At the end of last month, Together Southwark held an event on Working Effectively With Volunteers. We had a wide church representation on the panel in term of church tradition, cultural backgrounds and socio-economic makeup of parishes. The same was true in the audience.

We were delighted to have:

Father David Adamson-Hill who in his previous appointment helped run a large food project which had hundreds of volunteers. He is now the Vicar of an estate church in Croydon with a high level of engagement from church members.

Winnie Obese-Bempong who has worked for All Saints Church Peckham as a CAP Debt Coach and a Community Outreach Coordinator for the past 5 years.

Joanna(Jo) Corbin, a lay leader at Holy Innocents, South Norwood, who coordinates her church’s winter night shelter provision as part of the Croydon Churches Floating Shelter.

Sharon Hunt who works for PECAN, a Christian Social Justice Charity based in Peckham where she helped to run Southwark Foodbank for 5 years and is now the Food Projects Development Manager.

It was inspiring to hear people talk from different perspectives about this issue that many churches have grappled and indeed are still grappling with. Many have tried and sometime failed to get people onboard to help with new initiatives and even existing activities in their parish.

How and where do you find volunteers for your activities and projects? Long gone the times of a simple church notice. Examples went from Survey Monkey, word of mouth, to partnerships with universities.

The panel was in agreement that you must be presenting an attractive opportunity, something people are passionate about or can connect with.

In addition to the above, some situations may require a great level of flexibility because, with all the will in the world, there will always be people who will not be able to stick to a fixed timetable. For example, if a person is not able to come and help at the Coffee Morning, maybe talking to a few isolated parishioners over the telephone could be an alternative?

Looking at the church congregation itself, how can one give people a chance to bring their diverse gifts and talents and flourish as volunteers? That has its own share of opportunities and challenges. People spoke from experience and said definitely get interested in people (the volunteers), invest in them, build a nurturing relationship, have an informal conversation, etc. It is not attractive to only say “We need volunteers for this, for that, or advertise on church notices”.

Finding volunteers is one thing, keeping them is another. No one likes to lose people soon after investing in them. However, sometime, the passion for an activity or a project can start to fade away after a certain period of involvement. So, what can we do to keep long-term volunteers enthusiastic and committed?

The advice was to allow volunteers to own the project and give feedback in a gracious way, but also trying not to be so concentrated on deliverables that we forget the whole person.

Are there opportunities and challenges with bringing in volunteers who are not church members?

The answers I got when I asked the question were a breath of fresh air. “Find a way for evangelisation and social action to co-exist instead of trying to put a false secular wall between them.” “Nevertheless, we ought to demonstrate our love for our neighbours first.” “That can be done by looking for what we have in common first and by starting from where the person is(loving your neighbour).” Everything should start with love.

There was a debate on whether we should call people ‘volunteers’ at all or this is about acts of service and giving to God. Is it volunteering when it comes to social action? It was interesting to realise how our language tends to shift. Also, do we treat church members who give their time and gifts through their service in a same way as we do volunteers from outside? Do we invest in them? Appreciate them, thank them? These areas deserve careful consideration as well.

The session was thought provoking. There were many more ideas shared and discussed. Hence, we hope this will contribute to develop the wonderful work that churches are doing across the Diocese.

To watch the recording, please follow this link