Pastors of small churches often complain to me that they have few people willing to do anything in the church. It seems the Pareto Principle is alive and well in the small church: 20 percent of the people are doing 80 percent of the work. I think we will find that to be true in many churches, but we also must ask the question of why that is. Are the 80 percent who are not very involved merely free-loaders, lazy people who want only to have their needs met, or is something else going on? Having served as a pastor for 20 years I have met my share of spiritual free-loaders. They enjoy hanging around the church as long as it suits their needs, but the moment they are asked to do something they disappear. By the way, when you read the gospels you find Jesus had his share of spiritual free-loaders hanging around as well. But, I think these people make up only a small percentage of those who are not involved. For these people, their lack of involvement may be the result of what they are being asked to do.
Let's be honest here. A lot of what goes on in many smaller churches is not very exciting. Much of what people are asked to do is to serve on the various committees that churches seem to believe is necessary. In many of our churches, if 80 percent of their committees never met again it is unlikely anyone would even notice a difference. (The Pareto Principle at work again!) You are not going to get people, especially leaders who are on fire for God, to serve on these kinds of committees. They understand, even if the church doesn't, that these committees will not make a bit of difference in either the Kingdom of God or in what should be the mission of the church. They are not unwilling to serve, but they are unwilling to waste their time on busy-work that does not matter. They are waiting for something bigger. They are waiting for a vision that captures their imagination and that will draw out the best they have to offer.
I am enjoying reading Transforming Church in Rural America by Shannon O'Dell. In the book he writes, "The model of sharing workload with capable people is timeless and indispensable if you're going to grow a rural church. And people are all waiting in the pews or chairs or benches to grab hold of the vision and the work. If you have vision, you will have too many people wanting to do stuff. The rural pastor has to know the people he needs are not at the First Big Baptist down the road or Monster Methodist across the county. They are sitting in the pews...And they are waiting. Just cast the vision."
I completely agree. As you know, I served a small, rural church for twenty years. As long as we were in maintenance mode the people sat in their pews smiling and satisfied and doing little. When we were working towards achieving a vision we believed came from God, it was all hands on deck. Virtually everyone jumped in and made that vision a reality.
People are looking for something bigger than they are. Most do not want to serve on a committee that will determine who prepares the turkey for the church Thanksgiving dinner. They want to be involved in something that will change people's lives. They want to give their time and resources to a ministry or project that will make a difference in the Kingdom of God. They want a vision for ministry that will demand their best, and it is to that vision that they will commit their lives.
If you are reading this you are probably a leader in your church. It is your responsibility to seek God until you understand his vision for your church. Once you understand what that vision looks like you must then share that vision with others until the church understands it and buys into it. When that happens you will be amazed at what people will be willing to do to achieve it. But, if you're not willing to do the hard work of vision discernment, then don't be surprised when people sit on their hands and their pocketbooks, and don't come crying to me that you can't get anyone in your church involved in ministry.