“I just don’t understand why all churches aren’t doing this,” my friend said the other night when we were having dinner and solving the problems of the world. We have been reading a book together by Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, called Volunteer Revolution. In his book, Pastor Hybels writes about all of the community service ministries of Willow Creek, and how all churches can help their congregation members to become fulfilled by volunteering in the church and/or serving in the community. Some of the many ministries done by Willow Creek are: fixing cars for single moms; helping African refugees assimilate into the American way of life; food pantries; meals on wheels; providing lawn services and maintenance, and a group of pilots even got together and flew donated goods to missionaries. These are just a few of the many ways people in his church are volunteering and serving.
“Why aren’t all churches doing all of these things,” we asked. But as our conversation continued, it occurred to me that perhaps we were asking the wrong question. The correct question should be, “Why aren’t the church’speople doing this?” The whole point of Bill Hybels’ book is to reveal that we are all called to serve in some way. The examples he provides us with are of people who came to the church with an idea, a passion, or a suggestion about a ministry they wanted to pursue. And this is key – the church said, “OK, do it” – not “we will do it for you.” In other cases, ministries started because one person took one small step on their own. For instance, one couple donated some clothing to a family of refugees who moved to their town. Another person saw what they were doing and donated something else. Another saw what they were doing and offered a job. It took one person stepping forward to do one small thing that caused an avalanche of others coming together to add to the ministry – and it grew.
Sometimes it’s easy for us to blame the church for not doing enough community outreach or for not allowing people to serve at their fullest potential. Lord knows, I feel that way often, because I believe that all of us should be out in the community helping people who are hurting. But one important reason that churches may not be doing “enough” outreach in a creative way may be because people aren’t stepping up to the plate. And let’s be clear about one thing – the church cannot accomplish anything at all if people aren’t willing to take on the responsibility for the ministries that they want the church to do.
Why aren’t more people volunteering in the church and/or in their community? There are a number of reasons, and many of these reasons are fixable.
- One reason is that we don’t know what we can do. If we understand that God has given all of us the time, abilities and gifts that we need to serve Him, we will step up to meet whatever challenges there are, and we will serve. 1 Peter 4:10 says: “God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.” We don’t have to wait for someone else to start a program, or worse, complain if churches don’t offer the kinds of projects we would be interested in doing. Instead, we have to learn to look beyond what we see. Most churches have ministries already in place. Some of us are happy to serve in those, and that’s great. At one time or another most of us will be asked to greet or to work in the nursery. These are very important things (more important than people realize), but they are not everyone’s cup of tea. But just because a ministry or a way to serve isn’t presently happening in our church, it doesn’t mean we can’t create the opportunity, if that is what God is calling us to do. God gave us visions, ideas and passions for a purpose – so He can use us to accomplish His mission, the mission He has personally designed for each of us, individually. What has God called you to do in His mission field?
- People don’t have time. This is a myth. God gave all of us the time we need to serve Him. It has to be a priority, not a gap that we fill in after we have done everything else. God is Number One. Yes, we all lead busy lives. I am often overwhelmed about the small things – getting my banking done, renewing my driver’s license, keeping up with doctor’s appointments…there is always so much to DO. But there is also a lot to do for the kingdom, which is more important. Make time! We know that the more we give, the more we will receive – this isn’t only true for money, it is also true for our time. When we put God first, we find that we have more time than we ever knew we had.
- People are afraid they will fail. Be assured – if you try you will not fail. Even if your idea doesn’t work, something positive will come out of trying. You will learn a new skill, you will meet new people, and you may have helped a few people along the way. Your time will not have been wasted. The only real failure in our life is the failure to try. A real sign of failure is somewhere along the line asking ourselves “what if?”
- People are afraid they will succeed. What happens if our ideas are successful? We will be busy. We may become leaders of many people, and this means we will become responsible for others as well as ourselves. We will have to adapt to new situations, gain knowledge and try new things. The thought of this can be scary to us. But the best way to start something is to take the first step. Then the second step. Don’t look at the future, let the future happen. God will provide what we need along the way.
I’m definitely not saying that churches shouldn’t be active in the community. Heaven forbid! But it takes two or more to tango to make it work. What can churches do? Churches can let people know that we are ALL responsible for carrying out the work of God’s Kingdom. They can educate their congregation members to learn what their gifts are and how they can be best used. They can provide mentors to provide advice and feedback to people who want to start ministries. These mentors can be volunteers; they don’t have to be paid or on staff.
It all boils down to this: It takes people to start ministries and outreaches. It’s all about people and relationships. There are a lot of people out there who share our vision and dreams. We find them by reaching out to others whom we meet every day – in church and outside of church. Many people are waiting to be asked to be a part of something new and exciting – so ASK.
If you have a ministry or a community outreach project that is on your heart, or if you want to be active in your church, the only thing stopping you from accomplishing your goals may be you. Take some steps and see what happens.