I’ve written a number of blog posts under the heading “Building a Body that Serves” aimed at working with people in churches. Part of the first post had a list of 10 principles. I want to expand on those principles further, and I believe they have value in the church, but also outside the church, in how we manage and work with volunteers.
Principle #1: People Before Programs. The goal of recruiting is first and foremost to help people find their place to use their gifts and skills in ministry to God. The goal of volunteer recruiting is not to fill slots in programs, but to allow people to use their gifts and skills to serve in the body of Christ.
Whether we’re running a community event, a church Sunday school, or a fundraiser for an organization we need to recognize the people we are recruiting are more valuable to us, then the role they are filling. In a church we believe the people we recruit are growing in their faith by using their gifts and skills. That is the priority in the church – to equip the local church members to have purpose using the gifts and skills God has given them.
Individuals are the best assets God has given us as a church. The Bible doesn’t talk about curriculums or scopes and sequences or bible study resources. The Bible does talk about the Body of Christ and how we’re all equipped and gifted to serve a role in the ministry of the church. Losing people who have skills and abilities because they’re not feeling fulfilled is a huge loss. People must always come before programs When we put people before the programs and ministries they are a part of, we leverage the best resource we have been given. People.
I’ve been to churches, restaurants, stores, and events where people have told me not to bother coming there. Literally. I know staff who worked at restaurants who said they wouldn’t eat there. A local lifeguard advised us not to swim at the pool where she worked. I know people who have left ministry roles and other jobs because they were placed into a position that devalued their knowledge and abilities, and didn’t leverage it for the benefit of the organization. Your curriculum may be great for a Sunday School class or for a youth small group, but if everyone is negative about what’s happening your not going to see the growth you hope.
When we get tunnel vision and all we can focus on is the task at hand, we may have a great program or event, but you’re sacrificing long term growth for short term success. Putting people first means creating a culture that excites people, that energizes people and gives people something they want to be a part of. As the church this should be easy – we’re a part of God’s work in the world – how amazing is that! Putting people first means helping people find value in what they do, rather than being valued as a commodity. All these things add up to be a good investment of time and skill as a church.
I’ve been told over and over that churches cannot get volunteers. I believe you if you’re one of them. I also believe it’s worthwhile to do some self-reflection and ask if you are putting programs before people. Your vision for how something should be, your desire for a specific outcome may all be taking precedence over the people you need to accomplish those things. Do your programs determine the kind of volunteers you need or do your volunteers determine your programs? Ideally it should fall somewhere in the middle (vision and goals play a part as well) but if the volunteers you have are not shaping your ministry, you’re missing a key piece. As pastors and church leaders individuals are not a commodity, but each person is a vital and important part of the body of believers. Our goal first and foremost is to put people before programs, and help each person grow and thrive using the gifts and skills they have.