Its not unusual for church leaders to be frustrated that members aren’t more active. And they tend to attribute lack of involvement to lack of commitment, or not taking faith seriously.
But the results of actual attempts at involvement suggest other factors are at work. Consider these (real) examples.
- Young mother sees specific way to help another family, but it requires some involvement from others. When she makes her plans known to one of the leaders in the church, she is told she “can’t do that”. No reason given, and her reasons for thinking it should be done are not heard.
- Man sees a project, and consults with the deacon in charge of that area. Not a priority with the deacon, so –even though the man is willing to do the work himself—he is discouraged from doing it.
- Young woman has idea for a teen class (which she is ready teach). Elders tell her plans are already made for the new quarter, but “we’ll keep it in mind for later”. She hears nothing as quarters come and go, and wonders if perhaps she is not considered a fit teacher but elders don’t want to hurt her feelings by telling her why.
- A father agrees to teach a Bible class thinking he will be given prepared material, but it was only a suggested topic and he must come up with his own material. Another teacher is scolded by an elder for not being in an adult class when he was teaching.
- A woman sees an area of concern and how to address it, but knows it is a matter for the elders to handle. She tries to discuss it with them, but they shrug it off, so she assumes it isn’t so much a problem as she thought and does not pursue any further action.
- New member would like to be more involved, but, having little experience with churches, doesn’t really know how to serve. Waits for someone to recruit help, but it doesn’t happen. Begins looking for opportunities, and finds those controlling each area of service don’t want help. Concludes own involvement is not wanted.
- A teenager enjoys teaching young children, and is becoming good at it. She’s surprised and hurt when, two weeks before finishing the quarter she is prepared to teach, one of the elders announces publicly that they don’t want teens teaching anymore. (He means that it’s important for them to be in their own class some of the time, but never explains that to her.)
In each of these cases, someone wanted and tried to increase involvement, but was discouraged. Not always intentional deterrence, but the leaders and the “system” left no opening for initiative, workers were not recruited in the areas the were ready to work, and contributions made were not valued. The problem had nothing to do with lack of commitment or faith. So what can be done to allow for more involvement?
I would suggest three areas which should be addressed in many churches besides the ones from which these examples come: Organization, communication, and relationships.
Who has responsibility for what?
- Who gives permission/direction/training to volunteers?
- Who needs to be consulted/informed of decisions?
- Who is to follow-up on decisions/projects/solutions?
What sort of oversight is offered on projects?
- Planning goals
- Anticipating problems and how to handle them
- Checking on progress and effectiveness
- Recognition of and willingness to deal with problems while still small
- Ongoing encouragement of workers
Do those who have authority know what authority they have & how to use it?
- what does the job entail
- who is to be supervised
- to whom does one report
Are priorities clear?
Are the right people consulted and informed of leadership decisions?
Do elders, deacons, minister, and members know what each expects of the others?
Is there a willingness to discuss misunderstandings and to affirm one another even when there are disagreements?
Is there on-going dialogue concerning effectiveness of programs?
Is appreciation expressed to and for those who are working?
Is there room for new ideas/people/leadership?
Are workers acknowledged and respected for their efforts?
Do leaders encourage or discourage participation?
Is there any nurture or guidance for those serving?
Answering these questions can help to create an atmosphere where involvement is encouraged, and all are able to mature in faith and service.
Paul’s instructions to church leaders (such as those to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:6-16) include not only doctrinal teaching and reading of Scripture, but also instructions to “set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” These more practical matters of communications & relationships often make the biggest difference in how the church functions as the household of God.