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Last week I started a series of posts on engaging volunteers in ministry. Let me conclude that series by offering this interview with Mark Waltz, the Pastor of Connections at Granger Community Church. Mark, among other things, champions ministry connections at Granger. What’s amazing about the ministry culture at Granger is that there are over 5,000 people attending the church and more than 45% of the church (including kids) is in a serving role. I was curious to learn more about how that has happened, so here’s the interview.

TONY: Tell me about your role at Granger Community Church.

MARK: My role is about people. I’m ultimately responsible for environments that facilitate relationships and growth. Those environments include guest services, groups, classes, volunteer teams, and care ministries. Some call it assimilation. I personally hate that word. No one wants to be assimilated. People are interested in meeting others; people want to make a contribution; people do care about personal growth; people really want to belong. My team and our volunteers are about just that – helping people belong.

TONY: Over 45% of the people who attend Granger, serve in a volunteer role. That’s very high compared to other churches. In your opinion, what’s driving that?

MARK: Ultimately, volunteering is perceived as “normal.” The expectation that ministry is accomplished by people – not merely pastors – is part of our culture. That started nearly 24 years ago when Mark Beeson planted the church. That started with vision: a vision that the people are the church, they own the ministry.

There is also a compelling vision that calls people to something. Something worth giving their lives to… worth their very lives. Again, people want to make a significant contribution; they want their lives to count. Creating clear and accessible onramps allows people to do what they want to do. Schedules that are varied, roles that are “chunked” and values that respect people make for an engaging team culture.

TONY: As Granger has experienced growth, has your strategy for moving people into serving roles changed?

MARK: Our goal has always been the same: make it normal and easy to volunteer. But, yes, our specific strategies have shifted and evolved over the years. We’ve tried connecting people via the weekend program (bulletin). We’ve hosted “ministry fairs” and “volunteer expos.” We’ve used the web.

A year or so ago we borrowed an idea from Fellowship Church, got creative with our own label, and now host periodic “VolunTOUR” opportunities. Guests and members can tour the campus, getting a “behind the scenes” view of the many “first serve” volunteer roles at Granger. We’ve seen the best results with this strategy. It won’t be our last though. I’m sure it’ll change again.

TONY: How would you challenge both staff and volunteer leaders to improve how they build volunteer teams?

MARK: While there’s a clear task to be performed, keep your focus on people. When the focus tilts heavily to “task,” people catch it. You have quotas to fill, a job to do, recruitment to accomplish. No one wants to be assimilated. When you focus on people, you invite. You cast vision for what can be. You invite people to that vision.

I’ve also watched people – staff and volunteers – lose their own passion and enthusiasm for the very thing they’re inviting people to join. This happens because the task becomes the end-all. It also happens because people forget the “why.” We do what we do because people matter to God, because God’s invited us to his agenda of redemption in the world. Forget that, you forget people. Forget people, you’re left with a task you no longer understand.

Finally, invite people to ownership. Invite them to leverage their own gifts, personality and passion to accomplish together what the leader could never do alone.

TONY: What trends do you see in culture that might impact the number of people serving in our churches?

MARK: Don’t miss this: people are already busy before they encounter our menu of church choices. Their choices – their “menus” – are filled with appointments, work, kid’s practices, and a host of volunteer options in the community. Two trends emerge from this reality.

First of all, people have full schedules. The vision will have to be crystal clear and dead-on compelling to cause people to re-evaluate and reprioritize their schedules to volunteer in and around the ministry of the church.

Secondly, when volunteering is done selflessly, from a motive to honor Christ and honor people, it’s no greater service performed in the local church than it is in a community school or civic organization. I’m not suggesting that every community organization is tied into the eternal, kingdom work that the church embraces. However, a cup of cold water offered in Jesus’ name is a cup of cold water – whether it’s at Grace Chapel or the local Red Cross.

Both of these trends – pace and place – will impact the number of people serving in the local church. Perhaps our challenge is to redefine the face and scope of the local church in our community and world. Maybe, just maybe, the church really is people. And when those people serve in local schools, the Red Cross, the soup kitchen and the Job Corps, it really is the work of the “church.”

To hear more about Mark has to offer about connecting people in ministry and helping them belong, I encourage you to pick up his most recent book, Lasting Impressions.

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