A Generosity Project Reflection – Stewardship and the Why of Volunteering

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A Generosity Project Reflection – Stewardship and the Why of Volunteering

The Generosity Project is a collaborative effort between ABCUSA, regions, and local congregations. The Generosity Project aims to help pastors re-frame the conversation around stewardship and generosity in their congregations. Bi-monthly blogs help support new growth and understanding as we deepen our ministry and discipleship. The reflection below was provided by Rev. Stacy Emerson.

Stewardship and the Why of Volunteering

What is it like for your nominating committee, if you have one?  Or what it is like in your congregation to try and recruit volunteers?  For many of us, the volunteer recruitment conversation is one that needs re-framing.  Too often, we try not to be a burden on someone and attempt to downplay a position’s level of responsibility thinking that we will be able to win over volunteers if the job isn’t too hard.  Please fill this slot on this committee, we say, it won’t take too much time and energy.  And we are constantly feeling the scarcity of volunteers.

However, like with their financial giving, people want to know that what they commit to do matters.  No one wants to take on a task they aren’t sure will matter and people do not select activities just to make themselves busier.  They want to know “why.”  Why does what they do matter?  When we help people match the investment of their time with something that they think is important or that they are passionate about, they will find inspiration and fulfillment and will be much more likely to volunteer.

The problem is, are we making the work of the church fulfilling?  And if not, why not?  Some jobs have to get done.  This is true.  But reflecting on how that essential job is meaningful is important in volunteer recruitment.  And if there are positions that are unfulfilling, but not critical, we may need to consider eliminating meaningless work in the church.  Or outsourcing so that we don’t burn out the volunteers we have.

So how should we go about recruiting volunteers?  One popular option is to make an announcement in the bulletin, newsletter or worship announcement time.  Michael Ward argues that such methods are ineffective, and quips, “How many disciples did Jesus recruit with a bulletin announcement?”  None, of course.  Jesus inspired disciples in the relationship building he did, in the personal encounters he fostered.  (Michael Ward, Abundance: Creating a Culture of Generosity, p. 101)

Here are some suggestions as to how to improve volunteer recruitment and inspire the stewardship of time in your congregation:

  • Be clear about what you are asking someone to do. Create job descriptions that line out the expectations.
  • Tell people why you think they would be a good fit for the role. Let them know you appreciate their gifts and how they are suited for the job.  And even more, help them to see how the role will deepen their faith and service to God.
  • Be sure that they know who they will be working with and offer training and resources to support them. No one likes to take on a job they have no clue about or to start with the feeling they will fail from lack of knowledge.
  • And most importantly, share your congregation’s why. Talk about why the role is meaningful and how it will play an essential part in the wider mission and ministry your congregation is called by God to fulfill.  People will be inspired to serve when they can clearly connect the dots between the investment of their time and the difference it will make in the community and in the world.

We need people to serve who understand the part they play in the mission and vision of the congregation as a whole.  And our volunteers deserve to have opportunities to provide meaningful service that fosters their own spiritual growth and helps to nurture the kingdom of God.  All we need to do is re-frame the conversation!

Rev. Stacy Emerson is the senior pastor of the First Baptist Church in West Hartford, CT and the Stewardship Consultant for ABCUSA.  She is also the Coordinator for The Generosity Project which is about helping congregations deepen their understanding of stewardship as a call to generosity as disciples of Jesus; re-framing the stewardship conversation; and cultivating generosity in pastors, lay people, and congregatio