More than 10 million people volunteer in only seven organizations: Special Olympics, Salvation Army, YMCA, Habitat for Humanity, United Way, American Red Cross, Big Brothers/Big Sisters. And yet there are hundreds of volunteer organizations. The reason those few organizations have the lion’s share of volunteers is because they offer a compelling vision. They move the hearts of people to serve.
The church has the greatest message ever told and the greatest mission to humanity. The church needs to do a better job communicating the vision so volunteers can understand their impact when God uses them to change a life for the kingdom. If the church is able to cast a compelling vision of the incredible opportunity God gives his followers to make an eternal difference in the life of another person, then more people will volunteer to serve.
God gave the church his own mission to go out and reach lost people with the gospel, baptizing them, teaching them, and sending them out as disciples. God gives us the opportunity to be part of his kingdom purpose.
What is great about this mandate is that God gives each of us special gifts to accomplish it. He describes his people with these unique gifts as part of the body. He hasn’t called all of us to be the head or the arm. Instead he illustrates how the parts working together as a body can accomplish incredible things, but every member must bring his own unique gifts to the enterprise.
Overcoming the barriers
The Unstuck Group conducted a survey on volunteerism in the church. They reported 46% of adults and students serve in their church at least once per month. At the high end of the report, churches reported 70% engagement, and the lowest reported was 20% engagement.
Whatever the percentages, every church could use more workers. A ministry leader is always in need of them, but sometimes good volunteers can be hard to find. We may sometimes blame the commitment level of our congregation. We ask ourselves, “Why don’t more people step up and serve?” But a better question is, “What’s preventing people in our church from engaging in service?”
Rather than bemoan the lack of volunteers, many churches could benefit from this simple exercise—identify the barriers to service, and do something about them. In addition to vision, here are a few additional barriers:
• Nobody’s tracking service. Without tracking participation, it’s hard to know if the church is making progress.
• The church has too many ministries. Sometimes the problem is not lack of workers, but too many slots. Cutting unneeded or outdated ministries will free up people to serve.
• The boarding process is unclear. In some churches, it’s just too hard to get into the system. Check the volunteering process for clear entry points and adequate training for specific ministries.
Remember, it’s not the lack of volunteers that keeps a church from being effective in ministry. It’s the barriers that keep would-be volunteers on the bench rather than in the work. When we present service as a spiritual growth opportunity, instead of a survival tactic for the church, we will see people step up. When we are engaging more volunteers, then we will know that people are growing in their walk with Christ.
Jeff Gonzalez is an experienced leader in business and ministry. He is a consultant with IBSA in the area of church health and growth.