Help! Help! The Church is Sinking!!! Run away!!!


The newsletters just arrived and it sounds to me like the church is sinking.  Not mine,  yours.  Well, some of yours.   I try and read UU newsletters from across our association.  I just did a little UU newsletter reading and here’s what a bunch of you said in print this month, January 2010.

HELP!   HELP!  We need ushers!!!!

HELP!   HELP!  We need more teachers!!!

And HELP!   HELP!  The church is sinking and if you stick around you’re doomed!!! Get out while you still can!!!

Okay, you didn’t write out that last one, but that’s what you are communicating.   Right now, grab your congregation’s newsletter (print or online) and count the number of HELPS!!!

Now,  resolve to not have them next month.  And the month after that.  Not now. Not ever.

You need help.  Help is a good thing.  But screaming you need help in 12 point bold with three to five exclamation points is not the way.  HELP!!!! says you’re freaked out.  HELP!!! says you’re in trouble.  It says the church is sinking.  It says you need fresh meat.  It warns that you drained the life from your last batch of newcomers… Sounds more like a UU Zombie movie than a happy church experience, doesn’t it?

Now some of you are thinking “Peter, but we have to recruit volunteers.  What are we to do???”

Of course you do!  But you need to change how you do it.  Here are some tips from one of my favorite books on church volunteerism, Simply Strategic Volunteers: Empowering People For Ministry.  If you’re in a HELP!!!! saturated congregation, buy it now.

#1 Stop asking for HELP!!!!
At Granger, home church of the authors, you won’t see written pleas or announcements asking for help. Instead they focus on learning what gifts and skills people have and help them find meaningful ways to use them.  Granted, it is a large church, but the point is still valid.  What would happen if we strived to know members, friends and newcomers well enough to help them find the right place to contribute?

We tend to avoid sinking ships.
We want to be invited to use our gifts in meaningful ways.

#2 Turn the big task into smaller chunks worthy of a team

Congregations often find themselves with huge positions to fill. All too often someone has pioneered a ministry or gone above and beyond the call of duty filling multiple roles. Over time tasks that could be handled by volunteers with varying levels of experience and skill get grouped together into one giant ministry role.  Whenever possible give simple tasks to volunteers and include new people in the work and ministry of your committee or program.  Sharing small tasks paves the way for greater participation and commitment.

We are unlikely to step into ministry roles that seem too complex.
At first we are more likely to say yes to smaller, short term tasks.

#3 Learn to personally invite participation at the small chunk level

Congregations always need more volunteers. Those seeking to recruit volunteers can get so focused filling that slot, that they forget an important fact. People want to belong more than they want to volunteer. When we are having trouble filling volunteer roles usually the job is either too large (chunk it!) or the relational groundwork hasn’t been done to warrant volunteers stepping forward.   We all need to practice “shoulder tapping” more, asking that person in fellowship hour, “Hey, do you want to do such and such with me?”  While it is without a doubt easier to do many tasks alone, this goes contrary to what our congregations and ministry is all about.

We don’t want to feel like bystanders in our own community.
“Join me” tells us that we have worth & can make a difference.

#4 If We Don’t Need Volunteers, We’re in Trouble

When we find ourselves in the position of having enough help, we need to stop and consider our situation. For someone interested in using their talents or excited about a ministry area, being told “We’re all set right now” often equates to “we don’t need you at all.”  When we are fortunate enough to have too many volunteers for a particular task,  we can let people work in larger teams, observe, or connect them with a different but similar opportunity to serve.

Being told “No thanks” is like a “NO VACANCY” sign on a church.
Usually the more the merrier, especially in a faith community.

#5 Build a Replacement Mindset

When we share our community and our faith by involving others in our ministry area, there are many benefits. One of the greatest is the increased ease of finding more senior leaders.  Recruitment is far easier when people have been working toward the role they are asked to fill.  Congregational life and leadership is driven by relationships.  Keeping the question “who will replace me at the end of my term?” changes how we relate to our teams and share our ministry.

When we don’t share ministry, replacements are hard to find.
When we include others, our ministry not only continues, it grows!

Simply Strategic Volunteers: Empowering People For Ministry by Tony Morgan and Time Stevens offers 99 tips for churches seeking to empower people for ministry and volunteer service.

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