By Brian Kaylor
The leaders of faith-based disaster relief agencies know it as they respond to catastrophic weather in Texas.
And so does Greg Morrow, pastor of First Baptist Church of California, Mo.
What they and others know is that volunteers are the lifeblood of missions — whatever form those missions take.
Morrow leads his church on mission trips and is a volunteer leader for a parachurch organization that mobilizes people to give time to mission endeavors.
Volunteering greatly expands the number of people who can participate beyond the much smaller number of paid mission workers, he said.
Morrow has watched as mission trips — especially international ones — helped not only those being served but also the volunteers from his church.
“Our volunteers would often say it has been life-changing,” he said. “The investment of our lives into the lives of other people almost always brings changes.”
It also makes an impact back at home, he said.
“People come back home with a greater sensitivity to the community that exists around them and how we can reach them as well,” he said.
Volunteers also have significant impact on the agencies through whom they work, said John Bailey, president/CEO of Windermere Baptist Conference Center.
“Windermere could not do everything it needs to do without the help of volunteers,” he said. “It’s a beautiful setting, it’s a peaceful setting, but it takes a lot to maintain.”
Recent figures show 1,050 volunteers donated 11,181 hours in one year at Windermere. Economic valuation of those hours is estimated at about $21.17 an hour. For Windermere, that equals nearly $250,000 in just one year, Bailey said.
“That’s a tremendous thing,” he added. “Volunteers are family. I love volunteers. It’s amazing the impact for the kingdom that volunteers bring.”
Bailey, too, noted that volunteering should be beneficial to participants and those who are served. Ministries that recruit volunteers hope to create that “magical moment when volunteer service becomes meaningful” for volunteers, he said.
“It becomes transformational in their lives,” he added. “That’s what we all want.”
An Associated Press-GfK poll in December found Americans under 30 rate volunteering as “a very important obligation” more than older Americans do. That finding stood in stark contrast to the under-30 rating of five other civic duties — such as voting or serving on jury duty — as less important than do older individuals.
Data the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics released in February found Americans in the 35-44 age range volunteer at the highest rate. Overall, women volunteer at higher rates than do men.
Labor statistics also show religious organizations as the most common recipients of volunteer hours. People 65 and older are much more likely to volunteer for religious organizations than are younger individuals.
While differences between generations are not “black and white,” Dwight Stinnett, executive minister of the Great Rivers Region of the American Baptist Churches USA, tracks overall trends.
“The older generations’ vision of missions really was influenced by overseas missions and primarily with construction and humanitarian concerns,” he said. “Younger generations are more likely to do nearby missions.”
Bailey similarly sees generational differences in focus. “The younger generations want to be seen as a knowledge worker instead of just a skill worker,” he said.
Younger generations “want a cause” and when they find it they will be passionate, Stinnett added.
Bailey worries that a skills gap may develop when older individuals are no longer able to volunteer since younger generations are more likely to pay people to fix things than do it themselves.
The “older generation not only will volunteer and donate their time, but they will donate their treasures as well,” he said.
It is important that a volunteer “really understands the need to respond to needs, rather than create needs,” Morrow said.
He also works with and serves as volunteer chief operations officer of the Future Leadership Foundation. FLF volunteers train church leaders in several countries. It also coaches American churches on developing international missions.
FLF leaders “respond to requests for assistance and then shape ourselves to meet that need,” he said. He cautions against approaches that instead “use the mission field to meet your needs.”
Stinnett emphasized the importance of not letting mission trips “denigrate to Christian vacations or voyeurism.” If people go home and “reflect appropriately, it expands their vision of the world and helps them see needs around their own neighborhood,” he said.
“Just doing a mission trip does not change that,” he said. “People have to have some directed reflection after that.”
He urged volunteers to reflect on what God taught them, how they saw God work and the needs in their own community.
Because of missions’ transforming potential, Bailey hopes it can return to the center of Baptist life.
“The old Baptist challenge was we’re better together,” he said. “Missions work used to be what rallied a divergent church field together. I just don’t think we’re collaborating together as well as we did in the past.”