A church is one of the great volunteer-based organizations in the world. Each week, millions of people serve in a wide variety of positions within their local church. As a church grows in size, however, the reliance on volunteers can become less obvious. Much of this has to do with the complexity of scale.
The Complexity of Scale
If a church has less than 200 people, its ministries are relatively easy to manage. The children’s ministry, for example, may only need a simple nursery/toddler room and a single classroom for each grade level. Each class may consists of eight or fewer children. It is relatively easy for a volunteer “Sunday School Superintendent” to manage a children’s ministry of this size.
In a large church, these numbers can scale to much larger proportions. At First Family Church, we average less than 1,000 in attendance on Sunday, but we have close to 250 children in our children’s ministry. With two campuses, three services, and grades divided into boys classes and girls classes, Sunday mornings need to be orchestrated like a finely tuned instrument. Add to this Wednesday evening ministries, Vacation Bible School, and a wide variety of kid-related ministries, and we need a lot of volunteers to make it all run smoothly. This responsibility falls to several paid staff members who oversees our children’s ministry.
The jump from 200 to 1000 is a big jump, but keep in mind that in comparison to a large mega-church, First Family is a small church!
Staff Focused or Volunteer Focused?
Bill Donohue cites 10 “red flags” that suggest a church is becoming staff focused rather than volunteer focused. A few of these include:
- The staff consistently plead for more volunteers to help them do their work.
- You are asked to give more money so “we (the staff) can get more ministry done.”
- Announcements are filled primarily with “what is happening here” and “how you can get involved and serve here.”
- You hear more about the staff members’ lives and work than vision, ministry, lives and callings of people in the church.
- “Ministry” is defined primarily as that which is done in programs sponsored by the church.
- Reports about “how we are doing as a church” are limited to updates about finances, building programs, or peak attendance at holiday services.
Reversing the Trend
How do you reverse the trend if you are sensing your church is becoming, or has become, a staff-focused church? Here are some suggestions to get you started:
- When a new ministry opportunity presents itself, is your first thought to look for a staff member to lead the charge, or find a gifted volunteer within your church?
- When a church member approaches you with a new ministry idea, do you respond, “Great idea! Let me give this to Pastor ______.”
- Does your budget reflect a growing dependence on paid staff or on trained volunteers?
- Do you place as much emphasis on training volunteers as you do on getting recruiting volunteers to serve in ministry?
- Have you surveyed your church to find out how many of your church members are serving in meaningful, fulfilling areas of ministry?
- Do you celebrate the successes of your volunteer leaders as often as you celebrate the successes of your staff members?
- If you are a senior pastor, do you preach volunteerism, yet hold your paid staff responsible for the success or failure of ministries in your church?
- Do you give room for volunteers to fail in ministry?
- As a church, do you serve your volunteers on Sunday mornings by providing food, help with childcare, a special room for your volunteers to relax between their responsibilities?
Celebrate How Your Volunteers Serve Outside of Your Church Ministries
Just as important as it is to celebrate volunteerism within your church, it is equally important to publicly support and honor the work your church members devote themselves to outside of your church. If you are seeking ways to enhance your appreciation for your church members’ vocational calling, Matt Woodley offers three probing questions to bring focus to the issue:
- How do we honor the calling of those among us? You do not have to receive a paycheck for your work to qualify as ministry. In fact, most pastors who are honest with themselves would admit their opportunities for ministry outside of their church are few and far between. it is much easier when you serve as an embedded missionary as a teacher, lawyer, office administrator, customer service rep., or any other positions that places you in and among people outside of your family and your church.
- How do we offer a robust theology of faith and work? In our sermons and other teaching resources, do we reinforce the biblical understanding that our work matters to God, regardless of who our employer may be. Do we reaffirm for our people the significance of their work as a ministry opportunity, or do we subtly suggest that if you are “really” called to serve God, you will surrender to full-time vocational ministry?
- How do we heal our wounded workers? It’s often been said “work” is the original four-letter word. Life can be tough, and nothing can grind a man or woman down faster than a job that sucks the morrow out of them. Is your church a place where wounded workers can heal or is it meat grinder that simply adds more stress to an already overstressed life?
How do you monitor your ministry to ensure you are providing proper care and shepherding to your volunteers? How do you ensure you do not become a pastor/staff-centered ministry?