Pause, Don’t Quit: Keeping the Discipleship of Volunteering in Season

Pause, Don’t Quit: Keeping the Discipleship of Volunteering in Season

Pause, Don’t Quit: Keeping the Discipleship of Volunteering in Season
By Elena Larssen

During the pandemic, I read about happiness.

Gretchen Rubin[1], a journalist who studies happiness and habits, found that happiness is largely influenced by habits, and that habits have dynamics. One of her key insights is that it is much harder to restart an old habit than to pause or even to start a whole new habit.

Think of a workout program: if you have ever quit a workout plan, it is very hard to get back to it. It is even harder than starting a new and different workout program!

One big pandemic trend was that people fell out of the habit of church life. Specifically, they fell out of the habit of volunteering, even though volunteering is one of the healthiest and happiest habits possible. Pastors have all seen what happens when people fall out of the church habit and volunteering –if they quit, it’s heaven and earth for them to regain their momentum and engagement.

What can pastors and church leaders do to make the habit of volunteering more manageable…even happier?

Pause - don’t stop.

Pause, don’t stop. It’s not just a way to handle workouts or other habits – it is applicable to the life of the church. Let volunteers pause a commitment; instead of creating a situation where a volunteer must quit to get a breather, allow for a pause. Healthy boundaries and seasonal customs are valuable because they allow church folx to hit the pause button instead of making someone quit…and never return.

Pause – don’t stop. Church volunteers, this means letting go of volunteering for a season and focusing simply on worship attendance. Go to the coffee hour instead of running it. Be in the pew instead of the choir loft or Sunday School room. Sleep late on Saturday instead of doing extra hours at the church and just come on Sunday to fill the spiritual tank while you pause in volunteering. Then return next season and pick up your volunteering, either in a new way or in the ministry you love to support with your time.

Pastors and leaders, organize healthy pauses and limits into the rhythm of the program year. Embrace seasonality, so that people can shift their engagement up and down as the seasons of their lives shift -- without losing their overall bond with the church. Imagine:
  • People-friendly meeting cadences (can the governing board meet quarterly instead of monthly?)
  • Term limits (no life sentences!)
  • Meaningful thank you events and gestures for volunteers (yummy annual lunches to celebrate the gift of time and talent)
  • Gracious resignations (honor people when they step back and make it normal to be done with a volunteer role)
  • Take the summer off (and come back refreshed in fall)
  • Make something a project for six months (instead of committee that has to be filled with people)
  • Allow people to commit less than full term limits on boards and committee. If terms limits are three years and Mz. B can do one, announce this at the top of the term: “We’re so glad Mz. B can serve on the board for one year.”
…all are helpful and allow people to hit the pause button instead of quitting.

Allow people to retain the discipleship habit of volunteering by pausing instead of quitting. There is a time and season for all things, so make church life generous enough to hold the seasons of peoples’ lives.

The Rev. Elena Larssen is minister for volunteer engagement at the national offices of the United Church of Christ.


Generous Thoughts

Generous Thoughts is a collaborative effort of UCC stewardship, generosity, fundraising, and development professionals to provide our conferences and congregations with information to aid them in their fundraising efforts. The SNEUCC is represented ...

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