I was recently visiting a church when the pastor held up a sign-up sheet for some activity the church was having a few weeks later.
He made the comment that if enough people didn’t sign up for whatever they needed, the church office would have to call folks. I had the sense that people did not respond to the sign-up sheets very well in this church.

When I pastored in the ’80s and ’90s, we used sign-up sheets a lot to recruit volunteers for the various activities in our church. 

Most of the time our folks were willing to volunteer, but toward the end of my pastorate I found that fewer and fewer people would sign up on the sign-up sheet.

They needed to be asked directly to help with the activity. I think this is even more true today, which is why I believe we need to eliminate the sign-up sheets for most activities.

I read an article recently that promoted the idea that the church needs to cut back on their volunteers and become more intentional about developing leaders. There was a lot in that article that resonated with me.

Especially in our smaller churches, we are always looking for volunteers to do various tasks; those volunteers are getting harder to come by. 

Whether it is due to time constraints, a lack of interest in the particular activity, a lack of commitment to church activities, or some other reason, people are less willing to step forward to volunteer today.

They hope someone else will volunteer for the task, and they won’t need to. This can get very frustrating to the few who are willing to volunteer as it seems they are expected to do all the work in the church.

How much better would it be if our churches became more intentional about developing leaders in their churches rather than depending on volunteers?

Consider the following scenario. A small church needs a director for their Vacation Bible School, and about three weeks before the scheduled VBS someone finally volunteers to be the director.

In a short period of time, he or she must become familiar with the material, coordinate and train the other workers, make sure the needed supplies are available, plan the promotion, and handle all the other administrative tasks that need to happen for this to be successful.

Is it any wonder this person is not interested in being the director the following year?

Instead of asking for someone to volunteer to be the VBS director, what might happen if the church leadership sought a person who had the spiritual gifts for the position, along with a passion for VBS and a belief in the possibilities that VBS offers?

Such a person could be intentionally approached months ahead of time and asked to serve in that position and then provided the training he or she would need to be prepared.

This would provide them with plenty of time to obtain the material and study it. They would then be responsible to recruit and train the various workers and teachers they would need for VBS.

Which scenario is likely to result in a better Vacation Bible School experience?

Apply this same thinking to the other ministries your church offers. I believe in almost every case that intentionally recruiting and training individuals to lead these ministries will be far superior to putting a sign-up sheet on the back bulletin board hoping to get enough volunteers.

Not only will this result in better ministries, it will also raise the level of leadership in the church, which will have far-reaching benefits for the church for decades to come.

Chances are your small church would have to make changes in its bylaws before this can happen as many of these volunteer positions are likely to be assigned to a nominating committee to recruit.

In my opinion, nominating committees are much like sign-up sheets – both served a purpose at one time in church history, but that time has passed.

Let’s stop depending on volunteers and become more intentional about recruiting and training leaders in our churches. The benefits of doing so are likely to be impressive.

Dennis Bickers served as the bivocational pastor of Hebron Baptist Church near Madison, Ind., for 20 years before accepting his current position as a resource minister with the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, Bivocational Ministry, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @DennisBickers.

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