My daughter is about to prepare her first casserole to take to a pot-luck supper. We have been going to potlucks all her life, but this is one of the first to which she is invited without us. She has chosen to make a casserole which is classic comfort food in our house ever since I got married and started having meals at the home of my mother-in-law. The recipe comes from the Federated Women’s Institutes of Canada cookbook, Cooking Collections (1988). It was entered to the book by the Hon. Muriel McQueen Fergusson and is titled simply My Favorite Casserole.
Other than the great chance to get together with people and have a great time, the joy of a pot-luck supper is two-fold; first you are sure that there will be at least one thing you like to eat on the table since you brought it, and second it provides an opportunity to get a variety of foods for one meal which you would never put together on your own and which may lead to finding new favourite recipes.
One caution which we often forget until it is too late is to take tiny servings of things. It is all too common to go back to the food table over and over again until you are so full you can barely move. In that condition we often vow never to indulge in another pot-luck, or at least to do better next time.
Do you see a parallel to church here?
Making your first casserole for the event is like the life of a person (young or old) within the church. When we fist start attending we rely on those people with experience to lead us, to do the work of preparing and leading worship, preparing and leading Sunday school and Bible studies etc. As we mature in our faith we gradually take steps beyond this comfort zone of simply attending worship or other events. Perhaps we start with helping out at coffee hour, or with taking up the offering in worship. It may not seem like a big deal, but for many people it takes great courage to step up in front of the congregation in any capacity. In turn these actions may lead to further growth in service.
The variety of items on the table at the supper is like the hodge-podge of knowledge and talents with which the members and adherents come to the church. We all have our own special gifts to share and we are comfortable with those. We also have a huge selection of other personalities, gifts and talents, ideas, activities, and jobs with which we may work. Some of those may turn out to be great favourites and some we may choose to avoid in the future.
I’m sure we are all familiar with the results of putting too much on your plate and then trying to eat it all! Within the church context this represents the all too frequent burn-out of volunteers, staff, and clergy alike. All those activities look great, and they may not get to run if nobody volunteers to run them or attends them. The problem is that God created only seven days and we have this fixed amount of time and, even if we don’t like to admit it, limited personal energy resources. There comes a time for all of us when we need to learn to say no, hard as that may be. If we don’t say no to some things and provide some true Sabbath time for ourselves, we may find that it gets really hard to get up from the table. We may need to go lie down to recover. We may swear that we will not ever volunteer again, or we may even stop going to church altogether!
The following is a primer on the best ways to lose a volunteer. You need not employ all the methods, many people will quit after only one strategy. Remember, volunteers are individuals so you may need to experiment before you find an effective method for each one.
Perhaps the best way to lose volunteers is to fail to recognize them. People do not, as a rule, choose to volunteer to get credit, recognition or attention. People choose to volunteer for various organizations because they believe in the cause or the need of the people for whom they are working. That being said, there is a limit to how long they will continue to be engaged if nobody says thank you at some point. If you look you can find blog posts, and even books on the topic of how to keep volunteers and the top of the list is usually acknowledgement of their efforts.
You can actually lose volunteers before they even start! To do this, do not return their phone calls or emails in which they express interest in being of help and or place a lengthy complicated process in place (especially if you call it an application process).
Select one volunteer to do a task that really requires several.
Give several volunteers the task of doing something simple which would be better and more efficiently done by one.
Fail to listen to their suggestions for improvement. Treat them as though they have no education, background, or expertise.
Hover over them as though you don’t trust them to be competent.
Get a volunteer started on something and then never check in to see how things are going.
Expect that they will stay forever/ make it a life sentence.
Arrange times to meet with your volunteers and then cancel without notice, “Because something important came up.”
Stop thinking of a volunteer as a person, once they are on board they are just one of the numbers.
Hopefully it is clear to my readers that I do not actually advocate any of the above actions. Indeed it would make an excellent list of what not to do when you are working with people, either employed or volunteers.
Posted in Pet Peeves, Reflections
Tagged assigning tasks, attention, change, choices, church volunteers, feedback, help, improvement, leadership, management, recognition, respect, value service, volunteers