SYSTEM 5 of INVOLVED CHURCH MEMBERS & How to Train, Inspire & Recruit More Volunteers

7.5 systems yellow

This is fifth (5th) in a series of articles by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D. (3/1/17) introducing the 7SYSTEMS.CHURCH and which first appeared in Church Revitalizer Magazine.

The “7 systems” of a healthy church ( is based upon an analysis of 35,000 church combined with 25+ years of consulting research and practice.  An introduction to the “7 Systems” of a healthy church ( can be found here:

The American Congregations Study (Hartford Seminary, copies available at may be the most exhaustive study of churches in America. In it are seven marks of a healthy, revitalized church. This is number five in the “7 systems” of a healthy church (

This fifth mark is “involved church members.”

My colleague, Aaron Earls at LifeWay, summarizes some of the data from The American Congregations Study this way: “How likely is it that a church grew? For those whose laity was …

  • Not at all involved: 35 percent
  • Involved a little or some: 45 percent
  • Involved quite a bit: 63 percent
  • Involvement a lot: 90 percent”

Since Villfred Pareto famously intoned that 80% of the value lies in 20% of the components, people have applied this to church volunteers. This seems about right: most of our churches have about 20% of the people doing 80% of the work.If this study is correct (I have looked at its research methodology and believe it is), then most of our churches need to double, triple or even quadruple the number of our church volunteers in order to be healthy.  How did we do that? Let me list four ways:

1. Create a compelling vision. People are motivated when they see the future. But, how do we create a compelling vision? First, it begins with understanding what your organization is already good at doing. I believe that churches, like people, are given special gifts by God. We see in the Bible the church at Antioch had a special gift for sending missionaries, and in Jerusalem we see a church that had the gift of sorting through emerging theologies. 

I believe churches today have special attributes or gifts in certain types of ministry. Thus, to create a compelling vision, you must start with what you’re already doing well.

For example, a smaller church in a growing suburban hosted a 12-step recovery ministry for many years. When new people starting moving into the neighborhood, the church decided it needed a contemporary worship service. It tried its best to mount a contemporary service, but it just didn’t have the right people or the right gifts. Then the pastor began to build upon what the church was already doing well, a 12-step recovery program. The church leaders launched a similar program for people recovering from divorce. This appealed to the younger people moving into the community and also built upon what the church did well. Soon the church was offering other recovery ministries, such as grief recovery.Once you find out what you’re doing well, the next step is to get your volunteers into the right job.

2. Help volunteers fit into the right job. Three types of complementary leaders are needed on every team. As I describe these types of leaders, ask yourself, “Which one am I?”

Strategic leaders. These are leaders who see the big picture, sometimes called visionaries. They see the future so well that they may be out of touch with the present. They often don’t know how to get to the future from the present. Therefore, while they may be senior leaders who cast the vision, they need the other two types of leaders on their team.

Tactical leaders. These are probably the most overlooked, but most needed. Tactical comes from a Greek word that means “to put in order.”  These are people who work with planning charts, budgets, spread sheets and numbers. Such tasks are usually the things strategic leaders don’t like to do and sometimes conflict arises because of it. The strategic leader may propose a new idea, to which the tactical leader may respond, “How much is that going to cost?” This frustrates the strategic leader, who sees it as a lack of faith. But in reality, the tactical leader is just asking: How does the strategic leader envision God providing the money for this idea? The tactical leader believes that God will move in the numbers too. Tactical leaders are crucial and critical members of your team. They will keep you from getting in debt or from having too few volunteers for a project. When they ask, “How are we going to fund this?” just respond: “I’m not sure, but I’m hoping you will help me figure that out.” They want to be part of the team and they want their skill in organization to be appreciated.

Operational leader. These are relational leaders. They are people who lead through the relationships they have made and are often happiest leading a small team in some task. Because they enjoy the relationships more than the task, they may not want the task to change. They like doing the same thing over and over again, because it allows them to forget about the task and focus on developing deeper friendships with other team members. 

When all teams have three types of leaders involved, people can easily find a place to contribute. Look around and ask yourself, “What kind of job does this volunteer do during the week?” Asking this question can give you a hint about his or her strategic, tactical or operational gifts. Then find people who have strengths where you have a weakness and make them a part of your team.

3. Organic recruitment. 

Many churches hold job fairs to recruit volunteers, but these seem to me unnatural and uncomfortable for volunteers. Rather, let me suggest an organic approach.

Require all leaders to be training someone that can take over for them one day. This is a “mentor– mentee” tactic.  Every leader should not only be required to put their name on the line, but also to write down the person they will be training to take over for them. This creates not only a church of volunteers, but also a church of emerging volunteers who are learning on the job.Training someone to take over for you, also allows volunteers to look forward to a break. After all, our God who did not need a sabbatical took one as a reminder to us of its importance (Genesis 2:3).

For an overview of the “7 systems” of a healthy church ( based upon an analysis of 35,000 church combined with 25+ years of consulting research and practice, see

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