the most difficult to sustain. Volunteers are typically only there for one of two reasons: 1) because they feel like they “have to” or 2) passion. The first does not work so we better figure out how to make sure #2 lasts. Christine hits on how to make sure they are valued and continue to be passionate. And like the rest of life, it comes down to the combo of macro and micro – the organization and the direct contact with those leading the particular group. And in the case of a Faith based org, there is a huge slice that we must simply leave at the feet of Jesus.

  2. These interviews have been great lately. I listened to this one after hearing Darren Kizer on another interview on the same subject.

    Loved the content, super helpful! I can’t wait to pick up the book.

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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.