Monday, July 15, 2013

Connect: how to double your number of volunteers

Churches (and my work with Christian Unions) are all about volunteers. If people don't serve nothing happens. A church can staff some things (when the people give):
"those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel."
A church may staff some administration too but few can do much more than that. Nor would it be healthy for a church to collectively decide to give a fortune to staff things when the body could collectively serve one another.... besides which the Sunday meeting of a church has opportunities for everyone to serve in some way.

The opportunity is great. A church exists to give the people of its city (town or village) the opportunity to encounter Jesus... (likewise a CU for a University)...  Men and women who know the service of Jesus for them delight to serve others. But how do we facilitate that? How do we help people serve?

Nelson Searcy is pastor of The Journey in New York City. This book has the feel of a book built on theological foundations that is applied in lots of detail. It's more on the business end of the bookcase than the theological end, though it'd be a mistake to think this book isn't dripping with theological insight.

Some highlights for me:
  1. Serving is about opportunity rather than need. Need suggests we're underprepared and undermines confidence in what we're doing. Opportunity engages people. The Sunday gathering of a church is a place to engage people on their journey with Jesus.
  2. Make serving easy for people. Get everyone in the lake of serving in some way... don't worry about what, just something. In time they can climb a ladder to other areas of service.
  3. A compelling vision of getting involved. Combined with good realism about the need to keep some doors closed, to require people to meet certain standards, yet at the same time many who don't believe can serve in some capacity. Church is about something good, so why shouldn't people want to get involved?
  4. A strong and thoughtful pattern for encouraging and celebrating service.
  5. Searcy's background is in engineering and he's great at providing diagrams. The feel of the book tells me that Searcy isn't just a systems guy because he likes systems, but he loves people and so builds systems to serve them.
Connect contrasts a sequential believe then belong then become model of serving with a more simultaneous view that while belonging people can move towards believing and becoming.
"Non-Christians should start belonging and becoming even before believing. The outward expression of God's work in individual hearts is more fluid than we've traditionally allowed."
For Christian Unions I think this book suggests that we should:
  1. Be more enthusiastic about inviting people to serve. It's not a bad thing. My first opportunity to serve was when someone said at my second Christian Union meeting "We have opportunities for anyone who is interested in design and communication to join our publicity team." ...I subsequently served on the worship team and as a worship leader, as publicity team leader, part of the CU leadership team, and co-lead the International Student ministry over the next two and a half years, as well as serving in my church's student ministry. But it started with an invitation and a clear pathway to get involved. I'm convinced serving has been vital to my growth as a Christian - not least because it gave me access to excellent training and more experienced leaders... who wouldn't want that?
  2. Have clarity about the responsibilities and requirements of roles. Searcy has people sign covenant agreements about serving. CUs have been strong on doing this doctrinally but including things like commitment to being trained would be helpful. This requires some careful thinking and hard work to lay out the pathways and think about how people will connect with what we're doing. Effective use of connect cards at all our meetings to engage people with us for the first time and for ongoing steps of service is a vital tool.
  3. Small steps in service bring ownership. A Christian Union annually and weekly has the challenge of engaging members of the University into a journey with Jesus and to helping others into a next step with him. Helping everyone make a next step is vital.
  4. A culture of encouragement. Searcy suggests noting down the names of people who are serving whom you can deliberately encourage - probably privately with a note or in other ways. Are my eyes open to see the good that others are doing and to spur them on?
The book is an easy read that will require further thought and action both in my work with CUs and my own involvement in my church. I'm looking forward to putting some of it into practice in my context. I've read other books that show that every member has a part to play, this is the first one which considers how we can help that happen more.

Buy Connect by Nelson Searcy (2012, Baker Books)

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