How To Create Pathways For Parish Volunteer Growth

For several years, I’ve been actively involved in a variety of parish ministries. I taught theology at a private Catholic school and currently volunteer as a catechist, young adult ministry leader, musician, and lector. Each of these ministries has its unique challenges, but the common thread is the lack of tools to support me in my ministry.

I want to be able to serve my parish long-term, make meaningful connections with others in my ministry, feel empowered to make a difference in my parish, and not just feel like a “warm body.” But what ends up happening is that I begin to feel burnt out and, since the pandemic, it’s becoming more evident that this is something that others in ministry are experiencing, too.

Lector: The Need For Meaningful Participation

Before the pandemic, if you were a lector, you would receive a hard copy directory of all the people who are signed up to serve as a lector and a calendar of assignments for the next two to three months. Our parish had a big pool of people who wanted to serve, even if it was during a time that wasn’t convenient for them. But that stopped during the pandemic because parishes like mine needed a way to share and schedule lectors online when the parish or office closed due to COVID. So our parish volunteer ministry scheduler moved from distributing paper calendars to an online, single solution tool programmed just for signing up volunteers. Now, everyone picks their favorite Mass and it’s the same people over and over again.

In a way, it helped our ministry scheduler consolidate his responsibilities, but it created a different problem for him because he spends a large chunk of his week begging volunteers to sign up for a less popular Mass.

Using a single-solution approach, as my parish did, doesn’t allow your volunteers to get to know anyone in your ministry. They pick what they want, show up, don’t really interact with anyone, and then leave. There’s no connection, accountability, or opportunity for growth in their role.

If you’re running your ministry as you did before the pandemic, now is the time to rethink how you could better lead your lectors and keep them engaged in their ministry. The pandemic forced everyone to change their routine: schools, businesses, restaurants, and churches. So consider the fact that not everyone is comfortable with returning to in-person Mass, for a variety of reasons. Reach out to your lectors and learn how they want to approach their ministry now. You might discover that some aren’t comfortable being around large crowds and prefer a certain Mass because it’s typically not crowded. Or maybe some lectors are still figuring things out week to week and won’t know when they’ll be able to serve again. In any case, you’ll need to find out what resources of people you have so that you can begin to plan what you’ll do next.

That might mean hosting a quarterly event (online or in-person) where everyone meets for coffee and donuts, gets a chance to meet the other lectors, and share in their stewardship. Or, like schools and other businesses are doing, offer a way for your lectors to stay connected through an interactive church app with built-in discussion groups and content that help them understand their discipleship and continue that connection until the next gathering.

Catechist & Young Adult Leader: A System of Checking Boxes & No One Is Being Converted

Because of my experience and education in theology, I usually become a cog for faith formation or youth ministry. The parish staff gives me a group to lead, some talking points, ask me to take attendance on paper, and maybe once a week the leaders will meet with us volunteers to talk about progress. But there’s no real opportunity to grow as an effective catechist or youth leader and no follow through by my parish leadership.

For instance, if I want to be better at facilitating groups or make better connections with young people, leadership should have resources and training available to me. But there really isn’t much of a defined avenue to do that in my current parish or other parishes I’ve served in the past.

Another factor is that tech has typically only been in the hands of two to three people on staff.

If there were a youth minister who needed access to information on all the kids going through faith formation, they would have to ask someone on staff for that list. And suppose your volunteer youth minister is collecting information on paper. In that case, that paperwork has to go to the Director of Religious Education, who then has to input that information or give that information to someone else on staff.

The multiple requests and time spent on inputting basic information become cumbersome and the lack of transparency with ministry leaders creates bottlenecks. Your volunteer and youth minister should be able to use their time and talents on developing content for confirmation class that night, or ministering to people instead of being beholden to those in administration.

This happens all the time in the Church.

Many parishes don’t know how to leverage highly-skilled volunteers in Education, Finance, Marketing, or Communications. Their individual talents, skill sets, and experiences are under-utilized because their parish staff doesn’t know how to incorporate them in a way that will fulfill the mission of the Church.

Unfortunately, our parishes have built a system of checking boxes. We’re just getting people to the physical church, putting them in a class, taking attendance, and moving things along. So it’s no surprise that kids attend a series of classes and receive their certificate, but aren’t actually being converted or maturing in their faith—and parents then blame the Church and wonder why their kid is somehow not converted.

Engaging Young Professionals To Participate In The Life of The Parish

As a young professional, staying engaged with my parish through a mobile church app is essential. I can be proactive about my schedule in a way that’s convenient for me and I stay connected with what’s going on in my parish.

Say I’m going on a trip to Denver for work. I’m usually a very organized person but maybe it was a hectic week. I get to the airport and I realize, “Oh my gosh, I forgot I was supposed to lector this Sunday.” I can simply jump on my church app and make the change so that the ministry scheduler can fill that spot for Sunday Mass. Having the opportunity to manage my schedule from my smartphone is convenient for me, and more importantly, convenient for my parish who would otherwise not have a lector for Mass that Sunday.

So if you’re looking to encourage young adults and young families in your community to participate, consider a technology solution that integrates a mobile church app. It can help you build long-term engagement and discipleship with young professionals and parents. And it goes without saying how essential a mobile church app will become for your Generation Z parishioners (ages 13-25) who have grown up with their smartphones and experience the world through them. The bottom line is that you’re competing with the other elements of their world, and it will be necessary to provide a digital space for them to grow in their faith and have a true understanding of their discipleship.

How to Give Your Parish Volunteers What They Need

It’s so important to make things easier for your liturgical ministers and volunteers, and in this day and age, technology is a valuable tool to help you do this, or you might end up losing them.

Recently, Pushpay did an analysis of all the churches they partner with, looking for patterns in volunteer involvement. They researched how many people volunteered in one year and how many were still volunteering the next year. As it turns out, an average of three out of every 10 volunteers stops serving each year. Some of the reasons cited were burn out and feeling overworked or underappreciated.

The ParishStaq team has created a free guide to help you look into areas that might need improvement, define new processes, and most importantly, develop parish volunteers into leaders that won’t burn out. Download your free guide today!

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