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The Equipper Newsletter
December 1, 2007
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Governance Change . . . Volunteerism Change?
by Karen Kogler

Many churches, these days, are changing their governance, moving from a structure of boards and committees to a policy-based governance related to John Carver’s model. Before such a momentous change, leaders carefully consider its ramifications. But one ramification often is overlooked.
Rev. Peter Larsen worked on governance issues with many large churches in the Michigan District of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS). He often found that, after abolishing their standing committees, many churches realize they have just destroyed the system through which they obtained virtually all their volunteers. “Now what?!” they cry in panic.
“The number one frustration of these large churches is volunteerism,” according to Larsen.
But the solution is not found in the old structure of boards and committees. That structure probably wasn’t contributing to a healthy volunteerism system and climate. Fewer and fewer people enjoy lengthy meetings or multi-year commitments, and fewer yet appreciate how, as needs arise, additional tasks are often ‘dumped’ onto the committee members’ regular tasks.
A change in governance is an opportunity for a church to examine their volunteerism culture and system. How do we find volunteers? What percentage of our regular attendees are involved in ministry? How many of our volunteers are enjoying their work? What are their needs and challenges?
Too often, the sole focus of volunteerism is recruitment. We have so many needs . . . bulletin announcements reflect our increasing desperation . . . finally someone steps forward . . . and our focus immediately shifts to our next desperate need.
Instead of producing the healthy body of Christ which Paul describes in Romans 12, I Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4, this recruitment pattern produces a body in which a few parts of the body wear themselves out doing too many tasks, many of which they weren’t designed to do. Imagine Mr. Potato Head with all his parts in the wrong places. That body is ill-prepared for the work
Recruitment can be done in more healthful ways, especially if it is part of a much larger and more healthful focus on helping everyone serve as God has equipped and called them.
How can a church move to healthy pattern of helping people serve, even in the midst of governance changes?:
    1. Start talking, congregation-wide, about the relationship of volunteerism to governance (see link to PowerPoint, below). Take note of people who respond to the vision of healthy volunteerism. Ask them to check out resources and learn more. The resource database at The Equipper website is one place to start.
    2. Assess your current volunteerism climate and practices. Use a simple “what’s working? What’s not working?” survey or a more detailed one (sample). Or conduct interviews with staff, key lay leaders, ‘average’ volunteers, and a good sample of non-volunteers and ex-volunteers. 
    3. Form a team to address volunteerism, focusing on helping people serve (focus of this presentation) rather than recruitment. Writing out goals and measurable strategies to meet those goals will sustain the effort over the long run.
    4. Many steps can begin right away to start positive change while they also expand the circle of people working on volunteerism health.
      • Gather written job descriptions for all volunteer tasks. Such descriptions give potential volunteers a clear picture of the task.
      • Train a small group of people to be “ministry guides” who can meet with individuals who would like help finding a ministry that matches their needs and interest. 
      • Train the people who coordinate your various ministries. Encourage them and give them resources so they can welcome and train new participants to their ministry, support and affirm them, and deal appropriately with conflict when it arises.
The people working directly with governance change do not have time to deal with volunteerism issues. But if the church’s senior leaders see the benefit of working on both issues, and build a separate volunteerism team, the two groups can mutually support the important changes taking place in the congregation.
Neither governance nor volunteerism is an end in itself. Both are valuable only as they aid the church in sharing God’s great love in Jesus Christ with a world that so desperately needs it. Such a mission demands our best.

More on Governance/Volunteerism

  • Free download and use in your own congregation: a PowerPoint presentation that reinforces the main article. It's the third item on the page.
  • A different perspective, from the non-profit sector, on governing boards and volunteers, is given in the topic "Boards of Directors: Governing from a Distance?" by Susan Ellis of Energize, Inc. Through her lens, it's apparent that the church has an advantage in that board members are most often also volunteer workers. But there's also an implied challenge: do paid church staff recognize the value of board members' "broader view of the community"?

Blogging Bits

  • "My Bumpy Road to Happy Volunteering" -- In this interesting blog, a senior-age woman describes searching for a volunteer task that fit both her interests and her physical limitations. Do your church leaders help your people in that type of quest?

  • I wrote about a comment made by another senior-age woman in my blog entry, "Use Me, Lord."
Good Stuff on the Net

George Barna writes on the importance of churches screening those who work with children and youth.

About this newsletter

Published about once a month by Karen Kogler 
The Equipper Church Volunteerism Resources
Churches Equipping Saints for Service 

Copyright 2007