Unfortunately, hearing these words happens too frequently in churches across the country. One reason this happens is due to errors in the system (or lack of a system) to connect willing servants to serving opportunities. Though desperate for workers, churches often lack the mechanism to effectively link interested people to ministries that will enable people to grow in fruitfulness and fulfillment. Consider this scenario:
First Assembly plans a volunteer-recruitment service. Pastor Bob uses a sermon about servanthood and a drama to make a strong plea for workers. Bulletins contain a flashy insert with boxes for people to indicate where they want to serve. On Monday, the church receptionist sorts and forwards the inserts to the appropriate staff members or ministry leaders. Unfortunately, chances are good the volunteer recruitment effort ends here.
It is unlikely that the information will get compiled into any kind of database. It is unlikely anyone will keep track of these people or contact them. Even if they are contacted, it is unlikely those contacted will explore “plan B” if their first choice does not work out. It is unlikely prospective volunteers will discuss their God-given wiring for ministry (gifts, talents, passions) with anybody. Yet, this is the typical method for recruiting in many churches. This procedure amounts to nothing more than informing. It is completely impersonal and does not ensure any training after someone is recruited. The next and often absent element is called equipping.
Here are some elements the church can use to connect and equip people to serve:
• Interviews or classes (or a combination) that help people explore and discover their ministry wiring, with a follow-up step for connecting to ministry (Discovery).
• Entry positions in various ministries where people can try out ministry and experience on-the-job discovery (Discovery/Connection).
• A monitored referral process to ensure follow-up. Ministry leaders voluntarily submit to mutual accountability regarding follow-up responsibilities (Connection).
• Ministry roles defined by written job descriptions can help people determine the ministry role that best matches them (Cataloging).
• An information system that stores members’ interests, their abilities, and the various steps they have taken to connect to ministry (Tracking).
• An information system that also catalogs ministry opportunities in both the church and community (Tracking).
• A ministry orientation process that is specific to the program area but is monitored to ensure no one is placed into service without the opportunity to become acclimated and feel confident (Orientation/Training).
• A tickler system to remind leaders to make time for training and discipleship of volunteers (Reflection/Evaluation).
These methods cannot remain theoretical. They must become steps or processes. Someone needs to check the system regularly to make sure it is working. The steps cannot be disjointed. The process of helping people connect to the life of the church must be seamless.
Too many churches divide these areas between numerous departments. The departments then give oversight of these areas to different people who do not serve on the same team. One person handles visitor follow-up, another handles volunteer placement, another in the office tracks members, and membership is completely separate. Even in the most cooperative environment, it is hard for all these elements to be a seamless system or process unless they are linked.
Processes can seem and even become sterile, lifeless, and corporate. But corporate is not automatically equivalent to uncaring or cold. When a system is working effectively, it is completely invisible to the people being served. However, leaders who care about people for more than what they can do for the church are highly visible. Leaders who are synchronized and work as a team are highly visible. People serving who are excited and joy-filled are also highly visible. Unfortunately, when a church is without a system or has cracks in its system, people fall through.
CASE STUDY: A CHURCH WITHOUT RECRUITING/TRAINING SYSTEMS
There are never enough ushers, and Erin sometimes hates her job as the usher team leader. She asks everyone she knows to volunteer and explains that having too few ushers might cause people to think the church is unfriendly. She asks herself every week, Don’t the lazy people in this church care?
A few weeks earlier someone had introduced Erin to Diane. Diane was new in town and new in the church. Erin called Diane about the desperate need for more ushers. She asked Diane to serve just one Sunday a month. “It’s easy,” she said. “You don’t need any special skills or abilities. Anyone can do it.” Besides, if we don’t get more workers, we might need to leave the bulletins on the pews for people to take when they sit down.” Diane feels guilty. Since she has been attending for 5 months, she figures she should be doing something. She agrees. Erin tells her when to arrive and where to go the following week.
Diane arrives at the appointed time and place. She does not remember having met Erin, so she cannot put a face with the name. No one is there to meet her, so she introduces herself to one of the ushers. “Just take a stack of bulletins and hand them out as people come in,” he says. She does not get his name; he does not offer it. She does not see or meet Erin that morning. She does not meet anyone for that matter — no one introduces himself.
The next week Diane arrives 15 minutes before services. She hopes to meet Erin and ask a few questions. No luck. She takes a stack of bulletins and chooses a door at which to stand. A few minutes later two men come and say, “This is our door.” Diane moves to the next door. No one joins her. When she thinks most people are seated, she goes into service herself. She assumes that is what she is supposed to do.
Diane’s mom is sick the next weekend, and she goes to stay with her and misses church. When she arrives home on Sunday evening there is a message from Erin. She sounds upset. “If you are going to miss church,” she says, “please call me. We really count on people to show up and fulfill their obligations.” Diane cannot return Erin’s call because Erin did not provide her phone number.
Diane continues to work in the hospitality ministry every Sunday for the next 3 months. Finally she figures out who Erin is and manages to meet several other ushers. They all seem to know each other. Their children are friends and participate in the same groups and activities. Diane, however, feels like an outsider.
By now, Diane has Erin’s number and e-mail address. One Saturday evening she feels sick and calls Erin to say she will not be at church the next morning. Diane is surprised at how good it feels not to serve. She decides to send Erin an e-mail to tell her she has decided this ministry is not exactly the right fit. Erin does not call or reply. In fact, Diane decides the church is not exactly the right fit either.
CASE STUDY: A CHURCH WITH PROCESSES AND SYSTEMS TO HELP PEOPLE CONNECT TO MINISTRY
Diane has moved to a new town to begin a new job. For the first time in her life she is far from the hometown she grew up in, far from many long-time friends, and far from the church home that she loves. Diane is outgoing, but this new life is a stretch for her. She visits a large church that seems full of energy. She notices that everyone seems busy, but also happy and friendly. Every weekend she observes that the campus is filled with smiling people who make the church hum. She begins to feel a nudge to get plugged in and busy herself. She signs up for a 4-week class designed to help her learn about her God-given abilities and how she can be used in ministry. Diane discovers (what she already knew deep down) she is an extrovert who likes to meet new people — she has encouragement gifts (Discovery). After the last class, someone spends 30 minutes with her describing different areas where she might serve, and they talk about what Diane learned from the class. They look at descriptions of several ministry positions. The descriptions include hours and responsibilities, along with the kind of person who might be drawn to a particular role (Cataloging). Hospitality seems to be a good fit.
A few days later Diane gets a call from Erin, the leader of the hospitality team (Connection). The two get acquainted on the phone and also discuss the hospitality ministry. Erin makes it sound like the most important team in the church. She asks Diane about what she had learned in class and comments that people like her find hospitality to be the perfect ministry fit. Diane decides to give it a try. Erin makes an appointment to meet Diane the following Sunday morning before service. Even though she is busy, Erin introduces Diane to others who serve in hospitality. She partners her with a seasoned usher, and they work together that morning. She gives Diane basic information about serving on the hospitality team — an “everything you need to know” checklist (Orientation/Training). On Monday evening, Diane gets a call from Erin. “Well, what did you think of our team?” she asks enthusiastically.
Diane’s experience had been great, and she decides to join the team. Erin adds her to the schedule and e-mails Diane a copy. After a few weeks, Diane has new friends on the hospitality team. Jane invites Diane to her small group. Several others invite her to meet them before services for coffee. Diane has found her new church home.
After making many new friends on the hospitality team and completely connecting to both her church and her new community, Erin calls Diane for another coffee date, “to catch up.” They share stories of family, job, and growing up. Erin also shares what God is teaching her and offers Diane the opportunity to do the same. They discuss the team and ways Diane feels used by the Lord in ministry. It is a rich time. Then after she affirms that Diane still feels led by the Lord to participate on the hospitality team, Erin asks Diane to serve as a team captain. Diane feels honored and gratefully accepts.
They set a time for additional training and to discuss the new responsibilities (Reflection/Evaluation).
Diane does not see the system. She does not know that after the Discovery Class and the interview her name and profile were sent immediately to Erin in an e-mail. She has no idea that had Erin not called her, someone would have called Erin within a week to remind her to call Diane. She is completely unaware that Erin is expected to provide feedback about her conversations with Diane; and, if hospitality is not a good fit, someone will reconnect with her to help her find a good alternative. She is also unaware that Erin is expected to keep track of the orientation and training she provides for her team. Erin’s leader helps her with this. Diane has no idea that after 6 months Erin gets another reminder to schedule some time for shepherding and discipleship with Diane.
Although Diane feels invested in and cared for, she knows the hospitality team is not about her. The hospitality ministry is about the people she serves every week. It is about her team, and, ultimately, it is about living out Jesus to them. This tangible image is bold and energizing. Diane knows she is making a Kingdom difference in the lives of the people who attend the church every week. She may not be able to quote the verse, but Diane knows she is part of “the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, (that) grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4:16).
Every sad story is not as bad as the first. Likewise, many good stories could be even better — much more like the second. Even though Diane was not one of them, in church work there will be people who choose to slip through the cracks, do not return phone calls, and fail to show up. People are people. The goal of an equipping system is to keep people who want to connect from slipping away. It is a stewardship issue. How do we steward the people God sends us? By using a system. Systemic ministry hums along; we do our part and the Spirit of God is free to work. In a church that genuinely cares for and equips people for service, systems matter.
Wendi Hammond is director of equipping at Evangelical Free Church in Fresno, California.
For more articles on recruiting and training volunteers, go to : http://enrichmentjournal.ag.org/200601/index.cfm