Leaders in approximately 70 percent of congregations say something like this: “Some of our best workers are bordering on burnout. We need to get more people involved in our church’s ministries. How can we do that?”

Among the numerous causes of that situation, the following four are especially obvious:

1. Many congregations attempt to involve people in ministries by using procedures that worked in the 1950s. During those years, most midsize and small churches tried to put all of their members on committees. The congregation’s work was accomplished as each committee carried responsibility for one or several ministry portfolios.

– This procedure worked because people in that generation had just finished fighting World War II. Their deeply ingrained values: Be patriotic and loyal to distant institutions (the government and the military), and “do whatever it takes” to win the war.

– With these kinds of people, a church organizational structure with large committees (a) was ministry effective and (b) gave most of the church members personal satisfaction.

2. Today, far fewer people enthusiastically relate to organizations and congregations that use the 1950s’ involvement procedures. A multitude of causes produced this attitude/behavior change. One such cause was the strong individualism that began to replace the “united we stand” attitudes of the post-World War II era.

– By 1965 the TV set in every living room brought daily evidence that distant institutions (the government and the military) did “dumb stuff.” During the Vietnam conflict, many people who considered themselves patriotic and smart decided that they could make their own decisions better than someone else could. Blind loyalty to great causes promoted by institutions led by other people became “history.” A far higher percentage of the population with more years of higher education added to this conviction (taught to think for themselves, people do). The deeply ingrained values of this generation: Don’t let someone else run your life; challenge authority; decide for yourself.

With these kinds of people, the best way to involve numerous individuals in ministries that they find personally meaningful is through a church organizational structure consisting of (a) small committees, (b) numerous ministry teams operating under each committee, and (c) spiritual gifts inventories that help people feel a sense of spiritual call to ministry (informed, individual choice).

3. Most church members want to involve themselves in doing something that makes a meaningful difference in the lives of other people. However, a large percentage of people with birthdates after 1945 prefer to select that activity themselves instead of having church leaders select it for them.

4. Approximately 85 percent of the people in every birthdate category are more accomplishment oriented than discussion oriented. Therefore, not more than 15 percent of church participants are motivated by the desire to serve on standing committees.

Due to those and numerous other factors, congregations of every size and denomination are discovering new kinds of involvement procedures. Most of these contemporary organizational structures still use committees-which play the important role of “management of ministry”-and up to 15 percent of parishioners feel gifted for and enjoy their service on committees.

However, the overall approach of these more individualized involvement procedures shifts the focus away from asking people to serve on committees and toward asking them to select the ministries in which God is calling them to serve. Making the giving of time, talent, and energy a spiritual matter (rather than a matter of accepting or declining invitations to fill committee slots) increases personal motivation. This shift significantly increases the percentage of members and attenders involved in various ministry roles.

A Twelve-Month Plan

The following steps apply those contemporary principles to church-committee development and members’ ministry involvement. The time line is designed for a calendar-year cycle. Congregations that elect officers and appoint committees at other times of the year should alter the time line accordingly.

Step 1. In June, ask each committee to make a list of all the specific ministry tasks and functions in the church that logically belong under its supervision. List everything, from singing in the choir to caring for the rose garden. Include the smallest, least obvious tasks and roles.

Step 2. In August, collect these lists of ministry tasks and functions. Organize them into categories on a couple of sheets of paper (the list will contain between 40 and 150 items, depending on your church’s size).

Step 3. During September or October, conduct a “Spiritual Gifts Month.”

Step 4. During the first two weeks of Spiritual Gifts Month, use in all adult Sunday school classes and other adult groups either (a) “How to Identify Your Spiritual Giftabilities” by Herb Miller or ((b)) “Spiritual Gifts Inventories: Closing the Information-Application Gap” by Carol Shanks, both of which are found in the Net Results reprint pac titled Involving Members/Attenders in Ministries.* (Use one of these two inventories every five to seven years and with all new members.)

Step 5. During the third week of Spiritual Gifts Month, the pastor preaches a sermon lifting up the idea that our church continues Christ’s work and that each of our church’s ministries is a personal opportunity to answer Christ’s call. Use one of the following scriptures as a text: Romans 12:1-8; 1 Corinthians 12:1-27; Ephesians 4:1-7 and 11-16; or 1 Peter 4:8-11. The sermon can contain three points:

The Bible says God has given each of us spiritual gifts for strengthening the Church’s ministries.
Which spiritual gifts do you feel God has given you?
In what ways do you feel God is calling you to use those spiritual gifts in the coming year?

The pastor can close the sermon with something like the following: During the past two weeks, several of us have had the opportunity to identify our spiritual gifts through a spiritual gifts inventory. In case you have not had that opportunity, someone will be distributing those inventories in the narthex following the service. I am sure you will want to invest a few minutes this week in discovering your personal spiritual gifts.

Step 6. Although some congregations focus on stewardship of talents at the same time as the annual financial stewardship emphasis, doing both of these at the same time tends to weaken the results in both areas. Generally speaking, it is wiser to do them separately. Let at least four weeks elapse between the first week of the spiritual gifts month and starting the financial stewardship program.

Step 7. During worship services on the fourth Sunday of Spiritual Gifts Month, give worshipers the opportunity to indicate on a handout sheet the areas of church life in which they feel God has gifted them and is calling them to serve this year. (This sheet contains the list of ministry tasks developed by the committees during June [Step #1] and a place for signature, address, and phone number.) Personalize your church’s sheet by using the model in the article by Carol Shanks noted in Step #4 above. (This helps them make the mental leap between spiritual gifts and church jobs.) Do not ask people to take the sheets home and return them next week. Rather, set aside five minutes in the morning-worship service for completing the sheets. Make that a spiritual commitment atmosphere, not a call to “help get the church work done.” (Announce in writing and orally that you will contact people in December or January.)

Step 8. Use whatever system your denomination’s polity calls for in selecting your regular standing-committee chairpersons. Generally speaking, you should not require those chairpersons also to be members of your church board. That unnecessarily limits the range of talent and narrows your leadership group’s exposure to new ideas.

December or January-just before or just after the beginning of the new program year-the committee chairpersons meet to review the sheets that people completed on the fourth Sunday of Spiritual Gifts Month.

Working as a team, the committee chairpersons decide which persons they will ask to (a) serve on their committees and (b) work in the ministry roles and tasks for which each committee is responsible. Three to ten persons (depending on the size of the congregation) are invited to serve on each standing committee. Examples: Small churches might have three members on each standing committee; midsize churches might have five to seven; large churches might have seven to ten. (Keeping the committees small reduces their inclination to do all the work themselves and increases their feeling that they are “ministry managers” whose goal is to involve the congregation in ministry.)

Step 9. In January, prior to the first meeting of each committee, the pastor and the governing board chairperson bring the committee chairpersons together for a leadership training seminar.

If the church uses a plan book that lists and describes the annual responsibilities for each committee, distribute and review that publication at the meeting.

Other seminar items would include how to develop a meeting agenda, how to conduct effective meetings, and how to provide newsletter information to the church secretary. Crucially important: Set a time each month or every other month for the committee chairpersons to meet together for calendaring, coordinating, and communicating.

This annual committee-chairperson training emphasizes the importance of delegating 100 percent of the committee’s ministry activities to members of the congregation in the three following ways: (a) ministry teams that assume specific ministry responsibilities all year; ((b)) short-term projects, such as Vacation Bible School; and (c) ministry tasks carried out by one individual all year long, such as caring for the rose garden.

– This orientation session will stress to committee chairpersons the principle that people serving on the ministry teams accountable to each committee are not expected to attend committee meetings. The ministry teams are action oriented rather than discussion oriented.

Step 10. A coordinator of each ministry team that serves all year (morning-worship greeters are one example of such a team) stays in contact with the appropriate committee chairperson as the year unfolds. This maintains appropriate communication channels, running both directions, dealing with new issues and concerns as they arise.

In this system, the committees continue to operate as planning and supervisory groups, but their goal has shifted. The objective of the 1950s-type committee system was to do the ministry for the congregation; the objective of the contemporary committee system is to involve the congregation in doing the ministry. Some of the committee members, of course, may also want to serve on one of the ministry teams. In some cases, a committee member may serve as a ministry team coordinator. However, the committees’ most important job is involving other members in ministry.

In addition to actively involving many more people, these contemporary procedures make the giving of time, talent, and energy a spiritual matter instead of making it the annual ritual of trying to fill all of the slots on each committee. Everyone wins. The church wins. The people whose lives are changed through the church’s ministries win. God wins.

Church staff in large congregations may benefit from attending one or both of the following workshops:

Frazer Memorial United Methodist Church twice each year hosts a Saturday-Sunday training event for involving members in ministry. Write to Dr. John Ed Mathison, 6000 Atlanta Highway, Montgomery, AL 36117.

Leadership Network provides volunteer ministries training. Write P.O. Box 9100, Tyler, TX 75711; phone 903/561-0437; fax 903/561-9361.

*Obtain this Net Results reprint pac with the order form on page 27 or by phoning 806/762-8094.