A study of the “Greatest Needs of Pastors” by Lifeway Research found the number one ministry issue faced by pastors was “developing leaders and volunteers.” Number three was “people’s apathy or lack of commitment,” and number six was “training current leaders and volunteers.”1 These findings indicate that pastors understand the importance of developing leaders for the health and growth of the church, but they also struggle to develop those leaders.
Before we assume church members are lazy or disobedient when it comes to volunteer leadership, let’s examine some possibilities for how we might become more effective in finding and developing new leaders as well as motivating and retaining the ones we already have.
Understand the nature of volunteering may have changed. McKee & McKee (2012) suggest that there are still plenty of volunteers, but “they’ll become involved according to their rules, not ours.” The “new breed” of volunteers
- Is very busy, has many obligations, and often volunteers for multiple organizations.
- Wants flexibility.
- Expects to be empowered.
- Won’t tolerate working alongside incompetent volunteers.
- Is tech-savvy.
- Doesn’t want to simply make a contribution; the new breed of volunteer wants to make a difference.
- Doesn’t want to be micromanaged.2
The McKees also argue that there’s not a shortage of volunteer leaders—we just need to account for the changing landscape and adjust our approach accordingly. These realities will force us to rethink the expectations we have of volunteer leaders. For example, it used to be rare to have multiple teachers in an adult Sunday School class. Now it is almost a necessity. (Can I interest you in buying stock in a company that manufactures perfect attendance pins for Sunday School??? Yes, they’re still available.)
Second, design easier onramps for volunteering. Pretend you are a new member in your own church. You understand the church depends heavily on volunteer leadership and you’d like to make a difference by serving. How would you find out about the opportunities to do so? Is it clear to you what is available and who to talk to about serving?
Yes, you need to limit service in some areas to members who have been around long enough to know and vet them more formally. But there are other ways a new member can serve almost immediately, like helping with spring cleaning or landscaping projects, some local mission endeavors, or welcoming people as they arrive for Sunday School or Small Group. Are your current ministry leaders trained and encouraged to get new folks involved quickly? Be intent on making it easier for people to find a meaningful ministry role and encourage existing leaders to help you recruit.
Finally, check your personal approach to leader development. Here are two significant areas where you may need to focus some attention.
- Develop an adequate plan to recruit, equip, and retain volunteer leaders. The research-based PEP Model of Safrit and Schmiesing3 was adapted for the church in Krispin’s “strategic approach to volunteer management.”4
Krispin outlined five key steps to mobilize volunteers effectively:
- Recognition and appreciation
- Approach leadership development as discipleship. Don’t misunderstand—leadership and discipleship are not one and the same. But God has called you to develop both new and existing leaders to be involved in ministry (Ephesians 4:11-16). Each one is an important part of the body of Christ. Even those who may think the church is a corporation to control and not a body to build. Our job is to make disciples, and part of that work is to help both new and entrenched leaders discover joy and fulfillment in God’s call to serve.
Robert Dale said, “when congregations don’t succeed, they have often made two mistakes the early church avoided; the wrong people (only preachers and church staffers) have attempted ministry in the wrong place (inside the church building).”5 As church leaders we must resist our own tendency to believe the church depends more on us than on its members. Such thinking is quicksand. We will only become successful as leaders when we invest heavily in developing the body of Christ as he has designed and gifted it, and not as we imagine it.
Geiger and Peck state in no uncertain terms that developing church members is directly connected to the health of your church.
There is a holy cause and effect in ministry. If we will make the training of the saints our holy cause, the effect is a healthy church….We are not merely suggesting there is a relationship between equipping and health. We are declaring that equipping causes health. Equipping is the work of leadership.6
Look at your congregation. It’s most likely that the new leaders you need are already there, and that’s good news! So what are the new realities you need to account for, new processes you need to begin, or new perspectives you might adopt?
When a person gives their life to Jesus, they discover who they were intended to be. When they give their life to serving his body, they discover what they were intended to do. Take hold of your calling to equip the saints and enjoy watching those lightbulbs of discovery come on!