Sign-up Sheets

April 25th, 2011
Image © Paul Moore |

Churches overuse sign-up sheets. Sure, theyʼre the easiest way to see who's interested in serving/volunteering/attending and so forth. But I wonder how effective sign up sheets really are.

Iʼm sure weʼve all been on the receiving end of announcements like this: "Were looking for Sunday school teachers! If you're able to teach Sunday school, then go sign up to be one at the back of the church after the service! (Or, email/call/talk to [the person in charge])."

If youʼre like me, you probably find it really easy to ignore these types of announcements. Perhaps you even think, “Oh, I hope they find someone.” Itʼs so easy to dismiss a call to servanthood when you're asked to answer that call on a sign-up sheet. Donʼt get me wrong, sign-up sheets are useful at times. You can see who's coming to an event, what people are bringing to the potluck, etc. I guess my problem with sign-up sheets is that we limit our appeals for help to that: sign-up sheets.  As leaders/pastors, we make the announcement of our need, hoping people will feel the burning of the Holy Spirit and flock towards our form, only to be disappointed and discouraged (and resentful, even) to see that not a single person volunteered for the cause.

Answering a call to serve on a sign-up sheet... well, something seems missing. We canʼt simply depend on forms alone. That method is too impersonal and too easy to ignore.

Could it be possible that sometimes, pastors and leaders are afraid of the personal approach? Maybe afraid isnʼt the right word... but I canʼt think of a better one.

We all know someone who might be a great teacher, youth worker, or whatnot, but instead of asking them, we sort of hope they read the announcement in the bulletin, heed the call, walk over, and sign themselves up.

The most effective way, however, to recruit and train unpaid servants is to go and ask them personally. What keeps us from asking someone who might be the perfect fit for our ministry? Is it rejection? Are we afraid they would be so appalled at being asked that they would leave the church? If that's the case, then is it such a big loss if they did leave? Or are we so concerned with attendance numbers, that, yes, it would be a huge deal if they left?

From my experience, people seem to be flattered that we thought so highly of them to ask them to help. Some are so overwhelmed by what is involved that they canʼt commit. Some are simply too busy or uninterested. And sometimes, that conversation plants a seed in their heart, and after a while, they come back and say, “You know what? I canʼt stop thinking about our last conversation. I donʼt know if Iʼm qualified or able, but I just canʼt stop thinking about it, and I think itʼs worth a try.”

Ministry is a very personal vocation, but often  it seems like we try to make it as impersonal as possible. Maybe work is just easier that way.

We shouldnʼt be afraid of asking someone if they're interested in serving. Whatʼs the worst that could happen? They say no? Whatʼs the best that could happen? We find a servant who's willing to serve wholeheartedly? Doesnʼt the positive outweigh the negative?

So the next time youʼre in need of a Sunday school teacher, youth worker, small group leader, mission trip guide, or whatever your ministry requires, pray. Pray about who might be a good fit for that ministry. Pray about the person you want to ask to serve. Pray for strength and courage. Pray that you will know that the rejection of the proposal is not a rejection of you. Pray for a wonderful and affirming conversation. Then, call up the person, and say, “You know, Iʼve been praying about this and about you for a little while...”

By the way, this might also be the best way to get people to think about giving (sacrificially). The “we need this much in pledges to balance our budget” appeal may not the most convicting call for stewardship...

Joseph Yoo is pastor of youth and spiritual formation at Valencia United Methodist Church in Valencia, CA. He blogs at Step by Step.

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