One of the biggest hurdles that many parishes face when trying to dramatically improve the experience of attending or growing as a disciple is a feeling of complete and utter scarcity when it comes to “volunteers.” Now, I’m not a huge fan of the word “volunteers” as applied to our Christian service–but I’ll use it for the sake of clarity here.
Church of the Nativity (Timonium, MD) has been through various initiatives for volunteer recruitment and formation–most notably “First Serve,” a try-it-on-for-size volunteer opportunity and combines discernment and on-the-job training for potential and new volunteers.
In a recent Podcast, Nativity leaders reflected on realizing they needed to adapt their system to meet changing circumstances. While First Serve is effective in providing a steady trickle of new volunteer ministers, it doesn’t have the capacity to develop a large number of new volunteer ministers all at one time–something Nativity is anticipating needing. Many parishes might be in a similar situation when significantly changing or expanding programs. This is a classic example of the saying (quoted on the podcast), “Systems work. Until they don’t.”
What Nativity is considering for a “bigger pipeline” is a big push to first simply learn more about serving, then a meeting (really more precisely “an event”) that includes prayer, praise, and worship followed by more information on the specific opportunities.
While this sounds vaguely similar to the classic “ministry fair” Sundays at many parishes–I think it’s a bit different. “Ministry Fair” makes it seem like this is an optional extra, and something one is shopping for (like a consumer). In some sense each table with a different ministry is competing with each other for the same “pool of recruits.” At the most foundational level, the challenge is to ensure the pipeline is rooted in initial conversion in Jesus Christ and desire to continue as a disciple, while at the same time acknowledging that there are some who will be converted through the process of volunteer ministry (and having the reflective moments built in to foster these opportunities).
Whatever your strategy for cultivating ministry volunteers as a part of discipleship (because how many disciples are not called to serve?) Nativity always provides a firm reminder that desperation and nobody-but-I-can-do-this are attitudes that do not belong anywhere if we’re serious about sharing the Good News of relationship with Jesus Christ and the empowered discipleship that can ensue. Bulletin calls and no development/support might get you out of a short-term volunteer crisis, but it’s no way to form disciples. Similarly, insisting that you don’t need lots of empowered volunteers not only leads to current staff/volunteer burnout–but it also thwarts the possibilities of the Holy Spirit alive in other growing disciples.
As you head into the summer (a great time for volunteer development) consider, what is your volunteer pipeline? What’s the fruit? Does it cultivate disciples?