Sun. Jul 25th, 2021

A Better Way to Involve New Converts and Members
Charles Arn

Is your current approach to plugging in volunteers helping or hurting your vision?

One of the keys to a church’s growth success is how it deploys its members. There are two approaches: one facilitates the church’s mission, while the other often frustrates it. Few in the church ever clarify this choice, but every church makes it, and every church lives with the consequences of its choice.

The institutional approach to lay ministry begins with the needs of the institution. Every church needs Sunday school teachers, committee members, musicians, ushers. When a job opens up, the institutional response is to search for a person who seems most suitable to fill it and/or is most likely to say yes. Success, in such churches, is when a member says, “Okay, I’ll do it.” Hopefully the person is qualified, gifted, and motivated for that ministry, but there are no guarantees. If it turns out there is a mismatch between member and task, the result is a job poorly done and a member mostly frustrated. “Plugging warm bodies into ministry slots in a congregation,” says ministry veteran Pam Heaton, “tends to increase volunteer burnout, dissatisfaction, and departure.” With the institutional approach to lay ministry, church embers exist to serve the needs of the institution.

The individual approach is far less widely practiced, but significantly more effective for missional success. Here the goal is not to fill a vacancy but to find or create a place where members can joyfully and productively participate in the mission. Rather than beginning with the needs of the institution, the individual approach begins with the strengths of the person. Church h members are encouraged to try a position related to their interest and see how it fits. If it does, the member may choose to spend more time in that ministry and/or receive additional training. If the task is not comfortable, or the person does not feel a sense of calling, guide him or her to explore other ministries that might be a better fit. If a match cannot be found, explore the option of creating a new ministry. In the individual approach to lay ministry, the institution exists for the benefit of the people rather than the people for the benefit of the institution.

Consider the differences in results of these two approaches to lay ministry…

The institutional approach has less than 20% of the church community involved in ministry, individual approach has more than 20%.

In the institutional approach the individual’s satisfaction with ministry task is often frustrated, with the individual approach they are usually fulfilled.

With the institutional approach, the personal energy level resulted from the task is drained, the individual approach results in a rejuvenated feel.

The reasons for participating, institutional: doing what I must, individual: doing what I like.

The institutional approach creates friction on interpersonal church relationships, the individual approach creates fusion.

If you use the institutional approach, many people will decline serving, with the individual approach, few will decline.

There are frequent resignations from the task throughout the year with the institutional approach, whereas individual approach creates an infrequent pattern.

In an institutional approach the church leaders’ motivation for filling the role is institutional need, with individual approach the motivation is individual growth.

Using the institutional approach the frequency of new ministries created is seldom, with an individual approach the frequency is often.

Take a Lay Ministry Check-Up

The chart below can help you discern whether your present approach to lay ministry is increasing or decreasing the likelihood of missional success. First, write in line 1 the number that represents your total church constituency – all church members, plus regular attenders who are not officially members (above age thirteen). Next, determine in which column your church falls on rows 2-18. All the numbers in the chart are percentages. Calculate your percentages based on your total church constituency (line 1), unless otherwise noted. If you find your scores are primarily in the left columns, it is likely that your members are seen as “workers” and the focus of your ministry is on the church institution. The farther your scores are to the right, the more likely your members are seen as “ministers,” and the focus of your ministry is on people.

Chart from The Growth Report vol. 2 No. 6, Institute for American Church Growth (Pasadena, CA)

Ask a team of 3-4 people in your church to do this research and report back what they have found. Then use the following questions to focus discussion among your leaders about how to best accomplish the work Christ has given your church:

1. On which side of the chart do most of our scores fall?
2. Are the results of this assessment consistent with our previous perceptions?
3. Which items seem to be most important to address?
4. What activities do we engage in that have brought us to this point? Can they, or should they, be changed?
5. What steps would be involved in moving toward an individual approach to lay ministry, and away from an institutional approach?

The above article, “A Better Way to Involve New Converts and Members,” is written by Charles Arn. The article was adapted from What Every Pastor Should Know: 101 Rules for Effective Church Leadership by Gary McIntosh & Charles Arn. Used with permission.

The material is most likely copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.

This article may not be written be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”

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