Aug 25, 2021

ChurchPulse Weekly Conversations: Rob Peabody & Derek Sanford on Volunteer Ministry

The roles and responsibilities of church volunteers has quickly had to adapt to address the needs of the pandemic and hybrid church this season. During a recent ChurchPulse Weekly episode, hosts Carey Nieuwhof and David Kinnaman sit down with church leaders Rob Peabody and Derek Sanford to discuss the creative ways they have learned to leverage churchgoers’ gifts to better reach their congregation and engage their communities.

On Empowering Leaders
Barna data from Better Together, a 2020 report created in partnership with Lutheran Hour Ministries, show that 96 percent of U.S. Protestant church pastors agree that their church would be healthier if lay leaders took more responsibility. Leaders clearly have a desire to engage this population of their church, but many struggle to know what practical steps to take to reach this goal.

Sanford shares how he mobilized volunteers in his church, noting, “Our people are actually our greatest strength. Our people have the capacity to do things we can’t do. Our people have the capacity to go places we can’t go and to do ministry that we can’t do.” He continues, “We’ve really tried to create an environment where volunteers can lead at every single level.”

Today, his church staff is one-third paid staff and two-thirds unpaid staff. In order to make this type of volunteer-centered ministry possible, Sanford says, “We give them business cards, church email addresses, name tags on Sunday, and they have to fill out vacation request forms when they are going to be away. […] We said, ‘We are going to eliminate the line that exists between paid staff and volunteer staff and just treat everybody as if they’re staff.'”

On Reaching Your Neighborhood
Church leaders and churchgoers alike are often eager to be engaged in their neighborhoods, and a shift to digital volunteer options has not removed that desire. In fact, recent data show that seven in 10 churched adults (70%) agree that, post-pandemic, churches should use digital resources to reach and engage their neighborhoods.

For Peabody, one of the biggest challenges to this form of intentional engagement is something he calls the “ignorance barrier.” He says, “Because we don’t get practical, a lot of times I have no clue what the needs are in my local community or congregation. I don’t know what’s going on outside, I’m too busy, and I have rhythms of life that [cause me to be] ignorant of what the needs are.”

As a solution, he suggests, “If we can start identifying those [problems], not only in our church community but in our society or our culture as a whole, we could be addressing and showing easy on-ramps for us to go do something tangible about it.” He continues, “How can we as leaders be addressing that and making it very simple for our people to have those on onramps and then experience a lifestyle of putting faith into action?”

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On Finding Your Church’s Unique Thumbprint
In Sanford’s church, he found that tapping into the specific callings of people within his church allowed them to have a more unique witness in their city rather than trying to copy other models or ministries. 

Sanford shares, “Identifying and unleashing volunteers to do their thing gives each church a unique thumbprint. If you’re investing in volunteers and helping people to find their localized calling, it’s going to help your church to have a localized impact because they’re not aware of what’s going on at [other] places; they just want to do what God has called them to do.”

Kinnaman echoes this idea, adding, “From the early days of my work here at Barna and through the last number of decades, copycat ministry has felt like such a plague because God has given each of us creative mandates. I do think there’s a real need in today’s world for innovative thinking and a real sense of Spirit-led asking: what are you calling me to do?

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About the Research
State of Digital Church: The research for this study consisted of one online study conducted September 1–15, 2020 with 1,302 U.S. adults ages 18-75. The margin of error for this sample is plus or minus 2.5 percent at the 95-percent confidence level.

Better Together: This quantitative study consisted of two online surveys. The first was a survey of 2,500 U.S. adults conducted from July 25–August 19, 2019. The sample breakdown was as follows: 1,505 U.S. practicing Christians (meaning they self-identify as Christian, say their faith is very important in their life and have attended church within the past month other than for a holiday service or for a special event, such as a wedding or funeral), and 995 adults who are not practicing Christians. The margin of error for this sample is + / – 1.7 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.

Featured image by Joel Muniz on Unsplash.

About Barna
Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.

© Barna Group, 2021

About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

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