If I were to ask you the question, Does your church need volunteers?, I’m confident the answer would be a resounding YES. In fact, I’m somewhat confident that your “yes” would follow a series of chortles, guffaws, and ROFLs, because of course we could all use some more volunteers. It seems there are never enough to go around, never enough who sign up for your ministry, and never enough who show up on the day they’re scheduled to serve.
But I want to challenge you to scrap the word “need” from your stage announcements, church bulletins, and personal asks. NEED is a short-term win, but often a long-term loss. Here’s what I mean:
Why need is a short-term win:
Your pews are filled with people who will respond to need. The church needs a few extra helpers in the nursery? The need-driven people are going to leave the service to go rock some babies. The student ministry needs a chaperone for the fall retreat? People who respond to need will take some time off of work and practice their shaving cream prank skills. You need to take up a special love offering to replace the HVAC unit, need some last-minute help at the soup kitchen, need someone to sew costumes for the Easter cantata? There will almost always be people who will say yes to those things. You’re usually one impassioned pulpit plea away from guilting someone into doing whatever you need at the moment.
Why need is a long-term loss:
But there’s a danger in relying on need. While your needs are seemingly infinite, the number of people who respond to needs and the amount of time they can give to needs is incredibly finite. Your “yes” people can only say “yes” so many times before they run out of time, passion, or energy. And if you press for a “yes” too often, your people will burn out or drop out. In addition, relying on need makes it sound like the church is going down in flames. It can seem like there’s no proactive vision, but rather a series of reactive knee-jerks that spiral into a vicious cycle.
So if you really do need volunteers, what do you say instead of need? Try the word opportunity. Let your people know that – contrary to what they might believe – you are not a well-oiled machine. Make them aware of places where they can explore their gifts, develop their passions, and build the kingdom. Instead of relying on stage announcements as a last-ditch bully pulpit of desperation, share stories of the ministry you’re asking them to consider. Encourage them to take a step. And then be willing to shepherd them through the process as they explore the opportunity before them.