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Parish Volunteers

As Christians, we’re called to serve God through our life and vocation. Churches can come alive when the community affirms each other’s gifts and abilities. Volunteers need to be equipped, empowered and supported in their ministries.

For more information, contact Elizabeth McCaffrey at emccaffrey@toronto.anglican.ca or 416-363-6021, ext. 226 (1-800-668-8932).

Equipping

Once an individual’s gifts are held up within the community, it’s vital that they be deployed. Ministry vocations can range from administrative functions like property management to social justice tasks like working with a food bank or housing agency. The range of ministry is restricted only by our imagination.

The key to vibrant ministry is twofold:

  1. For the community to discern and affirm the gifts of an individual (see Gifts Discernment)
  2. Matching those gifts with the required ministries

Lay ministry empowerment cycle

Leaders need to plan for and support lay ministry as carefully as they do paid positions. There are simple and proven principles that help make intentional lay ministry work. They’re grouped into a model known as the lay ministry/volunteer management cycle, using the acronym PROSE:

  • Planning
  • Recruitment
  • Orientation and training
  • Screening and support
  • Evaluation and recognition

Planning

The big picture

Leaders need to know the community, the church and its mission to the world. With the use of the Planning Study, benchmark data and the visioning process, start asking yourselves:

  • What are the greatest needs in the community and the world?
  • What are the strongest gifts in the congregation?
  • Which needs can the congregation meet?
  • What resources do we need?

The specific ministry

Think through the specific ministry you want and write down the tasks and responsibilities you need fulfilled. Consider the importance of the function, why you want it done, and the personality characteristics, competencies and skills needed.

Then list the qualifications required, the training needed and the support and supervision you will provide.

Lastly, figure out the benefits this ministry will bring to the person accomplishing it and how it would fit into their sense of call, ministry or faith journey.

Put this all together in the form of a ministry description. You can find sample ministry descriptions in the screening section.

Recruitment and interviewing

Matching gifts and skills to appropriate ministry opportunities is a bit of an art. Start with a search process, which can range from an informal invitation to a structured job posting.

When you find a possible candidate, invite them to meet with you to talk about the position. Remember: if you’re casual about the invitation to minister, you may unwittingly be communicating that the ministry isn’t important. Be clear about what you’re asking for and use the ministry description.

During the conversation, discern whether this person is a good match for the position in terms of skills, abilities, time commitment and personal qualities. If you discover this person isn’t a good match but would be suitable in another role, suggest that they consider something else.

During the interview, you both have an opportunity to see where those gifts can best be shared. Promote the benefits of the ministry, but never twist people’s arms. Give them time to think about the position and graciously thank them for considering the request. Encourage them if they’re hesitant but interested, and offer opportunities to try it out.

Orientation and training

Schedule time with the person at the start of the ministry so they can be oriented to the position. Learning on the fly isn’t satisfying to the individual or effective to the organization. Offer training, which may be formal or informal workshops, books or articles to read, on-the-job training or written instructions. Ongoing training is a great way to renew lay ministers.

Screening and support

Depending on the level of risk in a position, you may need to formally screen a volunteer. The diocesan Responsible Ministry: Screening in Faith policy helps make sure the Church is a holy place where the love of Christ can be modeled and learned. We have a fundamental obligation to the welfare of all members of our community, but especially to those who are vulnerable through age, infirmity or particular circumstances of dependency.

It’s essential to support the ministry of the volunteer once they’re in place. Help solve problems, recognize their efforts and accomplishments, and coach and guide them. Provide adequate supplies and resources. Make sure they know who they report to and where to go for organizational approval. Be on the alert for over-functioning behavior and burn-out, which can be destructive forces in ministry.

Never take a person’s gifts for granted. You can never say thank you too often. Where appropriate, offer tangibles like certificates or small thank you gifts.

Evaluation and recognition

Check in from time to time to find out how things are going. It’s a good way to recognize the work as integral to the life of the community. You can do a more intentional evaluation through a one-on-one conversation or in a small group, using a series of prepared questions. Provide immediate feedback. Evaluate both the job and the lay ministry volunteer. Include the lay ministry volunteer in the evaluation process.

Based on the feedback of the evaluation, adjust the job description if necessary, clarify misunderstandings, develop goals and celebrate accomplishments. If it’s not a good fit, discuss a re-assignment to a more suitable ministry. Conduct exit interviews when people leave a position and, as appropriate, celebrate the service in a way that is meaningful to the lay ministry volunteer.

Recognition is a way of turning work into worship. It’s an opportunity for the faith community to reaffirm how the ministry is connected to the wider mission of the Church and how the role of the lay ministry volunteer contributes to its accomplishment.