“I will pay you $20 to clean the whole basement.”
This is what it had come to.
I was hoping that my lament about the disorder in our basement would eventually lead to one of my children volunteering. As the father of four, didn’t I know better? How could I be so delusional to think that one of them would suddenly succumb to my cries with a sudden joy for volunteering? I could have made my son clean the basement. But I ended up just paying one of them and the work was completed in a couple hours.
I’m not sharing this with you in the hopes of getting nominated as Parent of the Year. I’m just confessing that sometimes I solve problems with unhealthy, unsustainable methods.
How about you?
In our churches, we are experiencing a particular flavor of the Great Resignation that so many are talking about. Yes, we have paid staff who are resigning. But the particular flavor that I’m calling out is the decline of our volunteer base. Our people are not coming out of the pandemic starving for things to do. They aren’t jumping back into all of their old roles and we don’t find ourselves with new volunteers breaking down our doors. Why aren’t people volunteering? What should we do? How can we avoid falling into the trap of unhealthy, unsustainable coping methods?
After many conversations with fellow pastors and church consulting clients, I have noticed the same four reasons keep popping up. And I have some ideas on how your church can try to respond to each.
1) “I Don’t Have Time”
People often tell their ministry leaders that they don’t have time to help at the church because they are too busy with other commitments. They list all of the other activities that they or their family are involved with. Their list disproves their point. It isn’t that they don’t have time. It is that they have chosen to give that time to something else. On some level, the church activity just doesn’t seem worth it. I would guess that if you offered $30,000 college scholarships to any family who volunteered in your youth ministry, many of you could fill your vacancies. Oops! There I go again, just like the $20 basement cleaning solution.
The “no time” reason is a value reason. They don’t value the opportunity that you are offering.
Make it a point to regularly communicate the value of your ministry volunteering opportunities. What is a result or impact that you can lift up when celebrating your current volunteers and recruiting future volunteers? Invest time in communicating the value of your ministries so that potential volunteers can know why they should value them, too.
2) “It’s Just Not My Thing”
Some church leaders are hearing back from their people that they just aren’t interested in any of the activities of the church. This often comes up when we try to recruit younger generations to be part of established ministries that the older generations want to hand off. And, sometimes, ministries just lose their following.
First, consider pausing or stopping the ministries that are constantly short of volunteers. The lack of interest may be a sign that this ministry is no longer aligned with the heart of your church. Or you need to try something else. Next, take time to find out what does interest these people. Many churches have started using Ministry Architects’ Volunteer Accelerator tool to help connect people’s interests with ministries that are actually a good fit for them. We need to believe that God has equipped people with interests so that they can serve. We should not fall prey to thinking that people need to bend their interests to fit our church volunteer needs or keep alive something that might need to be laid to rest.
More Volunteers. Guaranteed.
Learn more about the Volunteer Accelerator here.
3) “I’m Really Not Good At That.”
Some people have really low self-esteem. They look at their lives in comparison to the picture-perfect Instagram snapshots of their neighbors and the insecurity creeps over them. The church should be the place where people feel the immeasurable value they have as creations of God. But instead, so often the church just becomes another place where people see superstars outshine them. So, they get caught in the same unhealthy comparison trap that keeps them from contributing anything at all.
Find ways to celebrate those who are volunteering without glorifying the volunteers who can do it all. If your church is still picking a “Church Person of the Year,” stop it. Instead, recognize the particular efforts of all volunteers with appreciation events and communications. In addition, remind people that God has plans for everyone in this beautiful, divine family. God makes people sufficient for the calling that He has for them. And the church gets to be a safe place they can discover that calling. We should be investing as much time in learning about the passions of the people as we do in filling the slots of our ministries.
4) “I Just… Can’t.”
Suffering, wounded, and overwhelmed, the COVID pandemic has created many secondary pandemics, particularly in the areas of stress, anxiety, and overall mental health. Not everyone in our communities is okay. But every psychologist I know is taking appointments over 6-months out, because bookings are that high. Many people simply feel overwhelmed as the rush of normal life returns on top of the lingering pandemic stress levels. Our people are suffering, tired, and still wounded from what has been.
Take care of your people. Tend to the wounds of your church people even if it means you have to cancel several events or ministries. Be brave enough to risk the backlash that might come when holding the status quo gets dropped in favor of caring for each other. Perhaps it’s time to teach people how they can lean on their faith in troubled times. Jesus brings a healing presence in our lives. If we invest in a season of kind, steadfast love, there may be a harvest of renewed and healed people in our churches. We need to be seen as places where people find peace, not just worthy jobs to do.
Will these suggested ideas solve all of your volunteer issues? Probably not. But when you look at these suggestions together, they do paint the picture of a healthier, more sustainable approach to engaging volunteers to serve in ministry.
Try all of these ideas and you may find yourself in a church that is regularly communicating and celebrating the impact that the church is making through volunteering in the name of Christ. That same church could be seeing the potential in every person and reassuring them that God has a purpose for them. This transformed church is also celebrating what God is doing through all the people, eagerly curious about the way God has gifted each person. This responsive church is looking at the suffering of the people and meeting them with compassion, grace, and healing.
That all sounds like the kind of church I’d like to serve. How about you?