If we’ve become convinced of anything over the years, it’s that passionate volunteers are the lifeblood of Compassion Connect. We realize that being a volunteer leader, however, can be a tricky feat. Our volunteers juggle significant responsibilities that have huge impact, and that can bring both challenges and growth. One challenge we’ve noticed some of our leaders experiencing is how to navigate the waters when once-enthusiastic church partners lose steam.
Here’s what to do--and what not to do--when that happens. The examples given below are in the context of Compassion Clinics, but much of the advice can be applied to other collaborative service models as well.
Why Might A Church Become Less Engaged?
First of all, it helps to understand the root cause of the situation and practice clear communication with the church to avoid making assumptions. A church might slip in involvement because they don’t have a point person who is directly tied to the execution of the Compassion Clinic (or other service project). We stress the importance of each church having a representative because this person acts as an ambassador between their church and the rest of the participating churches during the planning process. They get to witness the behind-the-scenes work as well as the culmination of the long process on the day of the Clinic. A church might also slip because key leadership and/or pastors have not been given updates about what’s going on with the Clinic, results of the Clinic, etc.
It might seem obvious, but they may need to be reminded why they participated in the first place and the impact the service is having on the community and on their congregation. Sharing quotes, stories, and data is a fantastic way to do this. Sometimes, a church may even become less engaged because they have just moved on to the next program, the next thing. This might happen because they haven’t been convinced that the Clinic is a good use of their money or volunteer recruiting capacity (see previous note about providing updates about results, impact, etc.).
What Not to Do
As a leader, you shouldn’t blame the leadership of the church in question. You also shouldn't assume that lack of involvement is a vote of no confidence. As we mentioned above, there could be several reasons for the drifting, and it’s best to give them the benefit of the doubt. Importantly, you also shouldn’t blame yourself. Sometimes you can do everything right and the timing just isn’t there or God is calling that church to open a new door while closing the Clinic door.
What To Do
Some years ago one of the churches participating in Compassion Queen Creek, AZ was ready to close up shop and move on to a new project, but the key volunteers from their congregation made such a ruckus that the church leadership took notice and realized the value the Clinic partnership brought to their people. You can never underestimate the influence of passionate lay leaders!
The first thing a leader should do in this kind of situation is know that this is a natural progression of how Church works. You shouldn’t be surprised about it; in fact you should assume it’s probably going to happen to some of your church partners along the way. If that sounds a little cup-half-empty just consider the silver lining: it opens up opportunities for discussion about new church partners in the neighborhood that may not have been involved before. Perhaps God is looking for other churches that have been overlooked or forgotten in the past. If there aren’t any minority churches represented on the team, now might be a great time to pursue them. Don’t give up on your current church partners if there is still a chance their interest could be rekindled, but also don’t be afraid to look for new doors opening elsewhere.
The fundamental question to go back to is: Do you have a key representative from that church who is regularly involved? You always want to work with and through that person first. If there isn’t a liaison, work to find one--although that doesn’t happen overnight.
Another thing you can do is bring a progress report to the key leaders of that church. Let them know the numbers of people served, a few encouraging stories (these could be from guests or from members of their congregation), and show them your appreciation for sending volunteers and/or being financially involved.
On a more technical level, leaders may want to assess their kickoff and debrief events, making sure the Clinic is being communicated as church owned, not as Compassion Connect’s Clinic or one individual church’s Clinic. It takes each of the partners to make it work, and no one church has their name on the banner. It’s church with a capital “C,” showing Jesus to the world through our unity.
What To Do If It Doesn’t Work
Realistically, a leader could follow all these tips and it still might not yield the desired results. But don’t lose heart. In this case, leaders can ask the church in question, “is there something we could have done differently that would have made you feel like this is of value to your congregation?” Honest feedback can help give guidance for the future. Also, whether it does or doesn’t work we encourage leaders to reach out to key volunteers from other Clinics who may have gone through similar things and can offer priceless advice learned from experience (shoot us an email if you’re interested in networking with other Clinic leaders).
We’re Here to Help
Our team is always available to help cast the vision of multi-church efforts. If there are pastors who need a coffee or lunch meeting to help them catch the vision and feel bought in, we can do that. We also love helping host debrief meetings after every Clinic with pastors to help make sure collaboration is healthy. When Compassion Tigard was about five or six years in, they hosted a lunch with key leaders of the churches to re-share the vision and make clear what was needed going forward. This helped get everyone back on the same page and generated new energy for the next Clinic.
You’re Doing Great
Sometimes despite everything you just can’t keep a church engaged in collaborative service. You’ve portrayed the vision in inspiring terms, made the case for why serving the neighborhood together is important, and they may have even seen it in action--but despite all that, they fade away.
Leadership presents its own set of challenges and growth opportunities, so don’t put the burden on yourself when the speed bumps come. As a leader, you’re already doing an amazing work of leading a group of volunteers who lead a mass of volunteers. If we truly believe it’s God’s heart that we be one and that the world would know the incredible love of Jesus, then it’s worth every effort to do compassion well and not sell it short. Know that every little victory you have, every sacrifice you make, every single thing you do to make this movement grow, is worth celebrating.