I don't know of a church that isn't constantly looked for a way to get people "involved." What we all mean when we use such terms is that we want people to be engaged in serving Christ in the context of the local church. It's a worthy goal. However, most churches struggle to make it happen. North County does as well, but we're making some progress. In my years of ministry, there are some common reasons this is a common struggle for churches. Here they are…short, sweet, and uncensored.

  1. Mismatching. We put people in areas we need them to serve in rather than areas they want to serve. It's supposed to be spiritual to serve wherever needed. Everyone should be willing to do that. But, does that really keep us from the responsibility to make sure that we match people with their areas of passion and gifting? When serving in the right area, a person will draw energy and meaning from doing it. When a person is drained by it…they are still serving Christ…they just dread it. Joyful, life-giving service is better.
  2. Few Open Seats. Many churches don't really have any open seats. Many of the "good" seats have been occupied for years. There is often no succession plan in place, and no thought that there would ever be a reason for Joe to not serve his 25th years as Missions Chair. One good reason is to provide opportunities for others.
  3. Failure to Execute. Churches love sign-up sheets, but often don't know what to do with them when they get them. There must be a good mechanism for contacting people who volunteer to serve with 48 hours of when they sign up. If we really want people to serve, we can make that happen. If you don't have a follow-up plan…don't take sign-ups. It will hurt your credibility with the congregation. No false starts.
  4. Lack of Preparation. Many churches do not give leadership development a lot of attention in their Bible classes, small groups, or other potential media for training. If you want people to serve well and derive real meaning from it, you will have to train them and give them some time to grow. Only people who already know the ministry inside and out are for "throwing them out of the nest and hoping they fly." Prospective volunteers hate it. If you want Sally to never volunteer again…put her in the sound booth next Sunday with no training. When things fall apart and everyone whips around and stares her down…that's the beginning of the end.
  5. Congregational Expectations that Ministers and Elders do Everything Important. This is culturally embedded barrier in many churches that will take time to overcome. The preacher is afraid that if he doesn't teach the class the church will grumble, "What are we paying him for?" If the elders don't make every decision, they aren't doing their jobs. Let me offer a two-fold "BOLOGNA!" to those sentiments. If serving matters and Ephesians 4 is in fact in the Bible… it the "job" of ministers and elders to equip the saints for ministry…not to do it all, decide it all, etc. Yes, they have fiduciary responsibilities and need to serve Christ diligently. Yes, they need to make sure that decisions, classes, etc. are being made and taught well. However, if congregations insist that ministers and elders do and decide everything… they will unknowingly forfeit their own basins and towels—while the elders and ministers will abdicate one of their highest callings.

What other barriers do you see? Tomorrow… 5 ways to overcome the five barriers.

"And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Ephesians 4:11-16