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May 2011 

Leading Volunteers in Churches, Synagogues, and Other Faith Communities    

In This Issue
Featured Resource: The Church Puzzle Game
Other Resources
Excerpt: "Setting the Tone"
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Last month, the Energize Book Buzz highlighted the special nuances of all-volunteer groups. Faith communities are one sub-category of all-volunteer groups. What? Congregations are volunteer groups?! Yes. Many very informed leaders in houses of worship recognize volunteer management as one aspect of their challenging role. On the other hand, many of us participating in religious activities, even at leadership levels, haven't realized that the same tried-and-true techniques we use in leading volunteers in nonprofit or public organizations can apply to faith-based settings as well. Take a look at the resources below for help building effective volunteer leadership practices, even in faith communities. And, next time it's your turn to organize that congregational picnic, don't forget the Energize volunteer management resource library!
resource2 Featured Resource
Church Puzzle Game
By Susan J. Ellis

Keeping VolunteersThe Church Puzzle Game is an interactive group activity - purposeful play for examining how a faith community works - who gets things done through what channels, how members are welcomed (or not) to volunteer, and possible obstacles to success. Though The Church Puzzle Game uses the word ''church," the content of the Game is relevant to any faith community, religious body, or house of worship. If you are active in a synagogue, meeting, mosque or any other religious setting, please feel free to alter the vocabulary to meet your needs.

The book offers complete instructions and materials for playing the Game, including when and how to use it, preparation needed, step-by-step script for the leader, discussion questions, and reproducible puzzle pieces. Everything you need to run and analyze the Game! See an excerpt below.

Visit our online bookstore  for a book excerpt, table of contents, and a list of the material included in this e-book - and to place an order!
resource2 Other Resources

Volunteer Recruitment (and Membership Development) Book, Third Edition
This complete guide to building volunteer involvement in your organization has an entire chapter devoted to membership development for all-volunteer organizations such as faith communities, including how to get current members "off the rolls and on their feet."

Working Shoulder to Shoulder: Stories and Strategies of Youth-Adult Partnerships That Succeed
Stories and strategies of youth-adult partnerships that succeed, with over 20 reproducible tools to help you engage young participants to the greatest effect in your organization.

What Can I Say?
Helps to prepare volunteers who will be working with people who are ill or dying.

Focus on Membership Development: Three Organizations Share Effective Techniques
The organizations featured in this e-Volunteerism article share their experiences in reaching new members and keeping them involved: goals shared by many faith-based communities. Subscriptions are available for full-year or 48-hour access.

A Matter of Faith: Volunteering in a Religious Context
This e-Volunteerism "Keyboard Roundtable" discusses "Where does service as an expression of faith end and volunteering begin?" and other issues surrounding service done by people on behalf of their church/synagogue/mosque/congregation. Subscriptions are available for full-year or 48-hour access.

Resources Book Excerpt
"Setting the Tone"

From Church Puzzle Game
By Susan J. Ellis


People have many different views of what a religious congregation should be and of what can be expected from church members. Some feel that the spiritual aspects of a faith community override all other considerations, while others wish to see a more service-oriented type of worship-in-action. Some congregation members desire only to participate in religious services and prefer to give their volunteer time out in the community at large. Others seek the fellowship of the congregation and want to become involved in church-sponsored activities.

Faith communities in North America and in many other parts of the world are actually voluntary associations made up of volunteers. Except for the clergy and some specialized staff who are paid a salary, congregation members who do the work of the church do so by choice, without monetary pay. The techniques of coordinating volunteers that have been tested and proven in other settings also work in faith communities.

Unfortunately, there is still resistance by some to anything that uses the vocabulary of "management" in relation to a religious institution. This is based on a belief that attention to process and structure interferes with true spirituality and worship. There is also concern that "business-like" organizing demands more from congregation members than should be expected from volunteers. The Church Puzzle Game is based on the perspective that acting from the heart is best supported by thoughtful organization...

One good way to introduce the need to play The Church Puzzle Game is to ask the group of players the following question:

If you were asked to describe our church, would any of the following observations occur to you?
  • We are expanding our program activities but are finding it increasingly hard to enlist the help of congregation members to do the necessary work.
  • A few people are overworked.
  • Too many others hardly do anything.
  • A core group of people is always on the inside of decision-making and these insiders are therefore perceived by others as a clique.
  • There are poorly-defined, gray areas of responsibility.
  • There is duplication of effort.
  • Some tasks never seem to get done.
  • Key leadership positions are hard to fill.
  • It is difficult to get new congregation members actively involved.
  • Good ideas surface but are not implemented.
  • There is stereotyping by sex and age of who can do certain jobs.
Next ask:

Why do these situations happen here?

Explain that most faith communities have formed layers of committees determined by tradition and personalities. Authority is often unevenly distributed: the congregation may be dominated by a strong subgroup of key members or the clergy may control most decisions and set priorities. While time-honored ways of operating may be sufficient to maintain basic church activities, many clergy and lay leaders have begun to examine new styles of church organization.

Note that The Church Puzzle Game will focus on the way work in your faith community is structured because this structure provides a framework for all activities...

A good first step is to analyze exactly how things are being done now-what clergy and lay, paid and unpaid positions exist, what committees and special projects are in operation, and how well these elements of your congregation work as a whole. Diagnosing the strengths and weaknesses of each component will enable you to make decisions about needed changes.

You may be thinking: "Well, EVERYONE knows how things get done here." This Game will test that assumption in a way that will be fun and interesting. Have fun, and be prepared for a few surprises!


Permission is granted for organizations to reprint this excerpt. Reprints must provide full acknowledgment of source, as provided: Excerpted from The Church Puzzle Game, 2002, Energize. Can be purchased in the Energize, Inc. Online Bookstore at
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Energize empowers and inspires leaders of volunteers worldwide. Our specialty is creating and selecting the most relevant, innovative resources in volunteer management. We're advocates for the power of volunteers and for the recognition of the leaders who unleash it.
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