Recently on this page we looked at the “death of volunteers” in Local Churches , especially in the Western World where more and more Christian ministry has become a profession
A mega church pastor recently boasted that he in fact had no pastoral skills but “left that stuff with the people I employ for the task”
In the average size church however, much of what needs to be done in order for the church to function, comes not from paid staff but from a dwindling crowd of unpaid volunteers.
As mentioned in my earlier article this group of people are becoming extinct, often because of the pace of modern life in urban centers which is requires so much more of individuals and families that the old more sedate society of 50 years ago.
Burn out of volunteers, results in churches unable to carry on with some basic things like Sunday school, and small groups. In this context many churches find themselves unable to pay full time or part time workers and unable to find volunteers.
I hope to maybe provide some basic answers in what follows to help leaders and volunteer workers alike.
Firstly we need to deal with expectation. When seeking out volunteers we need to be able to state clearly our expectations for the task in hand at the outset. If you are a paid leader of a church, don’t expect from your volunteers what you expect from yourself.
Those of us who are full time, have a more flexible schedule than those who must report Monday am at 7.00 and be there till 5.00 pm. There are no days off in a regular job, outside the two or three weeks granted by the employer. Thus overworked volunteers cannot decide to take a couple of three days “retreat” to ease the pressure, unless they totally use up the vacation time they should be having with their families.
Moving on from there, volunteers need to be not wearing too many hats at one time!
This means that unless a volunteer is self-employed and can set his own hours, it is unwise to expect them to fulfill more than one function in the church whilst they are carrying on a full time job.
Let me illustrate. If a person is in charge of a small group in your church, and you go ahead and appoint him an elder, you actually place incredible weight on him. Now he must attend and prepare each week for his home group and probably visit and pray for those in the group as the need arises. Now, in addition to this, he must fulfill the role of an elder, visit the sick, speak periodically on Sundays, be involved in at least one elders meeting a month and usually two, and spend time discipling people in the church.
In many churches the Sunday school is often a difficult place to staff. Church leaders who are discipling young adults in their church, need to look at the possibility of having them actually staff and run the Sunday school. This is a challenge to discipline their own lives, but also an excellent place to learn the Word , and to learn to teach in simple terms as part of their spiritual growth. As a personal testimony my wife and I were in a group of 6 young people who ran a whole Sunday school without any adult supervision, and we grew massively spiritually in the process
The next thing to consider is duration of the task. Many volunteers collapse physically and spiritually because they have just been too long at a particular task and have no prospect of a rest. Give your volunteers a 12-month contract as it were, and tell them at the end of that time they are free to lay it down without criticism from the leaders or others concerning their commitment.
Another aspect to help volunteers is to have job sharing or team in a particular area of ministry in the Church. If people don’t have to do the same thing each week but can share the burden with others it is much more helpful and less stressful.
As leader we may not all like the next thing! We need to examine each “ministry” in our church and see if it is fruitful. Sometimes churches are doing things that exhaust their workers without any sign of fruit from the ministry.
An instance of this is Youth Ministry. Sadly, many parents see the job of a youth leader “to keep their children busy until they are old enough to sin legally” Thus the Youth Leader must now compete with , The Gym, The YMCA and the baseball league , an be expected to provide a viable alternative.
Let your churches parents, network to provide social activities, and give your volunteer youth leader some time to relate on a one to one basis with his youth group, and to disciple them in Kingdom ways. Don’t forget he has a job and a life as well as you.
Here then are some ideas to help relieve the pressure on volunteers and to help volunteering sound attractive and not simply destructive in the lives of our people.
Here are a number of other things that will help.
1. Activate your volunteers
When they agree to follow a role in ministry, take time to publicly pray for them and set them into the task so the whole church is aware of their work. In the process point them to resources that they can access and ensure there is adequate finance so they don’t have to pay for them themselves
2. Appreciate your volunteers.
Don’t take them for granted and don’t hold back from an encouraging phone call or a coffee together .Flowers on a birthday, remembering an anniversary can all help. Warm personal relationships pay great dividends. Leaders are fellow labourers not mere administrators
3. Administrate your volunteers
By this I mean , make regular enquiries, get impromptu reports and show an interest in their ministry and personal lives. Give them chance to see how vital their ministry is in the overall picture
4. Acknowledge your volunteers
In some of the churches I visit, immediately after worship, the person leading the meeting acknowledges publicly the contribution of the worship team that day. This is a simple act but is an example of what makes volunteers feel their work is not in vain or not valued Many churches are “superstar oriented” and their leader
I believe that some of these things will assist us when seeking to increase and maintain the volunteer group in our churches.