Is this your sign-up sheet before—or after—it has been circulated?
If you quickly shouted “Both!” you are not alone.
Churches live on sign-up sheets. We have sign-up sheets for ushering, for assisting in the nursery, for providing sanctuary flowers, for helping prepare communion, for helping serve communion, for chaperoning the next youth group trip, and for much, much more. And yet, honestly, how well are your sign-up sheets doing these days in getting people to sign up?
The preponderance of empty sheets leads to a lot of speculation:
Young people don’t care about our church as much as older generations do.
Everyone is so over-scheduled, they forget what it takes to make the church run.
We have a crisis of commitment.
We have a crisis of volunteers.
We just plain have a crisis…
Would it help your church board to know that the church – your church – is not alone in its sign-up sheet crisis?
Let’s look first at service clubs. Rotary membership has declined from 418,000 in 1995 to less than 330,000 today—and only 10% of those members are under 40. Masons have lost 3 million members since the 1950s. Junior League is trying to stabilize its membership with losses of 30% since 2000.
And the trend is even wider. A quick Google search will yield news of a sign-up crisis for Home Owner Associations, American orchestra subscriptions, PTAs and other volunteer opportunities. Which led The New York Times to offer this headline a few months ago: “The Art of Wooing Commitment-Phobes.”
Is that what is going on? Have we all become “commitment-phobes?”
Not all commitments are the same.
Commitment opportunity A: “We need nursery volunteers and people to help prepare communion – please sign up to help. Or you could help count the offering every other Sunday after worship.”
Commitment opportunity B: “As Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed Jesus.”
From A: “I’m tired of people not stepping up to help out – younger people don’t have the commitment the rest of us have.”
From B: “Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”
Are we saying that your church doesn’t need nursery volunteers, communion preparers, or people to take care of the offering? Of course, there are lots of needs to tend to in a congregation’s life together. But the more these institutional tasks get separated from the life-giving call of the gospel, the more energy and engagement will lag (and the more sign-up sheet crises your ministry will experience).
It’s the difference between “here’s a time and talent form for you to fill out” and “what do you need spiritually?” If we commit first to feeding people spiritually – the main focus of ministry – all the real needs of a congregation will have a way of getting taken care of.
Do you have a sign-up sheet problem in your church? How would you find out?
How do you as a board discuss the level and quality of engagement and volunteerism for church programs and ministries? What scriptures do you use to start the conversation? What questions do you ask? How do you frame and contextualize the problem? Where do you go from there?
An empty, oft-circulated sign-up sheet can be interpreted in at least two ways. It can be a sign that some activity or task needs to transition or cease to be an activity of the church. Or it can be a sign that additional focus, theological attention, or broad-based investment needs to happen. How can your church board discern which is which?