Volunteering: The Growing Front Door to the Church

Sam Rainer

August 6, 2009


There are many bright spots, but in general, local church impact in the community has waned in the past several decades. Some have quantified spiritual success exclusively with numerical growth without regard to local impact. Others have simply ignored obvious numerical declines. God measures obedience.

A great opportunity exists for the church to regain its status as the locus of community. A new study by the Corporation for National and Community Service reveals a strong link between community service and faith-based organizations. USA Today reports:

More than one-third of the country’s almost 62 million volunteers served through religious organizations last year.

“Religious organizations are a key source of potential volunteers for nonprofit organizations,” said Nicola Goren, the corporation’s chief executive officer. “Nonprofits looking to expand their reach and impact may find it beneficial to work more closely with religious organizations in their communities, especially in these tough economic times.”

Young adults, in particular, are fueling the growth in volunteerism:

About 8.24 million young people ages 16-24 volunteered in 2008, over 441,000 more than in 2007. This increase in young adult volunteers makes up almost half of the overall increase in the number of volunteers nationally. The interest among young people in volunteering coincides with their reported increase in the belief that it is essential or very important to help other people in need.

New research by Ed Stetzer and Jason Hayes (published in their book Lost and Found) corroborates these findings:

66 percent of churched young adults rated the opportunity to meet the needs of others (locally and globally) as extremely important in their lives, and 47 percent of unchurched young adults said the same.

Many people are aware that there is something bigger than their personal world. They desire to take part in something that makes a difference. While the church is more than a group of friends impacting a community, volunteering is a growing front door to the church.

It’s counter to the way many churches think – people connect first, then serve later. This research reveals the converse: an invitation to serve may be the best way to invite people to church. Serve first, connect after the church lives the mission.

While a church may not partner with a local charity because of doctrinal reasons or mission inconsistencies, too large a gulf exists between churches and charities. This from the report:

Despite the promising results for religious community service, only about 15% of nonprofit charities report partnerships with faith-based organizations. At the same time, congregations report a need of “a great extent” for volunteer managers.

Do you have any success stories from your church about reaching people while serving with them? What are some potential dangers about volunteerism being the front door to the church?

One comment on “Volunteering: The Growing Front Door to the Church”

  1. Benson Hines says:

    As the first ministers to interact with the rising generations after they’re largely independent from home, college ministers have been seeing this for a few years in our world.

    When I was in college, service projects were generally the focus of mature Christian students. Now, college ministers (in churches and on campuses) are seeing service as a helpful front door, just like you described.

    A couple of methods I’ve seen ministers use:

    – Taking non-Christians and/or non-involved students on service trips (a.k.a. mission trips). While there are obviously adjustments when using non-Christians on these trips, it allows students to be around Christian students and leaders for an extended time and see their heart behind the service.

    – Starting efforts on campus (either connected to the original ministry or as a spin-off) dedicated to service / social justice / compassion ministry themes. This illustrates to the campus and community what Christ cares about, while reaching new people.

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