Volunteering – Blech! How to Turn it Around

Categories Christian Living

The volunteering realm of Church life has always been an interesting thing. Most every Church goer and Christ follower has done it, few do it in on going rhythms and almost every Church leader can’t figure out why they can’t get more volunteers and retain them. I’d like to use this piece to speak to both volunteers and those who lead them. Let’s see if we can find a way forward in harmony.

Although oversimplified, when it comes to volunteering, especially at church, there are always two camps of people:

  1. I love volunteering! 
  2. I’d rather not. 

Both camps are made up of amazing people who love Jesus. Both camps have their reasons for their answers. 

Camp 1 – The Love its

The people in camp one usually love the church, have caught the vision and mission and desperately wanna give back. Maybe they’ve served at a church before and had a horrible experience volunteering or maybe not. Maybe they want to serve in a specific area that uses some of their obvious talents or maybe they want to help wherever needed. No matter the reason or background, they’re generally very “go with the flow”. They may get frustrated at times with how things are run or a lack of feeling valued but they have a firm grasp on the fact that those things were never their “why” and they’re able to voice concerns and ideas while joyfully enduring in the meantime. These people are the lifeblood of the church and although, thankfully, carry a lot of grace for leadership, leadership should take note that they should always up their game to retain these amazing people and help them flourish into their own personal journeys of ministry within the church. 

Camp 2 – The Rather Nots

The second camp may also deeply love their local church. Perhaps they’ve caught the vision here or in a past church and went all in serving wherever they’re needed or in an area they were super passionate about. Usually this camp started as the first camp! But along the way, they were:

  • Taken advantage of
  • Not appreciated
  • Got tired of disorganization
  • Wanted to grow into another area
  • Didn’t see the value of what they were giving up valuable time to do

Or this camp of people may have never volunteered before. They maybe don’t understand it or know what it is and why one should do it. Or maybe they’re just plain busy! Or, of course – they could just honestly be in the what we call the “baby Christian” stage of their walk with Christ and therefore a little selfish – not wanting to give up their time to something that doesn’t seem to serve them. 

Do You Volunteer? Why or Why Not?

What is a volunteer? Someone who offers up their time and abilities freely to a given entity or task. Yes, so a volunteer offers up freely – not as an obligation. Although ministers use Paul’s ( a disciple) words to the Corinthians (a church) most often in regards to monetary giving, I think it applies here as well- “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully[a] will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” So Paul tells the Corinthians to give of their own free will – but did you notice what else he said? Those who don’t give much, won’t receive much. Those who give much will in turn see much – the principle of reaping and sowing. 

Paul also had some words for the Romans (another church). 

“A life in Christ is a life under obligation. Paul said, “I am obligated  both to Greeks and non-Greeks” (Rom. 1:14). He didn’t see himself as a volunteer. He was under orders. In church, when we use the term volunteers,  we imply that Christian service is a matter of choice. But if you understand the apostolic nature of the church, you understand members are not  volunteering; they’re sent out due to the moral imperative of God’s providence. We are under obligation to provide obedient service, to live an evangelistic life. We owe people the  gospel because we recognize the danger they’re in, the love God has for them, and the provision God has made for them.” (author unknown)

Whoa! So which is it? Do we serve as an obligation or freely? The answer is both and. “What now? Jen, you make no sense!” you say. Peter, another disciple, tells us that “each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” The bible is full of tensions and definitely full of free will. I believe that we are called to serve in order to play out our part of The Great Commission within our local church body but it definitely needs to be done cheerfully and without manipulation. 

I should also mention that not all volunteering needs to happen inside the church as the Great Comission’s imperative is clearly to GO. That being said, hopefully and ideally your church body’s overall mission and vision is to GO in all its various aspects and nuances and therefore serving throughout the week still bears weight for the volunteer in this vein. My point is that as Christ followers we should find ways to be evangelistic with our time and abilities both inside and outside of the church. 

AND that being said, if you’re successful with the GOING then people are definitely gonna start coming and we best all be ready to be amazing hosts and hostesses which (drum roll please) takes volunteers. So, clearly we need volunteers and clearly we need solid leadership to care for them, help create an environment where volunteering is a joy, and help them feel appreciated. 

To the Leaders

If you lead volunteers in any capacity at your church know your objective: to equip and encourage (Ephesians 4:11-13). To do this: 

  • Train well and cast vision. (This link starts the path to both)
  • Have a game plan and stick to it (where do your greeters stand? Who gets supplies ready? What do kids workers do in an emergency?)
  • Say “thank you” often 
    • Make sure every volunteer gets a card at least once a year
    • Team Lead sick? Drop a care package off at their house
    • Provide thank you cards in a common area so team members can thank each other then mail them for them during the week
    • Shout them out on social media
  • Make your volunteers feel valued
    • Brag about them to the head pastor
    • Have a volunteer room or place they can go to drop off coats and purses, grab a badge and maybe a snack or bottle of water as well as be reminded of their task or assignment for the day
    • For volunteers who stand outside in the elements or who are here multiple gathering times a day, I give them a card for a free drink at the church cafe.
  • Ask for input
    • I send a welcome letter to my new volunteers with a branded beanie asking for any ideas they may have along the way. I make it clear that we may not use all their ideas but they should never stop supplying them.
    • After serving for three months, I send out a survey to evaluate their experience and where I can improve things on my end as a leader

To the Volunteers:

Understand your value and mission – even when your leaders don’t. Just like many of us don’t have “the best parents” and Jesus steps in to fill in the gaps so is the case with all leadership. If The Holy Spirit prompts you to serve, just do it. Do it for all the reasons mentioned above. Do it despite the hiccups mentioned or not mentioned. Have grace. Offer input. Do your best. Pray a lot. Here are some tips that may help your leader help you help them (haha – that was a mouthful):

  • Ask what they need help with
  • Ask what they envision you doing at first
  • Ask if you can tell them your favorite things to do
  • Ask about a “Spiritual Gifts” Test. Here’s a good one.
  • Who will be managing me?
  • Will there be a chance to do what I love?
  • When and where do you need me?
  • What kinds of unexpected things may come up?

If the area you begin to serve in doesn’t work out, be honest – polite but honest. Then, try to find another area that may be a better fit – don’t give up! You belong somewhere. We all do.

Jen Ervig #PNW Pastor
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