I am sometimes asked how our little church manages to do as much as it does. Speaking honestly, I do think we punch well above our weight in the evangelistic output stakes. But the question usually concerns how such a little church can manage to do (what is perceived to be) quite so much? Here are some things that we do – that might well be replicable – that may help you as you seek to encourage your church into service.
Expect your members to serve
It sounds pretty basic, doesn’t it? But the truth is, many churches are not setup in such a way that members – particularly new members – are expected to serve. Much of the time, people come along, join the church and everything seems to run and so they just let it all happen because, in fairness to them, why wouldn’t you? Unless somebody comes along and specifically asks them to serve in something in particular, it often looks like everything is fine and just doesn’t need the help.
One of the basic things we do, when we have our membership class with prospective and new members, is tell people they are expected to serve. Various ministries are laid out before them and they are encouraged to find something and get stuck in, whatever it may be. We are in the process of sticking together a list of ministries – some tiny (like putting out the bins) and others more significant (like organising our Food Club) – so that we can give people a list of things they can physically get hold of and determine they are going to do. But we make it clear that we expect them to do something.
Give your members autonomy
Of course, we don’t want to bind people with a list of stuff that is currently happening. To expand ministry, you need to be doing things that aren’t currently happening. So, we make sure everybody knows they have a degree of autonomy. Anybody who has an idea of how to reach out with the gospel, how to disciple members, how to build up the church, they are free to come and share it with us. We are happy for people to do what they are most excited about, not just what we’ve told them they have to do.
Our position as elders has always been the same. We largely want to say yes to people and their ideas. Unless they are suggesting something sinful, or something that we think would be actively damaging in our community, we want to encourage people to do it. It may or may not be what we would do. It does involve them either managing to do it by themselves or being able to convince others in the church to do it with them, but ultimately, if it isn’t ungodly and won’t evidently undermine our mission, we want to give people the autonomy to do these things.
Accept that ministries may have a shelf-life
It may seem odd when thinking about getting people serving and doing lots of ministry to think about shutting things down. But the truth is, ministries do have a shelf life. Few people will want to serve in what seems to have no fruit and no longer serves any clear purpose. It will discourage service more than help. It is not wrong or ungodly to say that this ministry is going to end. Maybe it was a good idea once but no longer works, perhaps it worked well but really revolved around particular people with specific gifts and isn’t easily replicable. Whatever it may be, we shouldn’t be scared to say something has had its day.
This helps encourage service because people will involve themselves in works that are bearing fruit and have evidence of their value. It will help encourage service by freeing people up from things that are less valuable so they can start new things of greater value. Regularly (or semi-regularly) asking whether specific works are actually working and being ready to say they are not and need to stop will encourage people to be thinking about what they can do if not this.
Speak with regularity about the need
In the end, if people don’t grasp the need, nobody will serve. People need to fully understand the state of the lost and be confronted with it. They need to know of the need in the community. They need to be told when ministries will end if nobody can run them. They need to know that new ministries won’t start if people don’t begin them. They need to know that people who don’t hear about Christ cannot respond to him and the more people going out and sharing the gospel with them the better. They need to know about how they can do that together with other people in the church. Unless people know the needs, they won’t see the need to serve.