Getting the balance right between encouraging involvement and constant campaigning for volunteers
Is it me? Or is the long list of jobs, rota spaces and volunteering opportunities that some churches put in their weekly news off putting? I’m not saying that there’s no need to find people to do things but I think there’s a point where the volume of requests seems to give mixed messages.
How desperate are we that anyone will do? On the one hand this is fine and all about equality, on the other what about gifting and being asked as part discipleship service?
The above is a question a friend of mine (named below as “B”) posed on Facebook recently. I was fascinated by the question and the comments that followed. I’ve copied them below but have anonymised the responses (permission was sought from the original poster of course). It would be great to hear your thoughts.
L – A very good question B and one I’ve struggled with over the years having been on all three sides of the rota (as an organiser, a volunteer and also a refuser).
B – L, I think there’s something about getting the balance between opportunity and leadership engagement right.
L – I agree B. I also remember going over to dinner with some church leaders, I thought because we were just having a nice meal together, being relational etc etc. But when we got there it was clear the agenda was actually “Now we’ve fed you, let’s talk about what else you can do FOR THE CHURCH”
N- On the other hand, we have had new people come to the church and look for opportunities to be involved. Rotas are a great way of giving them jobs and getting them involved in church life.
B – N, I partly agree – hence my musings. However, I know of churches where people have volunteered, taken leadership roles and declined to be part of nurture groups. Also, the rota for preachers and service leaders always seems less participative even though some of the “qualified” preachers are not that good
S – We struggle with this. Perhaps the changing pattern of both church attendance and volunteering has something to do with it? More and more seems to fall on fewer and fewer willing volunteers. Perhaps we have a deeper issue of how to disciple people with some/many in our churches picking what they like and ignoring what they don’t which reflects our culture today?
L – I’ve also got some thoughts to add (which are along S’s lines) about volunteering in non church stuff and how that has changed in recent decades. A lot to do with busy lives and more women working I think (not that the women working is a bad thing…)
T – rotas are a most heinous abomination against scripture – a practice of apostasy that has left the church ailing with spiritual corruption and poverty. Trying to ‘run’ a church on rotas is to place the household of God under wrath!!!! No wonder we see our churches struggling and in decline.
K – B, I really struggle at work with this. We couldn’t operate without volunteers but finding the balance is hard.
N – It’s not about whether there is a rota or not – someone has to unlock the building, serve the coffee, lead a service, hand out the hymn books or whatever it is you have rotas for. It’s about the attitude of the community to why they are there. I have been to preach at lots of churches and at some, you get the impression they are interested only in maintaining a Sunday event. In others, you sense they are interested in what you have got to say, and in being a missional community of God. I know where I prefer to preach, and where I’d prefer to attend.
B – N, there’s also something about the attitude of leadership that’s important. Some micro manage and do everything – others only involve themselves in what they see as important.Also, I’m not sure some people are that worried about services but still expect them to function.
However, a constant litany of adverts for volunteers can make a church seem weak, desperate and unable to engage with people for who they are and where they are at. I’m not a Christian in order to do “jobs” in church. However, my faith and being part of a community makes these possible.I guess it might be worth thinking about whether some of the roles in church need be done by Christians. Does it matter who volunteers to do what? Should church youth volunteers have a faith or is it simply ok to have someone to do the task. I’m being deliberately obtuse for effect – somewhere there needs to be a place for service as part of discipleship. In my experience, churches who advertise constantly for volunteers have low expectations for discipleship – and probably struggle with change and growth
N – Service is of course a part of discipleship, but service of what or whom? For me, I am less interested in service of the church, except when it enables those in the church communities to be in service to those who are not part of the church. That’s what I hope our Sunday services are about, so unlocking the doors, arranging the flowers etc are all part of that, as much as welcoming, preaching, leading, serving coffee. When our service is of the church for its own sake, I think we will struggle.There will be programmes that fail because of a lack of volunteers – well, so be it. There will also be those that flourish because volunteers catch a vision.When you become a member of a church what are you signing up to? If you choose to identify with a community, it is reasonable to expect you to contribute to it, as you are able. And sometimes we need to recognise that some people, sometimes, need to just enjoying receiving from the community, though I am not convinced that should be the norm.We often say “they are fringe people; they don’t get involved”. What we mean is “they don’t get involved in our church programmes”. What we miss is that their work with their families, in the workplaces, amongst their neighbours, scouts, schools whatever is as much (if not more?) church work as polishing the brass and mowing the churchyard.And on your particular question, how can I introduce someone to Christ if I don’t know Him myself?
B – N, I think your last comment makes a good case for leaders connecting with people personally rather than a newsletter full of adverts.
Please add your own comments and thoughts below. I’m sure there is more to be said!
Helicopter photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons – Ed Uthman