Disciple-making churches won’t be able to fill their rotas

How do we know if our church is doing okay? One of the measures I’m tempted to look at is whether or not our rotas are going to be filled.  Do we have enough people to welcome, to do Sunday Club, to be in the music group, to preach, lead services, serve coffee and tea, staff children’s clubs etc.

Now I want say at the outset, that all of those things are good things to be encouraging involvement in and yes we would love to have all those rotas covered in our churches. It’s frustrating when we don’t and can be very stretching. Only today, I’ve been running around (metaphorically) trying to ensure cover for a couple of key weekend ministries as family emergencies and health have taken their toll on some key workers (shameless appeal – if you’ve moved into the West Birmingham/Sandwell area and are looking for a church where you can serve, you will be very welcome at Bearwood Chapel).

However, this is not in and of itself a measure of how we are doing. Indeed, a church may be genuinely fruitful whilst having to run with major gaps on the rota.  Certainly, over the past 7 years at Bearwood Chapel, there’s rarely been a moment when filling all the gaps on our rotas hasn’t been stretching – even as we’ve seen growing attendance.  There have been a few factors

  • Sometimes our context has made it challenging to fill particular roles. For example, it is harder to get people with appropriate DBS clearance when the population is migratory.
  • Changes to family and work patterns over the past 30-40 years means that there are less people around for day time ministries.
  • There’s no guarantee that the people who join will have the specific gifts needed. For example, out of all the people who have been coming along and joining with us over the past few years, we’ve probably only had one new musician who has stayed.
  • As Chris Green -somewhere on his blog Ministry nuts and bolts explains, when people move on, they leave from the core, whereas new people join at the fringes so it takes time for people to come forward, share and start using their gifts.

Now, those gaps can be challenging and at times frustrating but they don’t necessarily mean that people are not being disciple, not committing, not using their gifts.  I’ve learnt not just to look at the gaps on our rotas but to look and see how people are serving -both through love and care within the fellowship and through outside witness.  So don’t just check the gaps on your rota. Look out for people who

  • Open up their homes to share hospitality to others
  • Take time to sit and pray with people who are struggling
  • Are welcoming to visitors and who befriend them
  • Are taking on new tasks that maybe are not on the church rota but need doing in your current context.
  • Are joining groups and getting involved in the community in order to share the Gospel (e.g. a book group, sports club, conservation group etc).

You are going to have to look at those gaps of course. That may mean some people having to be available to do a role more frequently, asking people to step in when it isn’t their preferred task etc. It may mean taking a long hard look at a ministry and asking whether or not it should still continue or whether it can be adapted.

However, put your priority focus on what is happening. At the same time, look to see what people can do. This doesn’t mean trying to persuade them to fill a gap n the rota. It does mean looking to see what their gifts are and encouraging them to use them.

Nb – This article is a postscript to our article “mission is not the enemy of pastoral-care