After 20 years in the same city, 16 in the same church, and 12 at the same job, we packed up and moved to a place where we knew no one — to start
a multiplying church.
The Puget Sound region of Washington state is one of the least-reached corners of America. While many parts of the U.S. may be called post-Christian, a better description for this area is pre-Christian. Most people here have not rejected the gospel as much as they’ve not encountered it. Their parents, grandparents and friends stopped going to church long ago or never have. But what others saw as a problem, we saw as a place primed for hope.
To fulfill our vision of planting five churches in five years, we would have to become exceptionally proficient at developing leaders from within. It wouldn’t be easy, but we knew God had called us to shine the light of the gospel into this dark setting.
Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matthew 9:37-38). The harvest remains plentiful today. But pastors can’t bring in the harvest alone. We need to raise up workers.
Most of our early staff meetings were in bustling coffee shops. At times, we’d have to wait for another group to get up so we could settle in to our “office space.” The humming and grinding of machines formed the backdrop of our strategizing and training sessions. The hours we logged there made the $5 cups of coffee seem like a great deal.
Matt Boots was a logistics specialist for Seattle-based Starbucks, which was what brought him and his family to Puyallup. Our church plant, newhope, was at its original launch location, the Regal Theater, when they arrived. Matt and his wife, Lisa, are warm, generous, others-focused people. They had been part of another church plant in Nebraska and started attending our church as interested spectators.
We invited them to participate in our volunteer development process and a community group, where it became obvious their love for Jesus and others made them prime candidates to take greater steps into leadership. Matt would go on to serve one of our campuses as community groups director. Though he managed millions of dollars and dozens of people in his day job, he humbly submitted to our training process. The couple’s faithfulness and commitment to our church only increased as Matt and Lisa stepped into volunteering.
With tears in his eyes, Matt recently told us they are planning a return to Nebraska to join the staff of the church they previously attended. Our sadness at seeing them leave is dwarfed by our excitement at seeing them lead. We believe in keeping our volunteers close enough to pour into their lives, while holding them loosely enough to let God take them where He wants them to go.
Our churches share three values: 1) Jesus is Lord. 2) The lead pastor is a mentor. 3) We train volunteers for the work of ministry. Our strategy is to develop volunteers from within.
The one person in the history of the world who could have done ministry alone didn’t. Jesus built a team. He didn’t say, “Stand back and let me do my thing.” Jesus said, “Come, follow me, and I will send you out to fish for people” (Matthew 4:19.) The apostle Paul emulated this team approach. In fact, he said a pastor’s role is to equip God’s people to do His work and build up the Church (Ephesians 4:12).
That’s no less true today. Every member of the Body is a potential harvest worker. Our job is to get the right tools into their hands. Here are six ways we’re doing that at newhope:
1. Easy On-Ramps
I’ve talked with a number of pastors who are struggling to increase their volunteer teams. In most cases, their churches have irregular or nonexistent development opportunities.
We can’t grow people we don’t have. We must create easy on-ramps for recruiting and training. Offering a time, place and process brings clarity. That clarity will give your team confidence, and confident volunteers will become magnets for drawing in other volunteers.
At newhope, we gather once a month (currently online) for an All Leadership Team (ALT) night with pastors, directors, and any volunteers and new recruits who are available. This involves leadership development, vision casting, theological training, ministry team connection moments, and a closing time of worship and prayer.
These regular volunteer development opportunities paint a clear picture of newhope culture, remind each campus we’re one church in multiple locations, and clarify that we’re part of something far greater than our individual campuses.
If we don’t go somewhere on purpose, we end up going somewhere on accident. A culture that multiplies volunteers won’t create itself. Neither people nor churches drift into intentionality, depth or health. But they often drift from it.
The writer of Hebrews 2:1 says, “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” We have to help our volunteers end up somewhere on purpose.
Identify clear and specific next steps for their development. This establishes a framework from which to start. Work together to establish goals for volunteers, adapting them as needed while you move forward.
Few people end up developing exactly the way we might have envisioned. Some progress quickly, while others require more time and ministry engagement before they become fruitful contributors.
At newhope, we apply what we call the “flexture” principle. In a nutshell, it’s structured flexibility. We set growth and development goals a year in advance, then check in on their progress every three months.
This provides the right amount of space for communication, feedback and adjustments. Monthly or weekly assessment would be too much, while checking in only one or two times a year doesn’t allow enough time for mentoring.
One of the benefits of developing leaders from within is that they’ve already chosen to make your church home, have started to speak the language, and are catching your culture.
Going somewhere on purpose means clarifying whose job is it to recruit new volunteers. The answer is simple: everyone’s. Creating a culture that invites everyone to recruit new team members greatly expands your reach.
The expectation of pastors building teams becomes one of churches building teams. There are always more church members than pastors.
We encourage every team member at newhope to ask these questions regularly:
- Who is not on our team that should be? We pray for God to give us eyes to see people the way He sees them, including recognizing their gifts and potential.
- Who is going to ask them? Someone has to take the lead and make the ask.
- When are you going to ask them? Setting a date heightens accountability.
- What did they say? Reporting back allows leaders to know who has been approached and what the response was.
- When do they start? If they say “yes,” they are invited to attend an ALT event and shadow a leader. If they say “no,” we go back to Step 1 and look for others.
The one person in the history of the world who could have done ministry alone didn’t.
When we do not have a clear process for developing volunteers from within, we are essentially deciding for them they cannot be part of God’s mission through our church. Don’t say “no” for someone by failing to ask.
Jesus came to seek and save people, not programs. People were His mission, and they’re our mission as well. Our goal should be developing people as the Church, not just at church. Navigating the pandemic gave us a front row seat to people stepping up as the Church, outside the church building.
This in no way minimizes the value of gathering at church. There are expressions of Christianity that are best experienced while in corporate settings. But when we develop people to go and make disciples inside and outside the church, the work of the Kingdom can continue even when we can’t gather in person.
3. Clear and Compelling Vision
A critical question to ask as we’re developing volunteers from within is this: Is our vision clear and compelling? We can have a clear vision that’s not compelling and a compelling vision that’s not clear.
A clear vision is simple and memorable. Simple does not mean simplistic. A compelling vision reminds your people every prayer they utter, every dollar they give, every hour they volunteer, every church they launch throws a life preserver to a drowning world.
Joining Jesus on His mission to seek and to save the lost is both clear and compelling and turns our volunteers’ focus outward.
Is your vision for your volunteers clear? Is it in writing and regularly highlighted?
It may seem obvious to you, but is it clear and compelling to volunteers and potential volunteers? Does it inspire them to join in the work of the Kingdom?
Celebrate winning moments — large and small.
Don’t just cheer for the home runs; celebrate the base hits. People want to know their contributions are making a difference. And what we celebrate, people replicate.
Highlight what you want, not what you don’t want. Are people regularly late? Rather than offering another lecture on punctuality, celebrate the person who gets there early. For instance, you could say, “Sheila, I want to thank you for how you model the culture we’re trying to create here.”
5. Serving Opportunities
We don’t lose influence by sharing it; we gain more. A few years ago, I was part of a pastors’ panel when someone asked, “What do you regret about your early years of ministry?”
After rolling through a lengthy list in my mind, I landed on this: I should have shared the mic and my influence more. I don’t know whether it was insecurity, immaturity or a lack of know-how, but I had this false idea that my voice would be diminished if I let other people take the mic or the lead.
My view of leadership was narrow and needed expansion. I knew a quarterback couldn’t call the play, block for himself, throw and catch the ball, but I was acting like I didn’t need a team around me. As I began to create space for others and noticed how much lighter the load became, I wondered what had taken me so long.
Rather than under-challenging our people, I invite and empower them to do things slightly beyond their current capacity. They will grow into assignments. Many will want continued development, especially as they discover leading people is not as easy as they might have thought.
Exposing our high-capacity volunteers to next-level ministry development opportunities expands them — and ultimately expands the kingdom of God. Our Fellowship has access to excellent training platforms and development settings, from the Church Multiplication Network to our Assemblies of God universities.
I recently talked with a pastor who received tremendous support from his district network while navigating an especially tough ministry challenge. It reminded me we often don’t recognize our need for a shield until the arrows start to fly. Further, a shield does not protect you unless you stay behind it.
The benefits of Assemblies of God credentialing — with its rich theological underpinning, cultural contextualization of the gospel, and supportive structure — give me great reason for hope. We have a place to point people who show interest in taking steps toward ministry development.
These are some reasons pastors may fail to develop volunteers:
- They are impatient. It takes time, and people grow slowly.
- They lack margin. The weight of prepping for weekend ministry consumes their time.
- They are insecure. The idea of other people winning threatens them.
- They have given up. They have already tried to develop volunteers, and something went wrong. They don’t know whether they have the emotional energy to try again.
- They feel overwhelmed. They simply don’t know where or how to start.
These issues are real, and they can feel paralyzing. Yet they are not insurmountable. Find someone who can mentor you as you mentor and develop others.
Mentoring can happen up close or from afar. You can learn from a leader in another city, or even from the teaching in a book or podcast. If you don’t have a personal relationship with your mentor, find a friend who can keep you accountable to follow through on what you are learning.
The key is to take the first step — and then keep moving forward. Volunteers don’t fall out of the sky. You must do the work of developing them.
6. Learning Experiences
God has created every person at your church with some shared yet unique learning styles. What works well for one may be less effective for others. Ultimately, though, the objective is for people to move from theory to practice. Many of the best learning platforms are active and experienced in real time.
When our experience moves from theory to practice, learning becomes sticky. The aha moments begin to inspire confidence and faith. People who once questioned their capabilities gradually shift toward confidence.
Imagine teaching two groups how to catch a fish. The first group gathered in a classroom where they heard about the gear, casting techniques and feelings they’d have when they finally hooked a fish. The second group went on a guided fishing trip, where they learned the same information while catching fish.
Which group would learn more? Obviously, the group who had the active, hands-on experience.
When we provide a framework for theological training, offer ongoing leadership development, and actively engage volunteers in real-time ministry experiences, we will make disciples who make disciples. This is the apprenticeship model of Jesus, who said: “Come, follow me, and I will send you out to fish for people.”
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2020 edition of Influence magazine.