Volunteers Fill in Gaps Church Pastors Can’t

By Laura McFarland

He’d be lost without them.

The Rev. Steve Webb relies on God to give him guidance and inspiration, and he relies on a part-time associate pastor and full-time administrative assistant for support. For almost everything else at Cornerstone Vineyard Church in Rocky Mount, he doesn’t know what he would do without his volunteers.

They sing the worship music, run the nursery and children and youth ministries, usher, count the offering, greet people as they come in and perform a variety of other duties most churchgoers never think about, he said.

“We could not function without the volunteers. I will even go a step further and say I would not want to function without them. … I would prefer to have a church that has a (minimum) of paid staff and maximum of people being involved in ministry, leading and doing the ministry. I think that is the way it is supposed to be,” said Webb, senior pastor.

Regardless of where the church is, how many members it has or whether it’s contemporary or traditional, every church needs volunteers, said the Rev. Danny Harris, pastor of Living Faith Fellowship Church in Rocky Mount. Yet obtaining and keeping volunteers in the church continues to be one of the biggest challenges pastors face in their ministries.

It’s not a simple matter of nobody wanting to take on the responsibility, though some people do fit that description, Harris said. Some people want to volunteer but don’t because they already have several commitments. Others don’t feel they have skills a church could use, think they are needed or see how the areas they were asked to work in are a ministry. The latter is a big reason so many churches struggle to find good workers for the nursery, children and youth ministries, he said.

“Some people tend to look at it as a baby-sitting service rather than a ministry. That is certainly not everyone, and thankfully, we’ve got some good people who understand it is a ministry,” Harris said.

Part of the problem is that many churches still use the same language and approach from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, said the Rev. Kathy Jo Mitchell, pastor of First Christian Church in Rocky Mount. People want to feel like they are making a difference. That’s why it is up to the leadership to make sure members understand how every position, from cleaning the sanctuary to being a prayer partner, is part of the church’s greater purpose of saving souls, she said.

If people don’t understand the importance of what they are doing, they are not going to prioritize it, Mitchell said. They might do sloppy work, come in late or not show up. The attitude is “I would never dare skip my club meeting, but I can show up for church a couple times a year,” or “I would never dream of not providing for my country club dues, but tithing is not high on my list of priorities,” Mitchell said.

To keep the volunteers, leaders need to keep their volunteers well organized, so they don’t feel like their time is being wasted, regularly show appreciation for their work and remind them how important their contributions are to the church’s vision, she said.
Encouraging discipleship in a church is not only about passing on knowledge, but about showing members how they can use what they have learned to help others, Webb said.

Webb has been pushing to have many of the church’s most involved members delegate some of their responsibilities. People tend to hold on to positions out of a lack of confidence in how someone else would handle them or a fear that no one would be willing to take on the responsibility. A few church members might be heading up three or four ministries. They run the risk of burning out and being unable to serve in any area effectively, Webb said.

This article “Volunteers Fill in Gaps Church Pastors Can’t” by Laura McFarland was excerpted from: www.churchcentral.com web site. November 2010. It may be used for study & research purposes only.

This article may not 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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