His white-whiskered face lit up. “I’ve been a Volunteer-in-Mission for years,” he said, citing how many times he had gone to Louisiana to help after the hurricanes. Hands-on ministry isn’t just for folks in their twenties. People of all ages engage with both head and heart when they get their own two hands involved.
Personal connection is a huge factor in encouraging the giving of money, time, abilities, and presence. People don’t have to have lots of technical skills to visit a senior or help a child with school work. Hands-on mission can have an incredible impact on the givers as well as the recipients. But you don’t have to travel on a mission trip to feel a sense of personal connection to mission and ministry.
Okay, so how can we help people feel an authentic connection? We can go online and get film clips to show in worship and put links on our church website. We can ask someone involved in the ministry who is part of our local community to come share his or her experiences and the difference it makes. We can take people on a local Mystery Trip and end up exploring the ministry site. We can send some people to experience it firsthand, visually record events, and interview people. We can find graduates of that university or recipients of that scholarship among us and recount the cumulative impact on others they have helped over the years.
How else can we make the ministry come alive to our church family? We can tell stories of one person or one community, get that person to “Skype” in to our worship service or other large event, or read and post the individual’s letters or emails. We can become a Covenant Partner congregation to a particular missionary family, receive the family’s e-newsletters and host them when they return to our area. We can look for common ground between our two or more cultures, begin a relationship after surviving a common disaster, or find an unofficial partner congregation in a town named the same as our own in a different conference or continent. We can find another United Methodist congregation of the same name, send banners, film clips, and have our Sunday school youth, children, and adults exchange letters or connect through social media.
In January 2009, Lovett Weems wrote about “What Motivates Giving?” in the Lewis Center’s Leading Ideas. In that article, Weems stated that whatever increases member participation helps giving and encourages church leaders to involve as many people as possible in the church’ ministries.
It’s wonderful when people can do hands-on mission as my Volunteers-in-Mission friend does, But we all can have a sense of personal connection through a variety of creative ways. The more that we realize there are real people who are both receiving and giving, the more we want to be part of God’s action in the world.
Your partner in ministry,
Written 1/31/2011 for the General Board of Discipleship
of the United Methodist Church