Serving in the church is an essential part of spiritual development. And, as church leaders, we should be asking more and more people to “get involved” in the various ministries of the church. I have often said, “There’s no such thing as too many volunteers.”
I remember a situation in our church where a couple of new volunteers showed up on Sunday to serve as ushers. They were told (I’m sure nicely) that they weren’t needed that morning. I can’t tell you how “wrong” this is! Needless to say, I didn’t respond very favorably when I was told about it. It was a great learning opportunity for the team leader. “There’s no such thing as too many volunteers.”
So how does this relate to automation? When is it appropriate to buy a piece of equipment or otherwise automate … automation meaning reducing the number of volunteers needed?
Several years ago, some of the folks in our office arranged a meeting with Pitney Bowes. You know, the company that provides postage machines and such. Anyway, the purpose of the meeting was to look at the equipment that would “automate” buying and applying postage to envelopes, postcards, etc. The cost was pretty steep, but as the salesperson put it, “you will recoup the cost in less than 2 years given the number of mailings your church does.” I replied, “but we’re a church. The people putting postage on our stuff are volunteers.” I told him that we couldn’t justify stuff through “labor savings.” In fact, having a machine like this (as it relates to “labor”) is not necessarily a good thing because it eliminates the need for a good number of volunteers.
A while back, our Student Ministries guy ran across an article that I found interesting. The article was entitled Divided by Communion and has nothing to do with my point. But, it does have a good example of when automation eliminated many volunteer positions. Here’s just the first part …
… retired engineer Wil Greenlee has invented a Communion cup filling machine, reducing the average time it takes to fill a 40-cup tray from 5 minutes to 2 seconds. The time savings really add up at Greenlee’s church, massive Southeast Christian in Louisville, which goes through 20,000 cups of juice in three weekend services. A process that used to take a 75-member prep team two nights to complete can now be finished in one morning, and with less spillage.
So, what’s the answer? I don’t profess to know, but I do have an opinion. I think it’s more a matter of kingdom impact or what the secular world calls “opportunity cost.” There are some other benefits to automating the filling of communion cups. Right? There’s less spillage (saving money on juice), and the new “machine” is much more sanitary. That’s a good thing, I guess.
The bigger benefit, though, is what else those 75 people could be doing. Could they be roaming the church’s lobby meeting and greeting people? How about working in missions … feeding the hungry or some other worthy, God-honoring activity? Is there some other area requiring volunteers with their gifting and passion that is not being resourced? Probably.
So … when should we automate to reduce the number of volunteers needed to accomplish a task? Only when the task can be greatly improved (quality of the work, less waste, more sanitary, etc.) and the volunteers impacted can be redeployed in even more kingdom-impacting ways.