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Volunteer Motivations & the implications for church leadership

The church lives and dies not on the paid staff, but on the service of God’s people. Much research has been done in recent years looking at the motivations for why people volunteer. Church leaders would greatly benefit from considering these reasons and as they seek to encourage and motivate God’s people in their Christian service.

In 2004, Martinez and McMullin wrote an article entitled, “Factors Affecting Decisions to Volunteer in Non-governmental Organizations” that was published by Environment and Behavior. In their study, they uncovered 5 major reasons why people volunteer or don’t volunteer.

  • Efficacy“I want to make a difference” – People volunteer because they long to make an impact on the world and on the people around them. As leaders in the church, we are uniquely positioned to play to people’s desire to make a difference. What great impact or more lasting legacy could someone leave than to grow the kingdom of God on earth? Show the volunteers in your ministry the impact their service is making.
  • Competing Commitments“I’m so busy” – People get pulled in a million directions. When they consider your invitation to service, they are going to ask themselves how it fits in with everything else they have going on. You may have to tailor your volunteer positions to match the reality of what someone can offer you.
  • Social Networks“Is so-so going/involved?” – People get involved for the relationships. Either someone they know (family or friend) is already involved or they are looking to meet people. As the body of Christ, the community of believers, relationships are especially important. Be sure to foster relationships among your volunteers.
  • Lifestyle Changes“We’re having a baby!” – Changes in people’s lives will bring volunteers into your ministry and carry them away. Research shows that people are most open to hearing the gospel at points of transition in life – marriage, divorce, having a child, starting a new job or losing a job. Each of those transition points and lifestyle changes also are opportunities to engage new people in service and threats that could pull your existing volunteers away.
  • Personal Growth“What’s in it for me?” – For us as Christians, this is the dreaded question. We think it is selfish when people worry about what’s in it for them. But that’s not the point here. We’ve already seen that people are busy and have limited time to serve. Part of the criteria they will use to evaluate volunteering opportunities is how they will grow personally. People are looking for environments that will encourage them to grow and mature as individuals. As pastors, this is our task of discipleship. People should be growing in grace and maturing in Christ through their service. It is our task to make sure this is happening.

As Christian leaders, we are prone to thinking people volunteer because they are supposed to or because they have to. Sure, the biblical mandate upon all of us is to follow the example of Christ, who “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). We are commanded to serve. But even with that as the motive, people pick their where they will service based on the some primary factors. May we, as Christian leaders, be students of our people that we will recognize what factor drives them and how we can encourage them in their kingdom service.

Interact: Which of these factors is the biggest concern for you when considering a volunteer opportunity?

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The path of Biblical greatness

“I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble.”

This quote is not from theologian or pastor who is waxing poetic about servant leadership, but from Helen Keller. She grasps the nature of the call of believers. True greatness in God’s economy is radical because it is humble. He must become more. I must become less. If I want to leave a lasting legacy, I must be faithful in the small things knowing that God is honored by such faithfulness.

Have you ever heard of Henrietta Mears? No? Look her up on wikipedia. Billy Graham once said that no woman, his mother and wife aside, has more profoundly impacted him than Ms. Mears. That is a great praise indeed! From her Sunday School classroom in Hollywood, California, she taught men and women who shaped the 20th century Christian landscape. Billy Graham. Bill and Vonette Bright. Dale Bruner. Dick Halverson. And many more.

Ms. Mears truly lived out Helen Keller’s quote. Through humbly and faithfully doing the small things, millions were reached for Christ. May my path to greatness be just radical.

Interact: In what “small” ways is God asking you to be radically faithful?