Last week we continued a conversation begun previously about the struggle between numerical church growth and the problems it inherently creates. This week we look a little deeper.
I’ve spoken to a number of good-hearted, talented churchgoers whose attempts at stepping into the process of building the Kingdom consisted of a public call from a leader, a response by the attendee, a well-intentioned attempt by said person, immense frustration and feelings of failure, and three months later a new public call from leadership because a lack of commitment from volunteers. What happened? Well, the problem is usually threefold.
First, a public call for volunteers might get you more initial responses but few long-term helpers. Many people will gladly put their name onto a paper, but when you follow up and call them later, there’s inevitably something else going on that prevents them from following through. Because a call to all is a call to none. People want that human touch we’ve already mentioned. Are you looking for nameless, faceless volunteers to fill a role? You’re going to get limited buy in with an approach like that. Leadership is often looking for commitment from its people to the church but isn’t often willing to do the same in return- invest in the people they’re asking to invest. This is huge, and has multiple, bigger implications than just the relational component we’re touching on now. But getting to know people and spending time with them creates a much larger relational piggy bank for us to withdraw from. You don’t get that from a public call to anyone with a pulse.
Second, you’re drawing from a large pool, but that pool is watered down in terms of getting perfect fits for what you’re needing. You have a round hole that needs filled and your call garners square, round, and even triangular pegs. You then utilize time and resources trying to fit each peg into the round hole, (sometimes at considerable emotional and relational cost), and at the end of a few months are usually only left with the round pegs who should have been there in the first place. Sure, some of the others are still around, but their edges have been dulled from being jammed into a place they don’t truly fit. Not only will they not be as effective as you’d like, they also won’t be stepping into the areas they’re most passionate about or places they could truly be an asset as a leader. We’re often just happy they’re not a liability and our slot has been filled. So you lose a majority of your pool by casting the initial net too wide.
Third, the church goes into the process expecting to make an appeal for volunteers in its ministries every 6 months or so. There’s enough attrition and movement going on that there’s a real expectation that a “full” ministry of any sort is going to be working at barely two-thirds capacity in six months if not very well-maintained. And there’s frustration as to why people don’t follow through on their commitments that seeps into how leadership communicates with the congregation.
On the flip side of the coin, the average churchgoer expects to hear these very appeals at least every 3 months, if not more often, for all the varied ministries of the church. This same churchgoer who has spent any number of years dutifully signing up, burning out, and getting passive-aggressively scolded collectively from the pulpit now only looks at these commitments as temporary guilt-laden assignments, rather than life-giving passionate areas of personal ministry. We feed into our own downward spiral on both sides.
Is there a solution? A different approach to be tried? Or is this an inevitable downside to church ministry? It’s been alluded to already that I believe the answer is a relational, individual approach. Where the church has begun to subscribe to a “see a need, fill a need” mindset, I firmly believe we need to instead start adopting the mentality of “see a person, equip a person”.
Let’s be honest, do you as a leader revel in the idea of having to rebuild, retrain, and regroup a few times a year in order to stay afloat in your various areas of ministry? How much time do you think that takes out of your weeks and months? We all want to leverage our time better. Have you ever found yourself daydreaming about what you’d rather be doing with your time as a leader?
If you’re anything like me, those dreams usually revolve around spending more time with individuals. Now, don’t get me wrong. Anyone who knows me well knows that I love designing systems. I can build them in my sleep. But the older I get, the more I realize that the systems I’m designing need to be ways to cut down on developing and maintaining the machine and increase individual discipleship time with people. Even writing these blog posts is an attempt at just that. I don’t know that I have anything completely figured out. I just know it hurts to see things the way they are. So let’s step into this brave new world together and see just how deep the rabbit hole goes.
Because at the end of the day, I don’t want to be known as the guy who made a more efficient status quo. I want to get myself and others refocused on the things of Christ- and he was all about intentionally connecting with individuals.
Share your thoughts below.
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