We were all taught to believe that there used to be a ministry golden era (sometime in the 50s) when people had more time and they were more committed to church. It was an era when Mom stayed home and served weekly in the Sunday school, attended women’s circle meetings on Wednesday nights and staffed summer long Vacation Bible Schools. It was an era when Dad went to work at 9 am and returned by 5 pm and spent the rest of his time throwing ball in the front yard, giving sage advice to his sons and chairing church finance committees. I don’t know whether that was true or not, but I’m guessing that since the Cleavers had to work so hard at it, I’m sure it wasn’t any more true then, than it is now.
When it comes to volunteering in ministry, we often hear that people are “not committed,” that they don’t “stick around.” They are not committed to one thing for very long before they move on to something else.
The truth is, people are committed.
They are just committed to something else. They are committed to their favorite television program or their favorite sports team. They are committed to showing up at work. They are committed to three square meals a day (or at least two). They are committed to living indoors.
People are committed to the things they believe are important.
Not only do we need to show people that ministry is worth committing to, we need to eliminate the things that sabotage commitment to serving in ministry.
Some common reasons why people don’t commit to serving:
- the role doesn’t seem to be significant
- they have a bad experience serving
- they are not properly trained
- they feel like they are serving alone
- their service is not recognized
- they are not serving frequently enough to experience God use them
- they are not serving in the area of their gifting
- their service is not helping them grow spiritually
Certain needs must be met if a volunteer is to commit to ministry.
These needs fall into three different categories:
Each of these three build upon each other.
1. Significance can be found in gifted, passionate presence.
When we talk about gifting we are talking about spiritual gifts. God gives every believer spiritual gifts. Many Christians go through their entire lives without knowing their gifts.
Some volunteers move around a lot because they have been placed in an area they are not gifted in.
Maybe they are gifted at connecting relationally but they have been placed in an administrative role or as a check-in person. Every time they print out another spreadsheet, a little bit of themselves dies because what really satisfies them is having a deep, meaningful relationship with someone. They need to be a small group leader.
Placing people in the area of their gifting is an important prerequisite to increasing the commitment of volunteers.
It is our job as leaders to help people identify their gifts and place them in the right spot (Ephesians 4:15-16). Placing people in the area of their gifting is an important prerequisite to increasing the commitment of volunteers. It is the bottom of the pyramid which everything else is built on. Without it, many of the other parts of the pyramid will not be relevant.
While some people may have volunteered out of a sense of duty, or because someone begged them into the position and they just couldn’t say, “No,” most people are serving because they genuinely want to make a difference in the life of a child or student. We can help keep this passion alive by making sure that volunteers see how their job or position impacts a child or student. When they don’t see the connection between what they do and the mission it becomes easier for them to drop out.
Presence is the easiest of the three to overlook. It’s a piece of the puzzle that some ministries have actually programmed out by creating large volunteer rotations. Volunteers need to show up regularly enough to see how they make a difference. The steps in spiritual formation may sometimes be dramatic, like making a decision to follow Christ or being baptized. However, many aspects of spiritual formation are more subtle. It may be a subtle change of character, faith or behavior, like a student placing more trust in God for the circumstances that are outside of their control. These changes can only be seen if a volunteer shows up regularly enough to see the difference. Volunteers must be present if they are to become committed. We often think it is the other way around.
Commitment comes from a volunteer seeing how their service makes an impact on the life of another.
2. Confidence: Supported, Trained & Celebrated
Many volunteers drop out because they lack confidence. While they may see that what they do is significant, there is a disconnect between how important they feel the ministry is and how to actually accomplish the task. You can think a job is really important and still have no idea about how to get the job done. Over time this erodes confidence, serving becomes a burden and volunteers burn out.
While serving in your ministry, a volunteer needs to experience support, training and recognition.
A sense of belonging fuels commitment.
While we often look to adult small groups, community groups or adult Bible fellowships to provide community and belonging in our churches, one of the most powerful forms of belonging is being on a team that is working together toward a common goal. Teams create interdependent relationships. When someone is gone, the team feels it. When someone is hurting, the team feels it. When someone is struggling, the team feels it. Like community groups, this kind of interdependence creates a built in sense of care, accountability and belonging. We call the person responsible for this dynamic a coach.
Nothing can sap confidence more quickly than trying to console two screaming 3 year-olds and lead an activity at the same time. However, there are things that can be learned to help prevent this and skills that can be developed to get a group back on track when things like this happen. Classroom management, discipline, lesson preparation and connecting with kids relationally are all skills that can be learned and must be taught if a volunteer is going to be confident in their role.
Training is not only necessary when a person first volunteers, but it must be ongoing.
Celebrating team members not only provides recognition, it reminds people of what is most important. When we highlight how a volunteer’s service changed the life of a child or student we are not only celebrating a volunteer we are elevating the reason why the ministry exists. Celebrating life-change creates a scoreboard that everyone sees and it inspires commitment. People like to be on winning teams. Wins should be celebrated and celebrated frequently.
3. Accomplishment: Life-change
In one of my first ministries, I was blessed with several volunteers among whom were 3 extraordinary people. These three extraordinary people were beloved by the children in their classes and by many hundreds of others who had had them as teachers. One had been a Sunday school teacher for over 20 years. Two of them had been Sunday school teachers in the same age level for over 30 years. They were “old-school” Sunday school teachers in all of the best ways possible. These three people taught me two very important things about commitment. People make life-time commitments when:
- they see God use them to change another person’s life
- they are changed as a result of seeing God use them to change another person’s life
One of the ways that God grows our faith is when ministry becomes personal. Ministry becomes personal when people see God use them to grow another person’s faith and their faith, in turn, grows. Volunteers cannot experience accomplishment without the significance that comes from being a gifted, passionate presence and without the confidence that comes from support, training and recognition.
One of the saddest things I see in ministry are the volunteers who never experience life-change. Neglecting these issues not only impacts volunteer commitment levels, it impacts our ability to lead kids and volunteers in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. It strikes at the very heart of our mission. However, armed with the ingredients of a great volunteer experience you can make a difference. You can recruit volunteers and help them experience their own faith grow as they see God use them to lead others in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.
Condensed and adapted from Help Wanted: Get, Keep and Grow New Volunteers by Damon DeLillo © 2015 Ten Cow Ministries. Used by permission.