In survey after survey, the primary reason people give for volunteering is “because I was asked.” So how are we asking? How are we inviting the people in our church to serve?
Our frequent “help wanted” announcements reach a few people – those who are extremely compassionate, or who can’t say no, or, hopefully and especially, those who have been prepared by God for that particular opportunity.
But how do we invite everyone to serve? And since invitations should be personal, how do we invite EVERYONE in a personal way? Here’s how we did it recently in my congregation, St. Peter Lutheran, Arlington Heights, Illinois.
We started by thinking of the ending. We asked ourselves, “What if it works?” If people respond to the invitation, we need to personally respond to their response! When someone decides to serve, they often need help finding the right ministry fit and getting started in that ministry. We didn’t invite everyone to serve until we had the human resources to do both the inviting and the follow-up well, two full years after I began serving my church as Director of Volunteer Equipping.
As part of a four-week emphasis, we asked for a personal commitment and promised personal follow-up.
- We told people up front we’d be inviting them, at the end of the four weeks, to bring a Ministry Commitment form to the front of the church, during worship, as an offering of time and talent to their Lord.
- We emphasized the full picture of Christian service. On the form, they’d indicate both ongoing and new commitments to serve at church, plus ways they served in all their other vocations (home, work, and community) as well.
- The form asked people to mark those ministries in which they were already serving, to circle any new commitments and to put a ? by any they wished more info on. We promised follow-up from a ministry leader for all ministries they marked with a ? or circled. We also included a way to indicate they wished to talk to someone about where to serve. We wanted to connect people to other people.
We encouraged thoughtful, God-pleasing decisions about service.
- In worship, we had a 4-week emphasis on using our time and talent to serve others, with these themes:
- Serving others is not optional for Christians.
- God gives us gifts for use as we serve.
- We are stewards as we choose where to use our gifts in service.
- As we serve, we are to model Christ’s love for people.
- We offered our Bible study groups Called to Serve, a 4-week series that expanded on the worship themes and offered some practical tools people could use. We felt discussion among friends in a small group would bless many.
- We also made available
- A spiritual gift inventory in both paper and online versions.
- A “Sharing My Gifts” form on which people could indicate their interests and abilities so we could notify them when we had matching opportunities. We didn’t give this option great emphasis, because our church had done such time and talent sheets in the past without any follow-up. The ministry commitment was our major emphasis because it focused on actual service rather than interest and we would be following up on them.
God works through our invitations.
- We’re a large church and it’s hard to know all our ministry opportunities. So we worked to get the word out.
- A list of all ministry opportunities, with job descriptions for most of them, was available on the church website and in a book in the church entry.
- The commitment form was distributed in advance in the monthly newsletter, on the website, and in the church entry.
- We had a ministry fair on Sunday morning in week 3.
- All our ministries were invited to set up a table display and have someone there to talk to people. We encouraged creativity, interactive displays, and a fun atmosphere.
- We invited “friend” ministries – ones outside of our church but with whom we already had a relationship – to participate.
- Our ministry fair team provided colorful plastic tablecloths, balloons, snacks and door prizes to add to the festive air.
- All four weeks, before and after worship services, someone in the lobby was identified as a person who could answer questions.
It worked fine in tests, but couldn’t handle the volume of data we received.
Follow-up began immediately after the forms were turned in during worship.
- I scanned the forms quickly for any unusual responses before giving them to the data entry volunteers.
- The data entry volunteers were prepared to complete their task within that first week.
- Within two days, I began to forward the names of those who made new commitments, and those who requested more info, to the leaders of our ministries. Earlier, I had asked for their agreement that they would try their best to contact these people within one week of receiving their name, and to let me know the results.
- Follow-up continued for a good month after the commitment forms were received.
- New commitment forms continue to trickle in.
- Names continue to be passed along to ministry leaders.
- We work with ministry leaders to help them when they have questions as they talk to people.
- We follow up after a reasonable time when we have not heard back from a ministry leader as to the results of their contacts.
- We follow up with those whose form indicated they wanted someone to talk to, and with those who have contacted us with questions or ideas.
What we learned:
- Watching people bring their commitments to the front of the church during worship was a very moving and meaningful experience.
- Our worship was blessed by the close coordination between pastors and musicians and I so that we were all reinforcing the same message.
- The Ministry Fair was fun and effective.
- The displays didn’t need to be fancy or elaborate. The Nursery people covered their table with toys from the Nursery. The Greeter ministry covered a display board with smiles. The Youth ministry people brought out all their silly stuff.
- The best part of the fair was the many conversations about ministry. The friendly people at the tables always had someone to talk to. More than once I heard, “I can do THAT!” The woman who coordinates our weekday Bible class for people who are developmentally disabled not only found a number of new volunteers at the fair, she talked to people who have a developmentally disabled family member – and didn’t know we had this ministry.
- Follow up was no piece of cake. You have to work hard to prepare but also be ready to adapt. We’ll be able to do it a lot more efficiently and effectively next time.
- Our chief database volunteer created a data entry spreadsheet with special features to aid the eventual planned importation into a database. It worked fine in tests, but couldn’t handle the volume of responses we received. Within a day, she came up with a plan B, a database that could handle it all.
- Because I coordinated the distribution of names to ministry leaders and the contact with people who wanted to talk to someone, I became a bottleneck. I had the forethought to make sure someone else knew my system, in case I suddenly couldn’t do it, but next time I will make sure that follow-up is a team effort and not a solo job.
- Follow-up took twice as long as planned, but still was done in 4 weeks. People noticed that we kept our word and we were able to talk to people while their commitment was still fresh.
- Some ministry leaders were better than others in responding personally to the new commitments and requests for info. Next year I will provide more intentional training and/or select certain individuals in each area to respond to these commitments and requests for info.
- God works through our invitations. From our people (we average 800 weekly in worship) we received 300 ministry commitment forms, and those forms contained 845 ongoing commitments, 198 new commitments and 82 requests for information. In addition:
- New ministry interests and talents were uncovered. Our music director is thrilled that Susan is willing and able to provide piano accompaniment for some of our other music groups. Susan’s previous volunteer work was on a team that set up and took down chairs for one of our worship services.
- Our Volunteer Equipping teams (data entry teams, ministry team, and the team who meet with people to help them serve) are thrilled at each and every new ministry connection that results from their work of helping people serve.
- People have offered to start up new ministry ventures.
- Many who responded were not previously serving at church at all.
- Ministry leaders are heartened by people they didn’t know at all previously, who are excited about joining the ministry they lead.
“Now you are the body of Christ and EACH OF YOU is a part of it” (I Cor. 12:27). God be praised!
Is your church doing congregation-wide invitations to service? Share it with the rest of us. Email firstname.lastname@example.org..