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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