Recruiting and keeping church givers and volunteers is harder than it used to be.
People keep saying it, so it must be true, right?
If I was ever tempted to tell pastors to quit whining about something, this is it.
Here’s how the party line goes: It used to be fairly easy to get church members to commit to consistent giving and/or volunteering. Ask for a missions or building pledge, and people would do it. Mention the need for Sunday School volunteers and folks would commit every week for decades.
Not any more.
Are people not as committed as they used to be? Have we all become that unreliable? I say no.
People are as committed as they’ve always been. They just commit in different ways now.
Unhealthy churches whine about those changes. Healthy churches adapt to them.
As pastors, it’s our job to find out what people will commit to, give them the chance to step up, then build deeper commitments on that foundation.
How People Make Commitments Now
People have changed how they make commitments in four fundamental ways:
1. For blocks of time, not long-term
A lot has been written about whether-or-not short-term mission trips have value.
Certainly, some of them have become vanity projects for spoiled westerners who vacation in a poor country to ease their conscience. But that’s not been my experience.
I’ve seen believers of all ages make massive commitments of their time, energy and finances to bless people from the sewers of Bucharest, to an orphanage in Zimbabwe, to the streets of Los Angeles.
That’s how people commit today. In chunks of time and/or money. A wise leader won’t berate them for that. Instead, if they want to commit in chunks, let’s give them chunks to commit to. Then leverage that experience into long-term, consistent giving.
When I was a kid, the idea that a church member would burn up their entire vacation time going on a missions trip was unheard of. Today, it’s standard fare. It’s not lesser commitment, it’s just different.
2. Through relationships
People don’t give to projects as much as they give to people. People in need. People they know. People they trust. People who lead by example.
This is an area where small churches and their pastors can really excel. Instead of complaining about our lack of resources, we should be capitalizing on our relationships with congregation members.
When we know people, we can help them coordinate their gifts, schedules and personalities to meet specific needs and commitments. Don’t just ask people to fill a preexisting cubbyhole. Take the time to match the person to the need in a way that works.
3. Because we ask
A lot of pastors are afraid to ask people for help, face-to-face. We feel like we’ll be imposing. But it’s not imposing. Often they’re waiting for us to step up and make the request personal. To let them know we don’t just need someone, we need them.
People can always say “no”. But they’ll never say “yes” if we don’t give them the option.
“You don’t have because you don’t ask.” The Bible teaches it. Good salespeople have learned it. Pastors need to practice it. The bulletin announcement isn’t enough any more.
But James’ advice about asking doesn’t end there. In the next verse, he tells us “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4:2-3)
This is where the previous point – being someone they can trust – comes into play. And it leads us to the next point, too.
4. To something worth committing to
People need to trust that what they’re giving to is of real value. They’ve been scammed before. They’ve seen the high-profile, so-called spiritual leader who asks with the wrong motives to spend their sacrificial gifts on the leader’s own pleasures. (James 4:3)
People won’t give just because a church, ministry or denomination is where they’ve always given. The work must be practical, valuable and trustworthy.
We have to constantly prove ourselves worthy of that trust.
Build a Bridge
This is not an answer. But it’s a start.
It’s not enough to get church members to give a week of their time or a once-only big gift. Churches need weekly helpers and steady givers. But getting people involved in a way that suits their new schedules and answers their trust issues is how we get that snowball rolling.
If we start with an understanding of some of these principles, we can build a bridge from one-time events to long-term commitments. We can inspire people to become strong, steady givers and volunteers.
Most of the long-term missionaries and pastors that have come out of our church got the call on a short-term missions trip. Many of our faithful, weekly volunteers used our Neighborhood Service Day as their toe in the water to step up as a regular volunteer.
Volunteers haven’t gone away. We just need to know where to find them.
Copyright © 2016 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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