By Jim Probst
The Pareto Principle highlights the tendency for 80 percent of the work to be done by 20 percent of
the people. We’ve all heard of this 80/20 principle, and we often see it as an inescapable rule inchurch cultures. Our beloved 20 percent have the “curse of competence” . . . or at least the “curse of obligation” . . . that fuels the fire to fill the volunteer void again and again. Meanwhile, the under-responsive masses settle into an uninspired consumer Christianity. As this scenario occurs and reoccurs in our churches, we are left with an exhausted and overcommitted minority and a disengaged majority. This is a bit of a hyperbole, but my hunch is you resonate with the generalization.
How would you describe your church or ministry culture? Is the environment advantageous for the recruitment and development of leaders, or does your environment cause every step to feel labored? Let’s consider three helpful questions as we consider the culture we develop for our volunteers.
Are Our Values Clear? (Pre-Active Leadership)
A few months ago our small-group staff took a road trip to network with a similar-sized church in our region. The goal was to learn from them through comparing and contrasting ministry models, while also getting a break from the demanding routine in our office. The time spent with their church leaders was priceless, and we’re developing a greater partnership for future collaborative learning. However, the highlight was watching our volunteer leaders interact with their paid staff.
Two of our top-tier leaders who joined us for this networking meeting blended in with the paid staff as they exchanged ministry challenges, talked ministry philosophy, and passionately presented their commitment to small group ministry. Our two volunteers were routinely mistaken for staff members, and we all saw this as an indication of clarity for our ministry. We wondered how others might have represented our ministry. How many of our key leaders could confidently represent our ministry in a roundtable environment with other church leaders? Has the vision casting from a few matured to vision carrying by many?
Pre-active leadership is about understanding and embracing the philosophical and theological issues that frame our strategies. While such leadership is critical, we often neglect this as the urgent day-to-day leadership overshadows the important. Clearly communicated values that are widely understood and embraced provide the context for competent and confident leadership development and recruitment! Do the leaders of our ministries recognize the subtleties that make our church cultures unique? Do prospective leaders see and hear a set of values that are clear and compelling?
Our values are not terribly brilliant or original, but we’ve found the first step of leadership recruitment is to share our common values in a compelling way. For Eastview Christian Church, we promote four values: gather, grow, give, and go (known as the “4Gs”). Each value is consistently presented through our membership course (E STEPS), small group curriculum, and leadership training. Our congregation has been bombarded with these “4Gs” for several years, and the clearer we communicate, the greater the gravitational pull toward alignment and adoption by current and future leaders.
Are Our Vehicles Carrying Us Where We Want to Go? (Proactive Leadership)
We would love to see 100 percent of our people equipped and empowered to function as they were designed to function in the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-16). We value the 4Gs, but have we designed and implemented the proper processes and programming (vehicles) to carry us where we want to go? A canoe is not the best vehicle for mowing a lawn, and a sports car isn’t the best vehicle for a family of six to take a road trip. In short, we need to consistently assess whether our vehicles are effectively serving our values.
One of the best vehicles for carrying our values is E STEPS, a four-week course we offer every month throughout the year. It is designed to communicate the 4Gs in a way that fosters greater alignment for Christians who are new to our community, while also providing foundational teaching for those who are exploring or have recently begun their faith journey. Within this ministry we provide an overview for each of our G’s and practical “next steps.”
For example, when we talk about what it means to give, we take our course members on a Sunday morning “voluntour” throughout our building to see ministries in action. While touring, the E STEPS attendees are presented with serving opportunities. Our value of giving is affirmed and accentuated through E STEPS . . . and E STEPS is grounded in the value of giving.
Are Our Victories Celebrated? (Reactive Leadership)
Let’s be honest. There is never a season when leaders are too numerous or too capable. The challenge is how we communicate the needs and opportunities that seem to compound. In my experience, the best way to increase leadership quality and quantity is by celebrating what we value. Leaders and future leaders resonate with the clarity and encouragement of highlighting little victories along the way. Admittedly, this is reactionary leadership . . . but leadership nonetheless.
People want to be a part of a winning team, not a whining team. I’m not suggesting we manufacture victories, but that we mine for them from time to time. My most common prayers for leaders are for them to see their fit and fruit. If they can see how they fit in the body of Christ, it will be hard to keep them from connecting in that way. Are you more likely to celebrate volunteer victories or call for volunteer help? If I had only one announcement this Sunday morning, I would use that precious time to celebrate the victories of those already serving.
Jim Probst is pastor of small groups at Eastview Christian Church in Normal, Illinois. He works with a dynamic and faithful staff to oversee a growing small groups ministry of more than 300 groups.