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Churches Ideal Training Ground for Volunteers
Volunteers are vital to community life, but with fewer people going to church, fewer people are volunteering and both our communities and churches are suffering as a result.

Last Saturday was "fun day" at my children's school, but this year my husband is on the parent council. For weeks our bedroom has been piled ever higher with donated dolls, paintings, and free sports gear for the fund-raising auction. There has been a multitude of calls, meetings and various late-night flyers produced on the computer.

We need to … ensure people continue to give of their time to improve the quality of life for everyone.

The fun day for everyone else was 10 A.M. to 2 P.M., but for the volunteers it was 7 P.M. to 10 P.M. on Friday and 8 A.M. to 3 P.M. on Saturday. But there was no shortage of volunteers. And despite a threat of rain, it was a great day, with $2,500 raised for the school.

But why do they do it? The volunteers, I mean. What motivates those parents to give so freely of their time? Granted, the number of volunteer parents is a small fraction of the total number of parents. But this fun day was only one of a dozen end-of-year events our family participates in annually, each one largely run by volunteers. So I ask again, why do they do it?

I suspect there are many reasons people volunteer, yet there is reported to be a drastic decrease in volunteerism. We need to not only applaud volunteers, but also ensure people continue to give of their time to improve the quality of life for everyone.

Among all the reasons for volunteering, studies show those who attend church are more likely to donate money and donate time. Churchgoers give more donations and larger donations than those who do not attend church. Church attenders are more likely to volunteer their time and give more volunteer hours than non-churchgoing neighbours.

Why do church attenders give of their time and money? One part of the answer is theological, the other practical. Jesus gave many instructions about caring for the poor and the vulnerable. As far back as the book of Exodus, God instructs His people to care for "the widows, the orphans, and the sojourner." Jesus blesses those who feed the poor and visit those who are sick or in prison. He even says caring for others is like caring for Jesus Himself.* There is, therefore, a very strong incentive for Christians to care for others.

On the practical side, churches are themselves charities. They require many volunteers donating countless hours just to have a Sunday morning service. Anyone who has grown up attending church cut their volunteer teeth minding children in the nursery, stacking chairs after a church supper and washing dishes after a funeral.

But church attenders do not limit their volunteer hours to helping out at church. They are church elders and sit on the board at the local hospital. They teach Sunday school and canvass for the Cancer Society. They clean the church on Saturday night, and chair the parent council at their children's school.

But there is a problem. Fewer people are going to church. And fewer people are volunteering. Those who do are getting burned out.

A few years ago, the rule of thumb was 80 percent of your donations came from 20 percent of donors. Now the 80/20 rule has been changed to the 90/10 rule. That's right; 90 percent of donations come from 10 percent of donors.

Every organization is crying out for volunteers. … Some organizations are scaling back …

The same rule of thumb applies to volunteers. Fewer people are giving more volunteer hours. The same people who teach Sunday school now also clean the church, chair the parent council and canvass for the Cancer Society.

Every organization is crying out for volunteers, but the same few people are the only ones responding. Some organizations are scaling back their programs because they can no longer count on volunteers to run them.

So, let us go out of our way to thank those who volunteer and make our world a better place. And let us also thank churches for nurturing the volunteer spirit.

Janet Epp Buckingham is director of Law and Public Policy and general legal counsel for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada in Ottawa.

Originally published in The London Free Press, June 9, 2001.

Used with permission of the author. Copyright © 2003




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