Turning Pew-Sitters Into Heroes

It’s pervasive. Most of the people in the pew have internalized the notion that ministry is the responsibility of the professionals on stage. The job of the pew-sitter is … to sit. And watch others do the work.

That mindset is killing the church. The current system perpetuates the idea that the Christian life revolves around a spectator event—the weekly worship service. These days, what does it mean to be a follower of Christ? You go to church. Pulling people out of the community to merely sit in an audience contributes to the American church’s weakening influence.

But the healthiest churches today are bucking the trend. Their leaders avoid pedestal stardom, exemplify servanthood and explain to their people that “we’re all in this together.” They humbly—and genuinely—remind their people that the real ministry, the most powerful impact, happens through the members out in the real world. These leaders train, support, encourage and let loose their people to share God’s love in myriad ways.

And the community notices when a church energizes and equips its people to love. Such is the case with churches connected with Kids Hope USA. This national network links churches with public schools, enlisting church members to mentor at-risk elementary school children. Each volunteer mentor spends one hour a week with one child, helping with schoolwork and simply being an adult friend.

Take, for example, Faith Community Lutheran Church in Longmont, Colo. The church’s Kids Hope director, LaRae Schaff, coordinates 30 church volunteers with a nearby elementary school. She reports the program makes “an enormous impact on the kids.” The staff at the school also recognizes the lasting impact the church is making in the lives of the children.

That school cherishes its relationship with the church. There are many, many other schools that intensely desire Kids Hope partnerships with local churches. Kids Hope national president David Staal recently canvassed seven metro areas that have Kids Hope church-school partnerships. In those areas, 2,245 additional schools are waiting for and requesting churches to partner with them.

Staal spends much of his time trying to help churches see the opportunity to make a powerful difference in children’s lives. But, sadly, most churches choose not to get involved. I asked Staal why. He said most church leaders say they’re too busy. They say they don’t have time to add one more thing.

Yet, in these same churches, 80 percent of their members are not “too busy” with the work of the church. They’re not currently involved in any regular service with the church. This represents an enormous untapped resource. Staal said that for 60 percent of Kids Hope church mentors, this is their first volunteer position with their church. And they, in addition to the kids, are experiencing a life-changing benefit from their involvement. Staal said 80 percent of these volunteers report their faith in God has been strengthened through their work with the kids.

Faith Church’s Schaff said, “Most of the mentors in our program would tell you it has been a huge blessing to them.” She said some of the mentors spend extra time with their kids, attending their games and concerts, and taking them out for ice cream. “Kids Hope is something we can do to reach our mission field, right here in Longmont,” she said.

That church gets it.  

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thomschultz@churchleaders.com'
Thom Schultz is an eclectic author and the founder of Group Publishing and Lifetree Café. Holy Soup offers innovative approaches to ministry, and challenges the status quo of today’s church.