September 2017—Volume 25, Number 9 Copyright @ 2017 by Dana Horrell
Sociologist Joshua Packard describes an emerging population he calls the “dones.” They are “spiritual refugees” from organized religion who were once long-time members, but who pass through the exit door of the church and never look back. Though many reasons exist for their departure, a significant theme is the feeling of being of ignored or underutilized. “It's hard for me to be just a passive worshiper,” one of Packard’s interview subjects said. “I've got to do things. That's how I understand my faith and how I understand God.”
Signs of Trouble
Marlene Wilson, a recognized specialist in volunteer training, explains that in many churches the Pillars do much of the work, fostering close and satisfying relationships within their clique and making a majority of the decisions. This can leave the Pewsitters with a lack of enthusiasm about getting involved. Additionally, while one can be part of an active core of volunteers and still experience a vague sense of dissatisfaction, Wilson describes some serious signs of trouble within any volunteer system.
The team leader or committee chair does all the work for the team. Though it is tempting to blame laziness, the culprit might be an overactive team leader. Imagine gathering for a team meeting where the leader lays out her vision for the team’s work, hands out printed material, and adjourns. Later, team members realize that the leader did all the talking. Unless team members are asked to contribute, it seems pointless to participate.
Leaders are asked to do several jobs at once—and retained for too long. When leaders juggle multiple tasks, they are unable to give their best effort to any one thing. Without an influx of new volunteers, the regulars may feel burdened and unmotivated. Some churches address this issue by refusing to allow anyone to be in charge of more than one ministry team.
Unrealistic time commitments scare volunteers away. The era when volunteers inhabited their jobs for a lifetime is over. “A major trend in volunteerism,” writes Wilson, “is that volunteers prefer three-, six-, or one-month assignments rather than longer commitments. The shorter time commitments fit better into volunteers’ busy lives.”
There is no system for coaching volunteers. Imagine being assigned a volunteer job with no one to be accountable to and no one to contact in case problems arise. Supervising is just as important for volunteers as it is for paid employees. The best approach is to create a documented process. Develop a coaching system and write it down.
Volunteers are more committed to the director than to the program. Inspirational leaders are never a problem—unless the leader leaves! Every team or committee needs a mission statement that answers the question, “What is our purpose?” and a written vision statement of where the team is heading.
Discovery First, Equipping Second
Sue Mallory and Brad Smith lay out an equipping system for congregations structured around the journey a new member makes from entry to worship involvement to volunteer ministry. At the heart of this equipping system is the discovery interview, which seeks to discover the abilities and interests of potential volunteers. It is best to recruit a team to conduct discovery interviews. Anyone who is able to ask open-ended questions and practice reflective listening would qualify. The interviewer should take prolific notes or use a pre-fabricated form to capture information. Some congregations use volunteer database software for its members, which is fine as long as confidentiality is respected regarding personal issues that might arise in the interview (see “Top 20 Volunteer Management Software Products,” http://www.capterra.com/volunteer-management-software for examples).
Here are some sample questions for a discovery interview:
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