Want to know how your small groups can create life change? Help your leaders own their small groups and invest in the bigger picture.
Transforming Volunteers into Leaders
Our parish hosted an event, and we needed volunteers to assist with child care. Fortunately, we had a list of all the teens who had helped with Vacation Bible School over the summer, and enough of them stepped up to serve. Not only did we find enough help, but the teens who volunteered knew what was expected, where we kept all the materials, and how to work together effectively. It was a refreshing change from previous years when we would scramble to find willing and qualified help.
So, how did we achieve this? The short answer is that every time we engage with volunteers, both adults and teens, we work towards a bigger picture. In other words, our volunteers are more than just helpers or chaperones; they are leaders who embrace the vision of the parish. Unfortunately, this transformation doesn't happen overnight. However, you can take some simple steps to reach a point where parishioners are willing to step up and serve. It all begins with:
PREACHING IT FROM THE PULPIT
Most parishes make appeals for volunteers during announcements, and there's a lot of value in that opportunity. When someone extends an invitation to serve, it's crucial to ensure that the request is presented as part of the vision rather than a desperate plea. Over the years, I've had significant success inviting people to serve at the end of Mass, but my voice should never (nor should it) carry the same weight as the pastor's.
I understand that the homily has a specific purpose that should not be misused. However, if one pays attention to the readings, they will find natural moments to discuss serving in the church and extend an invitation during the weekend. During the homily, the priest or deacon can emphasize that serving is not just about helping out but is a response to our Baptismal call. The baptized are called to participate in the "apostolic and missionary action of the People of God" (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1270). Each week, Mass concludes with the commissioning to go in peace, love, and serve the Lord.
ELIMINATING THE REQUIREMENT TO REVEAL THE OPPORTUNITY
I strongly dislike sacramental guidelines that mandate service hours. This expectation conveys the wrong purpose behind serving the Lord. When we insist on service hours, we're telling people that they HAVE TO DO it, rather than showing them that they GET TO DO it.
The Lord never forces us to follow Him; instead, He presents us with the opportunity. We must convey to the faithful that God's will is inevitable, whether they choose to participate or not. However, they will experience greater joy when they say YES to His call.
Whether you are discussing service from the pulpit, in sacramental preparation, or during catechesis programs, it's essential to remind people that there is an invitation to something greater than what the world offers. By accepting the invitation, they will learn more about themselves and their relationship with God.
CREATING A CULTURE FROM A YOUNG AGE
The formation of all of your leaders is as essential as your own. If you want people to do more than just help, you have to invest in their formation. One of the reasons we struggle with this concept is that it takes time, but once you build a culture of disciple leadership formation, the results are amazing.
The training and formation need to start at a young age. Giving young people a chance to lead others (Even those older than them), and introducing them to resources and experiences (e.g., conferences and workshops) will create a culture that is attractive and energizing. Don't hold back from growing disciples, even if they are as young as elementary-age students.
Stop chasing after volunteers and start changing the way you perceive serving in the parish. Paint a broader picture from the pulpit, remove requirements, and invest in the future. This approach will not only enhance the quality of ministry but also shift the parish mindset away from consumerism, as everyone will want to contribute to God's call.