It Gets Harder Every Year

By. Dr. Rick Jordan

Editor’s note:  With our attention focused on the pandemic these days, we also don’t need to forget that we cannot do ministry by ourselves. We must have other people joining us! Whether we return to our churches soon or sometime later, these helpful tips from our new partner, Dr. Rick Jordan, will get you ready for getting your laity better engaged with your church’s mission. 

That is what three Baptist ministers in North Carolina I spoke with recently told me. We were talking about the recruitment of volunteer leaders for church ministries. The minsters are Tom Allen, First, Southern Pines; Tommy Bratton, First, Asheville; and Gina Brock, Ardmore, Winston-Salem. All three are veteran ministers who have spent much of their career recruiting, training, and affirming those who lead Bible studies, mission groups, music ministries, and aged-group ministries.

You might think that with all this experience, everything would be easier than it once was. So, what’s gotten harder over time? The recruitment and retainment of lay leaders.

Here are some reasons:

  1. Even the most faithful leaders have a different matrix for judging faithfulness. “It used to be that I could count on one person leading a Bible study class and they would be teaching 50 weeks in the year. Now, even the most faithful are missing 10 weeks of the year.
  2. Where are those leaders when not at church?  Enjoying our very mobile culture. They are out of town visiting children or grandchildren.
  3. Lay leaders do not want to be tied down to an every-week commitment. With more disposable income, some persons have purchased a vacation home at the lake, beach, or mountains. Or, they are traveling for long weekends at vacation destinations.
  4. This means, when they are gone, often they are off for weeks at a time.
  5. Thus, most people do not want to commit to taking a role by themselves. “Most of my Bible study classes have 2-4 leaders in a teaching rotation. That means up to four times more work in recruiting and training.
  6. There are also multi-generational expectations. Some older persons prefer classes segmented by gender. Very few younger persons want that. Some persons want to be in a class with peers; others look for a multiple-generational class with leaders from different generations.
  7. Some people are hesitant to lead because they feel ill-equipped or not as knowledgeable about the Bible and theology.
  8. In some churches, the political polarization that hurts the spirit of our nation has trickled into the classrooms. Few people want to be facilitators of weekly political debates.
  9. The church has lost the “built-in” people: stay-at-home wives/mothers and retirees.
  10. Everyone is very, very busy. Time is the most valuable commodity.

What to do in this new world? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Remind lay leaders that they do not have to have all the answers. Trust that the Spirit can bring wisdom to the group through a good question or exercise.
  2. Affirm lay leaders for the time they are willing to give. There are still persons for whom the leadership role is what they do until they get too sick to be present or they move or die. Let them know you appreciate their fidelity.
  3. On the other hand, do not criticize those whose lifestyles keep them on the road or out of town. Let them know how much you appreciate the ministry they are fulfilling.
  4.  Affirm the rotation model. It allows flexibility for leadership and it gives class members an opportunity to be led by a variety of voices and personalities.
  5. Explore the “Johns Creek model” for your Bible studies. This is what a church in Alpharetta, Georgia has been doing for many years. Leaders are recruited to become experts in a subject (for example, the gospel of John) which they then teach for six months to a class before moving on to another class.
  6. Recruit leaders for short-term projects. One church has recruited eight different women to lead Wednesday night Bible studies on eight different women Bible characters. Another church focuses on short-term projects such as planting flowers in the prayer garden and decorating the church for Advent.
  7. Always be looking for fresh voices, fresh leaders.
  8. Never, never, never recruit someone who is not currently active in the church in hopes that this will encourage them to be more active or to make them less critical.
  9. Do background checks on all leadership who work with youth and children.
  10. Simplify the church programs so fewer persons are needed. For example, maybe the committee of six could become a committee of three.
  11. Be willing to use non-church members for leadership. One church recruited an “outsider” to lead their Financial Peace University course.
  12. Approach new recruits with respect and tact. “Your name was suggested in serving as ___. Are you interested in hearing more?” Let them know “the why” of this ministry – why it is important and how it fits into the church’s vision. Let them know why you believe they have the skills to do this leadership role. Don’t demand an answer on the spot. Send them a task description with an agreement to call them back in a week.

These thoughts above are from Dr. Rick Jordan, our partner based out of Lewisville, North Carolina. He has been in various positions from the local church to state and national leadership roles.

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