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FIRST-PERSON: How do you get more members into ministry?

LAKE FOREST, Calif. (BP)–Napoleon once pointed to a map of China and said, “There lies a sleeping giant. If it ever wakes up, it will be unstoppable.” Today the American church is a sleeping giant. Each Sunday, church pews are filled with members who are doing nothing with their faith except “keeping” it.

The designation active member in most churches simply means those who attend regularly and financially support the church. Not much more is expected. But God has far greater expectations for every Christian. He expects all Christians to use their gifts and talents in ministry. If we can ever awaken and unleash the massive talent, resources, creativity and energy found in the typical local church, Christianity will explode with growth at an unprecedented rate.

I believe that the greatest need in evangelical churches is the release of members for ministry. George Gallup once took a survey and discovered that only 10 percent of American church members are active in any kind of personal ministry. He also discovered that 40 percent of all members have expressed an interest in having a ministry. They would like to be involved in ministry but they have never been asked or they don’t know how.

I think healthy leadership nurtures a healthy church by creating an intentional, well-planned system for uncovering, mobilizing and supporting the giftedness of its members. People must be given a simple process that they can follow which will lead them to deeper commitment and greater service for Christ. They need a track on which they can move forward.

Get them into the ballgame!

At Saddleback Valley Community Church, we call this our “Life Development Process.” By using the baseball diamond as a visual illustration of where people are in their spiritual progress, everyone can know how far they’ve come and how far they have to go. Do you remember Abbott and Costello’s famous routine “Who’s on First?” Many churches have no idea. At Saddleback we know exactly who’s on first, on second, on third, and who has made it home. We celebrate every time someone moves forward to the next base. This encourages commitment.

At first base, we teach the basics of membership; at second base, we teach the basics of spiritual discipline; at third base, we teach people how to identify their “shape” for ministry; and when they hit home plate, we get members involved in missions. Our entire structure is purpose driven, designed to nurture a healthy church.

Your coaching must provide application

Many churches make the common mistake of emphasizing Bible knowledge to the exclusion of teaching the practical application of that knowledge. For instance, church members are made to feel guilty for a weak prayer life but no one takes the time to explain how to make a prayer list, how to praise God’s character by using his names, and how to intercede for others.

Exhortation without explanation leads to frustration. Whenever we exhort people to do something, we are responsible to explain exactly how to do it.

Here are five questions you need to ask about your Christian education program:

1. Are people learning the content and meaning of the Bible?

2. Are people seeing themselves, life and other people more clearly from God’s perspective?

3. Are people’s values becoming more aligned with God’s values?

4. Are people becoming more skilled in serving God?

5. Are people becoming more like Christ?

Don’t put a pitcher in the outfield

One of the most common excuses people give for not getting involved in ministry is “I just don’t have any abilities to offer.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Many national studies have proven that the average person possesses from 500 to 700 skills!

The real problem is twofold. First, people need some process of skill identification. Most people are using abilities they are unaware they have. Second, they need a process to help them match their abilities with the right ministry.

There are people in your church with all kinds of abilities that are not being put to use: recruiting, researching, writing, landscaping, interviewing, promoting, decorating, planning, entertaining, repairing, drawing, and even feeding. These abilities should not be wasted. “There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord” (1 Corinthians 12:5).

Your placement process should focus on empowering people, not filling positions. Focus on the shape of the individual, not the needs of the institution, and you’ll have a much higher success rate with those you place in ministry. Remember, ministry is about people, not programs.

The best way to learn the game is to play it

Once people begin serving in a ministry, they need on-the-job training. On-the-job training is far more important and effective than pre-service training. At Saddleback we require only minimal pre-service training. We feel that people don’t even know the right questions to ask until they are actually involved in ministry.

In our church we want to involve people as quickly as possible in ministry. A long, drawn-out pre-service training course causes most people to lose their initial enthusiasm. We wear them out even before they get started. I’ve found that the kind of people who are willing to train for 52 weeks before beginning to serve are usually not very effective when they finally start serving. They tend to be professional students who enjoy learning about ministry more than doing it. We want people to dive in and get wet. Then they are highly motivated to learn how to swim! The best way to begin is to begin!

The best-kept secret in the church is that people are dying to make a contribution with their lives. We are made for ministry! The church that understands this, and makes it possible for every member to express his or her shape in ministry, will experience amazing vitality, health and growth. The sleeping giant will be awakened and it will be unstoppable.
Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Valley Community Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of the largest Southern Baptist churches in the country, and author of “The Purpose Driven Church,” which has sold more than 1 million copies in 18 languages. For Warren’s free e-mail newsletter, visit his website, www.pastors.com.

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  • Rick Warren