Friday, October 15, 2010

Volunteerism in the Church


Recruiting volunteers remains as one of the predominant ongoing challenges in most churches. Some years back I heard that one trend involved shifting from the traditional elected boards to "task forces." The rationale was that the younger generations showed a greater willingness to volunteer for short-term projects over long-term commitments. This may indeed be the trend of our time. However, is volunteerism in the church overall suffering a decline regardless of its time commitment? As a parish pastor I watch nomination committees and organizational committees for dinners struggle valiantly more and more each year to secure sufficient numbers to fill the election slate and duty roster. We all realize the change in the times from a half century prior, acknowledging that the church was long ago displaced from its central place in many people's daily lives. Myriads of commitments now compete for attention from sports and clubs to other volunteer appointments. Out here in the country the impact of that reality has come a bit later than for others. We still hang on to time-honored customs passed from one generation to the other, even as we watch a gradual weakening in the ownership of those traditions. Times change as do people, which we must simply accept as a fact of history. Nevertheless, a parallel challenge in the church offers more disturbing realities: the lessening of commitment to regular Sunday attendance. Over the years I have watched as the generations following the WWII/Depression era folks take their place in the pews, yet in many cases with far less regularity. Where their parents and grandparents felt that being in church every Sunday was important, their children and grandchildren are more than willing to settle for once or twice a month, or less. This trend, undoubtedly affects the other challenges mentioned earlier, and may explain why volunteerism in general suffers as it does. Church simply isn't as important for many as it once was.

Of course, these remain but observations from the sideline of one location, and certainly others could offer more encouraging and hopeful conclusions taking a wider and broader view. Still, am I viewing more than just a local trend? Has a generational shift indeed occurred and I am seeing simply a local ripple within the greater pond? Just wondering....

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