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Inside Group: Help!

We hear you. Here at Group Publishing (the publisher of this magazine), we get a lot of desperate messages from churches.

• Amy, an enthusiastic children's minister, said, "I feel like people avoid me in the halls at church or they're reluctant to return my phone calls. Maybe I should wear a sign, 'Not recruiting today -- feel free to approach!' "

• Dan, a pastor for nearly 20 years, told us, "I really love being a pastor. But I really hate having to beg people to help week after week, year after year. Finding volunteers is the hardest part of my job."

• Barbara, a church leader from New Jersey, wrote to us and said, "Recruitment is difficult. I've put ministry needs in the church bulletin and received little response."

• Hope shared her frustrations when she said, "Motivating volunteers can be a real challenge. You always have to be enthusiastic, whether you are or not. You have to fake it till you make it."

• Mikal, a long-time committed ministry worker, summed it up when he said, "Jesus himself said the harvest was plentiful but the workers were few, so I feel like I'm in good company when I'm struggling to get enough volunteers. I wish pew-sitters at church would wake up and read the Bible: Becoming appropriately involved in ministry isn't optional -- it's mandatory."

For years, we've been asking church leaders to identify their #1 ministry challenge. And for years, church leaders have been telling us the same thing, loud and clear:
"We need help recruiting, keeping, training, and inspiring volunteers!"

Or to put it another way, "If we could just get enough of the right volunteers in the right places, we could do some serious ministry around here! And we wish we knew how to motivate our good volunteers and find new spots for those who don't...shine so much."

There's no question that, in most churches, volunteerism is a famously (some would say infamously) nagging thorn in the flesh. Everyone knows the 20/80 rule -- 20 percent of the people do 80 percent of the work -- and many would say it feels more like 10/90 in their home church. Recruiting volunteers is hard. Keeping, training, motivating, inspiring, administering, managing, rewarding, evaluating, interviewing, and firing them can be even harder.

Group's mission is "To equip churches to help children, youth and adults grow in their relationship with Jesus," and all our resources do exactly that. But how can churches help people grow in their relationship with Jesus when they're struggling to find the workers to make it happen?

We felt an extraordinary responsibility to do something.

Starting From Scratch
"How can we help churches solve their volunteer challenges?" We've asked ourselves this question over and over through the years. Since Group is a publisher, the logical response was to publish a handful of books and articles about church volunteerism. But even though the books sold well and were well-received, church leaders continued to struggle with the issue.

As most ministries typically faced their volunteer challenges with a belabored approach, they needed more substantial support. This issue has become a significant distraction -- even a major obstacle -- for leaders everywhere. Many church workers spend more time trying to recruit volunteers than using the gifts that got them into ministry in the first place.
"It's suffocating," one leader told us. Is that what ministry should be all about? Isn't there a better way?

We wanted to give churches some good news about an issue that seemed to be choking the life out of tens of thousands of church ministries. So we started from scratch.

About 2 ½ years ago, we assigned a task force at Group to look at how we can help churches solve their volunteer challenges. We had no idea what the end result would look like; we left the options and opportunities wide open.

Although churches state "volunteer recruitment" is their #1 challenge, we learned early on that the problem of volunteerism goes far beyond recruitment. Too many recruiters simply look for warm bodies to fill urgent needs and don't search specifically for qualified candidates. Volunteers need training, motivation, and supervision; the majority of church leaders are unprepared or unqualified to handle the host of responsibilities associated with managing volunteers.

But the issue gets muddier when you consider the long list of potentially disastrous legal concerns. The more we talked with church leaders, the more we learned that most of them are completely unprepared to handle something as simple as a background check, much less a lawsuit or criminal situation.

Our task force realized churches needed a more significant base of support -- a place where they could go to get help with all their volunteer needs, no matter how simple or complex they are. Group needed to create one convenient location where churches of all sizes and denominations could go to make volunteer management easy, once and for all.

So we researched volunteer management from every possible angle and approach, talking to church leaders like you and getting mountains of feedback. We consulted with long-time volunteer expert Marlene Wilson, who became one of the developers of our new program and continues to be an associate as we roll it out. We also worked with churches who've been succeeding in volunteer management for years.

And, finally, we developed a solution like nothing you've ever seen.

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