If I was ever tempted to tell Small Church pastors to quit whining about something, this would be it.
It used to be fairly easy to get church members to commit to consistent giving and/or volunteering. Ask for a missions pledge, and people would sign up to give $5 or $10 a month. The vast majority would follow through on it until next year’s missions convention, then they’d renew it again.
Every church had several Sunday School volunteers who’d been teaching the same class every week for decades.
Not any more.
Are people not as committed as they used to be? Have we all become that unreliable? I say no.
People are just as committed as they’ve always been. They just commit in different ways now.
It’s time to stop complaining about people’s lack of commitment. As pastors – especially as Small Church pastors, who rely as heavily on volunteers as we do – it’s our job to find out what they will commit to, then give them the chance to step up.
People have changed how they make commitments in recent history, in four fundamental ways.
1. For Blocks of Time, Not Long-Term
As I write this, a group of college students from my church are on an airplane heading to New York City for Spring Break. Not to get drunk and party. They’ll be working with a ministry that helps feed and educate children in low-income neighborhoods.
They’ve spent several months raising money for this trip. Why? They’re committed to reaching this generation for Jesus.
That’s how people commit, today. In chunks of time and/or money, not a steady stream. But it doesn’t have to be a week-long trip away from home. It can be a one-day Share Day, a week-long VBS, or something else that fits your church. If they want to commit in chunks, let’s give them chunks to commit to.
When I was a kid, the idea that a church member would burn up their entire vacation time going on a missions trip was unheard of. Today, it’s standard fare. It’s not lesser commitment, it’s just different.
2. Through Relationships
People don’t give to projects any more. They give to people. People they know. People they trust. People who lead by example.
This is an area where Small Churches and Small Church pastors have an edge. We’re not just a body on a stage or a big head on a screen to the people in our church. They know us and we know them.
And because of this relationship, the next point takes on even more power and importance.
3. Because We Ask
A lot of Small Church pastors are afraid to ask people for help, face-to-face. We feel like we’ll be imposing. But it’s not imposing. Most of the time, they’re waiting for us to step up and make the request personal. To let them know we don’t just need someone, we need them.
People can always say “no”. But they’ll never say “yes” if we don’t give them the option.
“You don’t have because you don’t ask.” The bible teaches it. Good salespeople have learned it. Pastors need to practice it. The bulletin announcement isn’t enough any more.
But that advice from James 4:2 doesn’t end there. In the next verse, he tells us “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”
This is where the previous point – being someone they can trust – comes into play. And it leads us to the next point, too.
4. To Something Worth Committing To
People need to trust that what they’re giving to is of real value. They’ve been scammed before. They’ve seen the high-profile, so-called “Man of God” who asks with the wrong motives to spend their hard-earned money on his pleasures.
Brand loyalty is dead. People won’t give just because a church, ministry or denomination is where they’ve always given. The work must be practical, valuable and trustworthy. We have to constantly prove ourselves worthy.
Build a Bridge
No, it’s not enough to get church members to give a week of their time or a once-only big gift. Churches need weekly helpers to set up facilities, and steady tithers to pay the bills. But getting people involved in a way that suits their lifestyle and answers their trust issues is how we get that snowball started rolling down the hill.
This is not an easy time to get people to give or volunteer. But if we start with an understanding of some of these principles, we can build a bridge from one-time events to long-term commitments. We can inspire people to become givers and volunteers again.
Most of the long-term missionaries and pastors that have come out of our church, got the call on a short-term missions trip. Many of our faithful, weekly volunteers used our Share Day as their “toe in the water” to step up as a regular volunteer.
Volunteers haven’t gone away. We just need to know where to find them.
So what do you think? What would it look like if your church was more proactive and less reactive?
We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
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