In March 2020, I dare say the vast majority of pastors had no idea of the journey we were about to embark on. I remember thinking (a few weeks in) – “I hope I don’t miss out on this unique opportunity over the next few weeks to hear what God is saying through this…” Hah!
Although exactly where each of us is in this next phase in the journey may vary slightly, I hope that most of us have or are starting to look past the pandemic. As we gear up for Fall, I think there’s excitement (to some degree) by the promise of a return to quasi-normalcy with things like back-to-school, small groups, fall events, etc. But even though those things sound invigorating, there is still an air of uncertainty as we’re not sure how this will all play out.
Now I’ll leave it to others who have been trying for the last year and a half to predict or define what exactly the “new normal” will look like – the reality is that we’ll continue to learn as we go. However, I believe there are timeless, practical principles that provide clear direction and hope for pastors (and leaders) struggling with a Corona hangover – to get their churches focused and aligned on their mission once again.
Over the next few weeks, this series will focus on four key areas that can help kickstart and sustain our momentum as we move into the Fall season – volunteers, events, outreach, and giving.
A Lifeway Research study found that, once it is safe to do so, 91% of churchgoers plan to attend in-person worship services at least as often as they did before the pandemic. Almost a quarter (23%) plan to attend more than previously. With that in mind, and health restrictions easing across the country, pastors and churches should be prepared appropriately for their fall schedules – including finding the right volunteers.
As a general rule, most of us pastors (eventually) come to understand the importance of volunteers. The burden of trying to do everything (for pastors or any ministry leader) brings each of us to our knees sooner or later – and the sooner we recognize and accept the need to empower others, the better. However, finding and engaging church volunteers – or perhaps re-engaging them in the new post-Covid setting – bears keeping in mind a few key principles.
The first and foremost element needed is vision. Whether your church has maintained the same vision (as pre-Covid), tweaked it, created a new one, or some hybrid of all the above – senior leadership must be aligned and onboard. A unified, clear vision is crucial to success, whether you’re a small church pastor, which may mean you’re leading families or a large church pastor with your staff and board. Considering the fatigue, physical and sometimes emotional disconnect that has challenged church leadership, this is more important than ever. As stated above, the pastor cannot do this independently – a clear, consistent message must be shared by and from leadership at all levels.
The same is true for volunteers. The past 16 months have changed expectations, behavior, needs, and even beliefs in many ways. To re-engage our volunteers, we have to understand where they are and engage them from that place. This may even include new members your church has gained online. Vision is once again of extreme importance. As pastors, we have to paint the picture for them. Present a clear purpose and direction – and invite them to join us in our shared mission.
A corresponding element of this is identifying and communicating (potentially new) areas where help is needed. If the church has identified new areas or opportunities for ministry, make sure this is communicated. One key way to do that is by identifying and clarifying the need(s) you want to address. Explain why the mission matters, what you will accomplish, and how this will impact your congregation and community. Reconnecting with volunteers, presenting the needs – to help them connect with where they are passionate – is the critical path to re-engaging them.
The second primary element is communication. Just like the old real estate adage about ‘location’ – for churches, it’s going to be “communicate, communicate, communicate.” A shift or change in church vision isn’t uncommon. However, taken in light of an unprecedented pandemic in which just about everyone feels like they’ve been tossed to and fro in a sea of change for the last year and a half, the need for consistent and clear communication is paramount. So take advantage of all your communication channels (personal conversations, emails, website, ChMS tools, groups, leaders) to re-engage your volunteers. Show appreciation, communicate the needs and opportunities, celebrate successes, and invite them to join you in the mission.
We have a unique opportunity in the church right now. On one hand, the last year has been very traumatic for large portions of society, resulting in physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. At the same time, there’s an excitement and readiness to get back to life and begin “doing” things again. This is just as true for volunteers as it is for our communities as a whole. The church is keenly positioned to meet both of those needs. Reach out, meet them where they are, and invite them to come along with you.