Committed volunteers are the core of your church. When your members are serving each other in the roles they were designed to fill, your congregation becomes a beautiful picture of what churches are meant to be. In the early book of Acts, for example, we see how with a clear division of labor, one that considered everyone’s God-given gifts, believers saw miraculous results: “The word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6:7)
So why isn’t this happening today? It seems like dedicated Christian service is producing, not engaged and fulfilled disciples, but put-upon veterans, hardened and grumpy in the roles they volunteered to fill decades ago. Or it’s bred territorial instincts, with volunteers who feel protective of “their” ministry and threatened by any offer of outside help. Instead of infusing the community with the aroma of Christ, they’re infecting each other with “Mad Church Disease” and persisting in their ministry commitments out of guilt or vanity rather than, in author Anne Jackson’s words, living abundant lives, “complete and functioning in the strength of the Holy Spirit.”
As a church leader, particularly in a large congregation, how can you ensure that volunteers find the right roles—and continue in them? Church management systems (ChMS) are increasingly designed to help with the common challenges of volunteer management. Here are five of the most important ChMS tools to put into use, before your members suffer from ministry burnout.
- Match volunteers with their passions.
We’ve all seen churches fall into the trap of plopping new members into the first available ministry role, in a crisis of desperation and (dare we say) a failure of faith. If God is faithful to provide for our physical needs, He can certainly be trusted to provide for the needs of His church. That’s why He designed the church to function as “one body with many parts” (I Cor. 12:12), each with their own distinct roles.
Your ChMS can be a great source of information on the activities your members care about. By noting the events they’ve attended, their history of giving and service, ministry qualifications, and group involvement, you can start to piece together a picture of their personal passions. Of course, a person who is a parent, regularly provides peripheral support like treats or chaperoning at children’s events, and has made a financial commitment to an orphanage may or may not feel a calling to be a children’s Sunday School teacher, but their interests would make them a natural person to approach.
Especially in a large church, it can be difficult for people to see a path to developing their talents: any ministry that’s needed is presumed to be filled, and creating a new role often involves layers of approval that aren’t easy to see from the outside. The data in your ChMS can provide the opening to a discussion of gifts and a discernment of true fit.
- Match tasks to skills.
For volunteers to feel successful, they should have skills as well as a passion for their ministry. And yet churches, like other nonprofits, often miss the opportunity to get professional-quality help from their volunteers. A 2009 Deloitte IMPACT Survey found that “although more than 9 in 10 nonprofits say they need more pro bono support, one-fourth had no plans to use skills-based volunteers in any capacity.”
Accounting, marketing, management, counseling, event planning, landscaping, and countless other professional functions have a corollary in the church’s operation. Your members may be willing to put their professional skills to use, either filling a volunteer role or helping advise, develop, or audit existing ministry activities. Search occupational info in your member records for professions related to your ministries.
- Share processes and tools.
Opening up volunteer roles to people with professional skills in that role can change the way that leaders operate or oversee a ministry. ChurchDevelopment.com cautions that “because the professionals are more likely to work independently and be self-supervising, it is imperative to have a clear initial mutual understanding of the desired results, parameters, and process of the volunteer work.”
Your ChMS comes to the rescue here by centralizing documents that everyone needs to see, from ministry vision statements to step-by-step training videos. It also provides a clear path for electronic approvals, say, if a communications volunteer is designing an event invitation or poster.
You might also use your ChMS to set up chat groups for a set of volunteers, so they can easily share information with their ministry colleagues.
- Monitor for overcommitment & underutilization.
With powerful church scheduling tools, you can help head off burnout or even the underuse of those willing, but sometimes forgotten, volunteers. The most dedicated volunteers may feel like they ought to be serving the church every day of the week, but family and friends need their time as well.
Using Seraphim’s Utilization feature in Ministry Planner you’ll see how many volunteers registered and how many are being utilized so you will know not only who to call, but also how many volunteers to assign for every event! Seraphim Software’s church scheduling tools make it easy to visualize a given volunteer’s service frequency—in your ministry and any others they might be involved in. Harness the true power of your volunteers by understanding your members’ commitments and passions.
- Schedule time off – and on.
It may even be smart to schedule periodic vacations or sabbaticals for volunteer roles. Using scheduling tools, you can block out breaks to occur every month (schedule them more often for more time-intensive ministries). You now also have the chance to tailor your ministry to individual families’ needs. With a complete overview of the commitments of entire church families, you can either group them together, creating a united family service opportunity, or spread out the commitments in case one parent needs to be home with children or care for an elder parent while a spouse volunteers.
Another benefit of this time-off/on policy is the opportunity for new non-volunteers to step in for a taste of a new ministry experience. ChurchDevelopment.com points out that 57% of Americans haven’t volunteered anywhere in the last year. Helping on a short-term, no-commitment basis would let people evaluate their skills, interest, and fit in a new ministry area. Whether the fill-in helpers continue with the ministry or not, they’ve likely come a step closer to discovering their spiritual gifts and passions.
Imagine for a moment the impact on your church of locating the right volunteers, keeping them refreshed and engaged, and continually circulating in new members to explore their ministry potential. Members would have a strong sense of belonging and of their contribution to the larger body. You may even discover, as Luke did in Acts 4, that “all the believers were one in heart and mind… and God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them.”