The Equipper Newsletter
May 2008
Churches Equipping Saints for Service

How to Discourage Your Church's Volunteers
by Karen Kogler
[This article first appeared in The Lutheran Witness in March 1998 and is reprinted with their permission. Sections 1, 3 and 4 are not printed in their entirety here; links to the full article are provided at the end of each section.] 

Imagine your church with no volunteers for one week.

The organist may play the organ, but there are no choir members or other instrumentalists. Everyone eventually finds a worship bulletin, but gathering the offering turns chaotic. People go to the fellowship hall after worship, but there's no coffee or Danish set up. And, during the Sunday-school hour, the adults are forced to join the children because there are no Bible-class leaders (and no Sunday-school teachers, either, for that matter).

During that week, the grass doesn't get mowed, Bible study groups don't meet, and shut-ins receive no audiotape of worship. No committees get together to discuss plans for vacation Bible school, youth-group activities or needed church repairs. [Continued ...]
Part 2 of article: Why we serve
Before discussing what techniques we might use to stimulate volunteerism in our congregations, let's first ask, Why do we volunteer at church in the first place?

All of our service, no matter how noble, effective and sacrificial, is as "filthy rags" in God's eyes if we use it to earn God's approval (Is. 64:6). But as we receive the free gift of eternal life with God from the nail-scarred hands of Jesus, our gratitude overflows from our hearts to our hands in joyful service.

God's model for our work together is the human body (Rom. 12:4-5; 1 Cor. 12:12-27). The body's many parts, each with its own purpose, are all needed and work together as one. None of the members is unnecessary, and none is independent.

So why are so few doing the bulk of the work in most of our churches? Are those not serving less spiritual, less dedicated than those who are? Sometimes spiritual reasons are involved, and these need to be addressed with those people. But let's look at some common practices by which we may unknowingly discourage people from volunteering to serve.
Part 3: How to Hinder Volunteers 
  1. Use guilt to motivate.

    "You really ought to take a turn as Sunday-school teacher, Mitch. The rest of us have."

    Guilt works sometimes, so we tend to turn to it. But it doesn't work over the long haul; people eventually tune you out. And it certainly isn't Biblical. God doesn't want service that comes from "shoulds" and "oughts," but rather from loving, grateful hearts.

  2. Keep secret the details of a task.

    "I said I'd help out with the congregational dinner, and then I find out I'm in charge of the whole thing!"
       Click here to continue part 3 with 7 more ways to hinder volunteers, such as
                5. Act desperate
                6. Keep the tasks rigid 

While avoiding negative practices, we can also take positive steps to improve the volunteer service in our congregations.

  1. Remind one another that God has blessed us with gifts and talents and abilities.

    Many Christians have never been told that God has equipped them for ministry. We need to help each other discover and develop our gifts.

  2. Ask for an annual commitment to ministry.

    Consider annually listing the ministries of your church and asking members to mark those that they could do. (Continued)

Community-Impact Church Volunteering
An article in a suburban St. Louis newspaper describes how volunteers from Webster Gardens Lutheran Church did an 'extreme makeover' on a single mom's home  -- in two weekends!  They're also describing a new and growing type of church volunteerism targeting "big" needs in the community.
Such large projects 'outside the church walls' give the church an opportunity to bring the Gospel directly to people in need, by both word and deed. The unchurched take note. These projects work for volunteers because they are short term, have visible results, and include both specialized and non-specialized labor. Leaders must invest a great amount of advance planning and coordination.
Readers: do you have experience with this type of volunteer project? Do you know people who do? It would be helpful to learn about the behind-the-scenes volunteer coordination involved. 
Also from Karen's pen
"The Wall Between Faith-Based and Secular Volunteering: Is it Time to Chip Away at the Barrier?" is an article I wrote for e-Volunteerism, an electronic journal of Energize, Inc., one of the major sources of support and resources for people who care about volunteerism. Written primarily for managers of volunteers in the secular non-profit world, I encourage an understanding of, and partnerships with, the faith-based world of volunteerism. My experience in both worlds has convinced me that there are advantages to both worlds in working together. e-Volunteerism charges $3 for the article (or a $40 annual subscription) but my agreement with them will allow me to put the article on my website a year from now. 
Also -- recent blog posting: Do as I say, not as I do  
Good Stuff on the Web
Is bigger better? An interesting blog posting on the difference in a youth leader's work in a big church compared to a smaller church. Note the interesting comment at the end about the difference for a volunteer in a big or small church.
Customer service in the church? A thoughtful posting, with a number of comments, on the manner in which one church implemented new policies on screening Nursery volunteers. It was written by a volunteer who expressed concern about the policies. How do we still behave as family, as the body of Christ, when dealing with such concerns as background checks? Worth thinking about.
What Volunteers Want -- A good Christianity Today article. Some of their conclusions may be suprising. 
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Karen Kogler, Equipper Church Volunteerism Resources