Establishing a Culture of Service

Yesterday’s post introduced what I have found to be the number one question I encounter in talking with leaders in ChurchWorld:

How do we discover/train/keep more volunteers in our church?

I have dozens of conversations with church leaders every week. In almost every conversation – no matter what the original topic – the question above comes up. Large or small, rural or urban or suburban, traditional or contemporary, denominational or non-denominational, the question is always being asked.

Yesterday I began a series of posts on the concept of volunteers in ChurchWorld. I introduced the topic with the first of two  articles written in 2009 for Church Solutions magazine. They were based on a unique experience I had at my church that summer – one that changed my perspective and trajectory. You can read the first one here. And here’s the second… 

Establishing a Culture of Service (originally written for Church Solutions magazine in August 2009)

If you took a poll of church leaders about some of their biggest problem areas in churches today, you are sure to find some variation of “we need more workers” in the top three. I grew up in the home of two very committed parents who served in a lot of different church positions over the years. As a young teenage believer, I helped out where I could. As a young married adult, my wife and I volunteered for numerous positions in our college and seminary churches. While serving in church staff positions for over 23 years, I also served in different volunteer capacities. When I transitioned into the role of a church consultant, I continued in volunteer roles in my church. As I look back over these decades of experiences, the need for more workers is a prominent and consistent memory.

What if it didn’t have to be that way?

A few weeks ago I wrote about Elevation Church in Charlotte NC and their efforts in enlisting volunteers for their kick-off Sunday in the fall. In that post, I noted the events of the day and posed a question: Where do I sign up? It wasn’t a rhetorical question, because my wife and I had already made the decision to serve on the volunteer staff at Elevation. Here is the rest of the story.

On that “No Show Sunday” Elevation had an additional 560 volunteers sign up. That was critical because on 8/23/09, the church opened their first permanent campus, added three new worship services at two campus locations, and upgraded the facilities at their third location, thus requiring the additional volunteers. In the two weeks before the opening and expansion, each of the campus locations had volunteer recognition and training events on-site. Each of the 4 areas of volunteering had a session with the team leader going over the responsibilities of that area. Volunteers were given the task of “shadowing” a position to see if that was indeed where they wanted to serve. Our team leaders emailed and called us before our first Sunday of service. A volunteer leader packet came in the mail. So it was no surprise that a whole new cadre of volunteer leaders were eagerly in place on the first day!

Some observations of my recent experiences at Elevation:

  • Does your church have a culture of service? Do you expect that everyone will serve somewhere, doing something? If not, why not?
  • Many times, all you have to do is ask. People want to serve; they just need permission from you!
  • Make sure you are ready for the response. If you asked for volunteers and got 50 or 100 or more, would you be ready for them?
  • Establish a training/shadowing process. Volunteers don’t need 4 weeks of intensive training before they serve; most can begin right away with a minimum amount of training, continuing to learn as they serve.
  • Do you have a process to keep up with volunteers, seeing how they are doing and challenging them to strive for more?
  • Do you celebrate the volunteers who serve in your church? You couldn’t pay them to do what they do, but it is nice to recognize their gifts of time and service throughout the year.
  • Is volunteering a high value for your church? Do your full-time staff positions recognize the crucial role volunteers serve and respond appropriately?

I have been fortunate to serve in dozens of volunteer leadership capacities over the past four decades, but I’m very grateful to be a part of a church that knows the value of volunteers, challenges us to go beyond ourselves, and do it all while serving our Lord.

What’s the culture of service like in your organization?



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