The Church as a volunteer organization
Volunteer management in parish life
Anglican Mary Stewart, in her 2016 book The Church as a Volunteer Organization, asserts that “the church is basically a volunteer organization with staff support.” We know that good clergy leadership is key to parish health. We also know that without volunteers to amplify this leadership not much can get done – churchwardens, treasurers, church school and youth leaders, Out-of-the-Cold servers, the altar guild and on and on. Without these volunteers where would our church be?
How we treat our volunteers, how we treat each other, reflects on who we are as Christians. Jesus tells us to “love our neighbours.” One way to show that love is to provide a healthy volunteer experience that will draw others to Jesus. Parents know that an important part of love is providing a structured, safe environment.
PROSE – Volunteer Management System
If you’re starting a new program or re-organizing an existing volunteer system in your church, you can follow this professional volunteer management structure:
- PLANNING (organizational culture/readiness)
- RECRUITING (relationships)
- ORIENTATION (connecting) &
TRAINING (empower for success)
- SUPPORT and RECOGNITION (partnering)
- EVALUATION (outcomes)
For specific guidance on how to implement the PROSE Volunteer Management System, contact the Volunteer Resources Consultant, who can suggest strategies unique to your context.
Some key advice
Ministry or job descriptions protect both the church leadership and parish volunteers. When things go awry our first question is “do you have a ministry or job description?” Folks looking for help with complex situations invariable answer “no.”
Volunteers need a clear outline of expectations if they are to succeed at any role they take on in your parish.
You can find a complete list of parish volunteer ministry positions that can be modified to fit your situation. You can invite your volunteers to collaborate on that editing process to fit their needs, availability, and expectations.
Transparency and collaboration build trust and a healthy volunteer experience. People need the freedom to organize their own work once they know the goals. Understanding the purpose of an activity shapes all other behaviours, while rigid assignments may result in vacant positions.
Visit the Screening in Faith section for clear guidance on determining risk assessment levels, Safe Church policies and police check requirements.
Parishes sometimes find it difficult to fill key positions. We hear, “how can I find another churchwarden or treasurer?” It may be time to recast or refocus your volunteer program. Listen to this conversation with Archdeacon Kyn Barker on how to recruit volunteers and prune or revitalize your volunteer program.
Don’t spend time and money on complex gift assessment tools. Instead, contact the Volunteer Resources Consultant, who can recommend how to use the Glad Gifts inventory, developed here in the Diocese of Toronto.
Volunteers in COVID-19 times
We can’t ignore the most significant cultural event of our generation. Volunteering must be viewed through the lens of what we’re all currently experiencing – church attendance limits, gradual re-openings with some parishioners afraid to return to church. Throughout the pandemic many of our churches have safely delivered meals and beds to street-involved persons and our most vulnerable neighbours.
The diocesan Reopening Guidelines will help you navigate most situations. For questions not covered in this document, contact the Volunteer Resources Consultant, who can recommend a reopening protocol volunteer to help you.
Online and hard copy resources
The most important resource
The Anglican Church of Canada has developed three volunteer management webinars with resources and sample forms presented by Suzanne Lawson and Marilyn MacKenzie, two faithful Anglicans who are world leaders in faith-based volunteering. You can start with their first webinar.
Their presentations are excellent and realistic, in terms of specific Anglican church culture, norms, permissions, planning and expectations around volunteering. If you look at only one thing – watch these webinars.
Revive is a discipleship program to help active lay leaders—wardens, property and finance officers, committee chairs, vestry members, church schoolteachers, youth ministers, pastoral visitors and liturgical ministers—grow in confidence as spiritual leaders. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Secular volunteering resources
Volunteer Toronto has some basic free resources that help with recruiting and engaging volunteers. Its focus is connecting volunteers with organizations – something we churches don’t usually need or want unless you’re doing an event that encourages/allows non-parishioners to join in, like a community block party to celebrate COVID-19 re-entry. Volunteer Toronto has significantly down-sized recently and has fewer free resources.
Volunteer Canada focuses on strengthening community and our country’s social cohesion. It also provides advice to businesses on how to build a could corporate citizenship profile to help their bottom lines. Some articles are interesting and some of the community engagement items around social justice might be tangentially relevant, but religious organizations don’t get a look in. Contact Elin Goulden, Social Justice and Advocacy Consultant, for more advice on social justice and advocacy volunteering.
- Stewart, Mary L (Bunny), The Church as a Volunteer Organization, The Hutch Publishing, 1093 Kingston Road #803, Toronto M1N 4E2, 2016 (available by mail inquiry only)
- Graff, Linda, Best of All: The Quick Reference Guide to Effective Volunteer Involvement, 2005, Linda Graff and Associates, Dundas, Ontario, 2005 – Still the gold standard in Volunteer Management
Prayers for volunteer meetings
Prayers to open a meeting and at a time of impasse
(from Prayers for the Servants of God – out of print):
Gracious God, when you speak, there is light and life; where you act,
there is justice and love. Be present in our meeting this evening,
that what we say and what we do may be filled with the power of your Holy Spirit.
In Christ’s name we pray.
Lord, we rejoice in this opportunity to gather in Your Name.
Each time we come together, we can be gifted with Your Presence
as we also meet the practical matters at hand. We ask that the work of this meeting
be a vessel for us to serve one another and You. May the ritual of the agenda
be a cause for communion among us. Guide us who serve through this meeting
so that our prejudgements and our personal histories do not hinder the purpose of this meeting or the coming of your Kingdom.
We ask this through Your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever.
Prayer at time of stalemate
CHAIRPERSON/FACILTATOR: Since we have reached an impasse, may I suggest that we stop for prayer:
Lord God, hear us as we pray:
we have come to a position
from which we are unable to move ahead in unison.
And so, we pause to ask Your Divine Assistance.
Let us back away from this issue so that we might view is from a vantage point
not weighed down by personal interests
or coloured with a merely practical logic.
As we pray in silence, guide us to resolve this issue by the light of the gospels,
with the gentleness and compassion of Christ
and with true humility of heart:
silent prayer (perhaps 5 minutes, allow people to leave the table or the room for a period of silent reflection)
Lord, we have come together in Your Holy Name.
Having been nourished by stillness,
and having heard the Divine Voice within our hearts,
let us resume our meeting to see if we can reach a decision
that is for our common good and for the good of the whole Church.
Prayer to close a meeting
(New Zealand Prayer Book)
Lord it is night. The night is for stillness. Let us be still in the presence of God.
It is night after a long day. What has been done has been done;
what has not been done has not been done; let it be.
The night is dark. Let our fears of the darkness of the world and of our own lives rest in you.
The night is quiet. Let the quietness of your peace enfold us, all dear to us,
and all who have no peace. The night heralds the dawn. Let us look expectantly to a new
day, new joys, new possibilities. In your name we pray. Amen+