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Dec 08

The Video: Signs of Neediness

Dec 08
Dec 08

If you look closely at the video, you’ll see the smiley face signs that ask for volunteers. They are smiley face signs with a pointing finger that says, "Starbucks looking for smiling volunteers. We need you!"

It wouldn’t be uncommon to see a sign at a Starbucks communicating the opening of a paid barista position. But there’s a world of difference between communicating a need for employees and soliciting for free labor. In reality, I think that it’s the commonality of such signs that causes us not to second-guess the use of "volunteer begging" in the pathway of a visitor. Even if it wasn’t meant for them, they don’t know that. To a visitor, he/she was just asked to volunteer in spite of not even knowing Christ or this particular church.

In the book, I mentioned a story about an unchurched friend of mine who had called me to let me know she had finally attended church (something she knew was very important to me) but that she was baffled and frustrated that when she went there looking for answers, she was asked on her first visit to volunteer the following week in the nursery. A little overzealous, don't you think? That church's neediness translated into a missed opportunity to meet someone's spiritual need by preemptively asking them to meet the church's labor need.

Whether a sign or a non-filtered verbal challenge, confronting visitors with volunteering is a telltale sign that you are a "get to work" church. The visitors are asked to give of themselves before they’ve received anything. This might work with a believer, but with a non-believer, we should fight to always make it a "win-win" in which we let them "win" first. I do admit that there are communities that are more prone to volunteer quickly based on their work ethic and values, but I challenge that the concept of Christianity is summed up in the fact that Jesus gave us a win-win opportunity by letting us win first. That means to follow His footsteps, we are to give to visitors in such a way that they are overwhelmed with grace, long before they are asked to give back.

So the issue is really placement. If it’s not something for the visitor, it simply belongs somewhere else. I know what you’re thinking. You say “Well, this is the best chance we have at getting our church-goers attention about that need.” If that’s the case, your real issues might be two things: 1) assimilation and 2) communication. Create a church where people are taking progressive steps towards Christ. As they're taking those steps, find the right place to challenge them to get involved. Consider web-based communities, times of deeper ministry and small groups—all of which are better opportunities to challenge people to serve that don’t confront visitors head-on.

Just like the post about the Stadium, people come to church at various spiritual levels. Communicating to people on each of those levels and progressing them is essential. This will help you avoid the bottleneck that creates volunteer neediness. Signage to get volunteers will simply reinforce that issue by pushing newbies further away.

© Richard L. Reising


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Miguel Munoz

Thank you for that video! Congratulations, and greetings from Honduras. We are just getting involved into an emergent church movement.

Posted on Tue, Dec 9, 2008 @ 4:54 PM CST


I think the problem is with the concept of "volunteerism" and "volunteers" in the first place. When Jesus called His disciples, He called them to ministry. I never use the term "volunteer" in the church, nor do I speak of people "taking ownership" (another offshoot of volunteerism). The reason for this is that we do not own the church, but we are owned by Christ, and are His "bondservants." I don't think the NT knows of Christians who are not serving, and by serving that does not mean showing up for Spiritual nourishment only, but somehow serving the cause of Christ.

It is, of course, inappropriate to ask an unbeliever to serve Christ, but any true call to Christ is a call to service. This needs to be said upfront, so that the congregations are not left with 10% of the people in service, while 90% essentially just show up. If this approach were taken, "Conversions" may go down, but if the entire Christian faith is not presented, conversion isn't happening anyway.

Christ is not "needy," but the sinner is.

Enjoyed the video, BTW, especially the locked doors. Why do so many stores do that? I always pull the wrong one first!

Posted on Wed, Dec 10, 2008 @ 9:19 AM CST

Keith Locke

Richard - that video is so painful to watch...because it is SOOOOOOOOOO dead on. That video showcases the very things that pushed me into church marketing to begin with. To right those kind of wrongs. Much work yet to be done. But thanks for leading in this conversation...

Posted on Thu, Dec 11, 2008 @ 5:08 AM CST

Roland Thomas Gilbert

Needy for volunteers is tragic enough. You're right on. At the other extreme of "neediness" is the travesty of the "needy friend" syndrome. That's the church that begs and pleads first-time guests to come back and be their friend.

I say work to create an environment that naturally compels people to come back with or without your invitation.

Posted on Mon, Dec 15, 2008 @ 10:29 PM CST

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