Nelson Searcy: Do You Need a New Perspective on Volunteers?
Excerpted from "Connect: How to Double Your Number of Volunteers" (Baker)
Need and Belonging
Our thoughts shape the world around us, don’t you agree? As the English poet John Milton famously said, “We see things not as they are but as we are.” Keep this in mind as you move forward with building your volunteer base—especially when it comes to your mindset about issues of need and belonging. Regarding need, I’d like you to eliminate that concept from your mind—and the word from your ministry vocabulary—completely. Never think in terms of need. As for belonging, well, I invite you to wrestle with the contrarian idea that your volunteers may not need to believe before you invite them to belong. The way you think about these two areas will have significant ramifications for your ministry system. Let’s dig a little deeper.
The Four-Letter Word of Ministry
“Need” is a nasty four-letter word when it comes to recruiting volunteers. When you tell your people that you need volunteers in a certain area, what they hear is that you haven’t done a thorough job of preparation and stewardship.
Imagine that you are a new attender at a vibrant church. You’ve just dropped your young daughter off in the children’s area and you are settling in for the worship service, when the pastor steps up and makes an announcement that the church needs volunteers for the children’s ministry. Suddenly you feel like you’ve left your child in an understaffed area, which caused you to lose confidence in the church and its ministries. That’s definitely not the message you want to convey. In Simply Strategic Volunteers: Empowering People for Ministry, Tony Morgan writes, “Preparation communicates value and importance.” Need indicates a lack of preparation and subsequently a lack of value and importance.
Need also conveys negativity to your potential servers. No one wants to jump on board a sinking ship. They would rather get involved in thriving areas of opportunity. Your mindset and the language you choose to reflect it are more important than you realize. Instead of operating and speaking out of a scarcity mentality, choose a different lens. Reshape your thinking like this: You never need a volunteer; you have an opportunity for someone to serve.
For example, if we were trying to recruit more people for Super Service Thursday, we would say something along the lines of:
We have a great opportunity for some of you who really love God and want to use your gifts of administration and organization to come out on Thursday night and be a part of what we call Super Service Thursday, one of the most exciting nights in our church. We get together, watch movies, have some food, and most importantly we prepare the materials that we are going to use on Sunday to help people grow in their faith and come to Christ. Why don’t you try it for a week? To learn more or to join us, check the box on your connection card.
As a potential server, would you react more positively to that invitation or to, “We need a few people to come by the church office from 5:00 to 7:00 on Thursday and help the staff fold and stuff programs”? Remember, be a master asker. Choose your words wisely.