The church talks a lot about the importance, value, and need to volunteer, and for good reason. There are tremendous benefits to giving of our time and abilities to others. Unfortunately this call is often focused just on getting people to fill the roles the church needs. Certainly there are great benefits to volunteering through/in the church. But the need for volunteers within the church can make it easy to be hesitant to ‘let go’ of a volunteer to an activity or agency outside the walls of the church. Yet the church must fight becoming inward or self focused. We are to be about ministering and to making an impact on the world and often that impact is accomplished more powerfully by activities and efforts that are centered beyond the church’s walls.
If you were to evaluate your congregation’s view toward encouraging volunteering beyond the church what would you find? Is there hostility toward anyone suggesting that people focus their efforts there? Is “outside volunteering” seen as a second class effort to “inside volunteering”? Is there any effort made by the church to connect volunteers with activities outside the walls? On a scale from hostile to encouraging where does your congregation fall? Where do you fall?
If you were focus on outside volunteering what could your congregation do to encourage it? Here are some possibilities. In one congregation I served we had a bulletin board where we listed volunteer opportunities at various agencies and activities. We had a member who made sure to connect with people in the community and various agencies so that she was one of the first to know what was needed and could communicate what was needed to us. Congregations could highlight member’s volunteer efforts outside the church; maybe through a display or in newsletters, or on a page on your website. The missions or outreach committee could be encouraged to see this area as part of what they are about. Congregations could change the language used about outside efforts….for some this might me that they may start talking about them. Perhaps have a special effort every year or quarter or month that is outside focused.
Over the past couple of years the majority of my volunteering time has been done at my son’s school and in coaching his sports teams. One of the things that I have noticed is that this gives me the opportunity to support, encourage, and just be nice to people that I would never see through my inside the church efforts. Christ calls us to be a light and a kind presence in this world. We will never be successful at this until we step out beyond the walls of the congregation and spend part of our lives serving there.