THIS IS THE LAST OF THE EIGHT-ARTICLE SERIES. THE MAIN EMPHASIS IN ALL THESE ARTICLES IS THAT WE NOT ONLY MAKE DISCIPLES, BUT ALSO KEEP DISCIPLES IN THE CHURCH. THE PREVIOUS SEVEN ARTICLES PRESENTED A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO KEEPING THE MEMBERS IN. THIS LAST ARTICLE IS THE CULMINATION OF ALL: A SERVING CHURCH.
DESIRE TO SERVE
In the year 2016, I did a survey1 among a sample of Adventist churches in the Washington, DC metro area to measure the level of member engagement. In the prototype churches, while engagement of regular members in terms of attendance was 85%, engagement in relation to involvement and participation in church ministries was just 21%. The rest of the 64% were classified as “attending disengaged.” By “attending disengaged” I mean that they attend church but are not engaged in additional church activities. At the same time, there are the “absently disengaged”—defined as members who are totally disengaged from both attending and being involved in ministries of the church.
Another significant factor2 revealed through the survey is that when asked how much desire the responders had to be involved in church volunteer ministries, 84% showed interest—36% moderately, 20% greatly, and 28% a lot. The percentage who attended church four or five times per month and the percentage who showed interest in participating in the ministry were close to each other—85% and 84% respectively. However, the gap between the desire for involvement and actual participation is wide, at 84% to 21% respectively. The data indicates that while the members show a desire to be involved, actual involvement is lacking. This situation is due to two reasons: (1) Though they want to be involved, they do not know what to be involved in. Churches have not done “gift audit” or spiritual gifts assessments so the church as well as the individual knows what they can do (we saw this in detail in the previous article). (2) The churches have not given members the opportunity to get involved based on what they can do.
OPPORTUNITY TO SERVE
Based on the survey results and personal interviews3 with the same group of members, I concluded that it is imperative for the church to provide opportunities to its members to get involved. The disengaged are most impacted when opportunities for involvement are lacking. One of the disengaged stated, “All cannot go to the podium to speak or pray, but church should provide other opportunities according to their abilities.” One of the reasons stated by the disengaged for disengagement is that people did not have opportunities to serve. One of the engaged claimed it is the duty of the church to provide a fair opportunity to serve. The respondent continued to state that if responsibilities are assigned according to their abilities, then there is a fair chance people will agree to participate. Lack of opportunities should not stand in the way of serving.
Peter admonishes, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Pet 4:10–11, ESV). Ellen G. White states, “All may find something to do. None need feel that there is no place where they can labor for Christ.”4
AS EACH HAS RECEIVED A GIFT, USE IT TO SERVE ONE ANOTHER, AS GOOD STEWARDS OF GOD’S VARIED GRACE: WHOEVER SPEAKS, AS ONE WHO SPEAKS ORACLES OF GOD; WHOEVER SERVES, AS ONE WHO SERVES BY THE STRENGTH THAT GOD SUPPLIES—IN ORDER THAT IN EVERYTHING GOD MAY BE GLORIFIED THROUGH JESUS CHRIST.
Nelson Searcy advises, “Serving is more important to the spiritual growth of your people than the success of your service.”5 Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson counsel that churches should not assign more than two responsibilities to an individual, so that others in the church get an opportunity to serve.6 Further, churches should create entry-level ministering opportunities that people can involve themselves in quickly and easily.7
Having identified the spiritual gifts, the church as an organization must plan to provide enough opportunities and connect individuals according to their gifts. I believe when members know their capabilities through the assessment process, they will be more inclined to get involved. The goal is to motivate everyone to be involved, leaving no one behind. Churches have multiple programs in which members can get involved. I suggest dividing the ministries of the church into three parts: at the door, inside the door, and outside the door.
At the door. This involves opening the door; welcoming; greeting; providing name tags; registering newcomers; ushering; guiding the newcomers to the sanctuary and other facilities such as restrooms, Sabbath school classrooms according to their age, fellowship hall, kitchen, etc.; finding seats for the newcomers and the disabled; and connecting members to different ministry booths.
Inside the door. Row hosts can accommodate newcomers and greet them, leading out in song service, prayer, praise, and various talks, and be engaged in different ministries of the church such as teaching, preaching, and arranging fellowship meals.
Outside the door. Other members can be engaging in mission work, evangelizing, disaster response, helping the homeless, job finding and placement programs, hunger and food programs, AIDS ministries, health screening, community health clinics, family counseling, tutoring underprivileged children, refugee and immigration assistance, etc.
Every ministry opportunity can be subdivided into many pieces and volunteers can be assigned according to the gifts each one is endowed with. Though the ministries are done in different locations, all contribute to the church’s ministry and mission.
EVERY MINISTRY OPPORTUNITY CAN BE SUBDIVIDED INTO MANY PIECES AND VOLUNTEERS CAN BE ASSIGNED ACCORDING TO THE GIFTS EACH ONE IS ENDOWED WITH.
Therefore, I recommend every church be an inclusive “village” where people know each other, call themselves “we,” address one another by name, be there for one another in spite of differences and diversities, include everyone as their own, be a place where everyone is involved in worship, understand the strengths and the responsibilities that come with a church village, and go far and beyond by serving at the gate, inside the gate, and outside the gate. Such a level of inclusivity will promote member engagement in Adventist churches. The vision of Total Member Involvement will be real in Adventist churches. Adventist churches will be churches that recapture the early model where “they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42, KJV).
1 Paulasir Abraham, “Towards Strengthening Member Engagement Among the Adventists in the Washington D. C. Metro Area” (DMiss thesis, Fuller Theological Seminary, School of Intercultural Studies, 2019), 100.
2 Ibid., 101.
3 Ibid., 120.
4 Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1905), 104.
5 Nelson Searcy, Fusion: Turning First-Time Guests into FullyEngaged Members of Your Church (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2007), 137.
6 Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson, Comeback Churches: How 300 Churches Turned Around and Yours Can Too (Nashville: B&H, 2007), 139.
7 Ibid., 140.
Paulasir Abraham, PhD, DMiss, is an associate pastor at the Southern Asia Seventh-day Adventist Church in Silver Spring, MD, USA.