Overcoming Seasonal Volunteerism

August 13th, 2013

One of the key challenges for a small church of 200 or less participants is that volunteers disappear when you most need them. Despite the lip service paid to the "Christian Year", the annual agenda is actually shaped around personal vacations. There is a routine drop in volunteerism in the summer (as volunteers under 55 disappear to cottages, state parks, family vacations); and in the winter (as volunteers over 55 disappear to warmer climates, Caribbean cruises, and weekend getaways).

In addition, volunteers in the small church tend to disappear on the very holidays when church visitors are more likely to peak: Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Mother's Day, and Easter. At the very time visitors increase, the choir gets smaller, the greeters are gone, the refreshments are sparse, and even the staff run home to be with their families.

Churches often strategize how they can fill the gaps. They do extra training, recruit a "second string" of seniors for temporary duty, recycle video and audio technology, and even hire additional soloists, guest preachers, and caterers. All that does is to underline the clear, powerful, and obvious message small churches send to the many visitors and seekers who show up "off season": Me first! You don't really matter! You are a secondary priority! Our happiness comes first!

In order to break this seasonal habit of volunteerism, faithful small churches expect the staff, board, and ministry leaders to negotiate and stagger their vacation times. This is commonly done in every other sector: corporations, educational and health care institutions, and government services. In other sectors, leaders are never allowed to all take a vacation whenever it suits them. Sometimes it is negotiated by seniority, sometimes by situational urgency, and often by rotating first and second choices fairly over several years.

In the church, however, Jesus taught that the first should be last, and the last should be first. Therefore, the pastor and the board members make the greater sacrifices. Staff vacations may be deferred in part or in entirety to the fall or spring, so that they can be present in the summer and winter. Board member vacations may be deferred as well ... and board members postpone their holiday trips at Thanksgiving, Christmas, Mother's Day, and Easter so that they can be at the church.

Since the first line of hospitality and evangelism today is the band and the choir (not the pastor and the greeters), it becomes even more incumbent on the music ministry leaders to adjust their vacations schedules around the opportunities Christ gives them to bless strangers to grace. Faithful small church request that all musicians be present for holidays ... and make sure that a core of musicians are present every Sunday though summer and winter.

If the small church can overcome seasonal volunteerism, it isn't long before the small church becomes a bigger and bigger church. You build up momentum. The first step to become a seven-day-a-week church is to become a 52- weeks-of-the-year church.

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