Volunteers Have a Major Role in Church Growth
Your team make the first and often the most lasting impressions, so it serves you well to train them well. | by Dale O’Shields
The Church an integral part of the plan of God. Without understanding what the Church is and why the Church exists, we miss a significant part of the way God works in the world.
Here are ten things your volunteers need to know about the Church. This is how I teach volunteers to help them appreciate the Church more deeply and serve the local church more effectively:
1. The Church Is All Believers Everywhere Who Know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord
The Church is big. It’s made up of Christian believers all around the world. This is usually referred to as the “universal” Church—all believers everywhere. Anywhere around the world, you will find believers in Jesus Christ. Even though you may not speak the same language, when you meet them you immediately know that you’re family!
Then there are “local” churches. The “universal” Church is expressed and experienced in local gatherings of believers in communities around the world. These faith communities are called to worship together, grow together, and serve together.
Take a look at how the Bible refers to local churches in the first century:
- To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 1:7 NIV)
- Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God in Corinth, together with all his holy people throughout Achaia. (2 Corinthians 1:1 NIV)
- Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—and all the brothers and sisters with me, To the churches in Galatia. (Galatians 1:1, 2 NIV)
- Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 1:1 NIV)
- Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons. (Philippians 1:1 NIV)
- To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ: Grace and peace to you from God our Father. (Colossians 1:2 NIV)
- Paul, Silas and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you. (1 Thessalonians 1:1 NIV)
Being a part of the Church means that we’re a part of God’s team. We’re part of his family all around the world. We belong together, and we’re working for the same Lord and the same mission. Not only do we share a common commitment and work here on earth, but we’re connected together for eternity!
2. You Cannot Separate Jesus from His Church
Some people want to separate Jesus from the Church. They say things like, “I love Jesus, but I don’t like church.” Sorry, but it doesn’t work that way! To love Jesus, you must also love his Church. While Jesus is the “head of the Church,” the head functions with a body, and the Church is his body. Head and body go together. You can’t love the Head and hate the Body!
- And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. (Colossians 1:18 NIV)
- Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. (1 Corinthians 12:27 NIV)
You cannot separate Jesus from his Church. Jesus and the Church go together.
3. Local Churches Are Key to God’s Plan for Reaching the World
Jesus is the hope of the world and Jesus is expressed through his Church, so it’s also appropriate to say that the Church is the hope of the world. In every community, the mission of the Church is to communicate the hope Jesus gives.
Most people who come to faith in Jesus Christ do so in the atmosphere of the local church. While other evangelistic outreaches and ministries are important, nothing compares to the positive impact of a Holy Spirit-filled, life-giving local church in a community. Look at what the Apostle Paul said of the power of the church:
- God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord … Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:10, 11; 20, 21 NLT)
4. To Love Jesus, We Must Also Love What Jesus Loves, and Jesus Loves His Church
If you say, “I love Jesus,” then you must also say, “I love what Jesus loves.” Jesus loves his Church—so much so that he calls her his “bride” and laid down his life for her. So if you say, “I love Jesus” you must add, “and I love his Church!”
- Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:25-27 NIV)
5. To Flourish, We Need to Be Planted in a Local Church
When you received Jesus Christ into your life, you became a part of the universal Church. You’re immediately a part of God’s family. You don’t have to “join” a specific church to be part of God’s Church. But if you’re going to grow, you need to be planted in a local church.
Planting in God’s house is a key to blessings in your life.
- Planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green. (Psalm 92:13, 14 NIV)
Being an active part of a local church keeps you strong in your faith, increases your love for others and helps you use your life to do good:
- And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24, 25 NIV)
You need to be planted in a church. Your growth depends on it. You need to get into good spiritual soil and stay there. When you’re planted you develop strong spiritual roots and start producing healthy spiritual fruit.
Does God transplant people from one local church to another one? Yes, from time to time. There are church transplants, but they’re not the norm. God wants to place you in a local church and give you some roots so you can be a blessing and produce long-term fruit.
You need to be a part of a spiritual family somewhere.
6. The Church Has a Mission to Fulfill that Can’t Be Fulfilled Without Workers
The church has a job to do—a mission to fulfill. How is the mission of the church accomplished? Through people! Yes, church is work—Kingdom work, eternal work, life-changing work, but it’s still work. Work doesn’t get done without workers.
What’s our assignment? How is it accomplished?
- Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:19, 20 NIV).
- After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Luke 10:1, 2 NIV)
- You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. (John 15:16 NIV)
The church has a work to do, and this means that workers are needed.
7. The Fulfillment of The Church’s Mission Requires a Positive, Kingdom-Minded Culture
Work is always done in an environment. The work atmosphere or culture determines how much work gets done, the quality of the work that is done, and the thoughts and feelings of the workers doing the work. The fulfillment of the church’s mission is affected by the environment in which it’s executed.
Jesus talked to his disciples about culture—a lot. The Sermon on the Mount is all about culture. A great place to review Jesus’ Kingdom culture manual is in Matthew 5-7. In these chapters, Jesus taught us how we’re to treat one another, how to forgive, how to deal with anger, how to bless people that try to harm us. He laid out the attitudes and behaviors that are acceptable and unacceptable in his Kingdom. Everything in the Sermon on the Mount is about culture. Jesus makes clear the kind of environment we need to have in our lives and in his church if it’s to properly reflect the atmosphere of heaven.
Why is the culture so important? Because culture always impacts mission. When you get the culture right, it’s more likely that you’ll get the mission right. If the culture is diseased or toxic, the mission will be affected. The church is not just about a mission; it’s also about a culture—a Jesus-prescribed set of attitudes and actions that bring some of heaven to earth.
Here are just a few reminders of what church culture should look and be like:
- Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45 NIV)
- Don’t just pretend that you love others: really love them. Hate what is wrong. Stand on the side of the good. Love each other with brotherly affection and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy in your work, but serve the Lord enthusiastically. Be glad for all God is planning for you. Be patient in trouble, and prayerful always. When God’s children are in need, you be the one to help them out. And get into the habit of inviting guests home for dinner or, if they need lodging, for the night. If someone mistreats you because you are a Christian, don’t curse him; pray that God will bless him. When others are happy, be happy with them. If they are sad, share their sorrow. Work happily together. Don’t try to act big. Don’t try to get into the good graces of important people, but enjoy the company of ordinary folks. And don’t think you know it all! Never pay back evil for evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honest clear through. Don’t quarrel with anyone. Be at peace with everyone, just as much as possible. (Romans 12:9-18 TLB)
- See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. (1 John 3:1 NIV)
- Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:7-11 NIV)
- Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:12-17 NIV)
Building and keeping the right culture is a key to a healthy, strong local church.
8. Fulfilling the Church’s Mission Requires Strong, Systematic Activities and Ministries
Here’s a quick summary of some of what we’ve learned so far. As believers, we love Jesus, and because we love Jesus, we love his church. Because we love his church, we accept our assignment to become a worker in his church, demonstrating the right attitudes and actions. But what is the work of the church? What’s our job? What things do we need to do, and do well?
There are at least seven parts of church work—seven things the church needs to do and do well. Your gifts can be used to help accomplish these important responsibilities.
The Church Attracts
Attract: “to cause (someone) to choose to do or be involved in something.”
- We cannot reach people for Christ without attracting people to Jesus and his church. The Good News that Jesus gave us is attractive. Our job is to attract as many people as we can to Jesus and to his church.
- There are many things that attract people to a local church: invitations by family and friends; helpful, practical Bible teaching; warm, friendly, positive and welcoming worship environments; meaning ministries for children and youth; uplifting and Jesus-exalting music; clean, well-kept facilities. The list could go on. When these things are done and done well, we’re doing the work of the church.
- The job of the church is to attract—we can’t impact until we attract.
The Church Impacts
Impact: to have a strong effect on someone or something.
- The same kinds of things that positively attract people to church will positively impact them when they attend. People are impacted by the way they are treated, by the order and cleanliness of the facilities, and by the attitudes of the people serving. The location, style and wording of signs (or absence of them!) impacts, positively or negatively. Small things add up and make a big impact.
- Imagine if people pulled into your church parking lot, and the parking team’s words or attitudes said, “Don’t park there.” That would have an impact—a strongly negative one. The same with an usher who said, “Don’t sit there.” Or a worship team that hasn’t practiced recently. Or a sign that said, “Children not allowed.” Or a pastor who hasn’t studied, prayed and prepared well. Impact happens in what you do, how you do it and how you say it.
- Impact is not only created by attention to tangible things but to intangible things also. The most important element of impact in the local church is the presence of God. People need to sense that “something is different in this place.” And it’s more than the decor. It’s more than a “cool factor.” There needs to be an atmosphere that’s permeated with the presence of God. There needs to be a ministry focus that is positive, hope-filled, expecting God to answer prayers, change lives and speak to people in real ways.
- The message of Jesus needs to come through loud and clear, for it’s his message that gives hope and transforms hearts. There needs to be an atmosphere that’s been spiritually prepared through prayer and sincere worship. Then and only then will people be ready to listen and hear the Word that will change their life direction for eternity.
The Church Assimilates
Assimilate: “to assist or cause people to become a part of something.”
- People who are attracted to church, impacted by the church and make a decision to give their lives to Jesus Christ need to take the next step. They need to be assimilated into the church family. They need to become a part of the team.
- It’s wonderful when people’s language changes from “that church” to “my church;” from, “I go to that church” to “That’s my” That’s what we mean by assimilation.
- It’s like getting people who visit your home out of your living room and into your kitchen. If you go to someone’s house for the first time, they’ll treat you cordially and invite you to sit in the living room and be their guest. The next time, it’s less formal. The third time, the china is replaced with regular dishes. The fourth time, it’s “Come into the kitchen!” And once they’re in the kitchen, in the natural progression, they get involved. They’re part of the family. The goal for all who serve in church is to attract people, make sure they’re positively impacted when they come, and then help them assimilate—help them become a part of the team.
- Research has proven that the best way for people to become a part of church life is through relationships. Once they’re involved in a small group or serving, they start developing relationships that help them to get planted in the church. They assimilate. They’re now a part of the team.
The Church Recuperates
Recuperate: to heal and recover health and strength.
- It’s been said that the church is not a museum for saints, it’s a hospital for sinners. The church needs ministries that help people recuperate from the destruction and devastation of past sin, bad choices, and painful life experiences.
- Many people who come to church are coming from challenging and tough situations. They may be facing a mountain of debt, going through a divorce, dealing with a business failure or other personal problems. They may be carrying internal pain that has tortured them for decades—guilt, shame, despair. The church is to be a place of solace, comfort, and healing. The atmosphere of the church should be one of where people are loved and lifted on their way to life change. This is part of the work Jesus has called us to do. The church needs to be a healing house.
The Church Educates
Educate: to teach and train.
- One of the main activities of the church is to teach and train people how to live God’s way. Living God’s way involves:
- Who we are. Inwardly; in heart and character.
- What we do. Outwardly; in life and witness.
- This is called discipleship. A healthy church is involved in teaching people how to practically follow Jesus and obey God’s Word.
- The church has a teaching assignment. Churches are training centers for life. From the cradle to the grave, the church has the opportunity to teach the wisdom and ways of God. We’re charged with instructing people in truth that frees them, grows them, matures them and deploys them in fulfilling service. We’ve been given the Word of life! There’s life in God’s Word—supernatural power that makes a practical difference in the way people think, feel and live.
- When people are consistently taught God’s Word, life is created in them; in their personalities, in their marriages, in their parenting, in their businesses, in their friendships, in their skills and abilities—in every part of their lives. Well-taught people become whole people.
The Church Alleviates
Alleviate: “to make (something) less painful, difficult or severe.” (Merriam-Webster)
- The church is called to alleviate pain and difficulty in the world and in the communities around us. Through outreach and social ministries, the church feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, and helps the disenfranchised—not only with material resources but also with the gospel message that changes lives from the inside out.
- It’s wonderful when a local church develops a reputation as the go-to place in the community for people in need. While no church can meet all needs, we can meet some needs. While no church can do everything to help all the hurting people around them, they can do something.
- These responsibilities go beyond the local community to the world. Every church needs to be doing something significant to reach and help people with the gospel around the world. Through strategic global missions giving and going, local churches can make a difference thousands of miles away to people they may never meet until heaven. The church’s mission is to alleviate pain and poverty—spiritually and otherwise—to the ends of the earth.
The Church Replicates
Replicate: to reproduce.
- The church is called to grow and multiply spiritual fruit. We are called to reproduce disciples, train spiritual leaders, and connect with and pass on faith and church ministry to the next generation. Part of being a disciple involves making other disciples. It’s vital to our mission. Together we’re called to replicate and multiply the work of the church and the spiritual workforce of the church.
The Church Administrates
Administrate: to manage.
- The church is called to keep systems orderly and functional.
9. Your Significance and Destiny is Discovered and Fulfilled in the Local Church
Every person is needed and every role is important in the church.
I was visiting a church recently and had a conversation with someone working behind the scenes. I asked this individual “What do you do here at the church?” I can’t remember what their particular ministry was, but the person started with, “I just.” I didn’t hear much of anything after that statement. These words struck me deeply. Think about it, “I just take care of the kids,” “I’m just an usher,” or “I just park cars.” The one word just immediately and significantly nullifies the importance of the service.
What I wanted to say to this precious person was, “No, you’re a child of God and you’re contributing to the work of the Kingdom. You’re not ‘just’ anything. You’re a very important part of the body of Christ. There are no nobodies in the body of Christ. Everybody is somebody in the body of Christ, whatever you’re doing. When you bring your gifts you might think they’re limited or have no real value. Understand this: they have value to God! You’re important!”
When we get to heaven, I think we’ll all be surprised at how Jesus measures things. “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.” Never think of yourself as “just” anything. You are a significant part of the body of Christ. Look at the way Paul described the importance of every person in the church:
- There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good … Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so, the body is not made up of one part but of many … Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. (1 Corinthians 12:4-7, 12-14, 27 NIV)
10. God Sees Those Who Serve in His Church and Promises Eternal Rewards to Those Who Faithfully Do Their Part
Many people who serve in the church work long hours during the week. They carry the pressure of their careers. They face the stress of a daily commute. They feel the demands of finances, the challenges of living life in a fast-paced world, the issues of family life and a host of other things. Yet, after their hours at work and home responsibilities, they show up and serve God’s people. God sees and appreciates this. God will reward this. That’s how God builds his church—with people like this. These labors are noted in God’s book in heaven. God records every effort and sacrifice made for his Kingdom and Church.
Look at the reward that awaits people like this:
- His master replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:21 NIV)
When Paul looked at the end of his life, wrapping things up, knowing he was soon going to die, he wrote:
- For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:6-8 NIV)
Think about that. You get to heaven and Jesus basically says, “I saw everything you did for me. I saw that faithfulness in your life, and now I have something for you.” Think about what it would be like to be recognized for some work you did by a world-renowned leader or someone you highly esteemed? How much more rewarding will it be when the Lord of the universe says, “My child, I want to honor you. Here’s a crown of righteousness for your service to me. You fought the good fight. You finished the race with faithfulness. Now, here’s a reward for you.” It’s exhilarating to think about, isn’t it?
The sixteenth chapter of the book of Romans is Paul’s remembrance of many different people who helped him in his ministry. Paul thanked this person, that person, this woman who was like a mother to him, that person who was like a sister, these people who were so valuable in his life. He lists lots of people who made it possible for him to do what he did. This is the great Apostle, Paul writing these words. He was amazing. He wrote most of the New Testament. What a phenomenal man he was. Yet he said publicly, for all of us in all ages to know, “I couldn’t have done it without this team.” If Paul remembered the work of others, how much more will God remember and reward those who serve him.
Everyone is important in Jesus’ church. That means you. And your faithful service to Jesus and his church will be rewarded. He watches and records your investment in his work.
God has a dream—to build his church in the earth, and he wants you on his team. It’s the most exciting and rewarding investment you’ll ever make in your life.