"It seems like the same people are willing to help with the ministry every year. Why can't we get more people involved?" This litany is repeated over and over in congregational life.
The church might be able to learn something from a secular organization: Toastmasters International, an organization of clubs for people who want to learn to improve their speaking. Every week, several members give speeches, and other members give them feedback designed to be supportive yet also help them improve.
When I first visited a Toastmaster club, I noticed immediately that people got invited to join in right away. There are no "pew-warmers" in Toastmasters (this club met in the chapel of a Methodist church, so we actually sat in pews). Part of every meeting is a short time for impromptu speaking. Even guests are given the opportunity to participate, if they want to. As soon as new members join, they are scheduled for their first prepared speech. And they are scheduled in the various roles needed by the club in addition to further speeches. I wonder what church life would be like if church participation and membership were more structured than they often are. If we set up structures that would challenge people to grow spiritually and emotionally and in ministry skills, everyone would benefit.
Just as in church, people also come to Toastmasters from many different life situations. Ruth was barely able to look up from the floor when she gave her first speech. Over time she was able to face the group with confidence, telling vivid stories from her experiences with square dancing, church life and her travels. Ruth had never learned how to read, and a woman in her church taught her how. Ruth gave a speech in which she read a children's book to us. I have rarely in my life been so moved by a presentation. The structure and the culture of support helped Ruth to grow, gain confidence, and take on new opportunities for both speaking and leadership.
A central part of every Toastmasters meeting is evaluation. Everyone who speaks gets a kind but helpful evaluation. "I liked the way you did this, and here is something you might work on," is the usual way comments are given.
In church life we frequently shy away from evaluation. Pastors often get no more feedback than "nice sermon, pastor," or "I hated the new order of worship." Thoughtful feedback even to pastors can be rare. We find it very difficult to evaluate volunteers, to help them develop and grow in their role, beyond the occasional training event. We are terrified of chasing away much needed workers. What if we developed a way to gently evaluate everyone in a volunteer role in the church, at least every year?
We sell people short when we don't offer opportunities for personal and spiritual growth, when we don't ask them to serve, or when we ask them to serve and never give feedback. People are more likely to volunteer if they think they will get the support they need to do a good job.
My dream for all of our churches is that we find ways to help people grow, and to find them doing ministry they never thought possible.
Get the free mini-course, "Five Ways to Avoid Burnout in Ministry" at http://margaretmarcuson.com/