How to Mobilize Members for Ministry

How do you move members into ministry? Here are some basic principles we learned in a study published in my book, Membership Matters. That particular study is now dated, but our findings since then still confirm these steps.

1. Pray for laborers. Jesus gave us clear guidelines for securing workers: pray for God to provide them (Luke 10:2). The fields, He said, are ready, but the workers are few. My experience is that churches look for laborers, and they begin praying earnestly only after they’ve not been able to secure workers through their established processes. Is it possible we would have less difficulty enlisting workers if we started praying before recruiting?

2. State expectations up front. Here’s the primary reason church members don’t get involved: churches expect very little. One of the best ways to correct this problem is to state expectations in a membership class. Our study showed that churches with effective membership classes stress five expectations of members:

• Identifying with the church (e.g., through public baptism)
• Attending worship services and small groups
• Serving in the ministry of the church
• Giving financially toward the church’s work
• Promoting unity in the church

3. Have a “ministry placement process” in place. In the churches we studied, leaders had an intentional placement strategy. Those strategies included the SHAPE concept (Rick Warren), the DESIGN program (Wayne Cordeiro), and Network (Willow Creek). These processes are built upon the assumption that God works through our life experiences, desires, spiritual gifts, personalities, and abilities to prepare us to serve in His church.

4. Recruit face-to-face. We asked laypersons in our study why they chose to get involved in their church’s ministry. Listen to the personal recruiting that their answers reflected:

• “A minister spoke to me and challenged me to get active.”
• “The Minister of Education sat me down and talked to me.”
• “Two guys approached me and asked me [to serve].”

Leaders in the churches we studied did not recruit workers through bulletin board sign-ups, worship folder tear-offs, or pulpit announcements. Rather, they sought workers by challenging members face-to-face—the way Jesus recruited disciples.

5. Offer entry-level ministry positions. Not every member is ready now to be a teacher, a deacon, or an elder. All members might, however, be ready to take on the challenge of “entry level” positions that allow them to get involved in the church. Entry-level positions include parking lot greeters, refreshment committees, class custodians, choir members, and any position that does not demand significant training. The goal is to help everyone get involved at some level as quickly as possible so new members feel needed and wanted.

6. Recognize and affirm workers. Too often, we take for granted dependable church members who serve week after week. To be fair, most of these workers would not want any recognition, but their reticence to be recognized does not let us off the hook. We honor God by affirming His work in the lives of those who give their best for His church.

7. Don’t give up easily. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul taught that God puts His church together as He wishes (12:1–11). Our task is to help members find their role, challenge them to serve, equip them, and hold them accountable. This work is not easy, though, and sometimes it’s tempting just to give up and overwork the current workers. Rather than taking that wrong step, the answer is to return to principle #1 and start the process again.

What specific action does your church take to move members into ministry?

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Chuck Lawless
Chuck Lawless

Chuck Lawless is dean and vice president of graduate studies and ministry centers at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, and global theological education consultant for the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.