Is your church staff shrinking? Mine is. Long term trends in school enrollment, followed by covid’s financial impact, forced our church leaders to implement two reductions in force in 2020, including a 50% reduction in my hours.
It’s not just us. Covid’s full effect remains to be seen, but it may well intensify decades-long declines in church membership and giving. The result, at best, is a need to reduce staff. Worse, many churches are going without pastors or closing their doors.
It’s a bleak picture. Our first impulse might be to recruit volunteers to fill gaps created when staff leave, but most of us were already having trouble recruiting sufficient volunteers, so that strategy is not promising.
But if a crisis has an advantage, it’s that it forces us to rethink everything and to refocus on what’s important. How does this apply to church staff and church volunteers?
What ministries are we engaged in? When and how did they begin? Do we need or want to keep doing those same things in the same way? What does the community around us look like today? How can we best reach them with the good news of Jesus?
Recruiting usually begins with a task: “We need someone to do x.” What if we approached recruiting from the perspective of our people: who has God brought here? What gifts do they have? What motivates them? How do their gifts and interests intersect with our mission?
In churches, most conversations about serving revolve around church volunteering. What if serving where we live, work and play were the primary focus? What if we “elevated the ordinary?” (Thanks for the great phrase, Pastor Randy!) Doing good in the neighborhood is good for its own sake, and also more likely than church-centered volunteering to lead to new believers.
Are there people within the church who can provide leadership?
I’d love to see more churches with a staff position like mine, but trends indicate it’s not likely and, truthfully, it’s not necessary. But it is more important than ever that someone focuses on volunteers: that someone is their voice; learns how to engage younger volunteers and virtual volunteers; notices when we may be unintentionally hindering volunteers; connects with other volunteer engagement specialists in local and national networks. That someone could be a board member, a volunteer, or even the pastor, anyone who sees the value of volunteers and is willing to invest time and effort in learning, advocating and leading.
Covid has disrupted our world, but it has also caused many to think of spiritual issues. The gospel is still alive and well and Jesus is at work turning hearts to himself. While staff may be shrinking, our people still care. As they see the need, catch the vision and are offered appealing oopportunities, they are ready to serve. We need to be ready to lead them. Now more than ever.
If we could grow in helping our people capitalize on their gifts for mission, we could end up in a better place than when we simply hired staff to get things done. Less truly would be more.